Why Some People Lose Their Cool When They're Angry — And How To Make It Stop

Photo: Roman Samborskyi / 
woman calmly smiling with tea

What's the difference between people who lose their cool when they're triggered and angry, and those who are able to feel their emotions and manage them? Emotional regulation.

Some people seem to be naturally good at managing their emotions in a healthy way, while others may be more inclined to lash out — even when it means hurting someone they care about.

They often yell at their partner or kids, type something they later wish they hadn’t sent, and tell off strangers for slights that likely would've been better ignored.

If this is you, it probably feels like you have been emotionally hijacked. But it's not a curse or a permanent trait. 

Most people, if triggered enough, act in an embarrassing way. It takes less than a second to commit an impulsive act that might have lifetime repercussions.

That's why it's so important to cultivate an ability to regulate emotions, even if you (or someone you love) tend to have a hot temper. 

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What is emotional regulation?

Emotional regular is, essentially, self-management. Self-management is defined as, "The ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations." It's synonymous with self-regulation.

Examples of self-regulation skills include managing stress and controlling impulses. 

It means being able to manage triggers without inappropriate, spontaneous reactions.  

What Emotional Regulation Is Not

Emotional control is the ability to shut down the actions that accompany feelings, not shutting down the feelings themselves. The goal is not to suppress emotions. Rather, it's to detach yourself from the negative feelings.

You must learn to hit the "pause button" to delay or even halt impulsive and disruptive reactions.

You can’t demand that your feelings not surface, nor can you deny that they exist. Instead, you need to understand the feelings and learn to manage them with empathy.

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Here are 6 ways to be better at emotional regulation (and have better relationships as a result): 

1. Acknowledge your emotional triggers.

You are fully aware that losing your "cool" is not socially acceptable. You've honed your ability to exercise emotional control — in most situations.

Yet, no matter how collected, mature, and professional you are most of the time, something will set you off!  

2. Own your feelings.

Make an effort to better understand what your emotional triggers are. Maybe it's an attack on a loved one or a personal attack that you feel is unjust or something you've worked hard to remediate.

A real or perceived threat can hijack your thinking brain. When your reptilian brain overtakes your thinking brain, you often have a lapse in judgment.

But is it really a lapse in judgment or an amygdala hijack? 

Making good choices and exercising self-control involves higher-level executive functions. When you engage in executive function activities, you access the frontal lobe, the largest part of the brain.

An actual or perceived threat can trigger the amygdala and thus hijack our rational processes. This often results in a fight, flight, or freeze response.

3. Own your behavior.

Ugh! It happened! Now what? Shame and embarrassment make most people want to hide.

Admitting wrongdoing is hard, yet you need to acknowledge it — to yourself, to those impacted, and to those who witnessed it.

A public, transparent apology that ideally addresses the repercussions will help dissipate the impact.

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4. Make amends and be sincerely remorseful.

Next, as soon as you're able, take care to make amends. The admittance and apology do not have to be lengthy. It should, however, be authentic with a genuine desire to make amends.

It's important that you're emotionally ready to as it could come across as insincere. The goal is to demonstrate honesty and remorse.  

5. Develop a pause button.

When you learn to harness the executive functions of your brain and train yourself to recognize uncomfortable feelings, process them, and then wait before acting, you will see that they will pass.

They're only feelings and others will come and go. This is not easy, but it's a critical goal in your personal development.

6. Give yourself time to develop your emotional regulation systems.

More than likely, you have reacted instinctively to a trigger that you have later regretted.

Forgive yourself and do your best to remove yourself from the situation in order to calm down. Bathrooms can be a wonderful sanctuary!

Emotional outbursts happen, but if they become habitual, they can derail career opportunities and relationships. No one can master emotional regulation in a day.

Emotional control is a work-on for life — for everyone. Even for those at the very top of their game.

Do you know what your triggers are?

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Caroline Maguire, M.Ed., ACCG, PCC founded and facilitates a comprehensive SEL training methodology (#ConnectionMatters) for adults, parents, clinicians and academic professionals on how to develop critical social, emotional and behavioral skills, in themselves and in others. For more information, visit her website

This article was originally published at Reprinted with permission from the author.