Learning to Manage Difficult Emotions

We all experience difficult emotions. It’s part of the human experience. Afterall, our emotions are the basis of our primal survival instincts. Our ancestors evolved in an environment of eat or be eaten, and fight or flight. It’s possible that fight or flight was our first emotion.

So, even difficult emotions like sadness, anger, or happiness aren’t bad or negative in and of themselves. Good/Bad, positive/negative… These are attributes that we assign to things because our human minds need neat ways to classify things.

This is especially difficult with emotions because all emotions serve a purpose. Unfortunately, this also makes some emotional experiences more difficult to pin down.

Control and Regulation

First things first.

You cannot control your emotions. So, get that out of your head now.

Lisa and Terry married when they were 18, and shortly brought two daughters into the world. By the time the oldest one was five years old, Lisa and Terry had divorced. It wasn’t exactly amicable to begin with, but over the years they’ve built a life around their daughters.

The oldest daughter, Nicole, lived with Lisa growing up. The youngest daughter, Jessica chose to live with Terry immediately after the divorce. Both Lisa and Terry agreed to the arrangement and their daughters thrived because of it.

Twenty-five years later at a shared family Thanksgiving, Nicole and Jessica find themselves immensely grateful to share their family table with both parents, and their respective significant others.

Terry remarried, and Lisa brought her boyfriend to family dinner. It’s worth noting that this a tradition with this particular family strange as it may seem. However, it’s not perfect. What family is?

Lisa finds herself jealous of Terry’s very young wife at the table. Originally, Christina was a friend of Nicole’s who started dating Terry after she was invited to a mix family dinner. Lisa finds Christina’s presence as Terry’s new wife difficult to deal with.

In this situation, Lisa really has no right to be jealous yet she is. Lisa and Terry have been divorced for 25 years, and successfully raised two girls together. Also, Nicole has accepted Christina and Terry’s relationship and happy that her father finally re-married.

Still, try as she might, Lisa can’t control the feelings of jealousy or her angry emotions. She can, however, regulate how she responds to these difficult emotions.

Along with anger and jealousy, Lisa also feels guilt. She and Terry worked very hard at building a life for their daughters around a loving relationship. The fact that they can’t live under the same roof or share the same last name was beside the point. Both parents have a loving relationship with their daughters, and their family is genuinely happy. Given this, Lisa feels guilty because she’s jealous and angry.

Personal Responsibility

Learning to manage any kind of emotion, whether it’s difficult to experience or not, comes down to personal responsibility. Although none of us can control the hormonal releases that create our emotions or our feelings about those emotions, we can control how we respond and react.

In this sense, personal responsibility helps Lisa to experience her emotions, understand what they are and why she’s experiencing them, and then react in a socially acceptable way. If she loses her temper or says something nasty at the Thanksgiving dinner table, her daughters may not appreciate her actions. Terry and Christina certainly won’t.

In this situation, reacting to her hostility and jealousy would only cause damage. On the other hand, by taking responsibility for her own feelings, and dealing with her hostility and jealousy in a responsible manner helps Lisa to cope with her difficult em0tions.