Emotional Regulation is Essential in Recovery

Posted by | Relapse Prevention, Treatment Programs | March 03, 2015

When you know how to regulate your emotions, you know how to control or maintain them. You know how to manage them so that they are not controlling you.

Yet, when emotions are strong, or when they come on suddenly, it can feel as though they are controlling us. It can feel as though they are overwhelming us and we need to do something about it so that we don’t drown in the feelings we experience. Some of those who feel this way might turn to drinking or drug use as a way of coping with difficult emotions. In fact, some of the most challenging emotions to have to face include:

–Fear
–Grief
–Despair
–Powerlessness
–Hatred
–Rage
–Unworthiness
–Guilt
–Overwhelm
–Shame

If we are never given the tools to manage emotions, if no one ever specifically pointed out what to do when heavy emotions come up, then we might have had to reach for anything in order to survive the emotional landscape. We might have easily turned to drugs or drinking in order to face those emotions that flood us.

If you’re interested in learning how to manage your emotions, which is an essential skill in recovery, then you should know that in order to do so, you need to be aware of them first. Sometimes, emotions come on like a rogue wave. They feel huge and overpowering. Yet, other emotions are so familiar and happen so frequently that you might not even know that you’re experiencing them in the moment. Furthermore, some people are cut off from their emotions. There’s no connection to their feeling states.

Emotional awareness is the skill of knowing what you are feeling, why you’re feeling it, and what physical sensations you are having as a result. This is a skill that can be cultivated over time, which allows you to identify and express what you are feeling moment by moment. It’s is also the ability to understand the relationship between what you are feeling and how you choose to behave.

Emotional awareness involves the ability to:

–Recognize your moment-to-moment emotional experience
–Handle all of your emotions without becoming overwhelmed

Also, knowing how to manage emotions is the same skill as knowing how to manage stress. The two go hand in hand. In fact, this isn’t just true for recovering addicts, but for all men and women. Interestingly, the fastest way to move out of a stressful state is to become aware of one of your senses. In his wonderfully healing book, Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World through Mindfulness, Jon Kabat Zinn details how returning attention to the senses can immediately shift your experience. By smelling a scent, touching an object, or experiencing a bodily sensation, you remind yourself of the moment you are in versus an imaginary moment that is likely the source of uncomfortable and challenging emotions. The reliving of trauma and its associated feelings is one of the main symptoms of PTSD. Shifting your experience to the present moment through the use of your senses can be an incredibly healing practice.

In recovery, learning how to become aware of your emotions as well as managing them becomes essential. As mentioned earlier, the inability to manage emotions can lead to dysfunctional coping mechanisms such as drug use, drinking, cutting, aggression, and other forms of risky behavior. It can be challenging to manage feelings especially when they seem frightening or overwhelming. Also, feelings can be accompanied by fear, helplessness, and powerlessness. Emotions might even lead to shutting down entirely.

Therefore, it’s important that your recovery include developing emotional awareness as well as the tools to manage emotions so that they don’t manage you. For instance, instead of reaching for marijuana or a beer when feeling angry, you might instead take a moment to recognize your anger and not let it get the best of you. In an extreme example, you might want to take your life because of intense sadness or depression. Yet, if you are emotionally aware, you might call for help instead. You might make a different choice.

In fact, making different choices in life is the foundation for creating a new life.

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