Much of the behaviors leading up to and involving addiction are due to unregulated emotions and your reactions to information from your environment. Learning to be aware of your emotions and act rather than react to your environment will give you the power to manage your responses both internally and externally. Being able to regulate your emotions will help you gain control over your mind and behaviors, prevent relapse, and heal from past emotional pain.
The Impact of Unregulated Emotions
The emotional responses to both internal and external stimuli are based on immediate, unregulated responses. Sometimes, you may not even have all of the information. Other times, your emotions control your response, but the response is not proportional to the situation. Emotions such as fear or anger can be very intense, powerful feelings that create behaviors that are viewed as negative or that can even be harmful to self or others.
These types of unregulated emotional responses can create painful scenarios that lead to substance use in the first place. They can also be exacerbated by substance use and lead to behaviors that have negative or even serious consequences. Unregulated emotions can also influence thoughts, decisions, and even memories about situations and events, changing perceptions of what is real and further influencing responses.
Creating Awareness of Emotional Responses
The first step in learning to regulate emotions is to create an awareness of the emotions to begin with. During active addiction, this can seem nearly impossible, emotions are often out of control, and you may have little to no awareness of what they are or how they are impacting your life. Changing that instantaneous emotional reaction, the unmitigated response, is one of the first steps in healing from addiction.
Mindfulness is a powerful tool in helping to create emotional awareness. To be mindful, all past emotions and reactions must be cleared away to focus only on what is happening in the present moment and what is being experienced in the here and now. Emotions that are being experienced in the moment can be noticed, but not judged or reacted to. Simply noticed. By stepping out of the reactionary role, you give yourself room to identify and acknowledge the emotions without instantaneous reactions, thus giving yourself the opportunity to make a conscious choice to act rather than react.
Learning to Act vs. React
Using only the information in the present and the judgment-free focus that is placed on the emotions being experienced in the moment, learning to act on that information rather than react emotionally is something that can be taught. Simply by training the mind to remove past emotions, reactions, and distractions, seeing the present moment for exactly what it is can be easier than carrying around all of that information and constantly reacting to it.
It can take time to learn to notice and regulate emotions using mindfulness or other tools. Especially if reacting to emotional situations is a lifelong habit, learning to not respond or retaliate emotionally when someone says something or something happens may be particularly difficult to put into practice. Over time, however, it does get easier. That is the beauty of practicing mindfulness, especially in situations with less intense emotions. Ideally, you will learn to regulate emotions and learn how to act instead of reacting.
The Outward Benefits of Emotional Regulation
The benefits of emotional regulation have obvious outward results. Well-regulated emotions are not typically responsible for screaming, fighting, harming yourself or others, or many other situations with negative behaviors and outcomes. Those around you may be expecting that reactive verbal or even physical response, but not allowing the emotions to control your outcome will be empowering.
There is an immediate and noticeable difference between someone who has worked to regulate their emotions and someone who has not. Responses are measured and appropriate, and behaviors do not interfere with daily life or have such negative consequences. Taking away the emotional reactions on the outside can help others take notice of the changes from the inside.
How Emotional Regulation Can Heal
Even more powerful are the changes happening on the inside when emotions are regulated. The automatic reactionary responses that caused negative self-talk, low self-esteem, and other negative thought processes disappear. This leaves a clear mind, allowing healing to begin.
Training the mind to continue to avoid those negative thought processes is part of the healing process in addiction recovery. Removing the negative thought patterns allows your self-esteem to heal and self-love to develop. When emotions are regulated and responses are made from a place of action rather than reaction, you also have greater control over your mind and your thoughts surrounding substance abuse.
Learning to regulate your emotions can play an essential part in your healing process from substance abuse. By creating an awareness of your emotions and responses through mindfulness, you can learn to act rather than react. The difference in emotional regulation will be obvious both externally and internally as you repair your self-esteem and take control of your life again. At West Coast Recovery Centers, our therapists can teach you emotional regulation and help you find healing from addiction. We offer both evidence-based and holistic modalities for you to experience and choose from with care that is truly individualized. We give you the structure and environment for success as you begin your recovery from addiction. Our goal is to help you transition back into healthy routines through our outpatient care and sober living environments. Call us at (760) 492-6509 to learn more.