New Research Sheds Light on How Others Help Us Regulate Our Own Emotions

two women talking

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Key Takeaways

  • Others may help individuals to regulate their own feelings through the provision of emotional support.
  • Individuals were much more likely to disclose adverse experiences with loved ones than coworkers.
  • This research offers insights into how interpersonal emotional regulation may be most helpful for managing stress.

When navigating a stressful situation, even the best healthy coping skills may fall short, and many times we need additional support. A study published in Affective Science found that receiving emotional support may help individuals regulate their feelings and improve their mental health.

This study was conducted with 87 adults, whereby they reported details of their interpersonal emotional regulation (IER) with 5 surveys daily over a 2-week period, and most participants were found to engage in IER.

Despite how often people may feel that they are expected to be independent, this research reinforces the value of developing connections with others.

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Understanding the Research

Researchers found that participants sought this interpersonal emotional regulation (IER) mainly,—not surprisingly—from people they were close to, and wanted support and a listening ear more than a specific solution.

Looking a bit closer, the participants' loved ones were more likely to provide support rather than blame but often offered problem-oriented support when emotion-oriented feedback was desired by the participants.

Nearly all participants shared at least one negative emotional experience over the 2-week period, with individuals sharing once every 2 days on average. However, this may be underestimated since participants were only asked to report one disclosure per survey and with only one person.

While researchers found that participants were more likely to share with women, its reliance on binary gender is a limitation of this study.

Intentional Emotional Sharing Can Help

Neuroscientist and clinical social worker, Renetta Weaver, LCSW-C, says, “The takeaway that readers should have is that emotional sharing is beneficial when it is done right. By that, everyone doesn’t have the right to hear our story and we have to be intentional about who we share with."

As an example, Weaver explains that individuals may have a friend who is inclined to listen while another may try to fix things so it helps to know what is desired before sharing. "Our friends can be either or both so before sharing let them know what you want from them," she says.

Weaver notes, "I wish the public knew the value of mix-gendered and mix-aged support groups when it comes to emotional sharing. Sharing among diverse groups of people who have the same emotional struggle, such as relationship problems, significantly helps to get another perspective."

While the research found that men and women shared equally unless romantic partners were involved, Weaver highlights, "It's important to remember that men can offer emotional support and are not just fixers, as well as noting that some women are more problem solvers."

Renetta Weaver, LCSW-C

Sharing among diverse groups of people who have the same emotional struggle, such as relationship problems, significantly helps to get another perspective.

— Renetta Weaver, LCSW-C

The implications for future research abound, as Weaver notes how individuals may evolve in response to the change in gender norms and roles over time. "Many women are in leadership roles, which position them to be more thinkers and restrict their feelings," she says.

Weaver explains that individuals often have an intuition about what feels right for them even when they turn to others for support. "What I have found as a therapist is that my best therapy sessions are the ones that end with my client thanking me for just listening,” she says.

By this, Weaver appreciates the reminder that holding space for others may be the fix. "We all have the capacity to fix our emotional dilemmas and just need validation of our feelings and permission to feel," she says.

Shared Emotional Interconnectedness

Behavioral health medical director at Community Health of South Florida Inc., psychiatrist Howard Pratt, DO, says, “The big picture is that we need each other to touch base and reassure ourselves we are on the right path."

Dr. Pratt explains, “We like to have people with which to share our emotions at the time that we are experiencing them. There is comfort in that, whether these emotions are pleasant ones or uncomfortable ones. This feedback lets you know that you are part of a community."

As an example of this emotional interconnectedness, Dr. Pratt notes this can happen when individuals enter a situation in a jovial state where others may be somber because there is sad news being shared. "Most will experience an immediate emotional dissonance that is palpably unpleasant," he says.

Dr. Pratt explains, "We are connected socially in a feedback system, so we are prone to looking to others for comfort when we talk to them, especially at difficult times, and modulating our emotions with that.” 

Howard Pratt, DO

Feelings and emotions are never wrong in themselves, but how you may have arrived at those emotions may be wrong and therapy can be a tool for learning.

— Howard Pratt, DO

This research reiterates that people need each other, and Dr. Pratt notes that communities and social norms are created based on feelings, reactions, and how we address often challenging situations. "This is not to say that talking to a friend is the equivalent of undergoing therapy," he says.

While others may comfort you, Dr. Pratt notes that therapy is different. "Feelings and emotions are never wrong in themselves, but how you may have arrived at those emotions may be wrong and therapy can be a tool for learning how we arrived at those emotions and can often lead us to more positive ones or clarity that can lead to acceptance," he says. 

Dr. Pratt notes, “While the study was brilliantly conceived, most of us share a wider range of emotions from good to bad with each other and don’t necessarily monitor all of that activity all of the time."

In this way, Dr. Pratt encourages individuals to be mindful of how they may be sharing concerns to avoid creating a relationship wherein one only complains about their negative emotions to one person. "If you do that with a person who really cares about you, that can weigh on them," he says.

Dr. Pratt explains, “Nothing is worse than hearing from any person we care about that they are hurt and in pain when there is little we can do to help them. It can make one feel powerless. So, self-awareness is important and it’s important to share the good with each other, too.”

What This Means For You

As the research study demonstrates, interpersonal emotional regulation can be helpful. If you better understand what is beneficial when reaching out for support, you may articulate that to get your needs met, which can nurture more fulfilling relationships.

1 Source
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Liu DY, Strube MJ, Thompson RJ. Interpersonal emotion regulation: An experience sampling studyAffect Sci. 2021;2(3):273-288. doi:10.1007/s42761-021-00044-y

By Krystal Jagoo
 Krystal Kavita Jagoo is a social worker, committed to anti-oppressive practice.