Do You Want to Control Your Emotions?

by Melissa Karnaze

When people talk about emotions, they use specific words.

Those words matter.

They reveal what the people really think about emotions.

By paying attention to the words someone uses, you can see whether a they are afraid of their emotions, stumped by them, in turmoil because of them, groping to “re”-gain control, or simply bitter about the whole having-emotions thing.

Wanting to control emotions

When someone says they want to:

    • Control
    • Keep in check
    • Manage
    • Deal with
    • Tame
    • Domesticate
    • Master

their emotions… they’re likely pitting their emotions as adversary.

Or maybe just nuisance.

And their goal is to dominate with mighty left-brain thinking or enough minutes of mindfulness meditation, so that their emotions don’t dominate them.

That kind of me-against-them mindset leads to problems later on.

It focuses on controlling something that you can’t control, distracting you from the only thing you can control — which is your response ability to your emotions.

And it puts you at war with yourself.

Not needing to control emotions

When someone says they want to:

    • Work with
    • Learn from
    • Grow from
    • Partner with
    • Use constructively
    • Nurture
    • Integrate

their emotions… they’re speaking to a more balanced relationship with them.

They know that there’s no such thing as controlling what is just a part of yourself.

And that it’s smarter and more realistic to move toward emotions rather than away from them.

Lots of people want to control emotions

There are plenty mental health professionals, psychologists, life coaches, and educators who describe emotions in unbalanced (and outdated) ways.

All you have to do is put their words under a magnifying glass, and you’ll start to see the signs of dysfunctional beliefs about emotion.

This is why it’s important to always check your sources and ask yourself, “Is this person/organization/ideology representing a balanced/constructive/response able relationship with emotions?”

And this doesn’t just apply to mental health professionals, psychologists, life coaches, and educators.

It applies to everyone else who has some type of authority in a social system.

(We’ve got plenty of mythlore pitting emotion as the nemesis to reason, being slowly corrected by cognitive-affective science.)

How about you?

And it applies to yourself.

So how about you?

Do you want to control your emotions?

If not, what words do you use to describe your relationship to them?

The ones you pick will play a big role in shaping that relationship, and steering your mental-emotional health — for better or for worse.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Kelley Mitchell February 25, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Yes! I do want to control my emotions! That’s actually the reason I started reading your blog, but then I kept on reading your blog because I’ve learned “response able” is the key not control. Control is simply an illusion.

Melissa Karnaze February 28, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Definitely, control is an illusion. Response ability is more practical. Thanks for sharing Kelley. :)

Caroline September 22, 2010 at 2:53 am

My emotions have always been my guide to understanding myself.I follow the leads they give me on my true motivations.I trust them deeply and have relied on the wisdom of my emotions to guide me through difficult situations in my life. I strive to work with them rather than control or eradicate them. My life is richer and more meaningful for having emotion .Good or bad, happy or sad, it all adds to the richness of life.

Melissa Karnaze September 23, 2010 at 8:22 pm

Beautiful Caroline, thanks for sharing.

Morgan June 7, 2012 at 10:10 am

Growing up, my family was into ‘dealing with emotions’, which was shorthand for making them go away. The message I got was that if you feel bad or upset about something, obviously there is something wrong with you. Go sit down some place and fix it. I have been wary of psychology for years because I expect it to touch on the scars of trying to ‘find the problem and fix it’, when it comes to emotions.

This has NEVER worked for me. Trying to fix or deal with emotions usually just makes me feel bad in some other way, which is harder to label but easier to suppress. It comes from a deepseated belief that you can’t trust your feelings because, if they are unpleasant, they reveal you are some how deeply dysfunctional.

The only way I have found to truely deal with emotions is to make friends with them, to understand why they are there, what message they bring. Sometimes this feels like having a long diplomatic meeting with waring factions in my psyche, but usually it comes down to the fact that both are trying to do something good and there was a misunderstanding somewhere along the way. If you call one side of the war wrong, the war will just continue.

So I agree. It’s amazing how healing and different it feels to say, “I am nurturing my emotions,” or to think, “Perhaps he needs to integrate his emotions,” than to think, “I have to deal with my emotions,” or, “He needs to fix his emotions.” The later almost sounds like calling out a mafia hit on someone you are trying to help.

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