What is Emotional Regulation?

An important part of psychological well-being is healthy self-soothing. Being able to calm yourself down is important. When someone feels too much anger, he may yell, curse, or hit someone else. Acting out our emotions destructively is one consequence of poor emotional regulation. Another way of dealing with painful emotions is to try to numb ourselves with alcohol or other drugs. Many problems result from our inability to regulate our feelings well.

When we are born, we rely on our mother (or primary caregivers) to calm down. Our brain is designed to rely on interactions with others to find balance and adjust to surrounding circumstances. Early in life, infants need connections to caregivers in order to develop healthy brain function. The interactions between the child and parent enable the child to achieve balance or regulation within her own mind. Interactions with caregivers allow the child’s brain to develop the structures necessary to move from emotional regulation with a parent to more independent forms of emotional regulation.

When children who are infants, toddlers, and preschoolers experience healthy emotional regulation in their relationships with their mom, they become school children who are seen by peers and teachers as likable. These children also perform well in school, show good social skills, and act in ways that build their relationships with others. But children with poor emotion socialization have difficulty in peer relationships, have trouble in school, and are at risk for emotional problems such as anxiety and depression during their childhood. These effects persist into adulthood.

Children need environments, like home and school, where they can be emotionally expressive. Children need parents who express their emotions, but do not overwhelm their children. A mother’s emotions have a powerful influence on her child’s emotional development. Children benefit when mothers talk about their own emotions. When their children are emotional, mothers who avoid yelling and punishing and provide positive responses to their children, enable their children understand their emotions better. Children also need their emotions to be accepted. When children are raised in an environment where they learn to explore their own emotions, and they learn to make connections between their emotional experience and events they see. They are able to understand their emotions in various situations.

After they reach school age, children who assess and process emotional information will in turn respond more appropriately to others and have skills that promote their own emotion self-soothing. The more emotional intelligence that children have, the greater their empathy they have with peers. These children also behave in ways that promote relationships, and they are more popular. The children who can identify their emotions and who self-sooth them well are seen as more likable and more prosocial in relationships with their peers. These early emotional experiences are a foundation for emotional intelligence.
When we are feeling highly emotional, we are in a state of emotional imbalance. An event with the people or events around us can trigger an emotional reaction. These emotional reactions are made more likely by past experiences that created vulnerabilities within the individual. These vulnerabilities are embedded in our memory and directly influence our thoughts, feelings, and choices.

Our emotions and affect influence what we see and hear. Our perceptions can be changed by the affect being experienced by the perceiver. “An affect oriented clinician can help a client more accurately perceive his environments by teaching him (Affect Management Skills Training) AMST skills to regulate his affect,” writes Dr. John Omaha.

The development of affect regulation, enables the emergence of a strong sense of self. When one has poor sense of self, he will not be able to self-soothe well. An adult with a strong sense of self is able to manage disturbing events and respond quickly to stressful demands. She will be able to remain self-aware during a disturbing event. This optimally functioning adult will be flexible, highly skillful, and self-aware in the area of emotions and affect. She will genuinely and with authority increase positive emotions, like joy, and calm negative emotions, like shame. This has been called a self-reflective function. Self-soothing with be accomplished by making use of inner images of safety, soothing, validation, and affirmation. The optimally functioning adult will not use alcohol, other drugs, food, sex, relationship, or work to numb out emotions. They will manifest vitality and will pursue the goals she sets for herself with energy and persistence. Please watch this video and learn about healthy emotional regulation from Dr. John Omaha:

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