Vocational Careers | Emotion Regulation
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Emotion Regulation



Up until the last fifty years, psychologists have paid little attention to emotions. At different stages, the behaviourist tradition and the subsequent cognitivist movement both underplayed the importance of emotions, mainly because they were not directly observable. Even as emotions gained some recognition in the early 1900s, psychologists tended to view them as possible obstructions to people making good decisions and focusing on tasks. In the mid-1900s, Maslow (1943) changed the direction of this thinking when he described how people could build emotional strength, making emotions pertinent to education. Thus, whereas emotions were previously regarded as irrational and inexplicable, they were then conceived as being rational and related to logic and understanding. The latter conception allowed emotions to be organised and shaped; and, because emotions can convey valuable information and enhance cognitive processes, they have become viewed as integral to the learning process.


Emotion regulation is the conscious or non-conscious control of emotion, mood, or affect. Conscious control is an active thought process or a commitment to a behavior to control your emotion, also known as a coping mechanism. Unconscious control is thoughts and behaviors you don’t control, like temperament and how some people are just not very emotional. Emotions are single emotions that are easy to define but rarely occur in isolation, like anger or sadness. Mood is an emotional state, and something, which affect and emotions are built on.


Emotional self-regulation refers to the complex process of initiating, inhibiting, and modulating the conscious aspects of emotion to effectively achieve one’s goals. Although this concept, at the most basic level, refers to controlling one’s feelings, theory and research on emotional self-regulation have addressed various cognitions, physiological processes, and behavioral outcomes associated with individual differences in the capacity to effectively manage one’s emotions.


Emotions are an extremely important part of our lives, and they profoundly affect our actions, even though we’re not always aware of them. Skillful understanding and balancing of emotions is called Emotion Regulation. Emotion regulation is a general term that encompasses several component parts, which include being aware of and paying direct attention to emotions, understanding and labeling emotions, and managing or modifying emotional reactions so as to meet important goals.


Emotion regulation skills develop over the course of infancy and childhood and continue to mature during adolescence. These skills are critical to mental health, academic achievement, and good social relationships. Poor emotion regulation skill (called emotional dysregulation) is viewed as a core feature of emotional problems and maladjustment. Such dysregulation has been linked to problems like depression, substance abuse, self-harm, poor performance and aggressive behavior, to name a few.


Emotion regulation is regarded as one of three general facets required for emotional competence. The other two are: (a) understanding or appraisal of emotion—the ability to correctly identify, appraise and understand emotional expressions and internal emotional states of oneself and; (b) expression of emotion— the ability to communicate one’s emotions through verbal (language) and non-verbal (facial and vocal expressions, gestures, posture) means.  Although emotion understanding, expression and regulation are sometimes talked of as separate concepts, emotion understanding and expression are in fact important phases of emotion regulation (Gross & Thompson, 2006). Emotion understanding and expression fit within both ‘Koole’s and Gross’s’ emotion regulation classification systems.


Emotions can feel “out of control” when individuals experience acute or long-term stress. Under stress, humans cope in a variety of ways. One coping tendency is to avoid or suppress difficult emotions, such as anger, jealousy or fear. Behaviors that may reinforce this emotional avoidance, like substance abuse, can become a preferred way to cope because they temporarily and artificially reduce the intensity of difficult feelings. An opposing tendency is to become preoccupied with emotions, for example, by constantly worrying or ruminating about problems. This coping style can lead to heightened anxiety and depression. Over-reliance on either extreme, or cycling between both, can prevent individuals from developing the balance and flexibility, which is the hallmark of healthy emotion regulation.


People may regulate either negative or positive emotions, either by decreasing or increasing them. Ideal examples of emotion regulation are conscious and initially deliberate but later occur without conscious awareness.  (E.g. hiding the anger we feel when rejected by a peer or quickly turning our attention away from potentially upsetting material).  No assumptions are made whether any particular form of emotion regulation is necessarily good or bad.  Emotion regulation processes may be used to make things either better or worse, depending upon the context.


Learning Objectives


At the end of this session the learner will be able to:


  • Explain the concept of ‘emotion regulation’
  • Detail the types of emotion.
  • Explain how to ‘regulate’ emotions.
  • Explain the purpose of emotions.
  • List the five families of emotion regulation strategies.
  • Detail the ‘Modal Model’ of emotion regulation.