Will you ever gain control of your feelings? Can you ever gain control of your emotions?
I hope so. Not letting your emotions control you is a necessary skill that needs to be mastered to sustain long-term recovery. Feeling emotionally out of control or having mood swings in early recovery is perfectly normal. So don’t be surprised when they either bubble up or erupt like a volcano.
People in recovery are dealing with a massive amount of change. Change generates emotions. Big changes generate big emotions.
Emotions are such a big part of being a human being, it’s kind of surprising that people don’t pay more attention to the idea that they can control their emotions and feelings.
In this post we will reveal where feelings come from initially and give you some tips on controlling emotions. Just because you’re feeling a certain way doesn’t mean that you have to run with it and stay stuck with it. It is possible to gain some control over your emotions and feelings.
Where Do Feelings And Emotions Come From, Anyway?
Most people don’t really have a clue or care where feelings come from. They notice their feelings sometimes, but it’s kind of like poof –I feeling popped up – ‘ I’m depressed’ for example. Feelings don’t just pop up they come from anywhere. There is actually an identified progression that helps identify why a person is feeling a certain way at a certain time. Let’s use an example.
A friend Alex says to me ‘I’m feeling really depressed and don’t know what to do about it.’ I certainly would not Alex he shouldn’t feel depressed and because he has a lot of good things going on their life etc. He, (and you) have a right to feel your feelings, there are no good or bad feelings they just are.
If Alex wanted to talk about being depressed, I might start with an observation something the effect of “Wow, that’s a shame, you’re not usually depressed. What you thinking about that has you feeling depressed?’ Alex might reply “Well Christmas is coming up pretty soon and my family is 1500 miles away and I’m feeling all alone and left out.”
I could understand that.
I might continue in a gentle probe saying “So what was going on around you that had you thinking you’re all alone and left out?” His answer might be: “Well I was watching one of those sappy movies on the Hallmark Channel about a guy going home at Christmas time for a family reunion and I kind of wish that was happening to me.”
Let’s leave the example for just a moment and look at the process. This is really important. Here’s how feeling show up in your life:
- An event occurs. (Watching the Hallmark Channel)
- You think about it this way or that way. (I’m all alone, not like the show)
- Your thoughts generate feelings. (I feel depressed.)
Events >>>Thoughts >>>Feelings
Notice what happens here. Alex first identified the feeling of being depressed. We had to then backtrack to identify what kind of thoughts were generating those feelings. Going back one step further we identified the event that was generating the thought, that led to the feeling of depression. It is kind of like doing a little detective work. But once you know the formula feelings are easy to puzzle out.
Where do feelings come from? Quite simply, an event occurs we have thoughts about it, and that generates feelings. Only all the time.
How Do You Control Your Feelings And Not Let Your Feelings Control You? The Theory.
In the previous section we look at where feelings came from and it looked something like this:
Events >>>Thoughts >>>Feelings>…
Well, I think you’re ready for the rest of the equation – two that we are going to add:
Actions >>> Results.
So it now look like this:
Events >>>Thoughts >>>Feelings>>> Actions >>> Results
In my previous example with a person who is feeling depression I might’ve asked so what did you do because you were feeling depressed? An answer might be ‘I was feeling so depressed I went to bed early and slept all the next day, it cost me a days pay of work’.
So, that feeling of depression actually generated a course of action – which was to climb into bed and that generated the results of losing a days work.
That formula above is the way human beings are designed to work. If I put it into plain language it run something like this: something happens and we think about it, that generates our feelings about the event and then we act out of that emotional state and get the results of our actions.
We drifted away from the original question how do you control your feelings? There are several answers to that:
- Become aware of your feelings be able to identify exactly what it is you’re feeling. Addicts are notorious for not being able to separate feelings from thoughts, and having extremely poor vocabulary for feelings. They usually I die identify their feelings as “good or bad”.
- Decide whether you want to change your feelings or not. Not everybody wants to change negative feelings there might be a payoff in there somewhere.
- Identify and change the thoughts that are creating those feelings in the first place. In the depression example we are using the fellow actually changed his thinking to this “Well I might be lonely for a little while my family really does love me even though they’re not here. Maybe I can go visit”. He did not stay stuck he changed his thinking.
- You can also not subject to yourself to the events that cause certain feelings. Don’t watch sappy movies on the Hallmark Channel. Stop doing shameful things to support your drug habit. Raise your standards.
- Feelings can also be changed by taking action. There’s an old saying in the 12 step rooms move a muscle change a thought. If you’re feeling lonely and depressed, stop eating Cheetos, get off the couch, and go to a 12 step meeting and be around some people.
6 Practical Tips To Gain Control Of Emotions
You can practice gaining control of your emotions with these tips and strategies:
- Negative emotions don’t last forever. If you’re angry about something right now, you’ll probably be over it by next year, next week, or even by tomorrow. But emotions tend to focus our attention right here and now. We don’t consider the potential long-term consequences that a temporary emotional state can create. This is especially true in taking action when you’re in a highly emotional state.
- Examine and become aware of your emotions. Learn to notice when you’re getting emotional. When you notice yourself reacting strongly, ask yourself why. Try to label the emotion. Analyze why you’re feeling that particular emotion and then admit it to yourself. Just acknowledge it. It’s okay to feel any given way, but you don’t have to stay stuck in it.
- Take some time for you act. Many of the challenges created by our emotions could be eliminated if we could just take a moment before reacting. There is a huge difference between considering a few different ways to react and going with the first thing that comes to mind. My sponsor used to say to me all the time “bill, first thought wrong.” What he was saying is don’t fly off the handle and the first thing that pops into your head consider some alternatives..
- Find a role model with a great attitude. Would you take your car to an accountant to get it fixed? Probably not! Learn emotional control from those that maintain their composure regardless of the circumstances. When you find such a person, ask them how they do it. The answers you receive could make all the difference.
- Find a healthy way to release negative emotions. Don’t stuff them down inside our actions can influence our moods. If you’re feeling bored while watching TV, there’s no reason to continue watching TV. Exercise is great for working out and emotional state and it is a great way to release energy. Suppressed or repressed emotions are a common relapse trigger.
- Try altering your breathing. Many people assume that emotions are entirely psychological, but there is a physical component. Realize that all emotions are ultimately experienced as physical feelings in your body. You’ve just learned to label certain body feelings with names like “anger” and “fear.”
Video - Manage Your Emotions | Change Everything In Your Life. This Is A GREAT 7 Minute Video
Controlling your feelings and emotions is one of the essential social and life skills for adults that needs to be mastered. If you’re used to being controlled by your emotions, you know that it’s not easy to maintain your composure. But you can choose to respond differently to your emotions and make wiser choices. Negative emotions exist to inform us that something might be wrong. They are not there to control us.
You don’t have to passively accept your mood. Go do something else and change it!
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Some Really Good Resources
- Drugs, Brains and Behavior: The Science of Addiction (Drugabuse.gov) – In my opinion this is the best short read on addiction. I have used the content for many therapy groups and lectures…check it out.
- Understanding Drug Use and Addiction Many people don’t understand why or how other people become addicted to drugs. This explains it nicely.