What IS Emotional Control?


Sometimes I get this idea in my head when I think about “emotional control”. Some of you may recall that I took a nasty spill off of a mountain in my youth. I had to essentially relearn language which had an interesting effect: I became very literal in my understanding of words. So, “emotional control” to me, conjures some strange notions.

“Emotional” to me, means a demonstration of emotions. When I’ve been accused of being “emotional” it wasn’t a good thing.

“Control” to me, means an ability to cause a thing to either occur or not occur. I have control over the the state of the TV (on or off), I have control over my car... but control over my emotions? HA! (See, I couldn’t control that!!)

Of course, most linguistic terms aren’t quite so easily defined in the context of actual living. And when two words come together, they sometimes mean completely different things.

When we talk about Emotional Control in the context of Subconscious Restructuring, it isn’t to imply that a person should be able to control every moment of their emotional lives. It is more about the ability to refrain from making choices when you are aware that your emotional state might not serve your best (future) interest.

Let’s dissect this for a minute. Who among us hasn’t been angry to the point of acting on it? Have you ever:

Thrown a kitchen tool at your spouse?

Ever screamed something completely vicious at your parent (or child) in a fit of anger that you later wished you hadn’t?

Have you ever struck someone in anger?

Ever shot off an email to your boss after a “discussion” about your performance....?

Yeah, that last one was me for SURE...

My point? Right. The emotional state of Anger leads to some pretty harmful behaviors -- and let’s be honest. Those behaviors tend to hurt us more in the end than we hurt the receiver of it in the immediate moment. Right?

What you have done is had an emotional outburst (clinical term!) that felt outside of your control.

“I couldn’t stop myself!” “It all happened so fast, I didn’t even know it was happening!” “I couldn’t think straight and it just happened.”

Sound familiar?

That is the opposite of emotional control. In the context of SR, there are a few components to gaining control over your emotional state, and the first one is becoming aware that you are actually experiencing a given emotional state.

If it sounds too simplistic, you aren’t paying attention.

How do you know when you are experiencing anger, sadness, frustration, joy, etc?

Most answer this question with a scoff. “Because I know!” But do you really?

By the time we are really angry, sad, or frustrated, a series of events have occurred to get us there. On most days, we can shake things off, but other days it is much more difficult. Why? Or better yet, as Dr. Burris would say, “How can we fix that?”

Awareness. We need to get better at identifying the little cues to our discomfort before they have the strength of raw emotion behind them to enact destruction in our lives.

What does it look like?

:: My client was telling me that he and his wife got into a huge fight over something really small. They had been talking about plans for the nursery - yeah, there’s a baby on the way! - and his wife slid herself to the floor and begin to play with the dogs. He said that he knew (later) that it wasn’t a big deal. Petting the dogs isn’t a huge distraction, but he was suddenly really angry that she was dividing her attention, or to him, she was disconnecting from their conversation. He very calmly (not always a good sign) told her that she was being rude. She attempted to convey that she was still participating in the conversation, but he wanted no part in continuing the conversation because she was being rude. The conversation became a shouting match and after 2 hours, they gave up. It wasn’t until the next day that they resolved this. ::

Was she being rude? Was his anger reasonable? Do you really think that if he hadn’t already been angry about other things that this event would have happened?

The answer to all of these is no....ish.... When you don't have the tools to identify and intervene on emotional situations, situations like this come up fairly regularly.

Not long ago, I found myself raging at my partner. He was confused, and rightfully so. He hadn't actually done anything wrong, and in my screaming fit, I even acknowledged that! I was just way beyond tired, had spent too much time with a very angry woman not 2 hours before, and needed an outlet. In my tirade, I also apologized for the fact that I was still so angry, even though I knew that he wasn't to blame for my anger -- in fact, NOTHING had actually happened to trigger my anger... other than sleep deprivation...

So, get your sleep! Get your goals in mind! Make sure your apologies are honest! And rise above your ego.... We are human = not perfect = not always in perfect "emotional control", but that's ok, too, when you have the tools to recover from errors and keep moving forward.