Emotional Self-Regulation (also called self-control or internal control) – This is the ability to control our behaviour based on managing our thoughts and emotions as well as by improving our physical and emotional well-being. People who have internal control typically do not act on their impulses and do not give way to anger, jealousy, fear panic or other emotions to negatively influence their decisions and behaviour. Emotional self-regulation improves communication, helps avoid conflict and also improves the sense of well-being.
The ability to regulate emotions is closely related to autonomy. This is the ability to make our own decisions without being controlled by anyone else. Developing autonomy is important for young people in order to help them resist antidemocratic tendencies and avoid radicalized groups.
The process of learning to self-regulate starts very early in life. Every time the mother or the person that takes care of a child responds appropriately to its cries, vocalizations, gestures, eye contact or other nonverbal communication, the child is learning cause and effect. It also learns to modify its behaviour so that its basic needs are met. Self-regulation is an “executive function” of the brain. Some people with neurological conditions or brain injury may find difficulty with self-regulation. Self-regulation goes hand in hand with the emotional development of the person. With time children learn how to soothe themselves and later also they learn when it is appropriate to express or not certain type of emotions, related to social situations. Most importantly self-regulation is a learning process. We can constantly improve our self-regulation by changing our thoughts, behaviours, habits.
Self-regulation starts from taking care as first and foremost of our own physical well-being. In order to be able to effectively self-regulate we need to be in good physical, mental and emotional condition. That is why young people and youth workers need to understand that effective self-regulation starts from a healthy life-style: eat right, move more, sleep better. Perhaps everyone has noticed that lack of enough sleep leads to nervousness and getting angry very quickly and over minor problems. Regular physical activity is a major mood booster and also leads to much better ability to control our emotional reactions.
An important aspect of self-regulation is recognising the ways in which emotions can be communicated non-verbally. Non-verbal communication is also known as ‘body language’ and can communicate the way we feel as powerfully, if not more powerfully, than the words we use. It is extremely important to know that our non-verbal communication affects both the emotions of other people as well as our own emotions.