“Emotions are like waves; allow them to come and go, but you must control the tide.” Maximilian Kikwembe, Swahili Apologist
Here are the five emotional regulation techniques that you must master.
- Identify and Minimize Triggers
It is impossible to completely avoid toxic people. You will need to deal with them regularly and effectively. However, you can minimize how often you need to deal with them. Handling negative emotions takes a significant toll on your energy levels, and the more you learn how to deal with them, the better things will be for you.
The first step to emotional regulation is examining past confrontations you have had to deal with and evaluating the events that led to them. Was it something you said? Was there a sign you ignored?
Identify the triggers that surrounded each event and led you to experience negative emotions and begin to remove them. To successfully identify emotional triggers, you will need to ask yourself serious questions and give honest answers.
Do not assume that everyone has the same emotional triggers. This erroneous assumption will hinder your emotional mastery. It is only by examining yourself that you will discover your emotional triggers.
2. Switch to Positive Self-Talk
It is common to berate yourself when faced with mounting criticism. “I blew that!”, “I am never going to get another opportunity like that,” “Maybe they are right,” or “I am totally useless.”
Your words can shape your reality. If you continue to speak negatively of yourself, you will reinforce these beliefs and strengthen their grip on you. Instead, treat yourself with empathy and replace such negative expressions with positive words. “I will find better ways to do that,” or “If I try a different approach, I will get the results I desire.”
Understand that you must not become complacent by deluding yourself with falsely positive self-talk. It does not work that way. Recognize any areas in which you need to do better and make a commitment to improve. However, you should never talk yourself into accepting failure, guilt, helplessness, or any other negative emotions.
3. Select Your Responses
There is no denying that terrible things happen in life. Sometimes we are pushed beyond our limits and find ourselves confronted with awkward situations. Often, we give in to our natural inclination to lash out, scream our heads off, or even unload our aggression on the nearest victims. You must overcome that inclination.
Understand that you have the power to choose your response to any kind of provocation. Yelling, throwing tantrums, or other impulsive reactions might make you feel awesome at the time. However, if you indulge in those reactions, you will find that you end up with feelings of regret when the impulse passes.
Instead of subjecting yourself to such torture, take the time to pause and evaluate your response to any provocation. This not only applies when dealing with difficult people, but also when dealing with people in general. Speak calmly to people who offend you rather than yelling at them. Take the time to explain what is wrong with a colleague’s work rather than unleashing abusive tirades.
Think about it for a moment. Reacting impulsively will likely ruin your relationships with other people and draw them into the vicious cycle of toxicity you should be trying to escape. Besides boosting your social credibility, pausing to choose the right response also improves your self-esteem.
In choosing the right response, you can apply the five-second rule. When provoked, delay your response for five seconds. This way, you overcome your impulsive reaction and are able to choose a better and more productive response.
4. Search for Positive Emotions
Humans tend to sway toward the negative. They will readily overlook any positive signs staring them in the face and seek out negativity, even in places where none can be found. This behavior is so common that a special name exists for it. It is known as the negativity bias. You cannot blame them, though; negative emotions such as fear, anger, and anxiety carry a lot of weight. Definitely, it is easy to notice them once they are present.
On the other hand, positive emotions such as peace, contentment, and gratitude is considerably lighter. You will only notice them when you make the effort. Begin to make that effort. Start by looking for the tiniest bits of light in overwhelming darkness. See the brighter side of every picture and vocalize these feelings.
Your focus is your power. Whatever emotions you make the object of your focus will be amplified with time. By choosing to overlook negative feelings and focus only on positives, you maximize this power, boosting your mental well-being and improving your resilience.
5. Seek Therapy
Managing your emotions is not a feat that you can achieve all by yourself. You will need support and even professional help as you begin.
Although many people are born with mild temperaments, which they may have inherited from their parents, nobody is a natural expert at managing their emotions.
Like any learned skill, emotional regulation is mastered through constant practice. Managing your emotions requires a high level of self-awareness. You may find yourself overwhelmed by the effort, especially in the beginning. It is also more difficult to commit to emotional regulation in the face of mounting toxicity.
That’s where therapy comes in. A professional therapist can help you discover better emotional regulation strategies, as well as evaluate your progress. Working with a therapist will help you to discover useful insights about areas in which you could improve your emotional regulation.
While it is impossible to completely avoid toxic people, you can identify them, measure your response to mounting toxicity, and create your escape route. By becoming a master of your emotions, you take back the control from toxic people around you and begin to put the necessary measures in place to protect yourself.
Ann Kring and Denise Sloan, eds., Emotion Regulation and Psychopathology: A Transdiagnostic Approach to Etiology and Treatment, New York: The Guilford Press, 2010, p. 42-46.