This is indeed a very peculiar and difficult time for all of humanity.
We all feel extremely vulnerable because of a tiny virus sweeping the globe that threatens our health, leading to inaptness at practicing emotional regulation and adverse effects on our financial wellbeing.
During times of crisis caused by external events, which we have no control over, such as now, it can be easy to react by projecting out our fears and vulnerability on those close to us.
Generally speaking, when triggered by uncomfortable situations and feelings, people tend to react in two ways: we either explode and have no “filters,” or we repress our feelings in an attempt to keep the peace and avoid feeling exposed and vulnerable.
We all know that if we lash out through our words or actions, we can be destructive, but many of us are not aware of the fact that trying to bury or deny our fears, hurt, anger and all our ‘negative’ emotions can end up being even more destructive than expressing them.
Lack of emotional regulation spells disaster
Over time, ‘stuffing’ our emotions – known as repression in psychology – can produce all kinds of problems, first of all, in our own bodies, minds, and lives.
Depression and anxiety are also often symptoms of repressed emotions, as well.Which is suffice to say that emotional regulation is the key to staying sane and happy.
The same thing is true in our relationships, especially with those closest to us. We may believe we are doing the right thing by ‘stuffing’ how we are really feeling, but just as within our bodies, repressing emotions can cause energy blockages that end up producing disease, the same thing happens in our relationships.
The flow of communication and connection becomes blocked by our desire to not rock the boat, cause conflict, or expose ourselves by being truthful about how imperfect and weak we feel, which ends up causing other, even more, serious problems!
Why putting on happy face does not work
When we ‘stuff’ our feelings and ‘put on a happy face’ to try to hide how we are really feeling, we are putting out a signal to the others in our life that we are willing to only get so close.
While the emotional atmosphere created by ‘stuffed’ feelings can feel somewhat safe, in reality, it suffocates all authentic communication and drives people apart.
What do we do about emotional regulation?
First of all, we can look at a time like this, where we are being challenged with a situation we have very little control over.
Many of us are stuck in the house with our partners and loved ones, This, in fact, can be a real opportunity to grow and to hone our relationship skills – relationship with ourselves, with our loved ones, with other human beings, and with the entire planet.
This virus is calling our attention to all these relationships and is presenting each one of us with the opportunity to take the time to make some serious changes.
Just as we are being called to stop denying, on a collective level, that our actions are affecting the health of our planet, our first home, we are also being invited to look at what is happening in our individual lives.
What kinds of toxic environments we are immersed in due to our difficulties in being able to truly take good care of our own bodies, minds, emotions, and spiritual dimension.
We often think that toxic relationships and home environments are created only by people who have severe personality disorders and are extremely selfish, violent, or manipulative.
But we need to become aware that they are also created by repressing how we really feel, by stuffing our emotions, reluctance to learn about emotional regulation and by shutting ourselves off first of all from our own selves.
We learn early on to deny and repress our anger, envy, pride, etc.; all those “negative” emotions that we were told were “bad.”
Difficult human emotions are not necessarily bad
We need to realize, though, that all these difficult human emotions are not necessarily ‘bad’; they are often signaling that something inside of us or in our lives or relationships needs our attention.
For example, if we are feeling angry at our partner and we stop to examine our anger for a moment, we may discover that the real problem is that we have not been taking enough time for ourselves, or have not been able to make a clear request about something we want or need.
Or perhaps we are ‘shut down’ because we are disappointed that our partner is not just ‘stepping up’ for things that seem obvious to us.
When this type of frustration builds up over time, we end up closing ourselves off, feeling hopeless, and blaming our partner for our unhappiness.
The same thing can be true regarding our work, our relationships with children and friends and family.
If we are not feeling good about our lives or our relationships, the first thing we must do is realize that we do have the power to make the changes we need to feel more positive, connected and engaged, within ourselves, and also with others.
How can you learn emotional regulation
Below are a few very simple but essential steps that can help us in finding love in the time of crisis.
These steps to healthy emotional regulation will help you to take real ownership of your life, your happiness, your relationships, and begin to create the life you are longing for.
1. Learn to create love and beauty
Every human being longs to feel that they are loved and lovable and that they have a special place in this world, even though they may not be “perfect.”
When we are full of a sense of love and belonging, even though we make mistakes, we feel peaceful and purposeful and inspired to move towards our dreams.
Many of us, however, do not feel that we are loved or that we belong.
We have suffered many wounds and losses, and perhaps we have grown up in households that could not give us what we needed, either emotionally or materially.
And even if we grew up in loving homes, we are still struggling with making our lives and relationships work the way we would like them to.
We are doing our best, but we often feel disconnected from our own selves, which makes it even more difficult to connect with others, even though that is what we most long for.
We must realize that while anything external – a romantic relationship, a material possession, success in our careers – can fill the void and longing we all feel for a while, at some point it stops working.
In a romantic relationship, for example, the early phases of falling in love are wonderful, and they often make us feel great.
We are finally special in someone’s eyes, and this “someone” also seems very special to us. It is a wonderful feeling!
But soon, the magic starts wearing off, and we begin to see that the other person is actually not as perfect as we thought and it becomes harder and harder to connect as we did before.
As the little and big annoyances and failings begin to build up, it can feel as though a huge divide is just getting wider and wider.
This is when it can become all too easy to believe that the growing distance is someone’s fault. Some of us tend to put the blame on their partners, while others tend to take the blame all upon themselves. But in reality it all boils down to a lack of emotional regulation.
Most of us experience a mixture and go back and forth between pointing the finger at our partner and shaming and blaming ourselves for not being able to figure things out and make it work.
To make us feel better, we try to bend and manipulate ourselves and others, but nothing seems to work.
Instead, we need to stop and understand that when crisis, conflict, and disconnection begin to show up in a relationship, the time has come to become willing to go inside ourselves, learn how to connect with our Higher Selves, and love ourselves more. This will facilitate the process of inculcating self-regulation and emotional regulation skills.
Not to become even more selfish and cut the other off even more, but to become more clear, first of all with ourselves, about what we really need and want to make our lives a better reflection of our soul-inspired desires.
We must realize that we are not powerless victims; we can take even just small steps to learn new ways to build love for ourselves and adopt emotional regulation for a healthier mind.
Love of Self is not about trying to be better than others.
It is simply about learning what our own needs are and taking responsibility for them, which brings a greater sense of fulfillment, self-esteem, and self-worth, and helps us build more effective communication and connection in every aspect of our lives.
No matter how difficult our situation may be, we can take ownership of our happiness and take even just one tiny action a day that will eventually lead us to where we want to be.
“Today is a new day, and I can choose to create Love and Beauty.”
We don’t have to do it perfectly: even small choices of love towards ourselves and others have marvelous ripple effects that help create ever more love and beauty both within ourselves and in our lives.
Plus, as we practice self-love as an Art to be honed and learned, we get better at it, just as with any art or craft, and the benefits begin to really pay off.
2. Take ownership of your feelings
Learning how we are truly feeling, what our deepest needs and desires are, and expressing them, is a fundamental aspect of Love of Self. It also provides the key insights into developing emotional regulation.
Many of us are so accustomed to either shutting down our emotions or exploding directly into anger that we are unaware of what our feelings really are and of what might have triggered them.
Learning how to name your emotions, and connect them with what may have set them off, with how they feel in your body and the kind of thoughts they tend to trigger in your mind, takes a bit of work, and you may want to get some professional help in this process.
Many of us learned early on to repress and deny our deepest feelings, and it can take some serious practice to get back in tune with ourselves and adapt to the practice of emotional regulation.
But even on your own, you can begin to take notice of how you feel throughout the day, and “speak” your emotions as they come up. (You can also do a web search and get a full list of emotions that can help you identify how you are feeling).
You can do this by journaling, and by talking to yourself throughout the day, you can make it even more powerful by speaking your emotions to others.
Learning to use feeling statements – “I am feeling really sad today,” or “I am feeling scared,” or “I am feeling really proud of myself for having finished my chores,” “I feel so wonderfully relaxed after having taken a bath!”– even for small things, gives us practice in being truthful and integrated, first of all, within ourselves.
As we learn to accept ourselves in all our myriad of feelings and emotional reactions, good and bad, honorable and not so noble, we learn to embrace our humanity and to see our imperfections as opportunities to grow, rather than as terrible flaws to be hidden from sight.
The trick for emotional regulation is to start small and get lots of practice, so you feel more and more comfortable with “owning” your feelings, and realizing that yes – you can trust yourself, and you can handle even the more difficult emotions like grief, fear, anger, the desire to control and dominate others, jealousy, envy, greed, hatred, etc.
Actually, the more we can honestly express how we are feeling by simply speaking our emotions out loud, the more empowered we feel.
We are no longer having to work so hard to keep those feelings repressed and pretend we are feeling things we are not, or not feeling things that we are!
Expressing how we feel does not mean, however, blasting other people with our unfettered emotions.
If you are someone who tends to get angry easily, it can be a good idea to follow the famous “count to ten” rule: count to ten, or even longer if you need to, before you speak or act.
That can give you time to let the energy of your anger settle a bit, so you can then find a way to communicate that will not either wound the other or make them put up their defenses.
Remember – your desire is to create love and beauty – to have better relationships with yourself and others.
The goal is not to be “right,” or to dominate and control others or yourself, and being willing to change your patterns might take some effort, but it is what can bring you what you desire!
The same is true, by the way, with self-talk: berating yourself for your mistakes and wrongdoings is not going to make you a better person.
Becoming aware of our mistakes is important, but once we have become aware of them, we can simply ask ourselves how we can correct them – can we make amends to the other? To ourselves? – and then move on.
If instead, you are the kind of person who tends to shut down when you are feeling upset or uncomfortable about something and pretend that everything is fine, your job is going to be to make an effort every day to be direct and honest about how you are feeling.
In the beginning of practising emotional regulation, it is going to feel very awkward and uncomfortable. You are used to numbing yourself out and denying you have feelings about things (and you may believe you are suffering from “depression.”)
But my suggestion is to work on becoming more open and honest about how you are feeling for a few weeks, and see how your depression is going after that), so it is going to take some practice to let yourself really feel again.
But once you start, you will be amazed at how much more energy you will start to feel and how much more connected you will feel with your partner.
You may be wondering, “But how can I begin to share my real feelings while cooped up in the house? What if by sharing how I am feeling, then everyone loses control?
What if things don’t go over well? What if my partner/children/family members react negatively? What if I feel overwhelmed trying to learn emotional regulation?”
All these fears are absolutely understandable.
3. Break old patterns
It is difficult to break habits that we have been following for most of our lives, and it can be especially challenging when we are in the midst of a major crisis.
However, the opposite is also true: when we are in the midst of a world crisis such as the one we are in now, it is a perfect time to try to make changes, because so much is already shifting.
We have a real opportunity to begin to look at our lives and get deeply honest about what we want and don’t want, what is important and meaningful for us, and what is not, and begin to take some action towards building the life we want.
4. Start getting in touch with yourselves
Rather than remain passive victims in front of our “screens” or zoning out in any number of ways, we can take a bit of time each day to start getting in touch with ourselves, with how we are really feeling about things, with learning how to speak our truth and open the door to creating more intimacy with others.
If we keep in the forefront our main goal – to create Love and Beauty in our lives, one day at a time – we can learn how to express even our difficult emotions in ways that are constructive.
We can give ourselves some time to vent, and then shift our focus to something that will help us feel better – some small act of love that can bring us to open our hearts and realize that we actually do have more power than we think to change how we are feeling.
5. Don’t negate your difficult feelings
it is about first acknowledging them so we can let them go and then focus on what we are learning, and equip ourselves with what will facilitate emotional regulation.
This can bring us more love, more connection, more trust, more beauty in our own selves and in how we are interacting with others.
A better world begins with individual human beings improving their own lives and improving our own lives begins with taking care of ourselves and taking ownership of our happiness and wellbeing.
Not just on a material level, but on an emotional, psychological and relational level as well.
This does not mean that we have to become perfect overnight or that if we struggle with these new tools, there is something wrong with us.
On the contrary – we need to think of ourselves as Artists of our lives, just doing our best to practice how to love ourselves and others a bit more every day.
Every little bit of Love and Beauty that we can create in our own selves and relationships is an enormously important contribution to a better world, and there has never been more need for it than now.
We are all-powerful creators – let’s use this crisis to learn the art and science of emotional regulation and create more Love and Beauty, in small ways, every day.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Martha is an experienced holistic coach and counselor. Her area of specialization is Existential Personalistic Anthropology. She helps people to become the best version of themselves. She does not see her clients as broken individuals in need of fixing but, as people who could use some support to heal themselves, so they can go forward in their lives towards an ever greater capacity for love and wellbeing. Her holistic approach helps her see the patterns that cause pain to people and what should be done to overcome that pain, so they can live with ever greater joy, freedom and purpose.