Columnist Daniel Cantor Yalowitz: The urgent need for emotional self-regulation

Daniel Cantor Yalowitz



Published: 11-08-2023 6:00 AM

Tuesday’s election results will bring forth strong feelings, no matter the outcome. As has occurred more frequently in the recent past, there will be recriminations, threats, challenges, and a lot of activated emotions coming forward from all sides.

This is truth, no matter whom you have voted for and against. With each passing month, our nation has become increasingly bifurcated along political, social, racial and socioeconomic divides.

Differences in opinion and perspective continue to pull us apart and away from one another. This may call into question our primary friendships, and even our familial attachments. Ours is clearly a time of heightened challenge on so many levels. I am finding that people whose thoughts and feelings do not align with others are having greater difficulty listening deeply to one another’s ideas.

We are on our way, I believe, to breakdowns in communication and our social structures, as well as our ability to understand, empathize, and commiserate with one another. In the end — and even sooner — deeper and more pervasive conflict is due to erupt. With that, I sense the inevitability of a weakening of our efforts to humanly and humanely connect and share. This is frightening, and it is already happening.

The level and degree of emotional agita is causing all manner of backlash and regression in our society, writ both small and large. I have noticed that many people whom I know — and don’t know (yet) — are saying and doing things more impulsively and reactively than I can recall at any other point in my lifetime. I’m not here to incriminate any one person or group for these utterances and behaviors; they are everywhere across all divides. This ratchets up and highlights our growing inability to handle differences with any significant degree of equanimity.

What I believe is happening is that too many of us are losing our grip on emotional self-regulation. All the political rhetoric and excoriation that we hear, see, and read about daily is impacting, perhaps even infecting us. This is occurring to the point that too many people are loosening and losing a sense of rationality and respect that is required for us to function effectively as a (supposedly) free and democratic society.

Somehow, more and more of us are feeling “othered,” shut out, shamed, isolated, negated, uncared-for, and unheard. This has the effect of putting people on the defensive, and we then react with anger, bitterness, hostility, and other responses that do not further a sense of connectedness between individuals and groups.

Emotional self-regulation refers to a person’s ability to manage their emotions and impulses. It is an important and essential part of overall mental wellness and physical well-being. It is the learned skill of applying conscious thought to events and experiences that prompt strong emotions. The positives emanating from emotional self-regulation are many: People notice an increase in emotional responsiveness to others; they consider the potential consequences of any response; they choose responses that move toward a positive outcome or goal, despite possibly feeling negative emotions.

Having and using self-regulation skills and strategies has the effect of building bridges in our relationships with others and tempering the heat of conflict. This does not mean that we cannot agree to disagree or be in conflict. But we don’t have to torture ourselves or others because of differences of opinion, no matter how profound.

Learning and practicing the skills of regulation, equanimity, balance, and deep listening and effective communication go a long way in helping us and others around us to feel greater emotional safety and health with less stress and distress.

I’ve written in recent columns about the necessity of listening, building trust and community, and building healthy relationships. All of this goes together with the awareness and psychic energy to participate positively in one’s interpersonal endeavors, whatever they are. As such, I believe that growing one’s sense of emotional self-regulation requires patience, understanding, and respect, among other qualities.

These are skills that not only must be taught, but they must also be repeated to the point where we internalize these skill sets to become second nature, no matter the profundity of difference of opinion and perspective.

Learning and practicing becoming more highly self-regulated is not easy, not fast, and not smooth. But, as with anything else, humans can grow in these ways if we commit to a different path. It takes time, mental and emotional stamina, the support of others, and dedication to move the emotional self-regulation needle forward. The good news is that everywhere — in every community, neighborhood, organization, and group — there are exemplars of emotional self-regulation we can look to in times of heated conflict. If not now, then when?

Daniel Cantor Yalowitz writes a regular column in the Recorder. A developmental and intercultural psychologist, he has facilitated change in many organizations and communities around the world. He is former chairman of the Greenfield Human Rights Commission and his two most recent books are “Journeying with Your Archetypes” and “Reflections on the Nature of Friendship.” Reach out to him at