Controlling Emotions Or Taking Responsibility?
November 14, 2013

Controlling Emotions Or Taking Responsibility?

Many have been taught to manage their emotions, particularly in stressful events. We have been told to reframe the vent to make it more positive, to look on the bright side, if you will. This is an actual psychological method called cognitive reappraisal. For quite some time, this has been the method used to help people deal with stressful situations. However, redOrbit reports that cognitive reappraisal is not always the best method.

See, when a stressful situation is not controllable, like if a loved one is ill, then cognitive reappraisal is absolutely beneficial. On the other hand, though, if the stressful event is one that the individual can control, as in getting reprimanded at work for one’s poor performance, then cognitive reappraisal actually does more harm. If one is stressed at work because his performance is poor, then instead of reframing the reprimand, the individual needs to control his action and perform better, not blame others or look on the bright side. In fact, in this latter example, the cognitive reappraisal actually led to depression.

The team, lead by Allison Troy, from Franklin & Marshall College did the following, according to the redOrbit article:

“Researchers gathered a group of people who had all suffered from a recent stressful event. Initially, participants participated in an online survey answering questions designed to measure levels of depression and life stress. Approximately one week later, individuals came into the lab and participated in challenges to assess their cognitive reappraisal ability.

Upon arriving at the lab, participants watched a neutral film clip designed to establish a neural emotional baseline and then were shown three sad film clips. While the clips were playing, they were randomly asked to use cognitive reappraisal strategies to view the clips more positively.

Results of the study showed that the ability to regulate sad feelings using cognitive reappraisal was associated with less depression, but only in situations when stress was uncontrollable, for example, in the instance of an ailing spouse. The participants who had controllable stress showed opposite results. Those with high cognitive reappraisal skills were more likely to have depressive symptoms.”

So, those who could control their stressful situation, but instead used cognitive reappraisal skills, ended up more likely to suffer from symptoms of depression. This is important for the psychological world because until this study, cognitive reappraisal was ubiquitous. People used it all the time. Now, though, the study shows that people need several methods to deal with stressful events because each event is different. People cannot rely on just one catchall to help them deal with emotional stress.

Sure, we need to know when to control our emotions, reframe our attitudes, and reappraise, but we also need to know when to take action and take responsibility. The sudden death of a loved one is out of our control, but getting our electricity turned off because we did not pay the bill is within our control. Both are very stressful events, both can lead to depressive symptoms, and both demand action and attention, but the action and attention are different for each. We must have multiple tools in our belt to help us emotionally, physically, and mentally. This study just proves that.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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