How to Stop Yourself from Saying Something You Regret

conflict management emotional intelligence Mar 19, 2021

Plenty of adults know the feeling of having a big emotional burst of anger, only to later regret their words or actions. Most of aren’t taught skills for navigating these big emotions, so even though we later feel shame, we struggle to “control” our anger well into our adult years. 

Anger is a big emotion. It is always accompanied with tension, so when it bursts, it can be a flood. And while anger is not a bad emotion (after all, it is appropriate to feel anger when we are mistreated), I think we can all agree that life would be a bit better if we didn’t unintentionally hurt people due to explosive words or behaviors. 

Teaching kids how to stay in control, even when they are angry, is a big task, particularly because most adults are not taught this skill. It requires more than just one or two conversations, and it is usually a years-long work-in-progress. 

We can start, though, by asking them to reflect back on how the build-up feels. If they can recognize how they feel before they burst, they can take steps to alleviate tension in ways that mitigate damage. 

Anger builds in stages, and until we reach the big explosive stage, we are at least somewhat in control. If we can learn to release a little tension in one of these earlier stages, we can often avoid the explosive stage.

Relieving the tension that accompanies anger often involves doing something physical, like sprinting. Yelling (without spewing hateful words) can help, as can crying, which releases oxytocin and endorphins. At the very least, walking away and taking some deep breaths can interrupt the build up and help you get your emotions back under control.

The point is: If your children can begin to learn to release their tension in healthy ways that allow them to avoid saying and doing things they regret, they will have a valuable skill that will help them in the years to come. 

You might ask questions like: 

  • What emotions do you feel as you climb toward explosive anger? (These emotions might include irritability, frustration, annoyance, defensiveness, and anger.)
  • What are the thoughts that begin racing through your mind when you feel anger?
  • What does your body feel like as you start getting angrier and angrier?
  • What is your behavior as anger builds?
  • What do you need to feel better and stop yourself from exploding in anger?
  • As you start to feel anger build in your body, what is an action steps you can take that is within your control that could stop you from exploding and saying or doing something you will later regret?

Remember that your emotions, your thoughts, your body, and your behavior are all interconnected. When you begin feeling anger, your body, thoughts, and behavior will also be affected. If you can learn to identify the build-up of anger in any of these four areas, you can discover how to shift away from explosive behaviors. 


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