Emotions - why do I struggle to deal with them?

The way we deal with our emotions greatly impacts daily life.


Some people seem to sail along as the master of their ship, powerfully tuned into their feelings but not ruled by them.

Others feel at sea and at the mercy of their emotions – thrown around by the unpredictable waves of life.

Why the difference?

Biology – Some of us are born with thinner skins, being more sensitive to the world than others. Having a thinner skin means that you are likely empathic, with a strong sense of intuition and awareness. On the downside, your environment profoundly impacts you – crashing noises, crowded spaces, strong smells – they can all get under your skin. Being sensitive is not a negative; rather you will need to work harder on protecting yourself through prioritising self-care and preserving your inner emotional resource.

Teaching – Some children are incredibly fortunate to have experienced parenting that has taught them to regulate their emotions. Seeing a parent expressing emotion; talking about how they feel; managing anger assertively and validating their child’s feelings – the child unconsciously absorbs these messages and is more able to do it for themselves. If you’ve grown up in a chaotic emotional environment where feelings were problematic, ignored or ‘too much’, then there is no reason why you ‘should’ know how to manage them. The good news is that these skills can be learned.

Negative reinforcement – Sometimes we have learned ‘negative’ ways of coping with emotions, which have been reinforced by others around us. For example the child who is told ‘don’t be silly’ or ‘you’re not sad’ when she expresses upset. Understandably, she might feel very confused by these messages and is then not able to trust her feelings. She might become adept at burying her sadness and presenting a happy, pleasing front to others. She may also carry anger underneath the upset, which she feels is unjustified as her feelings have not been acknowledged. This could profoundly impact her mental health.

Moods – We are all vulnerable to daily mood fluctuations. Mood can be affected by our self-care (enough sleep, food and relaxation) and also by our interactions with others. Gaining mastery over our emotions involves being able to make decisions not just based on our current mood, but what is going to be ‘effective’ for us long-term. For example I might feel like not getting out of bed in the morning and going to work. However, I appreciate that getting up is a constructive action to take and it is going to help me move towards my longer-term goals and help me contribute to the things I value.

Emotional beliefs - We might hold on to messages from the past that are unhelpful around emotions. Eg: ‘It is a weakness to show emotion’; ‘emotions are not necessary, I should try and eliminate or ignore them’ or ‘emotions are overwhelming and frightening’. These beliefs can be detrimental if we carry them into adulthood.

Maybe you identify with some or all of the above? Take heart, as many others do too. Even if you find managing your emotions difficult right now, this can change.

Counselling can offer a safe place to begin to explore your feelings, to learn to express them and cope with them constructively.

This article was written by Harriet Frew.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Cambridge, CB1
Written by Harriet Frew, MSc; MBACP Accred
Cambridge, CB1

Harriet Frew is a counsellor, blogger, writer and enthusiast in supporting people with eating disorders. She has worked in the NHS; private practice and in the voluntary sector since 1999. Harriet currently works full-time for the NHS Adult Eating Disorder Service in Cambridge.

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