Stop Trying to Control Your Emotions!

A lot of people think that I teach others how to control their emotions in order to improve their communication and people skills. I don’t. And let me make it clear right off the bat: I believe that trying to control your emotions is messy, dangerous and ineffective stuff.

Emotions are not meant to be controlled

Emotions are not supposed to be something we have direct and instant power over. That would defeat their purpose. Imagine one of our ancestors in the Stone Age who is attacked by a hungry bear, feels fear and has the impulse to run like hell.

But then, he decides: “Hey, I’m gonna control my fear and try to negotiate with this bear.” And he somehow switches off his fear just like that. You would have a dead caveman in the next 5 seconds, regardless of his people skills (a… bear skills). Our species would be extinct if we could all command emotions like that.

So, what is it that I teach within my attitude-based approach? What is it that you can effectively do about those nasty negative emotions you don’t want? The point is this:

Instead of trying to control your emotions, learn to manage them.

Controlling emotions vs. Managing emotions

Managing your emotions is subtly but meaningfully different than trying to control them. When you try to control your emotions, you do so by rejecting and repressing them. It’s like putting a cap over a pot of boiling water and pretending the water isn’t boiling. I see this as a bad idea for several reasons:

  • It requires a lot of effort and is intrinsically painful;
  • It doesn’t really work; you can only control your emotions to a small degree;
  • The emotions eventually bottle up and they overwhelm you;
  • In the long term, the whole process is stressful and damaging to your health.

Managing your emotions is not about trying to reject them or repress them. It’s not a combative process, it’s a transformational process. To manage your emotions means to:

  • Accept they are there and there’s a positive intention behind them;
  • Understand both the external aspects of your life and the internal aspects of your thinking which create them, amplify them and sustain them;
  • Address these aspects and change them, in order to change your emotional reactions.

When you manage your emotions, they do not change all of a sudden. There are leaps in awareness in this process which can create instant emotional changes, but for the most part, the whole process is gradual. It takes place step by step, as you either change how your life is or how you habitually think about it.

Sometimes, negative emotions are just signals that you’re doing things that are not aligned with your values and an external change is required; sometimes they are signals that your thinking in certain situations is irrational and an internal change is required.

Either way, by managing you are not addressing your emotions head on and you are not fighting them. You are going to the root of your emotions, you are pulling out the weeds and you are planting new seeds. This is why in a very Zen way, managing your emotions makes a lot more sense than trying to control your emotions.

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Comments

  1. Eduard: Great post and great approach. I couldn’t agree more that we should never try to “go to war” with our emotions. It really is all about accepting them, whatever they may be, and then dealing and managing them. I think you really can become good at accepting that sometimes different types of emotions will arise and learning how to best transform those emotions so they are working for you instead of against you. Thanks for the great insights and sharing this approach.
    .-= Sibyl – alternaview´s last blog ..How to Really Experience the Current Moment =-.

  2. Great article. When we can simply be, allow, accept and watch, we are able to see what our emotions are saying with much less effort and agony than when we try to control them.
    .-= Kaushik´s last blog ..Three Stages =-.

  3. Management instead of control. Good for business too.
    .-= Jonny | thelifething.com´s last blog ..The Most Important Post I have Ever Written About Lifestyle Design =-.

  4. Eduard, I love the yellow (and your new gravatar photo) but I digress. Lately I have been trying to understand my emotions more than anything! I am a happy person and have the best angel as a husband – why do I sometimes have the urge to get all fussy over little stuff when I have great perspective at other times? I guess I am just trying to manage the emotion but not sure how…..I have to agree with most of what you say here – although I have heard and read about techniques (which I haven’t tried) that allow you to slowly control and adapt your emotions to new more improved reactions! Who knows!
    Thanks for your insights nonetheless….and open to your advice, always!

  5. Indeed you have put some light on how we should deal with our emotions. I have tried to control my emotions many time but it proves much worse, and it took me long to realize that I should let my emotion flow. Before we can manage our emotions, we should first become aware of them, and through that awareness is finding its root cause–just as you have eloquently stated here. :-)

  6. Pulling out the weeds and planting the seeds … I like that.

    I used to underestimate the value of emotional intelligence.

    When I fist got exposed to the idea, it was part of a special leadership training and a focus on empathy, as well as personal emotional awareness. Gradually, I started to realize that emotional intelligence was a much wider scope than the empathy aspect. When I read the book, Emotional Capitalists, I got a much richer frame, and even more distillation beyond the book, Emotional Intelligence. I then started to see how far reaching emotional intelligence is whether you are a skilled card player, a leader in the thick of things, or simply shaping your feelings with your thoughts, etc. Treating emotions as input and having them work with you versus against you is key. The way our emotions served us in the wild is vastly different than how they serve us now in the office, and that was one of the leaps I needed to make.
    .-= J.D. Meier´s last blog ..Lessons Learned from Dad =-.

  7. Great point about managing emotions. I also think it is important to acknowledge them. Some emotions just happen, but we can take a second, see that it is there, and move on. Very good post, thank you.

  8. Hey everybody,

    Thank you for all your thoughts on this article. I’m happy the topic got you thinking and wanting to share it. Just a bulk response from me today, I’m off for a streak of meetings and ice teas.

  9. An interesting approach…

    Allow me to express my opinion on the matter. Let’s say that David often feel anger. Anger is an emotional reaction when David do not fulfill something that he want.

    If David tries to control his anger, he will not succeed. If he try to eliminate anger, he will succeed.
    However, if David chooses to place the situation humorous, he will transform his anger into something beautiful — laughter.

    I like your site Edward…

    • Good one Marko! I see placing the situation humorous as a way of rethinking about it. Which is part of the emotional management process. I think it can help.

  10. It is true that harnessing emotions is more helpful than controlling them. I’ve found that personally, when I try to control my behavior and feelings, it causes a lot of stress (and makes me angrier about the situation) than necessary! Great blog.

    http://jeanlattingblog.leadingconsciously.com/blog-2/

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