Self-Control vs. Redirection

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By Aaron Ledford, MSW, LSW – January 10, 2024

Emotions, defined as human reactions we experience in response to events or situations, are a mysterious thing and an abstract concept. Without living our emotions out, they are not “real” concrete things. You can’t draw happiness, but you can draw a picture of something that makes you happy. You can’t draw sadness, but you can draw a situation that makes you sad.

Unless we allow ourselves to live out the specific emotion, they do not and cannot exist. As adults, we can understand this concept to a certain degree, but a child may have a difficult time absorbing this.

We are often given the message that controlling our emotions is about pushing them aside, treating them as if they don’t exist, and “getting over it” so the task at hand can be accomplished. While this is one way of coping, it may not be the best method for everyone, especially a child who is struggling with overwhelming sadness or anxiety. A better method of coping is redirecting our perceived negative emotions into something positive and powerful.

There is a proverb that reads, “If you cannot control yourself, you are like a city without walls, easily conquered.” Self-control is an important thing for anyone to learn and develop. Without learning this concept, we would just give into our intrusive thoughts and suffer the consequences of those actions.

I would like to define self-control as a catch and release of our negative emotions. What I mean by this is understanding what we are feeling, evaluating whether this emotion is valid in the situation, accepting that it is okay and normal to feel this way, and then releasing the hold that emotion might have on us.

We all go through life experiencing negative thoughts and emotions. As adults, we have become so used to the idea that it has become a normal everyday occurrence and we can process our emotions easier. For young people this is a new and foreign thing to experience, especially in a school setting. Helping students identify, evaluate, accept, and release negative emotions can be paramount in the development of a new and emotionally intelligent generation.

Redirection is another possible method of handling one’s emotions. Redirection is taking the negative emotions and thoughts and turning them into something productive and flourishing. For instance, if you are dealing with a lot of stress from a job and coping with unhealthy habits or lifestyle choices, redirection would be going to the gym to release those emotions.

Redirection allows the individual to make better choices when it comes to their emotional state and self-care. Learning how to properly take care of one’s needs after a stressful day is essential for a healthy lifestyle and developing smart coping skills in the future. This method also allows young people to pursue positive passions in their lives. Many people play sports or play an instrument and develop their creative arts talents to help redirect their negative emotions into positive activities. This method also helps by releasing emotions in small doses instead of bottling them up to be expelled later.

As with everything, there are also downsides to this method. One of the downsides includes not fully processing the emotions one is feeling. Just piling on different activities to cope with the negativity may result in covering up an underlying issue and never addressing the concern. This method would make it easier to ignore the root issue causing the negative emotions or thoughts, so this should be carefully and thoughtfully considered.