Emotion Regulation – CSA Survivors
By Amy Tai, Community and Justice Services (diploma), Program Assistant
The ability of a person to properly control and deal with an emotional experience is referred to as emotion regulation. The majority of us employ a range of emotion control techniques and are skilled at adapting them to various circumstances in order to meet the demands of our environment (Rolston & LLoyd-Richardson, n.d.). However, for people who have experienced a traumatic event, such as childhood sexual abuse, it may be much harder to control and deal with emotions in a healthy and beneficial way.
Helpful vs Unhelpful Emotion Regulation Strategies
Helpful emotion regulation strategies assist in calming down the intense feelings experienced during times of stress, allowing for a deeper understanding of what triggered that emotional response. Examples of helpful emotion regulation strategies include:
- Talking with friends
- Writing in a journal
- Paying attention to negative thoughts that occur before or after strong emotions
- Noticing when you need a break – and taking it (Rolston & LLoyd-Richardson, n.d.)
On the other hand, unhelpful emotion regulation strategies include those that may cause long-term harm, have unintended consequences, or limit one’s ability to deal with problems that require immediate action. Examples of unhealthy emotion regulation strategies include:
- Abusing alcohol or other substances
- Avoiding or withdrawing from difficult situations
- Physical or verbal aggression
- Excessive social media use, to the exclusion of other responsibilities (Rolston & LLoyd-Richardson, n.d.)
Breaking the Cycle
When faced with difficulties practicing emotion regulating techniques, it is crucial to understand that these challenges do not necessarily result from the event or experience itself, but rather, the way the emotion is interpreted. When we interpret the emotion in a negative way, this is when we experience intense feelings and the belief that we are not able to bear them. We refer to this as a vicious emotional cycle (Rolston & LLoyd-Richardson, n.d.). Continued avoidance of emotions related to the event or experience further supports the initial interpretation and may result in additional negative thoughts and feelings. These will continue until something is down to break the cycle.
Learning how to comprehend and work with the relationship between ideas, feelings, and behaviours is the foundation of therapeutic techniques such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. While this may be a super beneficial method for some people it is not necessary for successful self-regulation. The learning process can be hard and lengthy, but it is not impossible to conquer your emotions. Here are some helpful tips to get you started:
- Take care of yourself, including your body: We’ve all experienced how much better we can feel after getting a restful night’s sleep or eating foods that leave you nourished and energized. It may seem as though we have a completely new outlook on life, and it is much simpler to ignore minor inconveniences that otherwise could have angered or upset us.
- Do things that make you feel accomplished: Each of us can gain from focusing more on the good things that happen in our lives. It has been demonstrated that the things that make us happy improve our good moods and diminish our negative emotions. Try doing one small thing such as making your bed, five minutes of meditation, or keeping a gratitude journal and notice how your mood and ability to face the day improves.
- Start by changing your thoughts. It is simpler to change our thoughts than our feelings because our thoughts are what determine how we perceive a situation. When you first feel yourself getting agitated, pause and try to analyze what it is that you are thinking that is making you feel that way. For some, it can be helpful to consider how significant the problem is on a greater scale: How much will this matter a day, a week, and a month from now?
There is no one-size-fits-all method for managing challenging thoughts and emotions; the key is for each of us to find what works for us individually and to believe this truth: You are capable of producing lasting change. You are worthy. Healing is possible.
Rolston, A. & LLoyd-Richardson, E. (n.d.). What is emotion and how do we regulate it. Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery. *what-is-emotion-regulationsinfo-brief.pdf