Managing Our Emotions

We all have complicated emotional lives and sometimes it is difficult to process or regulate our feelings. Our relationships with others can help us do this and this is part of our need for connection with others. If our connection with others is disrupted, and we have not learned to process our emotions ourselves, we suffer.

We are vulnerable when we cannot regulate our own emotions

If we are unable to regulate our own emotions i.e., to think through our own feelings, calm ourselves down, etc., we rely on our connection with others to do this for us. This makes us vulnerable to them, because it creates an emotional dependence and puts extra pressure on them to take care of our needs.

How do relationships provide regulation

Relationships can provide us with a source of positive and negative feelings about ourselves. However if our good feelings about ourselves are being largely determined by how others perceive us, i.e., if they are happy with us, we feel good about ourselves, or conversely if they are angry with us, we feel bad about ourselves, we may lose our capacity to process our own feelings. We then become dependent on others to do this for us.

Why do we get so upset when there are disruptions in our relationships?

When we lose our own ability to process our emotions and use others to do this for us, we often get upset because we are still left with our own unprocessed feelings. This can leave us stuck in a negative state.

How do we learn to regulate our emotions

We have learned to regulate our emotions early in life. When we were upset, our parents soothed our upset and provided us with the physical and emotional experience of relief. They did this over and over again. Over time, mental and biological pathways formed giving us our own capacity to self-regulate.

Learning from our parents to regulate our emotions

In addition, our caretakers modeled self-regulation when they processed their own emotions in response to our needs and feelings as babies. They did this by thinking out and sensing what was going on with us to understand what was needed. We internalized this capacity.

What happens to the baby if the parent does not provide containment

Unfortunately if our parents were overwhelmed by us, and were unable to sense our needs they reacted emotionally, simply imposing their own feelings onto us. When this happened we were not left with enough of our own internal mechanisms to regulate our own emotions.

We can learn to regulate our own emotions

While the capacity to regulate our emotions is hard to learn without having experienced it early in life, it is very possible to achieve. We learn by doing for ourselves what a parent can do for a baby. The parent figures out what the baby needs and takes steps to meet the need. In the same way we can analyze what we are feeling, examine why we are feeling that way, and imagine what we need in the situation and how it could be met. We can then set about to get our needs met by expressing them to appropriate people.

If we cannot get our needs met, we can comfort ourselves by developing a strategy to deal with our feelings. We can also simply accept that we feel disappointed, sad, angry etc. By telling someone else how we feel we can help ourselves accept our feelings. Or we can develop an alternative plan for meeting the need, by substituting it with meeting another need, or by letting go of it and moving on.

Learn more about your needs and feelings; practice expressing your needs in your relationships on is a free and confidential relationship building web-site.

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