When struggling with anxiety or depression it’s common to feel like you don’t have control over your emotions. Emotions can feel like they come out of nowhere, and they can be confusing if they are stronger than you think they should be in light of the current situation. For example, if you start crying when you see a prescription drug commercial because it felt so moving. Or when you feel enraged just because you partner didn’t do the dishes, but then again they did them last night.
All people have had those moments, where you feel a strong emotion and aren’t sure why. Emotions are the minds automatic response to stimuli.
When you see an abandoned puppy on a commercial your brain is processing those images on a subconscious level and the feeling of sadness may start to emerge whether you want them to or not. Depending on your past experiences with puppies your emotional response may be stronger or weaker. If you volunteer in a dog shelter once a week, your mind may be used to the situation and you may feel less reactive. If you lost a dog recently, you may feel a flood of emotions. All of these emotions are normal, and they are a signal that you are human.
In a popular therapy called dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), the emotional response is labeled the “emotional mind” and the intellectual or thinking response is labeled the “rational mind.” Either one by itself is not sufficient because it doesn’t really give you the full picture. The combination of the emotional and rational minds is what results in the “wise mind” which is a more balanced response.
When we routinely ignore our mind’s emotional responses we are stifling the mind’s natural way of processing these situations and we miss out on the wise mind approach. It’s only when you accept and notice what your emotional mind is telling you that you can you find the balance of the wise mind.
Try taking the stance that your emotions are clues to something your mind is trying to tell you. Be curious about what you are feeling and why. Your emotion will be a clue to getting to your wise mind, and actually, you can’t accomplish a wise mind approach without it. Emotions are not just clues, they are vital information.
Everyone’s automatic emotional responses are going to be different based on a number of different factors including past experiences, current context, and how much sleep you got the night before! Your emotional reaction is not better or worse than anyone else’s. Sadness or fear do not have to be negative; emotions are just neutral.
While you can’t control what emotions surface for you, you can control how you act. Just because you feel angry at someone, doesn’t mean you are necessarily going to say something to that person. When someone says they don’t have control over their emotions, the bigger concern is usually that they feel they don’t have control over their actions. It makes it okay to feel angry when you know that you don’t have to punch someone every time you feel that way. You can just feel and process an emotion without taking action.
When you acknowledge your emotions as clues to what’s going on and you don’t judge yourself for feeling what you’re feeling, then you have a choice about how to act or respond. You are combining the emotional mind and the rational mind to problem solve and come up with the best decision for you.
So, the short answer is no, you cannot “control” your emotions. But if you follow the strategies to accept your emotions as they come, you will find that you do not have to let your emotions control you.
The Wise Mind (Worksheet). (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2019, from https://www.therapistaid.com/therapy-worksheet/wise-mind/dbt/none