Emotion Regulation 1.16: Build Positive Experiences

Build Positive Experiences

We continue a series on how to effectively manage emotions, so that we can engage more thoughtfully in relationship. All of the skills we discuss are designed to support the ultimate goal of wisdom (see post titled, “Emotion Regulation 1.0”).

For several posts, we looked at various mindfulness (awareness) skills; next we covered several distress tolerance (crisis management/survival) skills; then we looked at a few interpersonal effectiveness (assertiveness) skills. Yesterday, we began covering four emotion regulations skills. Today’s skill: build positive experiences.

Building positive experiences means doing pleasant things that are possible now and will build a life worth living, while staying mindful of and fully experiencing the positive emotion that these activities generate for you.

Passivity and Aggression

People who struggle with emotion regulation are often either passive or aggressive–two ends of a broad spectrum–rather than responsibly assertive about building positive experiences into their lives. Those who are passive are often uncertain of who they are, what they enjoy, and what’s important to them, so they don’t put it out there…and later resent feeling like they don’t matter.

Those who are aggressive are often uncertain that anyone else cares about who they are, what they enjoy and what’s important to them, so they feel they need to demand that others conform to their wishes…and later resent that no one wants to be around them.

The problem (dependency on others) and the solution to both ends of this continuum is the same: Everyone identifies and takes responsibility for their own needs–communicating them and fulfilling them, sometimes by negotiating with others, who also have legitimate needs and desires of their own.

Identify Your Needs and Values

Identifying your needs and values is the first part. If you’re on the passive side, imagine yourself as a child. It might even help to get out a few pictures of yourself so you can remember yourself back then. What made you happy? What made you sad? What were your favorite toys, games, activities? What experiences and events were defining moments?

What does this say about who you are? Have you let some of that go in favor of pleasing other people, to the exclusion of what would help you build positive experiences in your life?

How’s That Working For You?

Or maybe you’re on the aggressive side, expecting others to participate in making your life the way you want it. Is that a value you want to retain? How’s it working for you? Consider how much more peaceful you might be if you let others off the hook for making your life a certain way, and took responsibility for creating that life yourself. That way you’re in control of making your life the way you want, rather than in control of finding just the right manipulative tactic to get others to do your bidding.

Consider what you would do if money were no obstacle? Or if you had only one year to live? Or if you could change only one thing about the world? Or what you want legitimately written on your tombstone?

What does that say about who you are? Have you kept yourself small by not requiring yourself to live your dreams? Or have you achieved by stepping on the backs of others? Have you forgotten the simple things that give meaning and purpose to your life? Where would resistance come from if you stopped holding yourself back? Or stopped expecting others to make your life count?

Mousy, Mean, Manipulative? Or Meaningful?

Tough questions, to be sure, but if you want your life to be full of positive experiences, you’ll have to take charge of that. You don’t have to be mousy, manipulative or mean to do so…you just have to be solid, making your life the meaningful experience that you want it to be. Then you can arrive at the end of it with no regrets.


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