What is emotion regulation and what are emotional regulation skills?

This is our second guest blog by Dr Joey Weber – learn more about Joey at the end of the blog. Or read his other blog on What is Equanimity here. If you’re interested in trying out his unique approach to developing Equanimity why not join us for his upcoming 6 week Equanimity Based Compassionate Action online course

This is essentially what equanimity training facilitates, yet we often can get so stuck on words and at times language can blend to form some kind of cosmic soup.

In this ‘specialist’ world driven by compartmentalization and silos, relatively similar duties can often brand themselves in a completely different space yet in reality do very complimentary or aligned things.

I am finding this is happening a lot in the well-being space. For example, some might say mindfulness lives in a separate sphere of compassion, self-compassion from compassion, etc.

Yet others may proclaim the two cannot be separated if one understands it ‘properly’. I find the world has become hyper-specialist and separate that even slight word tilts can mean seismic philosophical shifts that lead to a rejection or acceptance of you as a person. This idea of ‘difference’ based on word choice can breed conflict as people only see the difference in language without much understanding of the depth of the topic.

Negative emotions and healthy emotion skills

I talk about negative emotions and healthy emotions in the same breath as equanimity as when one understands the term, the definition, and the model, then it makes some form of linear sense. Yet, I am sure there might be other ‘specialists’ that claim there is much difference in each modality. My course is better, this field is wiser.

This is where the often hidden cultural and philosophical assumptions take centre stage and people start to identify you via their own sense of manufactured categories ack of awareness towards their own categorisations.

Potato, patata? Or something far more sinister

In one field the term resilience or emotional self-regulation might prove popular whereas something with a tinge of a difference, yet covering the same thing may be flat-out rejected. Ooh, that sounds weird – is it Buddhist? Do the mindfulness people use it? Does my teacher use it? Does it align with my ideas?

That is essentially what we do when we encounter a new term – a whole host of judgmental tones filter out from the perception of ‘newness’, people may judge it as ‘re-branding’ perhaps.

The very direct inception of anything is a categorification based on past experience. This IS the problem, not a cute cultural difference one encounters when ordering a beer in the wrong language on holiday.

Very real educational and mental health implications occur because of peoples’ in-built assumptions to do with their own categorizations of language and unique points of inception with chosen terminologies.

Positive emotions

Let us connect more humanly. There are no ‘negative’ or ‘positive’ emotions as the concepts of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ do not really exist, then others might say there is a clear distinction between ‘constructive’ and ‘destructive’ emotions.

Such a subtle change yet philosophically you are up against it if you clash with a person’s ‘ worldview’ embedded via a myriad pattern of habitual word choices and socially accepted language norms. Good, bad and the ugly begin to form the croutons of your own cosmic carrot and coriander soup.

Emotion regulation skills: Equanimity is emotional regulation

Equanimity allows emotional response to move from the limbic brain system to the pre-frontal cortex where we connect with our own inner wisdom. The bridge between mindfulness and compassion lies with the wisdom of equanimity – ‘can you gently rock in the cradle of discernment, yet respond with equanimity‘ is something I said in the last EBCA.

That process of ‘gently rocking’, so small, so subtle, is you exactly working positively for your own mental welfare by being aware of your own discernment (like, dislike, good, bad, neutral, positive, negative, right wrong), you are directly working with your own emotional regulation, in that space exactly.

Once you can see your mind has discerned – you can begin identifying emotions in your mind and body the emotional responses that arise in relation to the discernment. This awareness – The rocking! Here you can begin to regulate emotions by consciously choosing your own emotional response. This ties in with the whole not reacting from auto-pilot mindfulness mantra yet opens up the space to actually do so, rather than promoting some form of passive acceptance.

So what are healthy emotion regulation strategies?

If you then decide what are healthy emotional regulation techniques and strategies – via observing with awareness your make-up, your own conditioning, and some of society’s influences over you – and recognize what you – the inner you – the real you – authentic you – wishes to behave then you can shed some of the layers of conditioning embedded within your own system.

In this way, you do not react from autopilot but from a place of equanimity. In this rocking – you also practice self-compassion and protect yourself from your emotional reactions and outbursts as equanimity anchors you in compassion at the same time – emotion regulation. Sounds so easy, yet if you imagine this happens within milliseconds and how many years have we ‘practised’ the opposite?

The entire of society is geared up to make us react emotionally which has led to a whole host of maladaptive emotion dysregulation. Just look at any mental health stats from any country. To say that so casually is genuinely terrifying.

Equanimity is the most sincere emotional intelligence

That is where I think there is a deep misconception – that somehow these skills free you instantly from your reactions, distress, feeling sad etc. No – at best over time you are able to become more conscious, with your own cognitive reappraisal ability, and helps develop your own coping strategies etc.

It becomes less of a ‘linear’ process but a circular one.

That is why I say: “Why do we need to be practising mindfulness first?” Perhaps for the stabilisation of equanimity meditation but coming from a millennia of overthinkers, maybe thinking about how we discern, label, judge and behave is the best place of entry. How about we start with equanimity?

Fighting back against a sick society

Equanimity promotes healthy relationships and mitigates unnecessary suffering. Hey presto, your initial emotion regulation skills begin to be built from your own intrinsic awareness of what is right, what is true for you, not what anyone has told you or sold you from the past or how it has been shaped by society but from a relational emotional intelligence you created from your own inner source.

As a coping strategy this becomes the most fundamental way of dealing with your own emotional vulnerability. as you connect with the present moment and start paying attention to your own self-awareness you realise you can regulate your emotions, manage emotions, and more importantly identify your own emotions more readily.

What does this mean for mental health?

This has huge implications for other mental health issues and as a foremost positive regulation strategy in a world of quick fixes and instant gratification.

With equanimity we begin to directly work against the darker forces of social conditioning, blaming, shaming and media-perpetuated garbage that infiltrates our very sensitive souls. If you want to counter maladaptive mental health, practice equanimity. It is social cohesion and collaboration that promotes healthy emotion regulation strategies rather than solely a therapeutic self-help model that ignores the very real and stark inequalities that are reproduced in a sick society.

Negative emotions

Emotions happen. ‘Stay calm’ is one of the most irritating things to say to someone. I think somehow if you have said you do mindfulness as well, your ability to display emotions becomes even more repressed because you are ‘supposed’ to be calm. The physical symptoms of self-harm, emotionally or physically are evident to see in an angry world hell-bent on drawing on your unpleasant emotion.

It is not like you can push a button – ok now I am aware of my own mind labelling these intense emotions of anger as destructive, this is because anger has been common in my life, once I was punched by a boy, so with this knowledge now I can suddenly stop feeling anger and blah blah so instantaneously I will cease to experience these intense emotions … this is equanimity right!?

Be prepared for trial and error. The disentangling from a lifetime of maladaptive emotional regulation skills becomes your regulation strategy! Regulation is the ability to recognize first and foremost how you typically respond emotionally. If feeling angry is your norm, recognise that. When the emotion of anger arises, regulate via embracing the anger, resting it in the palm of your hands, and then begin to work with it.

Emotional triggers

‘Well-being’ potentially rests on your inner emotional experience. When emotions arise how robust and resilient are your emotional control and distress tolerance? I mean one thing I can vouch for is everyday life is gritty. Even if physical health is good, mental health disorders are on the sharp rise. All this is based on strong emotions and our lack of emotion regulation strategy. So let us get real with difficult emotions.

We need to be able to sit with them face-to-face and open up. When negative emotion arises sit with it, and look at it with equanimity. Your sense of stress and stress management oscillates around your ability to identify and be with your emotional state. I ask you again, what is your emotion regulation strategy? Because let me tell you, the entirety of life is a trigger.

The myth of controlling emotions

Can we control anything in life? The paradox of letting go of control becoming the direct method of being in control is fascinating. One with which I have struggled a great deal and will continue to do so! ‘Well-being’ lies with self-regulation skills and unfortunately nothing we can buy for under £10 on amazon.

Our nervous system has been gnawed at by the dark side of social programming. This perception of control is seemingly taken away from us via the coercive need for self-gratification and swiping fingers glued to screens. Play with this idea – do we ever have control?

What does this all mean to me?

You will have negative feelings, you will try to positive self-talk into positive feelings, you will be disappointed with your own emotional reaction, and you will experience unpleasant emotions and encounter an emotional trigger on a potentially daily basis. Learning emotional regulation skills, is the most significant skill in 2023 and how do we do this?

By training with equanimity. The single construct that helps build emotional self-regulation strategies and skills from the bottom up and the inside out. Equanimity makes us get real with who we are, lay all cards on the table, look at our own conditioning and notice how this fuels both our conscious and unconscious biases. If we want change, personally or socially how on earth are we going to get there without it?

Guest blog by Dr Joey Weber

Joey developed and validated one of the world’s first psychometric scales that solely focuses on the construct of equanimity – The Equanimity Barriers Scale (EBS) in 2018. His research (spanning 6 years) includes operational definitions of inner and outer equanimity relevant for clinical psychology, theoretical models of judgement and the validation of the EBS. He has recently published a book entitled Why Mindfulness Is Not Enough: Unlocking Compassion with Equanimity, which is an overview of his research and includes case studies and guided meditations in order to bring equanimity down from the mystical and into the lap of the practical.

You can read more about Joey on his website: Equanamee.

Joey has also hosted multiple talks for FDCW. You can view these videos on our Youtube channel or on our website.


Equanimity Based Compassionate Action (EBCA)

If you enjoyed Dr Joey Weber’s style and are keen to learn more about equanimity why not join him for his online Equanimity Based Compassionate Action (EBCA) course starting May 7th 2023!

The Equanimity Based Compassionate Action [EBCA] programme is the first course to focus solely on the latest scientific construct of equanimity. The course consists of 6 X 2 hour sessions to help people cope better with their emotional regulation and extend the parameters of compassion. Through guided meditations, group dialogue, and individually tailored instruction, you will learn the essential principles of equanimity extending beyond mindfulness to build your own personal toolkit to access wide ranging benefits such as emotional balance, conflict resolution, deepening empathy, compassion and overall wellbeing
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Foundation for Developing Compassion and Wisdom (FDCW)

At FDCW we are committed to a more compassionate, wiser world. We provide resources, courses and training to develop qualities such as kindness, patience and courage – qualities which are essential for meeting the challenges of the world we all share.

The Foundation for Developing Compassion and Wisdom (FDCW) was established as a global charity based in London in 2005. Since then we have provided secular training, programmes and resources across many sectors of society – schools, universities, hospices, workplaces, healthcare, youth groups and community centres. Our courses have reached thousands of people across the world through our dedicated and growing network of facilitators in more than 20 countries.

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