We often seek to make improvements in our lives and personal relationships, but first we must focus on the individual changes we can make to regulate our feelings and thoughts, in order to have more effective interactions with others. In our everyday communications with others, we may experience a desire to express a deeper need, or emotion. If we can work to alter some of our more rigid interfering thoughts and feelings, our perspective changes, and we can take more control over our lives.
Let’s look at the following example.
Mom comes in the room, demanding that you clean it, and put your clothes in the laundry rather than in a rat pile on the floor.
You think, I just sat down for some quiet alone time in my room to talk to my friend, and now mom is bugging me about cleaning and doing the laundry. You start to feel resentful. I never get time to myself without my parents nagging me! You experience the emotions bubble up and rise, and then yell loudly,
Stop nagging me! I can’t even get a second to myself around here!
Mom snaps back, all you do all day is sit in your room and talk on the phone. Why can’t you get up and do something around here? All I want is a little help.
Mom walks out of the room and you slam the door.
Later, it hits you. You feel bad. You know it was an over-reaction, but you just felt so pushed. Then you think, If only I wasn’t so impulsive, so “brash.” I didn’t mean to say what I said, and yet I wanted to express those feelings.
Let’s first identify the underlying need you had wanted to express. Before the emotions set in and torpedoed over you, causing you to get over heated and over-react. You begin to realize that you can’t simply stop this reaction without first attending to your underlying need.
What might this underlying need have been? Maybe it was a need to feel heard or validated. Perhaps you wanted mom to listen and consider your point of view. Maybe you just wanted to know that you could have some time for yourself that was quiet and uninterrupted.
How might this need have been more effectively communicated? Perhaps saying something to the effect of, I would really appreciate being able to have some privacy and alone time after cleaning my room? or, I am in the middle of talking to someone, but as soon as I finish in 5 minutes, I will be happy to do some laundry? Realizing that if something is needing to happen more immediately, you may not have the option to negotiate.
It can be hard to communicate these needs effectively in the moment, especially when our blood is boiling. So, how can we first regulate our emotions so we can express these needs more calmly, and we don’t just react?
Let’s examine some of the ways we can learn to self-regulate these heavy emotions:
Practice self-care and coping skills. If we are getting enough exercise, nutrients, sleep, and time for ourselves to do the things we enjoy doing, we can start to better regulate our body and our minds. And, since we are attending more to our basic needs, we will feel that we can handle more of the challenges, or cope more effectively with some of the stressors that come our way.
Work on expressing those needs and feelings more effectively through assertive communication. If we are able to express ourselves more assertively, rather passively, or aggressively, we can have more productive and respectful relationships with others, and are also more likely to get our needs met.
Practice living life in the present as opposed to the past or future. When we can attend fully to the present, without engaging in ruminative thoughts or worries about the future, we can enjoy the moment, and are better equipped to allow ourselves to accept what we cannot control in the situation, and learn to “let things go.”
Conquer anxious thoughts. Often we are blocked by our negative and anxious thoughts, which fuel our emotions and may contribute to less desirable behaviors. These thoughts may be catastrophizing, critical, ruminative, or over-generalizing. Either way, when we follow these thoughts, we might as well follow that white rabbit down the hole. The best way to get unstuck is to disregard these thoughts and to replace them with more balanced thoughts.
Start to identify your needs and feelings in each situation, and then address them. Ask yourself, what do I really want from this situation? What is my emotional reaction about? What is triggering it? How can I manage this feeling more effectively so I don’t feel overwhelmed by it?
Once we have learned to regulate our thoughts and feelings, we can then express our needs more effectively, which leads to positive changes in our interactions and personal relationships with others. This triggers a positive chain reaction that can influence the behavior of others around us. There is something undeniably influential about being around a positive, calm, assertive and connected person.