can emotions be controlled

Can Emotions Be Controlled?

Can emotions be controlled? Not entirely – nor would we want to control them entirely. But there are ways to handle emotions wisely. 


Emotions are like the colours on the canvas of life. They make us feel happy, sad, angry, surprised, loved and everything in between. They’re a big part of what makes us human, and, once we learn how to recognise them, reflect on them, and manage them responsibly, they are very useful. 


What are emotions and feelings?


Emotions, also called feelings, are our body and brain’s way of reacting to our internal thoughts and external experiences and environment. They develop from how our brain works, what’s happening around us in the present, and what we’ve been through in the past. 


Emotions are like the glue that sticks our memories together and shapes how we see the world. They guide how we act and react, influencing our choices and how we connect with others.


Why is it so hard to control emotions?


It’s often hard to control emotions. While feelings bring meaning to our lives, taming them isn’t always easy. There are times when emotions burst forth like a huge wave, swamping our clear thinking and hijacking our behaviour. 


Real-life situations show how hard it is to control emotions:

  • Picture this: You get unexpected criticism at work. Despite trying, anger and defensiveness take over, pushing aside your calm response.
  • Or this: A loved one’s hurtful words spark sadness and frustration. You’re left wondering why your emotions ran rampant. 
  • Or this: You’re stuck in traffic. As the minutes tick by, impatience and annoyance build up more and more. 

These examples show how outside events can disrupt our emotional balance. But internal events can affect our emotional balance, too. Take two people stuck in traffic. One has had a good day and is anticipating a relaxing evening at home. This person might feel impatient and annoyed, but they are able to avoid an outburst. 


Another person, stuck in the same traffic, is impatient and annoyed. As they wait, they think back to the unexpected criticism they received at work earlier that day, and become angry; they think of the words their loved one said the night before, and become hurt, too. They think of all of the chores they still have to do when they get home, and become even more impatient. Soon, between their situation and their thoughts, they may be on the verge of an emotional outburst.


It’s difficult to control emotions for a few reasons.


Firstly, emotions have been around for ages, long before humans developed the ability to analyse, reflect, problem-solve, and think logically. The emotional region of our brain evolved long before the parts of the brain we use to manage our feelings. That’s because emotions were much more useful for helping our ancient ancestors survive. Fear got them ready to fight or run, and happiness kept their social bonds strong. These survival instincts are deeply rooted, making them tough to rein in. 


Secondly, our brain processes emotions through complex networks, including parts like the amygdala and prefrontal cortex. These processes happen super fast, often before we even realise it, leaving little time to consider our feelings and whether they are accurate reflections of our experiences and memories.


Thirdly, our minds have a habit of leaning towards negativity – a tendency known as ‘cognitive bias.’ This tendency takes many forms, exaggerating small problems in different ways. Catastrophizing is the tendency to interpret things as far worse than they actually are, or to anticipate far worse outcomes than are likely. The mind of the person stuck in traffic, as it replays the criticism at work, may start telling the person they’re about to be fired. 


Emotional reasoning is the tendency to assume our feelings are evidence of truth – that because we feel negatively about something, it means the something is negative. The mind of the person stuck in traffic, as it replays their loved one’s hurtful words, may start telling the person that their loved one meant to hurt them – they feel hurt, so that must be true.


Our cognitive biases can lead to us to have emotional reactions that are disproportionate to our experiences.


Learn to control emotions with these techniques


While full-on control over emotions might be a stretch, there are ways to handle them wisely. 


Here are three techniques to better manage your feelings:


Mindfulness: Mindfulness is like turning on the headlights in the dark; it helps you know yourself better and enables you to observe your emotions without judging them. In this way, you can spot what sets you off and identify patterns. This awareness gives you a better grip on how you react. Mindfulness practices typically take the form of meditation.


Challenging your emotional thoughts: When you catch yourself thinking negatively, try to challenge your interpretations or statements around it. This tweak can tone down how intense your emotions become.


Self-soothing: Think of this practice like soothing a crying baby. When your emotions feel overwhelming, do things that calm you down – listen to music that puts you at ease, write your thoughts in a journal, or get moving with some exercise. These and other outlets help your emotions find a healthy way out, instead of getting bottled up.


When you can’t control your emotions


There will be times you feel you can’t control your emotions. It’s important to acknowledge that even with the practices above, sometimes emotions will feel overwhelming and uncontrollable. During such moments:


  • Pause and breathe: Take a moment to step back and focus on breathing deeply. This simple act can help ground you and create mental space for making better choices.
  • Seek support: Reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional. Sometimes, sharing your feelings with others can offer perspective and relief.
  • Practice self-compassion: Self-compassion means being kind to yourself when you’re struggling. Emotions are a natural part of being human. Instead of berating yourself for feeling a certain way or losing your cool, tell yourself that you’re doing your best and give yourself a hug – figuratively or literally.

So, can we really control our emotions? It’s not so simple. While being a complete master of emotions might be hard, we do have influence.


By learning what makes emotions tricky, using techniques to handle them, and being kind to ourselves when emotions surge, we can handle them better. It’s a bit like becoming a skilled driver – navigating the freeway of feelings.



Read more about controlling emotions:


Raksha Rajesh (M.Sc., M.Phil., CRR No. A80195) is a clinical psychologist licensed by the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI). She has 5+ years of experience in helping people from diverse backgrounds build skills to understand and manage their emotions.

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