The Benefits of Emotion & What Makes it Hard to Regulate Emotions


Intense Emotions

I tend to dislike intense emotions. I was brought up thinking that I had “emotional problems” when I showed any type of emotion. So, for a long time, I walled off my emotions and lived a pretty emotionally desolate life.

Then, the pendulum swung too far in the opposite direction, and I felt intense emotions until I resolved their intensity. This actually helped me to find a medium balance, with time.

Benefits of Emotions Include:

Emotions Motivate (And Organize) Us for Action
  • Emotions motivate our behavior
  • Emotions save time by getting us to act in important situations
  • Strong emotions can help us overcome both internal and external obstacles
Emotions Communicate to (And Influence) Others
  • Facial expressions are hard-wired aspects of emotions and can communicate emotions quickly.
  • Our body language and voice tone can also be hard-wired and they communicate our emotions to others, even when we do not want them to.
  • When it is important to communicate to others, or send them a message, it can be very hard to change our emotions.
  • Whether we intend to or not, our communication of emotions influences others.
Emotions Communicate to Ourselves
  • Emotions can give us important information about a situation and they can be signals and alarms.
  • Gut feelings like intuition can be helpful if we use them to check the facts of a situation (emotion-free police report version of events)
  • Caution: Emotions are not facts about the world and we should not assume them to be facts about a situation.
  • If we assume that emotions are facts about the world, we may use them to ignore, or overlook, the facts and to justify decisions.

What Makes it Hard to Regulate Emotions

  • Biology- Biological factors can make it hard to regulate emotions.
  • Lack of Skill- You don’t know what to do to regulate your emotions.
  • Reinforcement of Emotional Behavior- You environment reinforces you when you are highly emotional.
  • Moodiness- Mood disorders or when your moods dictate your actions.
  • Emotional Overload- High emotional arousal causes you to reach a skills breakdown.
  • Emotion Myths- Myths, or mistaken beliefs, about emotions can get in the way of your ability to regulate emotions. Myths that emotions are bad or weak lead to avoiding emotions while myths that extreme emotions are part of who you are can keep you from trying to regulate your emotions.

Linehan, Marsha, M. (2015) From DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition.

Living with Emotions

As a result of child abuse, I learned that showing any type of emotion meant I had done something wrong. This led me to fear my own emotions. Even today, I still struggle with showing too much or too little emotion for a given situation. However, I am making improvements.

Emotions do not have to be frightening or powerful; they can actually add color to life. When you choose to acknowledge and regulate your emotions, to the best of your ability, you feel less loss of control. And if you do lose control, you can acknowledge what went wrong and quickly get back on track-which leads to resilience.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) was primarily created for people with borderline personality disorder rather than people with mood disorders. For that reason, I left off the rather crass comment (in workbook) about not wanting to regulate your emotions.

I think we all try to regulate our emotions in some way or another, but we may not have healthy emotion regulation skills. Those skills come with time and practice and can have a great impact on your daily life.

To learn more about Dialectical Behavior Therapy, please visit Psychology Today

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Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

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