Emotional Control: Can’t Live Successfully Without It

I suppose ever since Cain killed Abel, people have had challenges managing their emotions. Through the centuries since then, mismanagement of emotions has led to countless success stories that have never been realized, marital breakups, and families torn apart. If a person can’t manage their emotions, it can get in the way of them reaching their potential as a family member, employee, and as a Christian.
I struggled with emotional control earlier in my life and would often cast the blame on others saying, “Look what you made me do”. My struggle was mainly within a family context. But it doesn’t matter where you express a lack of emotional control; it will hinder your life and make successful living more difficult.
The following are two practical ways I use to help me work on emotional control. I pray that they are helpful for you.

SAFETY ZONE: The world around us is unsafe. You never know what is on the minds of those at shopping centers, gas stations, or other public places, so I encourage you to keep your guard up and be alert to activities around you. When I come home though, I need to know that everyone there is on my side. I need to feel safe, and those around me need to feel safe when I come into a room. Establishing a SAFETY ZONE is critical for a person to have a sense of emotional peace. If I have to watch my back out in the world and then have to watch my back at home, I will never have any emotional peace, which will wear me down over time. The SAFETY ZONE has four parts designed to help a family achieve emotional peace and safety when they are home.
1. Promise each other to never say or do anything to intentionally hurt the other person.
2. If you are bothered by something the other person is doing, assume it isn’t intentional and get clarification.
3. When you get clarification, do so in a productive way. Everything you say can be said in a productive way or a non-productive way. Take responsibility for what comes out of your mouth.
4. Because there is a human factor, we don’t always succeed in keeping the safety zone. When you fail, take full responsibility for what you did, never blaming anyone for your actions.
When family members talk about and adopt these four principles of the SAFETY ZONE they will have a much more peaceful home life and be able to relax more at the house.

Most people are not aware that nearly every situation they encounter is either a high or low threat situation. Being able to distinguish between them is critical for determining the accurate behavior to have in the situation. Not being able to distinguish between them has led many down the path of destruction. Cain didn’t distinguish well, and he suffered the penalty for the rest of his life. Let’s briefly explore the difference between high and low threat situations.

HIGH THREAT SITUATIONS are defined as a situation where you feel like you are in danger or at best unsafe. A high threat response is called for in this situation. Keep in mind there are two potential responses here, a healthy one or an unhealthy one. An unhealthy response is to return in kind what is going on in the situation. Someone is cursing at you or making threats, and you return curses or threats. This is sure to lead to escalation and more danger. The healthy response is to withdraw from the situation until the level of tension diminishes, then go back to deal with the issue. One of the reasons is because when a person is angry, their ability to reason is diminished greatly, which means they are mentally disabled. This is why people will do dumb and senseless things when they are angry and then regret it deeply when they cool down. When people get really angry their logical way of thinking diminishes while the fight or flight part of their brain kicks in.

LOW THREAT SITUATIONS occur when your level or happiness or contentment is interrupted by something, i.e. the child spills the milk at the table, a flat tire on the car, or someone is late. None of these situations are dangerous, but your level of happiness and contentment has been interrupted, and you become frustrated or irritated. If you find yourself in a Low Threat Situation you want to have a low threat response, which means do you whatever is moral, legally, ethically, spiritually and socially acceptable to get your level of happiness and contentment back to where it was. So when the child spills milk at the table, you clean the milk up as the first step. But the second step is to put the milk in a sippy cup so it doesn’t continue to happen.
The problem in mismanaged emotional control is people are having unhealthy High Threat Responses in Low Threat Situations. When the child spills the milk at the table there is a lot of yelling and aggressive behavior usually causing the child to withdraw, feeling like she is in a High Threat Situation. When you have a High Threat Response in a Low Threat Situation it turns the Low Threat Situation into a High Threat Situation.

It is imperative for people who wish to manage their emotions to be able to distinguish between High and Low Threat situations. Most people in America have been blessed by God to live in a Low Threat world. There is one question you can ask yourself to determine if the situation you are in is High or Low: What are the chances I will be seriously injured or killed in this situation? If it is zero then you are in a Low Threat Situation so have a Low Threat Response. If you are in danger immediately move away from it, never engaging a High Threat Situation.

Think the situation through and respond appropriately. Cain didn’t, and he was unsuccessful in life. We don’t have to repeat his mistake.

Willie Holcomb, LCSW