If there is one thing that relationship therapists agree on, it is that learning good emotional regulation skills can be invaluable in a relationship. When we regulate our emotions, we are much less likely to overreact or act impulsively out of hurt or anger – and instead we are able to do what is the best for us and learn to look after ourselves. Unfortunately, emotional regulation isn’t taught at school, and is often something we learn through trial and error – so here are the ABCs of emotional regulation, to get you started with this valuable skill:
A – This is for acceptance, a fundamental part of emotion regulation. By noticing, acknowledging and accepting emotions as they come up for us, we are honouring that these emotions are normal – and deciding whether to act on them. When we struggle with our emotions and try to make them disappear, this creates problems – acceptance is a much healthier way of handling these strong and understandable emotions.
B – This is for balancing emotions – and knowing how to manage triggering or upsetting situations. This can take some practice, but the key is being able to take stock of the emotion we are feeling, and decide on what behaviour is the best course of action – rather than just going with whatever we feel. Often our emotions will be telling us to escalate a situation, when in reality we might be much better off taking a step back to cool off.
C – This is for cognitive reappraisal – which is really about checking in with yourself to identify any destructive thought patterns, and giving ourselves a comforting dose of reality. This might be about replacing a catastrophic thought with ‘things are hard now, but they are bound to get better’, or simply reflecting on what it is that you need right now. Keeping track of our thoughts and what our mind is telling us is valuable for emotional regulation, as the two are so strongly linked.
The more we can practice emotion regulation, the more choice we have in our relationships and the better chance we have of having our needs met – and of our relationships lasting long term. The best thing about emotional regulation is that the benefits are almost instantaneous – and the improvements we see in our relationships help us to make it permanent.