How To Stop Being A Slave To Your Emotions


“I don't want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.” ~ Oscar Wilde

Would you describe yourself as emotional?

Do you feel like your mood can change instantly according to what happens in your day?

Then you may be a slave to your emotions.

Being an emotional person and leading with the heart can both be great qualities. Leaning into our feelings allows us to be more self-aware and helps connect us to others. But if we allow our emotions to dictate how we live our lives, it can lead to anxiety, depression, and even have a negative impact on our health and relationships.

As an empathetic person who feels things deeply, I have learned this lesson the hard way.

It took me many years to grasp the concept that all emotions stem from thought. As a young woman with low self-esteem, I didn’t realize that my negative self-talk and sensitivity to others’ opinions were having a profound effect on my emotions and moods.

After years of faulty thinking about who I was and what I had to offer in life, I found myself in my doctor’s office clutching a prescription for anti-depressants. My emotions had officially taken control of my life.

At the time I had no idea that each negative thought was having a compound effect on how I viewed myself and my life.

The older and wiser me has learned to be very aware of my emotions and to check in with myself on several levels before allowing them to have the final say.

Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years to help me manage my emotions rather than allowing them to lead the way. 

Validate your emotions first.

When you find yourself riding the wave of emotion, it’s important not to dismiss those feelings. Emotions can be a lot like unruly children in need of attention. Once we validate them, we allow them to be seen and have a voice.

Feeling our emotions is an important part of life; it’s what we do with them that can create problems.

For example, if I’m feeling bored, sad, or lonely, I tend to turn to food for comfort. This usually doesn’t end well. As I gain weight I then feel even worse because now my self-esteem suffers. Leaning into my emotions instead of numbing them with food has been a huge part of my process.

When we validate our emotions, we become more aware and accepting of them, and we begin to understand where they come from. It’s only in this place of awareness that we can see what power they may hold over us. 

Be aware of your triggers.

If you know you struggle with specific emotions, such as anger, jealousy, or fear, try to become aware of the circumstances that trigger them.

In my own life, I have learned that I often feel angry when I am disrespected or unappreciated. So if I ask my kids several times to do something and they ignore me, I feel anger beginning to rise inside.

Not too long ago I would have given in to the emotion and started to shout, whereas nowadays I’m able to tune in to the preceding thought—they don’t respect me—recognize that it isn’t true, and avert the anger. 

Awareness is power; it gives us the control to choose how we respond.

Always remember that emotion is derived from thought. If we find ourselves experiencing strong emotions, it’s helpful to examine the thoughts that preceded them. Then ask the question, are these thoughts based on truth, or my perception of the truth? 

Write it down.

One of the biggest tools in helping me deal with my emotions has been to write them down. I have been journaling daily for about three years now, always asking questions about my emotions and trying to dig beneath the surface-level thoughts.

If I feel at the mercy of my emotions, I’ll ask a simple question in my journal, such as, why do I feel so overwhelmed today? From there I can work back through the sequence of events and thoughts that have led me there.

I will then ask a positive action question to engage with another emotion, such as, what is one positive thing I can do for myself right now?

If you don’t have time to write, try to at least ask the questions.

Take responsibility.

How many times have you told someone that his or her actions made you feel a certain way? For example, “You made me angry when you were late.”

It’s true that other people’s words and actions affect us, but we also need to take responsibility for the emotions we feel in response to those words and actions. No one can make you feel anything; it’s always your choice.

So often the reactive emotions we feel are based on our own perception of the truth, and on the things that matter to us. Being late may be one of your triggers for anger, but for someone else it may be their norm and no big deal.

Consider also that people act a certain way based on many influences that differ from your own, such as culture, upbringing, beliefs, and life experiences.

Take time away.

When you’re strongly connecting with a negative reactive emotion, it’s important to take time away from the person or situation you are reacting to. Never act on strong emotion. Wait until you are feeling calm and have given yourself time to rationalize and think. Only then should you act. 

Even if the emotion is a positive one, it can still lead you down a destructive path. How many times have you done something you later regret in the name of love?

Create your mantra.

It’s easy to say, “Take time away,” but hard to do in the heat of the moment. If I find myself beginning to anger and I’m not able or quick enough to remove myself from the situation, I try to connect with my mantra. A mantra is just a word or short phrase that helps you become aware of your emotion and not be controlled by it.

The word I use is “soft” because I associate this with a gentle temperament. For you it may be something completely different, depending on the emotion you are most reactive to.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that you are not your emotions—you have the ability to decide if they lead you or if you lead them.

As you build awareness and learn to recognize your triggers, you will become increasingly savvy about when your emotions are serving you well and when you may need to take charge of them.

Emotions image via Shutterstock

About Claire De Boer

Claire De Boer is a writer and teacher with a passion for stories and a strong belief in their power to heal and connect us. Her vision is to empower people to become their authentic selves and to live more abundantly using the tool of writing. Visit Claire’s website to access her free eCourse and content library.

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  • Charity



  • Susan Mary Malone

    Love this, Claire. Especially love creating your own mantra! Going to do that today. Thank You!

  • cjdeboer

    Thanks for reading Susan!

  • cjdeboer

    Thank you so much Tara! Yes, validating emotions is an essential part of the process.

  • Pradeep Ghuge

    I like to add a bit
    Take your time,doesn’t mean be a means experience.. What ever u going through experience… Notice sensations,feel emotions,once do that n look around,u did not react,u understand basic mechanism of mind n body,
    Urge to act or react is inversely proportional to time..if u give enough will weaken..disappear.. So am I going against norms,basic human act or react out of easiness of understanding.
    Give yourself enough time.. Enough draw conclusion..ur own prejudice may kick in..sift thru it..try to depend on merit..b compassionate with urself..

  • jen

    Thank you. Great advice. I sometimes get into the heat of the moment and before you know it you’re angry and shouting!

  • Daglis

    Thank You so much for this article. It is really what I needed to hear and it put so many things in perspective for me regarding my emotions. Thank again

  • Wonderful perspective Pradeep

  • Wonderful article Claire. Its worth following these advice and suggestions. Its so easy to lose control and let your emotions rule you. It becomes increasingly important for us to become aware first, take notes and study the pattern of our emotions and reactions. Yeah, “validating emotions is an essential part of the process.”

    I believe if we don’t become aware of our emotions …. soon our emotions takes control of our life completely. Thanks for sharing your story Claire.

  • God Hand

    I wonder about that

  • cjdeboer

    Thanks for reading Daglis!

  • cjdeboer

    Thanks Rohan. It’s amazing how often our emotions can take control and we later regret what we’ve done or said. I’ve done it waaay too often!

  • Hey! Love the post. Esp the part that our emotions are triggered by our thoughts. Have you read any NLP? When I got that simple idea, that thoughts happen first and emotions come later, I realized I had control over my internal state. What a relief!! Thanks for the great post!

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  • Such great advice, we all get caught up in our emotions at one time or another, but slowly through learning (and reading) advice from others we can learn that we do have a choice. I totally agree with the journaling, its a great way to sort things out and revisit if need be. thanks!

  • Thanks Tina! Emotions are part of life, but learning how to navigate the storm lessens the unnecessary suffering. Thanks! Laura

  • Jeanne Williams

    Claire thanks for making me think and not just react. I have had some negative things happen in the past and anything that remotely reminds me of those times set me off. I assume immediatley that I should be angry and upset. If I can recognize that what I am feeling is from the past and not what is currently happening maybe I can talk down the emotion that is going haywire! Best of luck to all os us that feel so much!

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  • I love the part about journaling.

    Usually, life goes too fast for us to connect the ‘How’ of daily events with their ‘Why’. But when you take the time to journal, it becomes a lot easier. Patterns seem to ‘leap’ from the pages and the exit to your emotional mazes almost become self-evident.

    It is only so because writing engages your conscious and sub-conscious in one place, forcing them to work together towards one goal.

    Barack Obama says that till this day he reads the journal he kept in his twenties, as it serves as a moral compass. Almost every great achiever kept one. And I’m pleased to learn that you too, Claire.

    Great article.

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  • Kamil Olszak

    Great article. I, myself have been using such methods + meditation to completely master my emotions. Life becomes something beautiful once you reach peace with your mind and feelings. It’s definitely worth it.

  • meg

    This is great and just what I needed to read at this point in my life. Thanks, Claire!

  • Astrid

    “..take responsibility for the emotions we feel in response to those words and actions. No one can make you feel anything; it’s always your choice.” A lot of people forget this, including myself.

  • Meg

    I really like how you described mantra! This is a phrase I have heard a lot but never really thought of it in such a simple but effective way! I think this will help me come up with a more helpful mantra and perhaps a different one for meditation purposes vs anxiety

  • Same here Claire, I have done it too often and still learning 🙂

  • tidak_tenang

    Great article. These are exactly the basic tenets of the Lord Buddha’s teachings. We should gain insight into our emotions, that way is how we can live our lives, free of sufferings.

  • Tom

    Did you take the antidepressants in the end? And did you find them helpful? Would help me to know as I’m having to make my own choices about them atm..

  • Carol

    Really helpful, I greatly thankful for this article. Love buddha

  • Anonymous

    Thoughts do not create emotions. I’ve awoken in a bad mood, before a first thought arises. I’ve felt sad when smelling a forgotten scent. I’ve cried while listening to beautiful music. What do any of these have to do with conscious thought?
    Your solutions are convenient, for convenient moments, which life seldom is.

  • Juliet Cruz

    Powerful truth to this article. As much times as I think I have control, there’s that one situation that I lose control and my emotions take control! As I get angry and realize I need to stop, I can’t seem to stop especially if the other person is slashing you with hurtful words. I’m a work in progress!!! Thank you for taking the time to share your experience Claire!

  • Matilda Hage

    Thank you Claire,

    Here’s a summary I made of your excellent article not in prose though, but in rhyme, that way it would stick

  • Daniel Vicol

    Wow i think i will start to read this everyday to remeber the reasons everything goes wrong in my life. Thank you Claire, this will help me a lot.

  • FC Édouard

    Hi, it is true that awareness and being present help us identify, clarify and helps us take control over situation and our own resctions.

    There is something that I am not sure, I feel like sometimes I have emotions towards people, or to be honest to someone specially and I never expected to feel this way, suddenly is like an avalanche of feelings and sensations that I would not like to react to it but it makes me a little anxious that I can’t control my own feelings. The good thing is that I try no to react to these emotions. They are “good emotions” but at the same time I feel anxious for the lack of control inside

  • 2center

    You’re mistaken here because thoughts don’t have be conscious in order to direct your emotions. Conscious things are in fact the tip of the iceberg. I’ve experienced a bit of the subconscious mind with the help of psychedelics and let me tell you, it is not just the source of your emotions but also of everything you know as real!

  • Antonio Jones

    An great way to improve on controlling one emotions!