Emotional Regulation: Goals, Strategies, Tactics and Caveats

It’s always a good idea to start with a


Emotional regulation is the ability to control or influence which emotions you have, when you have them, how you experience them, and how you express them.

As the definition hopefully makes clear, emotional regulation is an important skill for those who regularly experience emotional suffering.


Just to be clear, I take a more CBT/DBT perspective on these challenges. More specifically, I try to focus on the consequences of the behavior/cognition than it’s “truth value”.

In practice, this means asking whether a line of thought/belief/emotion is effective, as opposed to “based in truth.” I find this to be a subtle and powerful shift, making decisions much easier.

To get a sense of the why/how/whens of emotional regulation, I’ve broken my thoughts into four categories


  • Decrease vulnerability to emotions
    • Balance their impact on behavior

    • Balance their impact on state of mind

  • Increase emotional resilience
    • Ability to “bounce back” and cope with difficult events and emotions

  • Reduce emotional suffering

  • Dampen negative impact of emotions


  • Identify/naming your own emotions

  • Understand their environmental triggers, origin, purpose

  • Identify personal vulnerability factors

  • Opposite action


  • Change your environment/behavior to reduce frequency of negative emotions

  • Change painful emotions once they start

  • Do not evaluate emotions as good/bad

  • Do not suppress emotions

  • Be as specific as possible about the emotion and emotional events


Emotional regulation is only for ineffective emotions. Assessing the effectiveness of an emotion (by which we mean performing the behavior the emotion is motivating) is a skill in and of itself.

However it helps to have in mind some

  • Hallmarks of effective emotions:
    • Acting on the emotion serves goals

    • Expressing your emotions serves your goals

    • Expressing your emotions will influence other to serve your goals

    • Your emotions are sending a message you need to listen to