Can We Choose Our Emotions?

I don’t think anything on Earth makes me more furious than when someone tries to hurt someone else – and when I say “hurt,” I mean any kind of hurt – mentally, emotionally, physically, etc.

When I detect anything like this happening, not only to me but to anyone around me (and especially to anyone in my family), I usually have no filter.  I get extremely angry, incensed, furious, irate, enter synonym here... that my adrenaline spikes to the point I shake and, well, yeah, I have had an extremely hard time controlling my emotions in the past when it came to this topic.

I guess I fail to understand why someone would intentionally, maliciouslyattempt to inflict emotional / mental / physical pain on another person – especially if that person has done nothing to deserve it.

I know and get all the reasons why people become malicious – jealousy, insecurities, etc. to the point they feel the need to do this in a feeble attempt to make themselves feel better – but damn, please, just OWN whatever issues you have, focus your attention inwards, and do whatever you need to do to Heal Thyself – WITHOUT trying to take others down with you.

Anyways, rant over….

So Paul, our Counselor/Life Guru 🙂 has been talking with me & Daniel lately about how people choose how they feel.

If they’re angry, they’re making a conscious choice to be angry.  Same with sad.  Same with happy.  Same with any emotion.

So if one is making a choice to feel a certain way, alternatively, they can then make the choice to NOT feel that way.

This is called emotional regulation, and for the longest time, I fought him on this idea.  I didn’t agree at ALL…..

After all, if someone intentionally tries to hurt you or your family, how can you NOT be angry with them?  Or at the very least, irritated?

If someone close to you dies, how can you not be sad?

How can you not be permanently bitter / sad / frustrated if you constantly see your children sitting by themselves at lunch?

Um, NO, this is not something you can control.

So I agree that emotions can indeed be regulated, but here is how you regulate your emotions….

  • The emotion hits you
  • You internalize and feel it
  • And THEN you regulate it – as in, you find the best way to deal with it in the healthiest way possible…

Um, so, that’s what I’ve believed for an extremely long time..  And so, that’s what I’ve preached to my colleagues, my students, and my children.

But…  As with most difficult, worthwhile ideas that take time to digest, the more I’ve thought about this and internalized this idea of controlling my emotions, and the more I’ve practiced itthe better at it I have become, and now, I think Paul might just be right.

(He always is, BTW….  It’s kind of infuriating…. 😉

So I’ve been working on this for awhile – and when I say “working on it,” there’s no set strategy other than constantly reminding myself that “I do have a choice” when I start to feel a certain way…

And not sure what happened – but maybe a month or so ago, all of a sudden, I started noticing a difference in the way I deal with my emotions.

It’s like I now observe them before they hit me, almost like a baseball of emotions moving towards me in slow motion.

I see them coming, and then I’m (usually) able to make a conscious choice about how I think I should deal with them.

And then I try to catch them, rather than be hit by them.

Then, I choose to either hold them, feel them, and be upset by them, or tell myself that these feelings are not serving me well, and then I make the conscious choice to drop them.

Here’s another way to think about it:

Screen Shot 2019-10-19 at 6.46.13 PM

And, Holy WOW, it works.  It really does.

It’s not perfect, by any means, but I can tell such a difference in how I feel, just in general.

So, once I learn a lesson, I am always very excited to share it with others – and right now I have a perfect opportunity, because Gabriel has been getting teased lately at school..

It probably seems harmless from the outside, as the teasing isn’t necessarily personal (it’s other kids constantly repeating a completely random phrase that he doesn’t like hearing) but it infuriates him to the point where he lashes out at them.

I’ve told him to ignore it, go with it, don’t get angry, CHOOSE not to let it bother him, but nope…  He can’t let it go.

And the point is: they keep doing it – because he keeps reacting to it – and they find his reaction funny…

So, they are bothering him for their own entertainment…  Maliciously.

And when things like this happen, here is my usual reaction…..

Polar Bear

However, I’m not furious.  I’m not unleashing on anyone, and/or high-tailing it to the HS office to ensure justice is swiftly served… as I probably would’ve done a year or so ago..

Instead, I am accepting that kids tease (an annoying fact of life), and I am more focused not on my own anger, but on trying to help my confused, frustrated teenager with Autism understand that HE can choose his emotions too.

But Autism doesn’t lend itself to emotional regulation. The Obsessive Compulsive (OCD) aspect of Autism can be really strong – and he most certainly has that component; so you can’t just tell him, “Ignore it,” or “Just choose to not let it bother you.”

Does.  Not.  Work.

I need a plan; something structured; something where he can have help with:

1) understanding the emotions he is feeling, and

2) crystal-clear instructions for how to deal with them

This led me to do some online research and I found this really nice 5-Point Scale from the Autism Awareness Centre, Inc., which is meant to basically spell out what is happening and the different choices he has in terms of how he can deal with the situation.

5 Point Scale

As the website states,

“The first step in using the scale to support emotional regulation is to identify problem areas for this person.  The next step is to break the problem area into 5 parts clearly illustrating the degrees of the situation and putting this information onto a visual scale.”

Then, after going over the scale (and role playing the differences in reactions with him), I will print this out, laminate it, and he will be able to keep it in his pocket and refer to it if/when he needs it – maybe right at the moment he is dealing with this issue, or maybe immediately after.

The idea is to provide him with a tool that reminds him of coping techniques – right then and there – so he will be more likely to remember them and use them – even if/when he is angry and flustered.

This also helps him rank where he is in terms of his reactions (from 5-1) and so we can use that information to help him plan for the next time.

If the first time he realizes he reached a 5, and sets a goal for a 4 next time, maybe he will be more likely to react in a 4 manner – and so on down the scale.

It’s worth a shot! 🙂

So please cross your fingers for him – as well as for me & Daniel to help him with his emotional regulation.

Also, it is my sincere hope that anyone who is reading this & who might be struggling with your feelings, I pray that you consider the possibility that you can choose your emotions.  It’s a mindset, and it does not happen overnight…  I’m still actively working on it, but the progress is there.  It might work for you too. ❤️

Screen Shot 2019-10-19 at 6.47.50 PM

 

Dunn Buron, Kari. “The 5-Point Scale and Emotional Regulation.” Autism Awareness, 15 Oct. 2015, autismawarenesscentre.com/5-point-scale-emotional-regulation/.

One thought on “Can We Choose Our Emotions?

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