You Are Not At The Mercy Of Your Emotions

Your emotions don't have to control you!

Last updated on Jan 13, 2023

woman gazing out the window in contemplation eldar nurkovic | Shutterstock

If you have ever wondered how to control your emotions, you're not alone. You may tend to think that emotions are beyond being managed, something like herding cats.

But what if that idea isn’t even close to accurate?

What if there were ways to rewrite the narrative on emotions — to use them to guide you, but not be overwhelmed by them?

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How to manage your emotions — and your responses to them

I recently was at the ICF Converge Conference in Prague, where Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett was a speaker. She had an important message about how you can begin to take back control of your emotions.


And science is backing up what cognitive therapy has been saying for a long time.

You can develop the skills to master your emotions!

Your brain is predictive. That is just what it does. It filters through all sorts of data and makes predictions, and your emotions are the output of how your brain is making meaning.

An example of emotional management

You've just gone on vacation, and you took a diving class to prepare for your first live open-water dive.

Your stomach fills with butterflies. Your hands might be clammy, your heart is pounding, and you're about to dive into the ocean and see the world in a whole new way.

It’s a thrilling new experience, and your body is a live wire. Because of your training and planning, the sensations washing over you funnel through your filters.


What emotion are you naming? You’re excited, right?

Let’s take another perspective. You are standing in front of 100 people, ready to give your presentation.

Your stomach fills with butterflies. Your hands might be clammy, your heart is pounding, and you're about to dive into a topic you care about if only you could stop seeing all those faces.

It’s a chilling new experience, and your body is a live wire. Again, name the sensations washing over you.

What emotion comes to mind? Does fear sound right?

Making meaning is what the brain does. It takes the experience you find yourself in, racks and stacks it, and then pop, out comes the emotion that your mind predicts will fit the situation.


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Here are five skills you can learn to manage your emotions and take control of your life

1. Develop your curiosity

This may be the first, middle, and final skill in learning to understand yourself. Being willing to be curious on your behalf is a tremendous gift.

Noticing emotions and allowing yourself to wonder, what the heck is going on inside me?

Giving yourself time to get out of the reactive state of mind allows for curiosity to ignite.

Am I feeling excitement or fear? What is the difference between anticipation and anxiety? These are essential ideas to noodle around on.


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2. Take a time-out

Teaching anger management for the Air Force for seven years taught me a lot about myself. Let’s be clear, I am a red-headed, Irish, Leo, so I know something about being emotional.

And one of the hurdles that we had to address in class was the idea that emotions occur and we are helpless in the process.

People often say things like, “I instantly get angry.” Or, “It’s like a light switch, one minute, I am fine, and the next, I am an inferno.”

The truth is that when you slow down in your responses, you can give yourself time to be curious, and also to choose some other emotional state.


There are many ways to take a time-out. Take a walk, or distract yourself until you get back to a more balanced state.

Breathe, use your mindfulness techniques, and do whatever you need to, so that you can calm yourself and invite yourself to be curious.

RELATED: Once You Can Control These 7 Emotions, You'll Be Mentally Strong

3. Practice a 'freeze-frame'

This is an excellent tool from the folks at the Heartmath Institute. I have used it for years myself.

Here are the five steps of the Freeze Frame Technique:

  • Think of a stressful situation. Recognize the stressful feeling that occurs in your body and Freeze it. Now take a time-out.
  • Make a sincere effort to shift your focus away from the racing mind or disturbed emotions to the area around your heart. It is helpful to imagine that you are breathing through your heart, to focus your energy in this area. Keep your attention there for 1 minute or more.
  • Recall a positive or fun feeling or time you’ve had in life and try to re-experience it. Work on bringing back the emotions that you experienced when you had this positive experience.
  • Now, using your intuition, common sense, and sincerity, ask your heart, “What would be a more efficient response to the stressful situation, one that would minimize future stress?”
  • Listen to what your heart says in answer to your question. (It is an effective way to put your reactive mind and emotions in check and an in-house source of commonsense solutions.)

RELATED: The One Question That Reveals How You Really Process Your Emotions


4. Recognize your habits and patterns

Habits or patterns of how you tend to respond to life situations are a great place to begin. If your reactive mode is anger, fear, or anxiety, it’s time to get curious about these emotions.

What physical feelings or thoughts are triggering that response? Past experiences tend to inform your habits. I have wounds, and you have wounds. In fact, I have yet to meet anyone who got out of childhood without some trauma.

Maybe it isn’t a “Big T” trauma, but lots of “little t” traumas. These can wear you down, too.

These past experiences color the lens of how you look at situations and guide your brain in predicting the emotional response. Attitudes and biases, too, can color our lens of emotional responses. If you smell something terrible, you typically will have an emotional response of disgust.


Sometimes these biases can save your life. For instance, rotting food is not a healthy option. And, they can also go unnoticed, thus influencing you to respond in ways that might not be life-saving.

Take some time to explore the ones you need and challenge with curiosity the ones that don’t serve you. Values impact how your brain decides emotions, too.

It’s a difficult experience to have something that means a lot to you be disregarded by another.


Feeling disregarded leads to feeling (fill in the blank). Curate the lens of not taking yourself too seriously.

Having a filter that lets you see the humor or allows you to re-align with your funny bone can also make all the difference in how you end up feeling.

RELATED: 3 Psychological Tips For Changing Your Panicked Fight-Flight-Freeze Instinct

5. Remember that you control your response to your emotions

This is maybe the most difficult message to hear: You’re responsible for how you feel. Your emotions are not a herd of cats running you in circles.

They are not wild horses or mercurial winds within your mind.

Your emotions come from how your brain, i.e., your thoughts, physical sensations, habits of response, etc., predict your “should” response.


Choose to get curious about yourself, make time to practice self-reflection, and always breathe.

Then play with new ideas about how you could respond and take the helm and steer your emotional ship

RELATED: 4 Steps To Feeling Emotions Deeply Without Becoming Overwhelmed

Lyssa deHart, LICSW, MCC is a clinical social worker, a whole life executive coach, and the author of StoryJacking: Change Your Inner Dialogue, Transform Your Life.