Is Changing Negative Emotions Possible?

Emotions are one of the critical aspects of human life. All people are driven by emotions. People tend to behave according to how they feel. For example, do you ever get so angry that you act in a hostile way, yell at your child when she has a meltdown, or feel sad and life seems meaningless after some harsh criticism towards your work? This article may be useful if you answer "yes" to any of the questions or you feel intense emotions that drive your responses and behaviors automatically.

The focus of the article is emotion regulation, which refers to attempts to influence one’s own or others’ emotions and how they experience and express them.

People face many emotion-provoking stimuli in everyday life. A sequential four-step model can explain emotion generation: situation, attention, appraisal, and response.

This subsequent model begins with;

a psychologically significant (mostly external and physical) situation

pay attention to particular aspects of the situation

interpret/appraise the situation

behaviorally, psychologically, and physiologically respond to the situation

Let’s think of an example. A person in a job interview (situation) notices the interviewer taking notes and getting critical (attention). The person interprets the situation as if she will not be hired after the interview (appraisal). Her hands get sweaty; her heartbeat rises; she gets anxious (response). Her biological, physiological, and psychological responses could affect her situation. In this case, the job interview might not end up as expected.

What is Emotion Regulation?

In most cases, people need to influence and alter their emotions in order to achieve their goals. The emotion regulation cycle needs to start when there is a discrepancy between one’s emotional/inner state and their actual state.

Emotional regulation refers to a process by which individuals influence their emotions, feelings, and how and when they experience and express them. Emotional regulation can be an automatic process, but it can also be a controlled process while one cannot practice it automatically. Emotion regulation also affects the emotion production process (Gross, 1998).

Studies show that individuals who are good at emotion regulation have

  • a healthier life

  • higher academic achievements

  • positive social outcomes

  • better psychological well-being

  • fewer psychopathological symptoms

What are the strategies for emotion regulation?

Scientists suggest helpful and scientific emotion regulation strategies that people can use in daily life.

  1. Attention Deployment

    The strategy includes directing attention from emotional stimuli to non-emotional stimuli. It is also called attention control.

    For instance, in the case of the job interview, the interviewee can distract her attention from the interviewer’s cold attitude towards her notebook. In this manner, the interviewee can feel less stressed and succeed in the interview.

  2. Cognitive Change

    The cognitive change aims to influence the appraisal step in the emotional cycle. It is also called cognitive appraisal.

    Research describes the cognitive appraisal strategy as a long-lasting strategy as well as being the most helpful emotion regulation strategy because, in this strategy, individuals need to reinterpret and reevaluate their emotions and goals. Besides, people should welcome their emotions to achieve cognitive change.

    Cognitive appraisal distracts people from unpleasant experiences and decreases the effects of negative emotions after a while (Troy, Shallcross, & Mauss, 2013).

    Suppressing or eliminating negative emotions is not the aim of cognitive appraisal.

    Suppressing emotions is not the same as emotion regulation.

  3. Response Modulation

    Response modulation reduces the harmful effects of negative emotions (e.g., fear, sadness, anxiety). Response modulation gives quick solutions that influence and alter one’s emotional, psychological, and physiological state. It depends on changing one’s emotion-relevant actions and responses.

    There are several practices of emotion regulation with response modulation:

    • Breathing exercises: breath control, slowing breathing rates

    • Self-care: taking time, taking a hot bath, and socializing with loved ones
    • Meditating: love-kindness meditation, mindfulness

    • Reminiscence: the recall of pleasant memories associated with difficult situations or people.

    Emotion regulation strategies could help individuals who are struggling with emotional states. Emotional regulation is a daily practice that becomes automatic once you've practiced a few strategies.

    References

    Gross, J. J. (1998). The emerging field of emotion regulation: An integrative review. Review of General Psychology, 2(3), 271-299.

    Gross, J. J. (2008). Emotion regulation. Handbook of emotions, 3(3), 497-513.

    McRae, K., & Gross, J. J. (2020). Emotion regulation. Emotion, 20(1), 1.

    Troy, A. S., Shallcross, A. J., & Mauss, I. B. (2013). A person-by-situation approach to emotion regulation: Cognitive reappraisal can either help or hurt, depending on the context. Psychological science, 24(12), 2505-2514.

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