BY: T. Franklin Murphy | December 2, 2022 (modified February 5, 2023)
The delicate art of balancing our emotions.
We get derailedby emotion. We seem to be moving n the right direction, achieving goals, feeling confident, and then something unplanned happens, emotions spike, and we scramble to survive, pausing, or even abandoning, significant goal pursuits. Our emotions lose equilibrium, knocking our whole lives out of balance.
Emotional equilibrium is not a scientific term. There is no personal inventory test to determine our current emotional equilibrium.
Through my research, I discovered it is a term largely use interchangeably with emotional balance. Emotional equilibrium is typically included in articles on emotional regulation and maintaining a balanced emotional state that does not disrupt healthy functioning.
In a recent article, T. Franklin Murphy wrote, "we survive and thrive through the smooth operation and integration of many working parts. Mostly, this occurs unconsciously in the darkness far from the musings of our minds" (2022b).
However, as spectacular as our ability to survive (and thrive) is, there are some hiccups in our biological performance. Sometimes, "emotions, instead of providing a predictable resource for understanding ourselves and others, become volatile, rapidly shifting between emotional states, inappropriately matched with the circumstances" (2022a).
Emotions wield a power that pierces the protective layers of unconsciousness" explains Murphy. He adds, "when emotions fail to achieve our biological life enhancing goals, we may say they are dysregulated" (2022b).
Emotional equilibrium is an emotional state that allows for continued healthy behaviors, directed towards personal objectives. Johanne Wright wrote that it involves the ability to "remain emotionally present, engaged and nonreactive in emotionally charged situations, while simultaneously expressing one's own goals, values and principles" (2009).
Certainly this is an extremely tall order, when life frustrates, frightens, and disrupts. Perhaps, a perpetual challenge to feel the emotion, gather its wisdom, and act with wisdom. This "blending wisdom from both logical states and emotional states creates what practitioners of dialectical behavior therapy refer to as the wise mind" (2022c).
Life is emotional. Life is a feeling experience. To teach that we can completely, and logically, move through emotion without the slightest disruption is woefully irresponsible, or ignorant. However, ideals give us something to strive towards even if we never perfectly attain the goal.
We certainly don't want to detach from emotion, creating a disassociation from a critical inner guide. However, we can try to balance the emotions, limiting extreme highs, and depressing lows. We should strive to achieve emotional equilibrium.
I'm always careful when I write on emotional regulation. While there is a lot we can do to regulate, there is also a lot that we can't do. Emotions are not the same for everybody. They are not chosen internal reactions. Often internal mechanisms developed while still in the womb, determine the magnitude and sensitivities of feeling affects that give joys and sorrows throughout our lives.
Our developing journey continues in early exposures in infancy and early childhood. These environments continue to mold our emotional lives.
We emerge into adulthood with these internal functioning systems, in place cognitive apparatus, and patterns of reaction. These our the resources we must work with to balance our emotional lives, finding equilibrium somewhere within these givens.
Dr. Tanja Haley, a certified Gottman Therapists in Canada, explains, "emotional equilibrium is not the same for everyone, and it’s important that you find just the right balance." This balance must be found in an individual mixture between affective feelings, behavioral responses, and cognitive processing. Haley cautions, "don't panic, emotional equilibrium is something ongoing."
There are some basics. Unfortunately, we often skip past the basics and seek some magical new answer to solve a problem that is as old as our conscious existence.
The basics are always the foundation of mental health and, for the purposes of this article, emotional equilibrium.
Finding equilibrium, regulating those emotions that persist beyond the basics is possible for most. Mindfulness techniques have proven effective for many.
Linda Graham, a marriage and family therapist, mindfulness teacher, and expert on the neuroscience of human relationships, wrote "when we feel we are under siege ourselves, enduring our own personal version of the bombings during the Blitz, we need to call on the CEO of resilience and use body-based tools (somatic resources) to regulate the progression of worry, fear, and panic in our nervous system that could cause us to freak out or fall apart. The somatic intelligence that flows from a well-functioning prefrontal cortex allows us to stay calm, stay steady in our wise mind, and deal" (2013, p. 191).
This CEO of resilience is the collection of regulating tools we have available to draw upon during emotional heightened moments.
Dan Mager explains that "emotional equilibrium occurs when we allow ourselves to present with whatever feelings come up, without suppressing them or being suffocated by them, and learning to observe and accept them without judging them—or ourselves" (2017).
A lot depends on the narrative we give the emotion. We feel an affect then add to the feeling affect a story. Often, our stories ignite more intensity. We externalize the cause, blame someone or something in a manner that stirs anger. The feeling affect is flamed by the story. The original feeling may have been manageable but our surrounding narrative creates an emotional black hole that sucks us in to the vortex of uncontrollability and we behave in ways that disrupt our lives.
Many therapies guide clients through a reappraisal process, writing new stories about experiences. "Cognitive reappraisal involves cognitively reframing an event, altering the emotional experience of the triggering event. Cognitive reappraisal is a emotional regulation technique often taught in cognitive behavioral therapy and other therapeutic practices" (2021).
Cognitive reappraisals arm us with a powerful defense against powerful emotions, allowing us to mitigate the feeling affect before getting drawn into unhealthy behaviors.
A valuable tool for equilibrium is counterbalancing. When discomforting emotions of anger, fear, and shame knock us out of balance, we can rebalance with optimism, hope, and joy. We must ponder during less stressful states our blessings, focusing on blessings. By making regular journeys into the world of positive feelings, we are more likely to be able to draw upon those experiences during times of despair.
Regulating emotions, finding that desired equilibrium, isn't something that can be adequately covered in a few short paragraphs on emotion. It is a practice of a life time. A major portion of the Flourishing Life Society articles over the past decade and a half have been dedicated to the topic of emotion and emotional regulation.
If we could just understand and master emotion, the rest of our existence would be easy.
Graham, Linda (2013). Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being. New World Library
Haley, Tanja (2022) Emotional Equilibrium. Accessed 12-02-2022.
Mager, Dan (2017). Bringing Emotional Equilibrium To The Holidays. Psychology Today. Published 12-22-2017. Accessed 12-2-2022.
Murphy, Franklin T. (2022a). Emotional Lability. Flourishing Life Society. Published 9-15-2022. Accessed 12-02-2022.
Murphy, Franklin T. (2022b). Emotional Dysregulation. Flourishing Life Society. Published 10-25-2022. Accessed 12-2-2022.
Murphy, T. Franklin (2022c) Wise Mind. Flourishing Life Society. Published 5-28-2022. Accessed 12-02-2022.
Murphy, T. Franklin (2021). Cognitive Reappraisal. Flourishing Life Society. Published 11-6-2021. Accessed 12-2-2022.
Wright, Joanne. (2009). Self‐Soothing — A Recursive Intrapsychic and Relational Process: The Contribution of the Bowen Theory to the Process of Self‐Soothing. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, 30(1).