Self-Control: Who’s in Charge Here?

Want to be powerful in your relationships? Learn emotional self-control. Learning to take charge of your emotions means you can’t be “set off” by someone else. You control your reactions, they don’t control you. When you’re too reactive to your partner, he or she can easily draw you into a fight that stops you both from focusing on fixing the problem.

When you’re faced with an emotional situation, self-control is not easy. In the face of your partner’s actions, it’s difficult not to react. Learning to stop and think, to respond thoughtfully and carefully rather than quickly and automatically, takes practice. However, mastering self-control is always worthwhile, because it makes every moment of your life easier. Have you heard the phrase “Emotional Intelligence”? It just means emotional self-control

Using Self Talk
Self-talk is one of the most powerful tools you can use to learn emotional self-control. Everyone has a running mental dialog, which often is negative or self-defeating. The good news is that you can choose to replace this negative monologue with something more positive. The brain tends to repeat familiar things over and over, going again and again over established neuronal pathways. Repeating a mantra, an affirmation or a choice over and over creates new pathways, which eventually become automatic. The new thoughts will run through your head like the old thoughts did, or like a popular song you've heard over and over. Only this song won’t be about your lost love, it will be about supporting yourself.

If your self talk feels “naturally negative,” you may be creating a self-fulfilling identity, which saps your ability to choose your responses. To change this, learn to pay attention to your inner monolog: what do you say to yourself about the upcoming day, about mistakes, about your luck? If these messages are negative, changing them can indeed lift your spirits and your optimism.

Positive, happy people do have an easier time in life, and bounce back from problems faster. There are things you can do to increase your level of optimism, even if you can't change who you are. Know yourself: if you love silence, tend to be quiet, like quiet conversations and not big parties, this may be a genetic trait—your hearing, and nervous system may be more sensitive than others, and this trait will not go away. You can, however, make the most of it, and learn that creating plenty of quiet in your life will make you a happier, calmer person. If, on the other hand, you’re a party animal—social, enjoying noise and excitement, you can also use that as an asset.

Your thoughts affect your mood, and how you relate to yourself can either lift or dampen your spirits. Neuronal activity in the brain activates hormones which are synonymous with feelings. Constant self-criticism results in a ”what's the use’ attitude, which leads to depression and a cranky attitude, which doesn’t work well in your life or relationships. Continuous free-floating thoughts of impending doom lead to anxiety attacks. Negative self-talk creates stress. To help clients become aware of self-inflicted stress, I ask them to become aware of what they're saying to themselves: a constant stream of negativity, will create stress; just as being followed around by someone who’s constantly carping on you would be stressful. If my client is having an internal mental battle and not able to come to a solid decision; it also increases the stress. Dysfunctional relationship patterns also are stress-building. For example, if you are constantly guilt-tripped by someone else, or you and your spouse fight, or you are too worried about others’ opinions of who you are and what you’re doing, you'll be a lot more stressed than if you know how to get along with others, when to listen and when to trust yourself. Many of my clients don’t realize that they are responsible for their own feelings, and no one else is responsible for making them feel better.

Patience
Patience is another way to describe emotional self control. Learning to be patient and remain calm reduces and relieves stress and worry. Cultivating patience is really learning impulse control: it’s an issue in self control. You can learn how to do “emotional maintenance” and shake off stress, keep on track of what you want to do, and let go of frustration when something is getting to you. Patience is learning how to wait until you’ve thought before acting and made sure you understand the options and take control of your own ideas and decisions. It's a growth process, a transformation of self through awareness and learning.

To acquire patience, learn not to act on impulse, but change your thinking and attitude, and reach out for support and encouragement. To learn the necessary patience and determination that enhances your communication, these seven steps will help.

Seven Steps to Help You Learn Patience:
1: Wait: The old advice to “count to 10 before you respond” is a great way to learn patience. Give yourself a chance to give your best response.

2: Use Perspective: Put your impulses or desires in perspective. Will it be important an hour from now; fifteen minutes from now? Most of them won't be.

3. Self understanding: If you are tempted to act or speak on impulse, understand that the impulse is normal, but you don’t have to be run by it. Reactions and impulses are normal—it’s how thoughtfully we act on them that counts.

4: Take a longer view: If you’re reacting because someone upset you (e.g.: your partner hurt your feelings) give a little prayer of thanks that it wasn't worse, say a blessing for your partner (who probably needs it) and you’ll feel better. If you are tempted to act impulsively, pause a minute and consider your bigger goal; then decide if the momentary impulse is worth setting back your goal.

5. Give yourself a break: If you act on an impulse before thinking about it, acknowledge that you did it, then forgive yourself and get back on track. If you find yourself acting impulsively a lot, then maybe your goal is too rigid, and you need to allow a little more room for yourself, or to renegotiate the contract with your spouse.

6. Consider the source: Impulses are often a reaction to outside circumstances. For example, being annoyed because your partner isn’t available, when you could enjoy using the time you have to yourself. Make sure what you do is what you really want to do.

7: Celebrate: Remember to celebrate your accomplishments and all the times you do what you intend to, keep your promises, and work things out. Frequent small celebrations are a way to reward yourself for patience, and to increase your motivation to be even more patient.

Adapted from: It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction (Kindle and Paperback)


Author Bio: Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 35 years’ experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 13 books in 17 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction; The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again; Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage, The Commuter Marriage, and her newest, The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After Forty and  Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences. She writes the “Dr. Romance” blog, and the “Happiness Tips from Tina” email newsletter.

Online, she’s known as “Dr. Romance” Dr. Tessina appears frequently on radio, and such TV shows as “Oprah”, “Larry King Live” and ABC News.

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