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In Times of Emotional Dysregulation

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© 2009 Anthony Pantaleno, Ph.D.

In 1964, a famous rhythm and blues quartet named Little Anthony and the Imperials recorded a song which came to be one of their greatest hits, entitled "Goin’ Out Of My Head." It was a love song written about a shy young man trying to get the attention of a girl, who doesn’t even know he exists. I am quite certain the song’s composers (Teddy Randazzo and Bobby Weinstein) did not realize their song title would appear on a psychologist’s web page forty-five years later as the suggested key instruction for people to remember when their emotions are running wild.

When your emotions are dysregulated – meaning very strong and temporarily not under your control, remember that you are too much into your head, your mind, your thoughts. Remember that song title and you’ll always remember that goin’out of your head is the necessary response to learning how to soothe yourself and get through a tough period of emotional dysregulation. Detach from your doing mind (the part of you that is trying to find logical solutions to your current conflict) and enter your being mind - (the part of you that just focuses on this moment and how you can be in just this moment without having to do anything else. When you return to a more regulated emotional state, you can always return to thinking about solutions. For now, give yourself a break from doing anything and just try to be. Some suggestions...

REMEMBER that our thoughts are just thoughts. They are what our minds create naturally. Thoughts are not always accurate pictures of reality. Especially in times of crisis, our thoughts become distorted and our sense of reality becomes unreliable. Make a conscious effort not to respond to your thoughts.

SO...what should you do if thoughts keep popping into your mind that you do not want to dwell on?

  1. DON’T TRY TO STOP THE THOUGHTS FROM COMING. Sometimes when we try to make them stop, they just get stronger. Just say to yourself, “Oh, there are those thoughts that come up when I am really hurting. They are thoughts that I’ve had a hundred times before. Just because I’m having them does not mean that I am really in any danger. They will come and go, just like a zillion other thoughts do. Let them be.”
  2. DISTRACT YOURSELF. Redirect your attention to your senses and what your senses can do to help you in this moment.
  3. REACH OUT AND CALL SOMEONE YOU TRUST. Who that is will be up to you (best friend, parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, neighbor, therapist). The hotlines on my Useful Links page are always there too, and they will NOT ask your name. Share your emotions with them and ask them to just listen. The intensity of your feelings-- no matter how strong -- will slowly lessen in time… ALWAYS!!!! That may be minutes, hours, or longer, depending on what pain is hurting you. Finding someone to be with you until your feelings do change can be just the thing to help you when all else has failed. Most important…believe that this too shall pass.

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