Are you a super feeler? Are you easily overwhelmed by your emotions? Do you act out in ways you later wish you had not? In Escaping the Emotional Roller Coaster, Dr. Patricia Zurita Ona’s goal is to help people who become overwhelmed by the way they feel by providing step-by-step techniques to get a handle on this flood of emotions.
Super feelers might identify with this statement: “You experience your emotions quickly and intensely; believe every thought, interpretation, or hypothesis that comes into your mind as if it were the absolute truth; and then do exactly what the emotion tells you to do. Later on, you regret your actions because you get hurt and the people you care about get hurt too.”
People feel this way because of their temperament, limbic system functioning, and learning history. Zurita Ona acknowledges the frustration people experience when they try to stop the way they feel only to find themselves in an exhausting emotional loop. No one can stop feeling, but we can learn skills to respond to those feelings in a healthy way.
Mental health professionals recognize the acronym ACT as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Zurita Ona defines ACT as accept, choose, and take action. Once super feelers take the time to see and acknowledge their feelings, they can learn new ways to respond. Accepting does not mean agreeing with a feeling, but it is about no longer denying its presence.
Her section on values and their relationship to overwhelming emotions felt a little disjointed to me. I understand that our actions reflect our values, but this could be confusing to people who are only thinking in terms of emotion management. However, later in the book, she weaves this together by noting that “values are not rules, goals, or feelings; your values are about the qualities you choose as important to you, and they’re verbs because you’re constantly living them.” Until super feelers learn to manage emotions, they will feel defeated because they are not living the type of life they say they want to live.
She also addresses the false beliefs that keep people stuck in unhelpful behavior, such as “distressing emotions always point me toward what I need to do,” which is rarely a correct response. After identifying the many false beliefs one may have, she follows with exercises to help people learn healthier ways of responding. The charts she provides help readers identify their emotions and the best corresponding response, with suggested skills like taking a minute to pause before reacting. Zurita Ona also shares case studies of others who have worked through the process of learning to accept and manage emotions, and this should give readers hope — there is a way out and change is possible.
Much of the book is about understanding the function of emotions first, then learning how to deal with them and applying new behaviors. Reading about emotions is not enough to re-learn how to respond to them. Skills must be practiced.
Zurita Ona does discuss the brain and that it does not always work in our favor, but she keeps this topic brief, sharing some information about our hypothalamus and the fight, flight or freeze response. She makes it clear that there are biological factors that influence a tendency to overrespond. And knowing there are biological factors at work helps readers understand why physical, self-soothing behaviors, whether stretching or going for a massage, are helpful calming tools.
Escaping the Emotional Roller Coaster is easy to read. A client could work through these exercises independently and connect with a therapist for accountability and to receive guidance on ways to practice their emotion management skills. Her discussion of ACT and brain functioning is simple enough to make it accessible to people who are not trained in mental health.
It could be a helpful guide for therapists who work with clients who have emotional regulation problems. The exercises and skills could be taught in a session. Overall, Zurita Ona provides a thorough study of the skills super feelers can practice to address their emotions before they become overwhelming.
Escaping the Emotional Roller Coaster: ACT for the Emotionally Sensitive
Exisle Publishing, August 2018
Paperback, 248 pages