The ABC's Of Emotion Regulation

Overreacting is normal. We all do it. One bad dinner and we're convinced our relationship is over. One snarky morning comment and your day at work is ruined. One compliment on our new shoes and we're suddenly a fashion icon (it goes both ways). But as time passes, we always look back at our initial reaction with a little bit of embarrassment, and a lot a bit of regret. So how do we better regulate these emotions? The answer, lies in the alphabet.

A. Let's start with acceptance. While the totality of our reactions are not always justified, the root of it is real. The key is to acknowledge the way you're feeling, why you're feeling it, and accept them before an irrational action is taken. According to doctor and psychologist Amelia Aldeo, "Emotions function like a compass, signaling rewards and threats in the environment. However, this compass is far from infallible. In fact, it is relatively easy for it to point us in the wrong direction."

B. As in balancing emotions. Context is key, and being aware of both your emotional state and the situation will help you understand what reaction is most appropriate. It's okay to become upset when your partner forgets to empty the dishwasher, but going completely bonkers on them doesn't quite add up. Says Aldeo, "It's really important that we learn how and when to trust our emotional compass. Stated in more technical terms, we sometimes need to regulate our emotions so that our behavior does not end up at their mercy."

Being aware of both your emotional state and the situation will help you understand what reaction is most appropriate.

C. Last but certainly not least is cognitive reappraisal, which is just fancy talk for doing a self-scan, an inventory of your thought patterns. For example, we can replace thoughts like "they hate me" with "they are frustrated and need time to cool off." It's not about changing the reality, it's about painting the larger picture so you have a broader (and more effective) perception. And once we take all of that into account, we can respond like the sensible, patient partner we want to be.

Adulting is full of complicated dynamics and sticky feelings, and it's never clearer than in relationships. Although full access to the range of the emotional spectrum can feel overwhelming at times, making sense of it all is actually pretty simple. In fact, it's as easy A-B-C.

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