It seems automatic, something happens and we feel a specific way as a result. Someone says or does something, things don’t turn out how we would like, and we get angry, feel sad, disgusted, etc. We often think, “She made me mad,” or “He really upset me.” In actuality, there is no switch that someone can trip to activate an emotion.

When a scenario occurs, it can trigger an automatic thought, but that’s a thought, not an emotion! The two often get mixed up, because the thought quickly leads to an emotion. Emotions then lead to other thoughts and even behaviors.

To exercise better control of your emotions, it helps to slow down this process. Recognize the thought for what it is, and take responsibility for it. What happened may influence what you believe, but it does not control how you feel. What is the thought that is effecting how you’re feeling? Is the thought accurate? Can it be challenged or changed?

Contemporary psychology theories talk a lot about controlling how you feel by recognizing the cyclical influence your thoughts have on your emotions and behaviors and vice versa. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) discuss identifying, challenging, and changing thoughts.

When we challenge our thoughts, this helps us to not be victimized by our own thinking. REBT recognizes that there are no absolutes. Just because something happened, this does not mean that you will automatically feel a certain way. The ABCs of REBT are as follows. An (A) activating event will trigger a (B) belief. The (C) consequences of this belief is what makes you feel whatever emotion it is that is making you uncomfortable. When you (D) dispute this belief, you arrive at (E) effective new thinking that helps you to avoid this automatic cycle of emotion.

Developing healthy alternative responses to events will help you stay away from negative and unhelpful emotions. For example, when you respond to something with rage, what do you need to do to dispute the irrational belief to cool you down to annoyance or irritation? Can guilt be turned to regret? Depression to disappointment?

Make sure your beliefs are anchored in reality. Ask yourself questions like, “Am I jumping to conclusions?” “Is there proof this is true?” Think about alternative ways to consider the situation. “If I were to be more positive about it, what might I say?” “Is there an alternative explanation?” “What might a good friend of mine say about this?” Put things into perspective. “Will I remember this next week? In a year? Five years?” “How much is this really worth it?” Use goal-directed thinking. “What is my goal? Will this way of thinking help me achieve my goal?” “Is there something I can learn from this situation to apply next time?”

If you stop and think about what you’re saying to yourself, take responsibility for your responses, before they mushroom into unwanted feelings or behaviors, you will have much more control over your moods and actions. It takes only a moment to slow down your thinking, but it can save you from hours of negative rumination.

This post was written by Rivka Rochkind, LCPC