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  • Writer's pictureKevin Phillips

Emotional Regulation

Emotional regulation refers to our ability to manage our emotions effectively. This skill enables us to live productive lives. And most of us do.


We rely on people to show up at work to communicate and interact well with others. From truck drivers, to grocery store shelf stockers, to people who keep the power grid running, we rely on others. Even at times when something does not work out as expected, most people can express the appropriate frustration, re-balance, and then get back to work.


Families face difficulties from time to time. Most families also express warmth, provide support for one another, and enjoy the time they have together. Difficult moments do not derail family relationships most of the time because family members regulate their emotions in appropriate ways.


People self-soothe. They find ways to de-stress. They give other people space to decompress when they need it. Our ability to regulate our emotions makes life in community possible.


This is the world most people live in. Imagine a world filled with people who have the emotional competence of a toddler. Most of the systems we rely on would collapse.


People with Substance Use Disorder sometimes struggle with this basic skill. This does not mean that they have the emotional competence of a toddler. It does mean that SUD sometimes makes life difficult for other people.


Rather than learn how to regulate one’s emotions in a healthy way, a person with substance use disorder, relies on alcohol or another drug to help them manage their feelings. When one develops this kind of dependency, lack of use is enough to generate stress, anger, and anxiety. Not only do I fail to regulate my emotions, but my emotions also become unregulatable.


SUD influences emotional regulation in different ways for different people. Some become impulsive and have difficulty managing their anger. Others avoid people. They may isolate and spend a great deal of time alone.


Anxiety gets out of control. Depression deepens. Impulsiveness make life unmanageable .


A good treatment program includes helping people in recovery practice emotional regulation. They begin to experience receiving loving support from others. Rather than rely on a substance to get them through the day, they learn that other people truly can support their emotional needs.


One valuable approach to learning emotional regulation is through group work.


Emotional regulation is the ability to recognize, understand, and manage one's emotions in a healthy and constructive manner. How do I cope with stress? How do I deal with difficult situations? How do I navigate relationships without becoming overwhelmed by emotions like anger, sadness, or anxiety?


Group therapy provides a unique environment where individuals can practice feeling what they feel, expressing what they feel, and allowing others to share own feelings without becoming distressed by their opportunity to share.


Here are several ways participation in a group helps:

  • Shared Experiences: In a group setting, clients can connect with others who may be facing similar emotional challenges. Knowing that they are not alone in their struggles provides comfort and validation.

  • Perspective and Feedback: Group members offer different perspectives and insights into each other's experiences. This helps clients gain a better understanding of their own emotions and learn new ways to manage them.

  • Skill Building: A group process often includes structured exercises and activities designed to improve emotional regulation skills. This may include mindfulness techniques, relaxation exercises, and communication strategies.

  • Social Learning: Clients observe how others manage their emotions in real-time. This can be particularly helpful in learning effective coping strategies and modeling healthy emotional regulation behaviors.

  • Supportive Environment: The group provides a safe and supportive space where clients can practice expressing their emotions without fear of judgment. This can be especially important for those who have difficulty opening up on their own.

Emotional regulation is a skill we all use to build productive lives and joy-filled relationships. By providing a supportive environment, shared experiences, and practical tools, groups help people to better understand and manage their emotions.

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