Your Emotional Processing Style and How to Improve It

How do you deal with difficult emotions? Do you keep them under lock and key and pretend that nothing's happening? Or, do you get carried away by your anger and frustration? If you want to enjoy a better quality of life, consider using a healthier emotional processing style.
Your Emotional Processing Style and How to Improve It
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 08 April, 2023

What style of clothes do you prefer? What food do you like the most? We all have certain tastes, patterns of behavior, and personalities. The same thing happens in the emotional realm and there are enormous individual differences in the ways we process our emotions. As a matter of fact, each and every one of us is unique in this aspect.

It could be said that every family promotes its own forms of emotional processing. For instance, contention and repression prevail in some families. While in others, there’s a lack of filters and regulating internal states. However, extremes are never good and there are more and less healthy ways to manage emotions.

You may not be aware of how you react inside and this is where the problem lies. Maybe you find it easier to explain what your favorite literary genre is than to define your style of emotional processing. Nevertheless, knowing your emotional processing style could offer you a practical tool for dealing with complicated situations.

Living in harmony with your emotions prevents you from falling into the black hole of anxiety, depression, and multiple forms of mental suffering.

Angry man with poor emotional processing
Identifying your emotional state can be a complex process. That’s because you may have spent your life repressing or letting yourself be carried away by what you feel.

The five forms of emotional processing

Emotional processing defines how you deal with what you feel in every different moment and situation. Thanks to this mechanism, you develop a series of responses used to seek adaptation and well-being. However, although it’s easy to understand, it’s complicated to carry out.

In fact, such a craft requires, first of all, adequate literacy in terms of your emotions. Unfortunately, this is often something you’re not taught. We talked earlier about families. To an extent, the way you react to every emotion comes from what you’ve seen and have been taught at home.

If you were raised in a dysfunctional, oppressive, or neglected family environment, you’ll carry with you unconscious and distorted schemas about emotional processing. Those who aren’t capable of processing their emotional experiences are doomed to live their lives held captive by their fears, intrusive thoughts, lack of impulse control, and even obsessions.

Research conducted by the University of Bern (Switzerland), highlights the importance of this mechanism in order to advance more effectively in any psychotherapeutic process. So, how can you discover what kind of processing defines you? Find out here.

1. Avoidance: putting your feelings aside

Avoidance is a behavior that reinforces certain pathological patterns. It means, for instance, if you’re afraid of something, you avoid it. So, if you feel sad, you might try escaping from your sadness by going to a party. Or, if you feel anxious, you may go shopping or have an alcoholic drink.

However, avoiding contact with your emotions ultimately makes your discomfort chronic. This is the most common form of emotional processing. Indeed, not thinking and not giving importance to what you’re feeling while trying to replace that emotion with escapism is really common.

2. Outsourcing: letting your emotion break out

We see this mechanism in young children when they have explosive tantrums. If you get carried away by your emotions without putting up any filters or barriers, there’ll be severe consequences. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see adults taking out their anger and frustrations on others.

It’s also not unusual to be driven by irrational fears that completely restrict your life. This is another example of how poor emotional regulation creates conflict between you and others and prevents you from achieving your goals and objectives.

When you let yourself be carried away by what you feel, you often behave in ways you later regret.

3. Suppression: swallowing what hurts

Another really common form of emotional processing is suppression. In this case, you internalize your emotion, repress it, and pretend it’s not there. Suppression isn’t the same as avoidance. You don’t escape from your sadness, fear, or anguish with behaviors that generate a dopamine rush to displace (forget) what hurts.

In suppression or internalization, there’s no form of escapism. Rather, you limit yourself to shutting up and moving on. One example is not reacting to people who make you angry and violate you. Containing your emotions causes you to somatize and gradually develop depression or an anxiety disorder.

4. Egodystonic: not knowing what to do with how you feel

Egodystonia appears when you don’t feel good about certain internal aspects. The feeling is usually one of disharmony. There’s an imbalance and this makes you uncomfortable. In your emotional processing, you might not really know what to do with the emotions you feel.

You know that you’re feeling despair and that melancholy and sadness are weighing on you heavily. This is an uncomfortable and desperate situation. But you don’t know what to do with your emotion, how to manage it, regulate it, and mitigate its presence. This can lead you to look for mechanisms to mitigate it that aren’t always healthy or useful.

5. Positive regulation: emotional balance as a source of well-being

When it comes to taking care of your mental health, the most important aspect is correct emotional processing. Indeed, the ability to adaptively use and regulate what you feel gives you power, a sense of control, and well-being. After all, the world, your relationships, and your life are full of challenges and complexities that you must know how to handle.

When you express what you feel, you make better decisions, relate to others more effectively, and face adversity with greater poise. Fortunately, you can enhance this psychological craft.

woman applying her emotional processing
Emotional processing is like untangling a skein full of knots. You need to move slowly, being aware of each step.

How to improve your emotional processing

You didn’t come into the world with skills in emotional intelligence or the ability to consistently manage your emotions. You started with trial and error and gradually managed to take responsibility for your entire emotional universe. But this vast palette of sensations and psychophysical states is like a chaotic ball of thread that you have to learn how to untangle.

If you want to improve your emotional processing, consider the following steps. They’re basic guidelines but they’ll facilitate your journey toward psychological balance.

Emotional care

Pay attention to what you’re feeling and get in touch with your emotions, and with what your body and mind are telling you. Don’t displace your emotions and don’t evade them. Their mission is to give you a message and you must listen to it. Stay open-minded and connect with yourself.

Accept what you feel, without judging it

Your emotions are neither good nor bad. They’re merely psychophysical states full of meaning that define how you’re feeling at a specific moment. Nothing more. You’re not your emotions, you’re the person who contains them and you must accept what you’re feeling, without valuing or criticizing yourself. There’s a reason for what you’re experiencing.

Label and analyze your emotions

When you identify the emotions you’re feeling, you offer them presence and the time will come when you take responsibility for them. So, make the effort and try to define and label what you’re experiencing, and, later, you’ll come to understand what’s happening.

If you’re feeling anger and frustration, ask yourself why? What’s happened to make you feel this way?

Modulate and act on what you feel

Modulating an emotion means not letting yourself be carried away by it, but listening to it, attenuating its intensity, and thinking of a response. What could you do to feel better? What strategy can you carry out to solve what’s bothering hurting, or worrying you?

Remember not to leave until tomorrow the emotion you feel today. Indeed, effective emotional processing will allow you to enjoy life a great deal more.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • Martins-Klein B, Alves LA, Chiew KS. Proactive versus reactive emotion regulation: A dual-mechanisms perspective. Emotion. 2020 Feb;20(1):87-92. doi: 10.1037/emo0000664. PMID: 31961184.
  • McRae K, Gross JJ. Emotion regulation. Emotion. 2020 Feb;20(1):1-9. doi: 10.1037/emo0000703. PMID: 31961170.
  • Tyng CM, Amin HU, Saad MNM, Malik AS. The Influences of Emotion on Learning and Memory. Front Psychol. 2017 Aug 24;8:1454. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01454. PMID: 28883804; PMCID: PMC5573739.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.