Regulating Emotions

Regulating Emotions

Emotions was somehow, and sometimes still is, a dirty word.

Some people think it is “un-macho” to associate themselves with emotions because they feel it makes them look weak and vulnerable. Surely then, the measurement of a person’s “macho-ness” has to include the ability to overcome this possibly irrational fear (an emotion) of being associated with what one perceives to put them in a negative light and work on dealing with it?

For example, if you are as tough as you make yourself out to be and want the world to be convinced of this image that you are portraying or selling, you are arguably able to handle any and everything that comes your way instead of walking (or running) in the opposite direction. Tough people deal with things. Having a tough mouth just does not quite cut it, unless, of course, your mouth is the only thing that is tough.

Also, emotions are part of all humans, both “toughies” and “non-toughies”.

So, let’s get to working on that tough muscle. How many emotions can you name?

Emotions can be grouped into primary (basic) and secondary (complex)3. American psychologist Paul Ekman believes in 61 basic emotions and they are anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise. Psychologist Robert Plutchik created the well-known “wheel of emotion”, where he cites 82 basic emotions and pairs them as opposites; where there are anger and fear, anticipation and trust, joy and sadness, and disgust and surprise.

How well do you know each of them, and what can you do with them?

Part of personal development is to be able to manage our emotions. More often than not, people who struggle to manage their emotions attempt to convince themselves and others that they are “fine” or that they are “numb” and “emotionless”. These are avoidant tactics when a person lacks a good understanding of their emotions or is not quite equipped with the necessary tools in order to handle their emotions. Hence, they opt for the basic “fight, flight or freeze” defense mechanisms in the hope of answering to their emotions.

For example, a person is experiencing anger and is prone to punching walls and, sometimes, people around them. Despite seeing the pain their behaviour causes themselves and their loved ones, they feel stuck and unable to use other coping mechanisms that are yet to be known to them. They repeat the vicious cycle and trap themselves even further. Coupled with their stress, frustration and aggression, their anger escalates and takes on a drastic turn.


Case (*names have been changed to protect the identities of individuals)

 Jeffrey thinks everyone is either happy or angry, and occasionally he sees sadness but feels he does not experience it for himself as he “is able to change any sadness to happiness immediately”. He claims he is known as the happy-go-lucky person to people around him and that he is always in the most optimal mood. He believes nothing in life can ever get him down and that in “rare occasions” that he does get dragged down, he will always be able to get back on his feet quickly by himself. Jeffrey’s previous partners and his family members know the side of Jeffrey that others do not know of – that he often dismisses or plays down important things that they point out to him, especially with regards to their feelings. He handles people like they are machines as he believes in “flipping the switch” as the solution to everything. As a result, he has never quite developed a real connection with another human being, even though he would say otherwise.

 If you are not into what Jeffrey does and wants to have better relationships not just with others but also yourself, working on your emotions and facing them as they are can be a good start. There are numerous ways to do this and there is no one official way of going about it but what experts agree is that being educated more about emotions helps debunk myths around them. Perhaps you have started to read some articles about emotions and you cannot wait to get started on learning more as you go about some tasks. What can you do then, to manage your emotions better? Below are some suggestions:

  1. Find out more about them! Go beyond what you have learnt so far about them and look up various literature that study emotions. Get a friend to join you in this as it can be fun and enriching to learn together. There are also many communities out there that you can tap on to embark on a learning journey and learn from different perspectives.
  2. Observe yourself or get someone to observe the way you express your emotions. Being able to record the observations (especially behaviours) allow you to evaluate your actions thereafter.
  3. Discuss these observations and make an action plan on what you’d ideally like to do when you experience the emotions that you want to work on. You can also work with a life coach or someone whom you trust and would hold you accountable for the progress or digression that you make.

It does take time, discipline, commitment and willingness to implement the action plan that you create for yourself. The timeline and tasks can be set and decided by you. At times you may feel uncomfortable or lose focus on your goals but this is completely normal as it is work in progress. The more you can stick to your guns when it comes to achieving your set goals and objectives, the better you will get at managing your emotions and making them benefit you.

A real “macho toughie” is thus able to handle things as they come and as they are.



  1. Burton, N. (2016). What are basic emotions? Retrieved from
  2. Puttin, P. (2023). What the longest study on human happiness found is the key to a good life. Retrieved from
  3. APA Dictionary of Psychology. (2023). Retrieved from
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