Extrinsic Emotion Regulation: A Way of Emotional Influence

18 October, 2020
"I'm here for you, I support you and I understand you." Few things are as positive as emotionally supporting the ones you love. However, in the end, you must be the one responsible for solving your everyday problems and challenges.

Extrinsic emotion regulation refers to a pretty well-known process. They’re those situations where a person’s support and presence give you a feeling of internal peace, calm, and well-being. Believe it or not, those psychological gifts that others give you can sometimes be almost addictive reinforcements.

Let’s try to better understand this through an example. You probably have a friend who always turns to you when they’re facing a problem or is having a bad day. Well, it’s more than likely that, in that case, you’ll stop what you’re doing and pay attention to them, listen to what’s going on, and make them feel comfortable and understood. However, other individuals turn to others all the time.

Here, we’re talking about individuals who are “addicted” to emotional support. In fact, some people are simply unable to handle their emotional states in any other way than through another person who serves as a refuge. It even comes to a point where they say things such as, “I don’t know what I’d do without you”. So, although you may love helping others out when they need you, this situation isn’t 100 percent ideal.

People must learn to manage their emotions on their own. After all, we’re all responsible for ourselves; it’s our job to solve what hurts, find out the origin of our problems, and learn regulation strategies and emotional coping. Relying exclusively on extrinsic emotion regulation isn’t the solution.

Let’s delve a little deeper into this topic.

Extrinsic emotion regulation: what does it consist of?

Extrinsic emotion regulation is a relatively new field of study. Until now, the world of psychology had been very interested in knowing the mechanisms by which people self-regulate their emotional states. However, it seems as if we all forgot just how social human beings are and that there’s nothing wrong with seeking support from others.

This model basically starts with Jim Coan’s social baseline theory. This approach establishes that the brain experiences stress in an isolated way and that closeness to our peers gives us well-being.

Sharing our emotions with another person reduces the feeling of threat we usually get while facing difficulty. In addition, it makes us feel validated. Certainly, this is necessary for our subsistence.

Now, the framework of extrinsic emotion regulation has nuances you must learn about.

A long rope.

What does extrinsic emotion regulation refer to?

Extrinsic emotion regulation is a process where a person influences the emotional state of another. In addition, it’s done consciously, voluntarily, and looks to regulate the mood of the other person.

Going back to the first example, you’ll see that you’re in charge of regulating the way your friend feels while going through that tough time.

  • This isn’t a situation where emotional contagion takes place. On one hand, you’re not submerged in the other person’s emotional state. On the other, the other person isn’t infected by your emotional state. What you can find here is a clear will to regulate how the other person is feeling at the moment. 
  • There’s a premeditated intention. In other words, “I’ll try to make them feel better by making them see things from a different perspective”.

Others can emotionally influence you in many ways

So far, we’ve talked about extrinsic emotion regulation as the ideal mechanism to offer support. However, it’s important to keep a small aspect in mind. This regulation can be both positive and negative. In other words, people can intentionally influence others in a bad manner and cause them discomfort.

For example, imagine that you tell someone how you feel and they respond with sentences such as, “Well, if you’re feeling bad, I’m feeling worse” or “You’re always full of problems. You don’t seem to know how to deal with your life”. This type of verbalization can certainly modulate the person’s mood in a negative way.

Now, the most complex thing about negative extrinsic emotion regulation is that it isn’t always as obvious as you may think. Truthfully, some people can undermine your spirits in such a camouflaged way that you don’t even notice it.

A sad man sitting by the beach thinking about extrinsic emotion regulation.

It isn’t good to depend on external emotional support

Breaking up with your partner, losing a job, losing a family member, and failing a project are all examples of difficult times. We all go through them and undoubtedly need external emotional support. However, to experience real benefits and overcome grief, adversity, or vital difficulties, big or small, it’s important to learn to favor extrinsic emotion regulation.

If you don’t learn to manage your emotions on your own and always wait for others to regulate them for you, you’ll be captive of dependence. Expecting others to reduce your discomfort is selfish, don’t you think? You may benefit from it. But in the end, it’ll be like putting a warm cloth on a wound: it relieves the pain but the trauma is still there.

It’s your responsibility to manage and deal with everyday emotions, both good and bad. External support is essential for human beings, and it’s okay to turn to it from time to time. However, you mustn’t get used to it. After all, emotional maturity is all about being independent enough to resolve and overcome your own pain.

  • Barthel, Abigail L.; Hay, Aleena; Doan, Stacey N.; Hofmann, Stefan G. (2018-10-18). “Interpersonal Emotion Regulation: A Review of Social and Developmental Components”. Behaviour Change. 35 (4): 203–216. doi:10.1017/bec.2018.19.
  • Nozaki, Y. & Mikolajczak, M. (2020) Extrinsic emotion regulation. Emotion; 20(1): 10-15.
  • Nozaki, Y. (2015) Emotional competence and extrinsic emotion regulation directed toward an ostracized person. Emotion; 15(6): 763-774.