Self-regulation is a necessary skill to develop for mental and emotional consistency. Historically, self-regulation has been defined as choosing to act or behave in alignment with your long-term interests and primary core values.
Violation of one's core values will often result in feelings of guilt, shame, and anxiety, which undermine our mental and emotional well-being.
Emotionally, self-regulation is about exercising (and appreciating) the ability you have to regain control of your emotions upon recognizing that you have unintentionally (and often unconsciously) allowed them to take control of you.
In recent years, emotions have become defined as entities that are separate from ourselves. By this, I mean that many medical and psychological professionals have chosen to label our emotional states as sicknesses, illnesses and medical 'conditions' that are outside of our control as human beings.
The problem with the labeling of emotional states in this way is that the individual has become dis-empowered to play any active role in re-assuming control over the quality of their thinking and the consequential emotions that resultantly follow.
The word, "emotion," derived from Latin, literally means "to move." Ancient civilizations believed that emotions influence human behaviour. Today, in some of the more modern expressions of psychology (such as CBT or NLP), we say that emotions will over motivate (or govern) behaviour.
Whether subtle or intense, conscious or unconscious, overt or covert, all emotions have one of three motivations:
1. Approach motivation 2. Avoid motivation 3. Attack motivation
In approach motivation, we want to get more of something, experience more, discover more, learn more, or appreciate more - we increase its value or worthiness of our attention. Typical approach emotions are interest, enjoyment, compassion, trust, and love. Typical approach behaviours consist of learning, encouraging, relating, negotiating, cooperating, influencing, guiding, setting limits, and in some cases, protecting.
In avoid motivation, we want to get away from something - we lower its value or worthiness of our attention. Typical avoid behaviours can be recognised through ignoring, rejecting, withdrawing, looking down upon or/and dismissing.
In attack motivation, we want to devalue, insult, criticize, undermine, harm, coerce, dominate, incapacitate, or destroy. Attack emotions can be recognized by anger, hatred, contempt, or disgust. Characteristic attack behaviours are demanding, manipulating, dominating, coercing, threatening, bullying, harming, and abusing.
Feelings are the conscious and most misunderstood component of emotions. In contrast to the simplicity of basic motivation, feelings are complicated, ever-changing, and subject to moods (like depression), sensations (like warmth, cold, pleasure, pain, comfort, discomfort), and physiological states (like hunger and tiredness).
Feelings can often 'feel' like emotions, which is why many people give psychological meaning to any situation or circumstance that 'feels' uncomfortable. Discomfort will often seem close enough to emotions, and it's this that keeps many people in a state of confusion, where we focus more on feelings than what we do on our motivations.
For many people, feelings are not an end in themselves but more a means of focusing attention. So, instead of acting in accordance to motivation, people commonly react to the emotional state they are situationally experiencing.
For example, if you want to ascertain something that interests you (a person, promotion, a first date) but take no practical steps towards approaching it, the unconscious emotion of interest might begin to feel more like anticipation, excitement, a nagging hunch, or even full blown anxiety.
If you have ignored someone you love and don't approach to apologise and make amends, the commonly unconscious emotion of guilt might begin to feel more like impatience, frustration, anxiety, or even depression (sadness due to not having your motivation met). If you resultantly blame your partner as being responsible for your needs (or wants) not being met, the unconscious emotion of guilt can very quickly become anger and resentment.
When we impulsively act on the core motivation of emotions, we are usually aware of little (or none) of our feelings. It's important to also not here, that it is very common for people to become more focused on what they don't want (to happen or achieve), rather than on what they do want instead. This is the difference between being negatively motivated (when we're focused on what we don't want) or positively motivated (when we're focused on what we do want).
Naturally, we can become acutely aware of our feelings if we become mindful of them, but that will often interrupt our motivation and consequently modify our behaviour (as well as distort the feeling).
For example, you might be able to recall a romantic moment, like an intimate encounter or lying in front of an open fireplace, when your partner 'ruined the moment' by asking, "What are you feeling right now?" You had to stop appreciating the moment (the present experience) to think about what it feels for you at that moment (which then takes your focus away from enjoying the moment). If that makes sense?
Self-regulation is more easily achievable for us, when we focus more on our values than what we do on our feelings. The latter should be evaluated as a means to self-regulate, rather than an end within itself. As a practice (or a self-discipline), self-regulation can seem extremely challenging if we focus more on our feelings. This is, because focusing on our feelings can amplify, magnify, and even completely distort them for us.
"I feel sad..." focuses attention on the feeling of sadness, which then invokes assessment, explanation, justification, and often the interpretation of them. "I feel anxious..." has the same adverse effect. When we focus on any particular feeling, healthy or otherwise, the feeling becomes magnified through the attention we place upon it.
"This is how sad I feel ...."
"These are the reasons I feel sad ...."
"I have a right to feel angry ...."
"This is what the bad feelings mean about me …."
"I'm a victim and have been victimised..."
All of the above statements keep us focused on the problem and on what we don't want. When we blame our feelings on other people, they will stimulate motives of retaliation that can end up preventing us from identifying and improving the actual cause that influenced our resultant emotional effect.
Feelings are a critical part of how we create meaning to the events and circumstances of our lives. The meanings we draw from our feelings almost always motivate our behaviours. Indeed, when people focus more on their feelings than what they do showing appreciation for their values, addictions and sporadic compulsions can end up completely over-riding beneficial behaviour.
Consistent self-regulation requires focusing on (and appreciating) our deepest values above and beyond our feelings. This, incidentally, is also the most efficient way to feel better on a day-to-day basis. Violation of values invariably produces bad feelings, while fidelity to them eventually makes you feel more authentic and empowered.
Don't worry if you aren't 100% certain about what you core values are at this stage of the course though .... we'll be exploring this in quite some depth at a later stage in the course.
“Self-regulation is not simply a moral characteristic. It is biologically healthy for both your mind and the body.” - Abhijit Naskar
Questions for self realization and reflection:
Q1) Can You relate to any points stated above, something close to the examples sighted?
Q2) Does this idea of practicing self-regulation intrigues You?
Q3) Now that you have learned about self-regulations do you think you would react differently than the way you may have reacted in the past?