One of the worst problems we experience in life, within social settings, is the phenomenon of feeling controlled by other people. When we feel out of control, with the implication that others are more in control than we are, emotional regulation becomes a major challenge.
Our biggest mistake in these situations is that we broaden notions of control beyond what we can control. We delve into areas of life that are no concern to us. No wonder we struggle, because we have placed ourselves in tenuous emotional positions.
Mastering emotional regulation is simply about disciplining ourselves to focus on what we can do and to stop focusing on what we can’t do.
“What Can I Do?”
When we feel emotionally awry, or simply a little unhappy with a particular outcome, we can ask questions like this, which centre us. For a moment we may be frustrated with the answer. We may not be able to do much except accept the situation as it is.
But there is an irony within the control here.
It’s not what the other person or people did or does that counts, but it’s what we did and what we can do that makes the biggest difference regarding the regulation of our emotions.
We take too much responsibility for other people’s emotions and not enough responsibility for our own emotions. No wonder we are confused with regard to our affect. To emphasise personal control we need to centre back again upon what we can influence.
Whenever we accept the boundaries within our own personal control, emotional regulation becomes never easier. It also helps for us to see aspects of their brokenness and our wholeness.
Their Brokenness and Our Wholeness
We too often see it the other way around—their wholeness and advantage and our brokenness and lack of capacity.
Seeing another person’s fallibility is a blessing to them, as our grace forgives them for their frailties of character. Like us, they are far from perfect. They may do things to upset us, but they have less control over their interactions with us than they would like. And, there’s nothing wrong with seeing ourselves with a capacity for wholeness.
If we are broken, and we all are, we also have aspects of wholeness that ought to be celebrated.
The boundaries of our personal control are safety for us regarding our emotional regulation. The more we ask, “What can I do?” the more we reinforce what we can actually influence. Our emotions become less like a roller coaster and more like a steady drive through the countryside.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.