#1: Relying on other people for comfort
If you’ve ever felt like your emotions were “too intense” or “out of control” you’re not alone. Many people experience emotional intensity that seems excessive or disproportionate.
But the reason emotions feel out of control often has less to do with your emotions themselves and more to do with habits that magnify them…
The habit of worry magnifies normal fear into anxiety and panic.
The habit of self-criticism magnifies normal sadness into shame and hopelessness.
The habit of rumination magnifies normal frustration into anger and rage.
Mental habits take normal levels of emotion and make them far more intense and long-lasting. Which means…
If you want to feel more in control of your emotions, you must take control of the habits that govern them.
Learn to identify and eliminate these habits and you will discover that your emotions are far more manageable than you ever thought possible.
1. Relying on other people for comfort
Nothing could be more natural than to go to other people for comfort when you’re upset or in distress.
In fact, this is how most of us learn to deal with life’s difficulties — we have a supportive parent or caregiver in our life who is empathetic and comforting when we’re upset. The way they handle our painful emotions becomes a model for how we can deal with them as we mature.
Unfortunately, sometimes this process sometimes goes awry.
For all sorts of reasons, learning to self-soothe and effectively manage our own emotional struggles can get disrupted:
Some people, for example, have early traumatic events in their lives that sabotage this process of learning to self-soothe.
For others, they might learn at a young age that they can get relief faster and more easily by simply going to other people, and as a result, their capacity to self-soothe becomes underdeveloped as they age.
In any case, the core problem is this:
While it’s good to have other people as a source of comfort, it’s risky to rely on them.
When other people become your sole means of managing your emotional distress, it erodes your self-confidence.
This means difficult emotions will be themselves painful. But more than that, you’ll also have the fear of being inadequate to handle them yourself, which effectively multiplies the intensity of every painful emotion you experience. Being afraid of feeling sad, for example, will only make you feel worse.
The solution is to practice managing difficult feelings on your own even if you could get relief and comfort from someone else. Ideally, you would start with small things and gradually work your way up.
But regardless, you must strengthen your capacity to comfort yourself.
Your emotions will always feel out of control until you develop some confidence in your own ability to manage them well.
“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
2. Being judgmental of your own emotions
Just because your emotions feel bad doesn’t mean they are bad.
Unfortunately, most of us are raised to believe that this is true. We grow up being taught that painful emotions are problems — like germs we need to be rid off or problems that need to be solved:
That we’re weak if we feel sad and discouraged.
That we’re broken or malfunctioning if we get anxious and worry “too much.”
That we’re sinful or morally deficient if we feel angry toward people.
But there’s the thing:
Emotions aren’t good or bad any more than rain or snow is good or bad.
You may not like certain emotions. Some may be uncomfortable or painful. Some may make it hard to do certain things. But to place a value judgment on an emotion doesn’t make any sense.
And the reason? Because you can’t control your emotions. Not directly, anyway.
You can’t just decide to turn up your happiness meter any more than you can decide to turn down your anxiety dial.
Emotions don’t work that way!
But aside from not being realistic, there’s another problem with judging yourself for how you feel:
When you criticize yourself for feeling anxious, will you end up feeling guilty for feeling anxious.
When you worry about feeling sad, you will end up feeling anxious about feeling sad.
When you put yourself down for feeling angry, you will end up feeling angry about being angry!
When you get judgmental about your emotions, you only compound their intensity and duration.
Think about this: No one goes to jail for feeling really angry. You only get sent to jail for acting aggressively.
As a society, we don’t judge people by their emotions, only their actions.
If you want to start feeling less emotionally volatile, stop criticizing yourself for the way you feel.
“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”
— Joseph Campell
3. Believing your thoughts unconditionally
It’s a funny thing that we’re so trusting of our own thoughts.
Perhaps because our culture tends to glorify our capacity for thinking and problem-solving, we make the mistake of assuming our thoughts are always true and helpful.
This is especially the case when it comes to thoughts about ourselves or how we feel:
After a coworker makes a rude comment about you during a meeting, the first thought that pops into mind is “Great, now everyone thinks I’m an idiot…”
As you drive to your daughter’s soccer game, the thought pops into mind that with a single movement you could swerve off the side of the road and your whole family would die. Then you immediately think to yourself, “Oh my God, what’s wrong with me?” The assumption being that your thought about swerving off the road was somehow true or meaningful.
But here’s the thing:
Just because you have a thought doesn’t mean it’s true.
Many people’s emotions quickly start to feel out of control because they insist that everything in their mind is meaningful. As a result, they end up thinking endlessly about every little thought, feeling, mood, desire, memory, and emotion that pops into consciousness.
But for all its wonders, the human mind produces a lot of junk too.
Often a particular thought is just random mental noise. But if you insist on telling yourself a story about it and what it may or may not mean, you’re inviting in wave after wave of emotion — and often not the fun kind.
If you want to feel more in control of your emotions, practice being skeptical of your own thoughts.
If a thought seems obviously absurd or ridiculous, remind yourself that it could just be random noise — as meaningless and unworthy of your attention as an unexpected gust of wind.
“The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.”
― Marcus Aurelius
4. Not taking care of your body
Ever since Descartes, we’ve been fixated on the idea that it’s brain and body, or worse, brain vs body. Think of the common sayings “mind over matter” or “it’s all in your head.”
Of course, this is ridiculous…
Your brain is part of your body. And your mind doesn’t work all that well without a functioning body.
Of course, this is obvious in the extreme case — deprive the brain of oxygen via a heart attack or stroke and your mind dies along with the rest of your body. But it’s also true on a much smaller scale….