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Approximately 3 years ago, I had the opportunity to listen to James Gross, Ph.D. at the annual conference of the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science in Reno, Nevada. Dr. Gross, an emotion theorist and researcher in Stanford, has conducted multiple studies on trying to understand how people deal with emotions and developed a conceptual model of it (modal model of emotions). As you will watch in the 12-minute video below, he clearly describes his model, its processes, the instrumental function of emotions, and how he became interested in emotion theory.

[vimeo 43421746 w=200 h=150]

According to Gross, emotion regulation constitutes any effort to modify any emotional experience (positive and negative emotions) and involves different processes such as: (1) Selection of the situation, (2) modification of the situation, (3) attention to the situation, (4) change of thoughts regarding the situation, and (5) modulation of responses. The first four processes occur before there is an emotional reaction (antecedent focused) and the last one, modulation of response, is directly related to the emotional experience (response focused). 

Based on my clinical experience I do think that the first two processes and even the fourth one, are not necessarily under a person’s control as it is suggested. Sometimes you will be able to choose and modify specific situations at your convenience and other times, you simply won’t have that possibility. For instance, you can choose whether or not to attend a job interview and struggle with anxiety because it matters to you to become a provider for your family. Other times, you may be exposed to situations in which unexpected emotions or thoughts may show up without you having a chance to “select or modify the specific situation” per se. For example, while having a nice dinner with your partner, a situation you choose, suddenly he or she makes a comment that triggers an intense feeling of sadness for you. In the latter example, you didn’t choose that particular micro-situation in which your partner made a comment, nor the emotion or thoughts; you simply didn’t have control over them.

Overall, Gross’ model of emotion regulation constitutes another attempt to understand any efforts to modify, suppress, or avoid emotions and its implications in clinical psychology. Today, emotion regulation problems continue to be seen as the core of many psychological problems including all forms of anxiety, depression, eating problems, body image concerns, etc. Therefore, I believe that it’s extremely important to become an “emotional detective” and learn how to behaviorally respond to emotions in a way that fundamentally helps you to move towards your life goals. So, here are my specific recommendations:

  • First, learn about yourself:  Are you struggling with emotion regulation problems? Click here to complete a free self-assessment.

If you’re struggling with emotion regulation problems you can start by:

  • Keeping an “emotion diary” that captures your emotion, physical sensations, thoughts, and urges.

  • Then, noticing what is the emotion really trying to tell you? (function of the emotion).
  • And finally, making a conscious choice about how you want to respond to your emotions: If your “emotional dial” is all the way up and is urging you to take action, simply breath … breath one more time,  and then make a conscious choice about how you want to respond to it.
Patricia E. Zurita Ona, Psy.D. is a psychologist at the East Bay Behavior Therapy Center. Dr. Zurita Ona can be contacted at ebbehaviortherapycenter@gmail.com

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