Everyone experiences emotions—whether enjoyable or painful, our emotions make us human. However, some individuals can experience emotions in an intense, labile (quickly changing) way. Some emotionally sensitive individuals may have developed difficulties regulating their emotions. This depends on how one was taught to understand and cope with feelings. “Emotion regulation” refers to the ability to observe, describe, experience, and express emotions without harming oneself or disrupting important relationships. Emotion regulation problems can show up in a number of different ways for emotionally sensitive individuals.

What are signs that I may have difficulties regulating emotions?

Sometimes one may feel detached from their emotions, (often described as numb, checked out, or on auto pilot). At other times, it results in difficulty coping with deep sadness, overwhelming guilt, or intense anger. Because the emotions are so intense, they often drive behavior and the individual feels “out of control.” This can cause the individual to focus much of their attention on escaping the pain in any way possible. For individuals with emotion regulation problems, they may cope with stress by flipping back and forth from distant and numb to dysregulated and in intense emotional pain. For many people, these experiences eventually take a toll on their self-esteem. They can even damage important relationships in personal, work, and community settings.

How to treat it

It’s important to realize that going to therapy to treat emotion regulation problems doesn’t mean your painful emotions are bad. It also doesn’t mean that they are not important, or that you should try to get rid of them. In fact, for some individuals many problems in regulating emotions can be traced back to invalidating childhood experiences that resulted in myths and misunderstandings around the role of emotions in one’s life.

Emotion regulation is simply a set of skills that need to be learned. They should also be practiced with the consistent support of a validating but challenging therapist. Emotion regulation skills help individuals understand how their emotions work so that they can experience and express emotions in effective ways. Mindfulness-based therapy techniques such as Dr. Marsha Linehan’s Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) have been shown to be extremely helpful for those struggling with emotion regulation problems. CBT California offers individual and group skills classes specifically focused on teaching the use of healthy emotion regulation skills and decreasing confusion and chaos around feeling intense emotions.

Where can I get more information on it?

Check out www.dbtselfhelp.com for more information on DBT skills modules and the scientific evidence supporting a Mindfulness-based/Cognitive Behavioral approach to emotion regulation problems.