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The 3 Ways People Manage Emotions

Strategies tend to fall within set groupings. Which one do you use?

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Man in contemplation

Siri Stafford/Thinkstock

Sure, no two people are alike, and emotional lives are complex. But recent research suggests that most people manage their feelings in ways that can be classified into three core groups.

The study was published in the journal Psychological Bulletin, conducted by Kristin Naragon-Gainey, Ph.D. She is an assistant professor at the University of Buffalo’s Department of Psychology and an expert on emotion and how it is changed in mood and anxiety disorders. She and her team examined hundreds of studies that reported correlations between different emotion regulation strategies, looking for clues as to how they might relate to one another. They found that most people tend to use multiple emotional coping strategies, but that they can be grouped into three main categories:

  • Evaders. The first group included strategies related to attempts to evade emotions, such as distraction or avoidance. These are associated with low mindfulness, where someone is not aware of the present moment. Naragon-Gainey writes, “Your thoughts and attention are elsewhere and you’re trying to feel better through that.”
  • The Ruminators. The second grouping involves a tendency to stay fixed on negative thoughts, where failure and self-blame keep cycling back. Lying awake at 2 a.m., thinking, “Why did I say that? I sounded so stupid,” is an example of this. (For more on this subject, see our column, “How to Finally Stop Ruminating.” )
  • Problem Solvers. Acceptance and problem-solving are more likely to be useful across multiple situations, write the researchers.

Naragon-Gainey hopes the groupings will be useful for therapists, the “clinicians who are trying to better characterize the nature of the emotion regulation difficulties their clients are having.” For example, “If a therapist has a client who is using drugs or alcohol to change their emotions in some way this research may help identify if that client is lacking in other skills.”

Yet the groupings can be useful insights for us laypeople as well, as it gives insight into our thought processes and how we deal with emotions on a daily basis.

Which group do you tend to fall in?


Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. Her latest book is Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!, a science and natural history “gross out” for young readers.  


Kathryn Drury Wagner

Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!, a science and natural history “gross out” for young readers.  


This entry is tagged with:
StudiesPersonalityHuman BehaviorBrain Function

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