Emotional Resilience Blog from The Fear Course

The latest research, realisations and thinking in the world of emotional resilience, anxiety and fear reduction from around the world.

Why we make ourselves feel worse.

Why we make ourselves feel worse.

It is usually expected that as human beings we all want to feel positive and would prefer to avoid negative feelings. There is evidence to show that in the west at least, people do tend to prefer to up-regulate positive emotions, and we also tend to do things that down-regulate negative emotions. The most common ways of doing this tend to be by the use of devices such as listening to music that makes us happy, doing nice things, being with friends, having treats, having a bath, meditation, relaxing etc to create and hold onto positive feelings and negate negative feelings. This is called hedonic emotion regulation or doing things to increase pleasure and reduce negative emotions. It makes sense and why wouldn't anyone want to do this?

Well as it turns out there are times when we actually down-regulate or dampen positive emotions and up-regulate or increase our negative emotions. for example researchers have found that people with low self-esteem tend to find themselves worrying about being too positive or happy. This can often be accompanied by thoughts such as, 'if I get too happy someone will ruin it all and i'll be even worse off'.

It is often the same when we are feeling down. We can also down-regulate emotions out of feelings of guilt, like finding yourself laughing whilst grieving for example or dampening positive emotions around someone who is depressed or grieving.
It is common for therapeutic clients to up-regulate negative emotions when they are with their therapist. I have watched clients park their car, cross the road and enter the building and wait in reception looking fine, until they see me, then suddenly drop their shoulders and start crying. Another scenario is when playing the social game 'ain't it awful' This is where two or more people do the 'did you see the news last night about x or y disaster - ain't it awful' and actively increase the negative feelings whilst engaging in this type of conversation and then snapping out of it as they walk away.

People who are trying to prove a point about how badly they have been treated frequently up-regulate the negative emotions in front of the people they blame for their misfortune. Any parent of a teenager will recognise that one.

It has also been discovered that we often down-regulate or dampen positive emotions when we are about to meet and interact with strangers, especially in group situations. So if you enter a meeting room with people you don't know too well you are quite likely to reduce 'overly' positive emotions before you do so. We also tend to reduce positive emotions just before we have to engage in any confrontational engagement.

In my next post I will have a look at how cultural differences in our beliefs about emotion significantly alters the way we go about regulating or changing our feelings and also some recent surprising findings about which cultures find it harder to learn how to regulate or change things like anxiety or low feelings.

 

 


References

Gross, J. (1998). The emerging field of emotion regulation: An integrative review. Review of General Psychology, 2, 271-299.

Parrott, W. (1993). Beyond hedonism: Motives for inhibiting good moods and for maintaining bad moods. In D. Wegner (Ed.), Handbook of mental control (pp. 278-305). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Tamir, M. (2009). What do people want to feel and why?: Pleasure and utility in emotion regulation. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18, 101-105.

Wood, J., Heimpel, S., & Michela, J. (2003). Savoring versus dampening: Self-esteem differences in regulating positive affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 566-580.

 

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Children with emotion regulation skills do better at school - and are happier.

Children with emotion regulation skills do better at school - and are happier.

There is a growing body of evidence to show that a child's ability to regulate their own emotions, their general affective disposition ( their usual range of moods and what kind of mood they habitually display, in other words are they generally a happy individual or not) and their academic achievement are quite closely linked.

There have been a series of studies over the last ten years which have assessed student's ability to identify, manage and change their own emotional responses to situations and events and how well they have done at school and university. Virtually every study has come the same conclusion. Students who are able to regulate their own emotions and have more stable mood patterns tend to not only do better at school at all levels from primary school to high school or sixth form level and into University, but they also experience less dropouts in high school/sixth form and university.

Programmes and interventions such as ours currently running in schools in the UK, US and Africa to improve emotional literacy and emotion regulatory ability are showing positive early indications. These include an improvement in empathy within the groups, reports of lower levels of anxiety, less violence and increases in academic attainment.

References

Cybele, R.C. etal (2007) The roles of emotion regulation and emotion knowledge for children's academic readiness: Are the links causal? in Pianta et al (2007). School readiness and the transition to kindergarten in the era of accountability. , (pp. 121-147). Baltimore, MD, US: Paul H Brookes Publishing, xx, 364 pp.

Howse, R.B. (2003) Regulatory Contributors to Children's Kindergarten Achievement. Early Education & Development Volume 14, Issue 1, 2003.

Graziano, P.A. (2007) The role of emotion regulation in children's early academic success. Journal of School Psychology. Volume 45, Issue 1, February 2007, Pages 3–19

Gumora, G. & Arsenio, W.F. (2002) Emotionality, Emotion Regulation, and School Performance in Middle School Children. Journal of School Psychology. Volume 40, Issue 5, September–October 2002, Pages 395–413

Pekrun, R. etal (2002) Academic Emotions in Students' Self-RegulatedLearning and Achievement: A Program of Qualitative and Quantitative Research. Educational Psychologist Volume 37, Issue 2, 2002

Zeman, J. et al (2006) Emotion Regulation in Children and Adolescents. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: April 2006 - Volume 27 - Issue 2 - pp 155-168

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