November 30


How To Control Powerful Emotions Successfully

By Alison

November 30, 2020

How to control your emotions isn't easy.  We all get swept away in the moment when we are triggered by an event that makes us feel a strong emotion.  Our body reacts as we feel the sensations coursing through our veins.  Then, before we know it, we've lost control.

The result can be devastating.  We beat ourselves up, put ourselves down and our confidence hits an all time low.

But you don't have to be controlled by your emotions.  You can learn how to control them, and that involves building your self-awareness.

Build Self-Awareness To Control Your Emotions

Self-awareness is all about understanding the different parts of yourself.  Good and bad.  By being aware you're able to monitor your:

  • Thoughts
  • Beliefs
  • Needs
  • Behaviours
  • Emotions

If you would like to know more about what self-awareness is, please read my article Why Self-Awareness Is Important For Your Well-Being.

Here, we're going to focus on the ways our self-awareness can answer the question of how to control your emotions.  But first let's look at your powerful emotions.

Your Powerful Emotions

When we think about emotions, we often reel off a huge long list.  In fact, according to Paul Eckman there are only 7.

  1. Joy
  2. Surprise
  3. Fear
  4. Disgust
  5. Anger
  6. Contempt
  7. Sadness

I call these the headliners.  Within each headline are variants.  For example, fear starts with trepidation and ends in terror.  The scale looks like:

  • Trepidation
  • Nervousness
  • Anxiety
  • Dread
  • Desperation
  • Panic
  • Horror
  • Terror

Having a limited number of named emotions makes it easier to identify which emotion you are feeling.  Once you've identified the emotion, the next step is to look at the intensity of the feeling.  The scale for fear is above, but you can find scales for the other emotions on a great interactive program found on Paul Eckman's website called The Ekmans' Atlas of Emotions

When identified you can learn how to control your emotions.

To control your emotions you first need to identify them

To control your emotions, you first have to identify them

Why You Need To Control Your Emotions

For a minute I'd like you to think about your ideal workplace.  If you're anything like me it'll look like this:

  • comfortable buzz of activity
  • respect shown between colleagues
  • there might even be an outbreak of laughter

I definitely dislike:

  • people shouting
  • back-stabbing
  • high drama

Can you relate to this?

Emotions are like drinking and eating.  Always better when done in moderation.

Who wants to work with someone who's difficult.  Every time they get stressed, they fly into a rage and has a go at everyone.  No thank you!

Extreme Emotions Damage Confidence

At their extreme, emotions can make our behaviour unpleasant.  Both for ourselves and for others.  And when we hit that peak we lose control.  We say and do things we later regret.

How many times have you lost your temper and said things you later regretted?  And when you've been scared, either become defensive and argumentative or run away to avoid confrontation?

The aftermath can be cruel.  We regret those things.  Usually we berate ourselves for making matters worse.  And when we feel regret, it can have a detrimental effect on our confidence.

You promise yourself that next time you'll be more careful.  Next time, you'll control your emotions.  Yet when the situation comes up again, you repeat the same old patterns.

You might cry 'I can't help it.  It's just the way I am'

But that's just a big fat lie you tell yourself.  You can learn how to control your emotions especially when you identify what that emotion is, what it feels like, and the trigger that sets you off in the first place.

Let's Get Physical

When we experience emotion, we feel the effects in our bodies.  

Our emotion starts with an event when a trigger is activated - more on triggers below.

As a result our bodies undergo some physical changes which could include:

  • sweaty palms
  • racing heart
  • knocking knees

We then apply a scale to our emotion is it trepidation or terror?

An action takes place which is an emotional response.  The response can be either constructive as in, there's a lion loose in the office - run for your life or destructive, receive a criticism and bite someone's head off.  Oops, that could signal the end of a good working relationship.

If you have self-awareness of your emotions and how they make you feel, you can begin to predict how you react in situations and engage the appropriate response.  Ultimately you learn how to control your emotions.

The emotion itself, whilst intense is short-lived.  And there we are, back to regret for the destructive reaction.

a head with trigger suggestions

Your trigger will depend upon the situation and how you perceive it

What Are Your Triggers?

We're all individual and we react to different things in different ways.

Lisa Feldman Barrett, a renowned neuroscientist and psychologist, is a leading authority on the subject. She's studied the brain and emotions for other 30 years. 

She concludes that emotions aren't universally pre-programmed in our minds and bodies.  Emotions are psychological experiences that each of us constructs based on our unique personal history, physiology and environment.

With self-awareness, you can learn how to control your emotions by recognising the events that trigger them.  You become aware of where the root lies and even change old patterns of behaviour.  

So, whilst I might react in anger to someone attempting to belittle me, you might react differently.  I confess that as a perfectionist I get upset if someone harshly criticises my work.  I've been been known to end up having a good cry in the ladies loo.

I used self-awareness to explore what it was about harsh criticism I found difficult to take.  I then learnt how to look for the constructive criticism and focus on that.  As a result I began to look at things more objectively.  No more black streaks down my face as a result of running mascara.

How To Control Your Emotions Using Self-Awareness

Once you're aware you can:

  • Identify the emotion
  • evaluate the intensity
  • assess your physical reaction
  • realise the cause - or the trigger

But this isn't the full story.  Being self-aware of these aspects does not change or help you learn how to control your emotions.

The next stage is critical.

Your challenge is to take action to control your emotion.  

How To Control Your Emotions In The Moment

Our emotions can escalate quickly.  If you feel that you're losing control then hit the PAUSE button.

Distance yourself from the situation by doing one of the following:  

  • Do some deep breathing
  • Count to 10 slowly before responding

Alternatively hit the eject button.  Physically remove yourself from the situation:

  • excuse yourself from the meeting
  • go for a walk
  • seek refuge in the ladies loo

The last point is a little tongue in cheek, but going to the loo means that you can leave with an excuse.  And unless you are crying, or work in an all-male environment, no-one is going to follow you in there.

Be kind to yourself and take some time out.  Getting away from the situation can allow you to regroup and regain some composure.

The Long-Term Solution On How To Control Your Emotions

Reflection after the event is powerful.

When you are calmer, question the reaction you had.  For this, you need to dig deep into some of the beliefs you might hold.

If you believe that receiving criticism is due to an old belief that people only criticise you when they're looking to find fault with you, or that you are useless in some way, then the outcome is destructive.

Our beliefs are a cocktail of past experiences just like our values.  We acquire them, along with our inner voice of doubt.  Often, unless explored and redefined they tell us lies.

You can learn all about where your personal values come from in my article What You Need To Know About Personal Values and if you are looking to discover your own values, please have a read of How To Find Your Unique Personal Values.

You have to pick apart that old belief and replace it with something new.

It's time to change the dialogue.

Challenge you inner voice to learn how to control your emotions

Question the thoughts in your head. They're not always right!

Change The Dialogue To Control Your Emotions

Your emotional reaction is something that's learned from past experience.  Unwittingly you may be mimicking someone else's behaviour, or having a reaction based on a past experience.  Perhaps something someone said or did.

For each situation that causes you to lose control, explore the reason why.

Are there certain triggers that create the same response?  Why is this?

What's the voice in your head telling you?  Question whether they're right - more often than not they're wrong.

Try and see the situation from a different viewpoint.  Play devils advocate with yourself.  Am I over-reacting?  Is this response helping me to achieve anything? or, what am I hoping to achieve by reacting this way?

By being aware of how you feel and finding the deep cause, you can start to plan how to control your emotions in the future.

In Conclusion

The myths around our emotions such as:

  • You can't help how you respond to certain situations
  • Emotions are uncontrollable
  • Your emotions are pre-programmed into your brain

are all false.

We can control our emotions but it requires a healthy dose of self-awareness in order to:

  • identify the emotion
  • evaluate the intensity
  • assess your physical reaction
  • realise the cause - or the trigger
  • change the internal dialogue

In the meantime if you feel an emotion and you worry how to control your emotion:

create space by hitting pause

  • take a deep breath
  • count to 10 (100 if necessary)

and if that doesn't work - eject yourself from the situation.

About the author

For years, despite career success, I was plagued with inner doubt. I worried about what other people thought. I became anxious about doing things wrong, felt out of my depth, and struggled with imposter syndrome. Above all, I feared failing. So, I worked long hours to prove myself worthy. It was exhausting, and it took a toll. My relationships suffered - my husband and I were becoming virtual strangers - and I had no social life. When the ravages of my doubts began to affect my health, I knew something had to change. I know there is a better way to live. Let me show you how.

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