Signs You Have Poor Emotional Regulation Skills And Why That's Such A Problem

Understanding our emotions, and how to respond to them, are skills that evolve over a lifetime. Knowing how to embrace your emotional vulnerability and properly express yourself is an important aspect of building a growth mindset to better deal with life's challenges. While some might have learned this earlier in life, others might just be experiencing an awakening to their emotions, and how they engage with them. No matter where you might fall on this spectrum, there is no shame in it. But when you suspect that your emotions are overpowering you and overpowering your relationships with others, you might consider learning further about emotional regulation. 

Emotional regulation is the concept that you can acknowledge and respond to your emotions in a checked manner, rather than reacting to them. The goal is not to push away or suppress negative emotions, but rather feel them completely without allowing them to take over. Without regulating your emotions through healthy measures, you could be causing both yourself and those around you unnecessary emotional distress. Emotional regulation entails a distinct, mind-heart connection that with practice and patience, can be developed. Remember that there is no one method to better regulate your emotions — it all depends on what works best for you. And when you are seeking a deeper understanding of how you process your emotions, and how you can best respond to them, reach out to a mental health professional. Here are a few signs that your emotional regulation skills could use improvement. 

You hold your feelings in

When you're holding your feelings back to the detriment of your well-being, you might be engaging in a maladaptive emotional regulation strategy. Keeping your emotions to yourself is a common coping mechanism that could stem from several places. Perhaps you have difficulty identifying your feelings in the moment; perhaps you are afraid of engaging in a conflict; or perhaps it simply feels more comfortable to hold in your feeling than confront them. No matter what the reason, holding your feelings back can lead to several effects. 

First, you might feel that you are not honoring how you feel when you do not share your emotions with others. Rather than speak up when you are emotionally hurt, for example, you might internalize that hurt and take away the opportunity to heal from the situation, especially when it involves others. Even though sharing your feelings does not guarantee a positive outcome to the situation, it is a way to validate to yourself and those around you that your feelings matter and that you deserve to be heard. This can have many positive effects, from boosting your self-esteem to allowing you to better understand yourself and your feelings. Plus, you can strengthen your relationships with others by improving trust after engaging in honest conversations about your emotions. 

You experience emotional outbursts

Another sign of poor emotional regulation is frequent emotional outbursts. If keeping your emotions inside is one extreme of the spectrum, emotional outbursts are on the opposite end. Having big emotions is human, and by no means should you downplay the enormity of how you feel. Sometimes, releasing your emotions is exactly what we need, when done in a healthy way. Clarifying what an emotional outburst looks like can help in pointing toward emotional regulation skills that need work. 

Psych Central defines emotional outbursts as displays of intense emotions such as anger or sadness that come on quickly and sometimes suddenly; you feel a strong urge to simply lose control. Emotional outbursts might result from holding onto your emotions too long without addressing them in the way you need, and could, as a result, be easily instigated. This is why when these outbursts happen, they could seem to be an overreaction to the catalyst. 

It's important to remember that emotions are felt within the body — they are much more physical than they may seem. As such, overcoming the physical toll of our emotions can be addressed by changing our body's response to them. First, remove yourself from the instigating situation if you have to do. Then, name the emotion you are feeling. Focus on taking deep breaths, and practice grounding techniques such as focusing your attention on each part of your body to bring you back to the present moment.

You ruminate on your emotions

Ruminating on emotions such as sadness, anger, or jealousy can also signal that you have poor emotional regulation skills. While reflecting on your emotions can be helpful when it comes to your own understanding of how you feel, ruminating on those emotions implies an impulsive return to those feelings over and over again, to your own detriment. Rumination might aim to rationalize how you feel, but ultimately, our feelings are not always rational. It might also be an attempt to control how you feel, or control a certain situation, but here, it is important to remember what is in your control, and what is not. A 2021 study published in Frontiers in Psychology notes that ruminating on one's emotions can lead to and progress symptoms of depression. When you ruminate, you run the risk of entering an inhibitive cycle, where it can feel challenging to see the good in a given situation, other people, or even in yourself. 

Acceptance is a key concept to consider when it comes to breaking the cycle of rumination. What would happen if you chose to accept your emotions, instead of continue to wrestle with them? Having an awareness that you're ruminating is a great first step in addressing it. When you catch yourself ruminating, try to distract yourself from your rumination by engaging in an activity that requires your focus.

You avoid your emotions completely

But too much distraction from your feelings can also lead to less-than-ideal outcomes. Feeling negative feelings is sometimes extremely painful, and for that reason, you might avoid them completely. When you're going through a hard time, it feels much easier to simply pretend your emotions aren't there, and shove them aside to deal with on a rainy day — or, maybe never. But detaching yourself from your emotions will not make them disappear; instead, they might even fester until they've been dealt with. This is another example of poor emotional regulation skills. 

Instead of distracting yourself or making plans with friends or doing really anything other than addressing the pain you feel, what if you decided to let the emotions come? Scheduling some alone time, simply to check in with your feelings, can be useful when you've been chronically denying yourself the opportunity. Think of it as a check-in appointment with yourself. Let whatever arises during that time come to the surface, and try not to overthink what it all means, or think critically of yourself when you feel how you feel. When the appointment is done, your feelings might not all be fully addressed, but you will be one step closer to understanding your emotions and establishing a stronger connection to your emotional life. With time and practice, you could become more comfortable experiencing challenging emotions, and feel better equipped to handle them when they arise in the moment. 

You tend to spiral into shame

When you're struggling to deal with a copious amount of stress in your life, perhaps you might blame yourself for "not having it all together," or that you are the root cause of all of your stress. Believing that it's all your fault when things go wrong is another maladaptive emotional regulation strategy that can be detrimental to your well-being. Self-blame is often indicative of trying to take back some control that you feel you have lost. Where so much is out of your control, including other people's actions and emotions, it might feel easier to blame yourself for your actions and emotions than to accept that you are simply not responsible for everything that happens to you or around you. Feeling in control is a way to feel safe, rather than at the whims of forces unknown. But consider the idea that you are creating an unsafe place for yourself by blaming yourself for the negativity you might experience through no fault of your own. 

First, try to create an awareness of the voice in your head that's telling you a negative situation is all your fault. Then, when you begin to notice those thoughts arise, Psychology Today suggests talking back to them. Remind yourself what is your responsibility and what is not.  Focus on having self-compassion instead of blame, and remember that your emotions are valid, too.