“I become emotionally volatile when I get close to someone. How can I develop a stronger sense of self?”

"Lady Liberty" by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Lady Liberty” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Maintain perspective.

People who become volatile in close relationships often do so as a result of taking other people’s behavior too personally. Other people’s words and actions generally reflect their own psychological state, including their personal perspective, fears, desires, and insecurities. When you realize that their actions are generally a reflection of themselves more than their attitude toward you, it will be easier for you to retain your emotional control.

Suppose that your new girlfriend is upset because she couldn’t get in touch with you. Before going on the defensive, you may want to find out what is motivating her strong reaction. She may have been lied to and cheated on by a previous boyfriend. Knowing this should cause you to see that she is not accusing you, but responding out of fear from a past experience. So give her the benefit of the doubt.

Listen first.

When people don’t feel listened to, they tend to get more adamant and angry, and try even harder to make sure their point gets across.

There are two benefits to listening to the other person fully before reacting. First, you’ll find out what’s really motivating the other person and you’ll avoid jumping to conclusions. Second, the angry person will let off steam, and be able to listen to you once the bottled-up emotions have been vented. Sometimes, simply listening is enough to diffuse and change the whole situation.

Once you have listened, paraphrase what you’ve heard so the other person knows that he or she has been heard and understood.

Stay calm.

Avoid attacking the other person when you explain the situation from your point of view. You will be much more effective for two reasons. First, the other person is more likely to listen to you if you are not angry, condescending or passive-aggressive. Second, you won’t seem defensive. Defensiveness telegraphs to others that you lack self-control or feel guilty. In essence, emotional volatility broadcasts to others that you are too weak to stay in control of yourself.

Once you see how much more effective you are when you stay calm, you’ll find that it will become easier to resist the impulse to be emotionally triggered. Keep in mind that you will feel more self-empowered and appear more confident to others when you stay centered. As a result, others will take you more seriously and respect you more.


Psycho-drama is the most effective way to prepare for those situations that trigger you. Think up situations that have triggered you in the past or that are likely to trigger you in the future. Figure out how you would be most effective responding in such situations. Then practice your response—your choice of words, body language, and tone of voice—until it becomes natural without a hint of sneering or whining. You can practice with a friend or in front of the mirror. It helps to have a friend give you feed back and help you eliminate the meekness in your voice or contempt in your demeanor so that you will become powerful and effective.

Calmness is the cradle of power.

~Josiah Gilbert Holland

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

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