Steve Daily

Developing Emotional Control

Sunday, August 28, 2016
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Steve Daily

Developing healthy emotional control is an essential element of psychological strength. As a psychologist I see numerous clients who struggle with the issue of poor emotional control. Some clients have a fear of leaving their home, and their anxiety takes control of their life. Others have frequent conflicts with others due to inadequate control of their anger and aggressive tendencies. Many clients isolate and get little accomplished due to their depression.

In DBT emotion is defined as a physiological response to a prompting event. This means that when something happens in our environment or some thought or image occurs in our brain, we will often experience a feeling in the form of a body sensation. If I see my grandson smile, I may automatically smile and feel happy. If someone cuts me off in traffic, I may tense my muscles in my face and throughout my body and experience the feeling of anger or fear. 

It is easy to falsely conclude we have no control of our emotions if they are triggered by prompting events. It is important to understand that there is a brief pause often between stimulus and response or between stressor and reaction. In that fraction of a second is often choice. I explain to my clients that when they go into full survival mode or full flight-fight reaction, they lose control of their ability to make wise decisions. That it why is is important for them to learn the STOP skill.

STOP is an acronym in which each letter of the word stop stands for an important step in developing emotional control. The following are the four steps of the STOP acronym.


STOP before you make things worse. (Avoid going into the fight-flight-freeze reaction when your life isn't threatened).

TAKE several deep breaths to calm your body and quiet your mind. (Deep breaths help you to relax your body and quiet your mind.  You may need to take other actions if your emotions are too intense).

OPEN your mind to better options of responding.  (When you have calmed down, consider what would be healthy or wise options for responding in the current situation).

PROCEED with respect and compassion.  (Act in a wise way that will allow you to be respectful and to show compassion to others and yourself).

There are countless ways to improve your emotional control. Good self-care, learning stress management skills, mindfulness training, and exercise are just a few things you can do to improve your emotional control. Remember to use the STOP skill as an important first step in practicing emotional self-control so you will become a psychologically stronger person.