Contrary to popular belief, consuming drugs or alcohol is not the primary problem in the disease of addiction. Substance abuse is a symptom. Most addiction problems are fueled by underlying psychological causes (e.g. childhood trauma, low self-esteem, stress, etc.). Addiction can often be described by the analogy of self-prescribing. When people become overwhelmed by a psychological or mental health disorder, they often “prescribe” themselves an addictive substance (or other negative behavior patterns) to cope with it.
Recovering from addiction is like reopening an old wound and dousing it with iodine. It means letting go of a longstanding coping mechanism. To fully recover from addiction, one must address underlying psychological triggers and learn new ways of coping. Developing healthy emotional regulation will establish new ways of coping with underlying psychological issues that trigger drug addiction or alcohol abuse.
Emotional Regulation Definition
Emotional regulation is defined as “a complex process that involves initiating, inhibiting, or modulation one’s state or behavior in a given situation.”
Practicing Emotional Regulation
To get better at anything, you must practice. Learning to regulate your emotions is no different. It takes time for new actions to become a habit. Patience and diligence are required. Developing healthy emotional regulation can be practiced by doing the following actions on a consistent basis:
Accurately Identify Your (and Other People’s) Emotions
You may not know the words to accurately describe your feelings. For example, you may not know the difference between sadness and disappointment. At the same time, you may have an even harder time describing other people’s feelings. For example, you may have a hard time distinguishing between someone disliking you and not approving of your momentary behavior.
Accurately understanding your feelings is key to addressing the real issue that you are dealing with. Taking the time to accurately understand other people’s emotions will avoid many conflicts. The best way to accurately identify your (and other people’s) emotions is to reflect on them after the difficult moment and before taking a drastic action (e.g. confronting someone). You should not react in the heat of the moment.
Do Not Avoid Emotions, Even When it is Painful
Many hurt people try to avoid feeling emotions because they do not want to feel the negative emotions. The reality is that you must feel emotions, even the painful ones. Otherwise, you can become a cold person. Avoiding painful emotions will only make them fester to the point that they will eventually ooze all over your life.
Remember that you are entitled to your emotions because there is no right or wrong way to feel; the key is how you cope with them. Coping with your emotions the healthy way will make you’re a stronger person and ensure that you will effectively solve the issue.
Counteract Destructive Ways of Thinking
Negative thinking patterns make you more prone to depression and anxiety. Changing your negative thinking patterns into more positive thinking patterns will decrease your risk of developing depression or anxiety. For example, instead of thinking, “Since the other kids bullied me in school, I’m ugly, stupid, and not worth it,” you can think, “Those kids bullied me because they did not feel good about themselves. I am a person who is worthy of love and respect.” You cannot choose the challenges that life will throw at you; however, you can choose how the challenges will affect.
Practice Mindfulness and Other Relaxation Techniques
Mindfulness is about retraining your mind to focus in the moment. Thoughts of the past and future can cause depression and anxiety. Mindfulness also teaches you to view the past and future without judgment. Practicing mindfulness will enable you to react less emotionally-charged and more logically to present situations. Mindfulness meditation is a great relaxation activity. Other relaxation techniques (e.g. yoga, other forms of meditation, aromatherapy, hot baths, etc.) are also beneficial for recharging your mind and body.
Utilize Healthy Coping Skills
Using drugs and alcohol and engaging in compulsive behaviors are not healthy coping skills. Though they may seem to assuage your problems in the short-term, they do more damage in the long-term. A healthy coping skill is something that mitigates your emotions without doing damage to yourself or other people. Examples of health coping skills are calling a friend to talk, screaming in a pillow, reading self-help literature, and even crying.
Emotional Regulation in a Nutshell
Emotional self-regulation is essential to addiction recovery. It helps addicts cope with their emotions in a positive way. A simple way to think of it as a simple exchange – replacing an unhealthy coping mechanism with a healthy coping mechanism. Just as the emotional regulation definition states, it is a complex practice. However, emotional self-regulation allows for a life of freedom.
Music City Interventions offers a confidential, professional, and caring approach to intervention services for families and their loved ones affected by addiction or alcoholism – in Nashville or across the US. Our goal in alcohol and drug addiction treatment is to discreetly and effectively work with our clients through loving confrontation and intervention for the suffering addict.