If you really want to master your emotions -self-actualize. That is, make real (actualize) your best version of you so that you become as Carl Rogers said a “fully functioning person” and as Abraham Maslow said you access your “full humanness.” And if you do this, what will you feel? How will you handle your emotions? What will be different about your emotional life?
Well, first and foremost, you will have lots of energetic vitality. By gratifying your basic needs truly (and not falsely or through distortions) and adequately (sufficiently, not perfectly or one-hundred percent), those driving impulses (“needs” or requirements for living) will be gratified and “go away” thereby allowing the next level of drives to emerge. And after the levels of basic needs the self-actualization needs emerge. And when these are the inner driving impulses of your life-then you will be living passionately with a strong sense of purpose, inner value, and joy.
In self-actualizing you will be giving accurate meanings to your basic and higher needs which will enable you to truly and adequately gratify your inner impulses and drives. As you then learn effective and adequate coping skills, you will satisfy those needs which, in turn, will release your energy and vitality. That’s the design of your “needs” as well as the sign that you have gratified them truly and adequately.
The vitality that you will be feeling will be an energy to live fully, to be your best self, and to strive to contribute and make a difference. That’s what “self-actualization” means and if I belabor this, it is because of the myth that connects it to selfishness. The truth is that self-actualization is not about you, it is through you, but paradoxically not about you. This vitality involves experiencing those moments that Maslow called “peak experiences.” These are those little moments that happen to everyone (or nearly so) in which, for that moment, you sense that “life is good, it is precious, it is sacred.” And in that moment, you are again “in love with life” and are “surprised by joy” (C.S. Lewis) and are able to appreciate freshly as if for the first time, again.
All of this is one side of the self-actualizing emotional life. There is another. The other involves being able to experience your emotions- all of them, the negative ones as well as the positive ones- fully and accurately. And as you do so, you lose your fear of any of these emotions. After all, they are just emotions- just the somatic or bodily experience of the meanings being activated in your mind-body system. And now you can use the negative emotions for their best value- to stop, look, and listen and see where you need to make some life adjustments.
Now as a self-actualizer, you can much more effectively and efficiently use your fear, anger, sadness, stress, frustration, vulnerability, tenderness, etc. to be more fully alive and more fully human. Now you can allow yourself to fully experience the emotions without being overwhelmed by them or think that you are going to “lose control.”
By self-actualizing, what you will feel will be more appropriate to the contexts and situations of your life. Here’s what Abraham Maslow said about people actualizing (making real) their inner drives and integrating what could be dichotomies. This came after his study of the fully human self-actualizing subjects that he studied:
“It seemed to me that … it could be traced back to the relative absence of fear in my subjects. They were certainly less enculturated; that is, they seemed to be less afraid of what other people would say or demand or laugh at. They had less need of other people and therefore, depending on them less, could be less afraid of them and less hostile against them. Perhaps more important, however, was their lack of fear of their own insides, of their own impulses, emotions, thoughts. They were more accepting than the average. This approval and acceptance of their deeper selves than made it more possible to perceive bravely the real nature of the world and also made their behavior more spontaneous. … they were less afraid of being laughed at or of being disapproved of. They could let themselves be flooded by emotion.” (1968, Toward a Psychology of Being, p. 140-141).
About what happens to the experience of anger in a self-actualizing person, Maslow described the change in this way:
“In the healthier person, anger is reactive (to a present situation) rather than a characterological reservoir from the past. That is, it is a realistic effective response to something real and present, for instance to injustice or exploitation or attack, rather than a cathartic overflow of misdirected and ineffective revenge upon innocent bystanders … Anger does not disappear with psychological health; rather it takes the form of decisiveness, self-affirmation, self-protection, justified indignation, fighting against evil, and the like.” (1968, p. 162)
“The ability to be aggressive and angry is found in all self-actualizing people, who are able to let it flow forth freely when the external situation ‘calls for’ it.” … “a child should learn not only how to control his anger, but also how and when to express it.” (1968, p. 195)
L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.