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Regulating Emotions Can Revolutionize Rehab

Posted in Alcoholism Treatment

Human beings are emotional creatures. In fact, humans are more influenced and affected by their emotions than they may even be aware. What we believe controls our emotions, and emotions in turn drive behavior. Therefore, lack of emotional awareness can be a problem for those trying to modify behavior because unless a person is in tune with their emotions/beliefs, he or she will have a hard time controlling actions. Emotional regulation is the skill of learning to recognize emotions as they arise and taking control of the emotion before it takes control of behavior. It is a skill that can revolutionize rehab.

Too often we are not aware of our own feelings until they become so intense that they cannot be ignored. By then, they often feel too powerful to control. Feelings of fear may lead us to retreat or withdraw, feelings of anger may tempt us to lash out – but these feelings did not spring into being, they grew in intensity. If a person can learn to realize what feelings are present when they are less intense and how to counteract those feelings, then emotionally driven behavior becomes intentional behavior. Recognizing emotions as they occur is called mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a key skill for successful rehab treatment. The person in rehab may have been ignoring emotions or attempting to stifle them through substance abuse, anything other than acknowledging their own feelings and dealing with them in a rational way. Emotional regulation teaches one to identify the emotions of the moment without becoming either ensnared by them or attempting to silence them. Substance abuse was very likely an unconscious attempt to push away emotions or a way to overcome an unwelcome emotion with a substance-induced preferred emotion.

The good news is that while humans are emotional creatures, they needn’t be slaves to their emotions. It is possible to recognize what triggers an emotion as well as what is likely to occur when that emotion is present. For example, the emotion of love often produces a feeling of happiness; the emotion of anger often leads to feelings of shame. Those feelings, in turn, are reinforced by our own words, facial expressions and actions. So, the person in rehab who can learn to see his or her own anger, for instance, and deal with it before it produces shame can take control of how strongly they feel a pull toward drug use.

Emotional regulation training teaches that a person can gain control over their own emotions through positive steps such as physical activity, proper nutrition and rest, avoidance of medications as well as increased mindfulness of their own emotions. Rather than retreat into solitude when you feel fearful, a person can choose to engage with others and face the situation.  This breeds self-confidence and courage. Rehab treatment that includes emotional regulation provides an important tool for breaking the cycle of addiction.