In order to regulate our emotions, we must understand them. To understand what makes us feel, we must be willing to examine our experiences. When we are self-aware, we learn to respond in ways that are reflective rather than reflexive. Think about that little rubber hammer in the doctor’s office. If you have all your muscles working together correctly, your leg should kick out a bit when the doctor taps your knee. That means your reflexes are working just fine.
In the doctor’s office, that’s fine. But in the real world? Probably not. We could run into some serious problems if we respond to every situation with an instant, reflexive response, whether in the supermarket, boss’ office, or classroom.
In a fight-or-flight situation, we do want to act reflexively. Most days, however, we aren’t facing down rabid dogs or Darth Vader. In order to make the best choice that fits with our long-term and short-term goals, we should reflect on what is happening and how it makes us feel.
In most situations, and we need to:
1. Pause.Take a brief moment to reflect.
2. Look inward. Identify the emotion we are feeling.
3. Assess. Determine if this emotion is justified by the situation.
4. Evaluate. Decide whether it benefits us to immediately act on this emotion.
5. Act. Respond accordingly.
The bottom line: rewind, and then react reflectively, not reflexively.
Suzette Bray LMFT helps individuals, couples and families learn how to regulate emotions.