5 Habits of Emotional Stable People

It’s a common misconception that emotional stability comes from having fewer and less intense emotions.

But the truth is…

We all have painful emotions. How we react to those emotions is what matters.

People who experience a lot of emotional instability tend to react to big emotions poorly…

  • They catastrophize and jump to conclusions.
  • They lash out and externalize their problems onto others.
  • They get lost in spirals of worry, self-criticism, and other forms of negative self-talk.

And when you react to big emotions poorly, you not only make them more intense and long-lasting, but you make it harder to react well the next time.

Emotionally stable people, on the other hand, still experience big emotions, but because they react in a thoughtful, compassionate way, the initial emotion softens and they build confidence that they can handle future emotions well.

In the rest of this article, I’ll share 5 habits that will help you to become more emotionally stable and resilient by fostering a healthier relationship with your own mind.

1. Let go of limiting beliefs

A limiting belief is an unrealistically negative and overgeneralized claim about yourself.

For example:

  • I’m not creative.
  • Drivers here are idiots.
  • I’ll never find someone who loves me for who I am.
  • I’m not a numbers person.

Difficult experiences and stressful events often trigger our most core beliefs about ourself. But if those beliefs are distorted or overly-negative, they profoundly affect how we feel and behave in response to difficulties—and not in a good way…

Here’s an example:

  • You get let go from your job, which triggers a limiting belief that I’ll never be successful. If you think about it, that’s a pretty extreme belief—that you’ll never be successful! This excessively negative and overgeneralized belief then triggers a flood of self-criticism and rumination, which then triggers an episode of depression, hopelessness, and emotional overwhelm.
  • On the other hand, suppose you get let go from your job, but you have a relatively healthy self-belief around success… In this case, you’ll likely experience some discouraging self-talk and painful emotions, but it won’t be anything close to as big or long-lasting as in the first example. As a result, you’ll be much more likely to be resilient, bounce back, and pursue a new job effectively.

We all accumulate limiting beliefs throughout our lives—many of them stemming from early childhood. The question is do you hold onto them or let them go?

If you want to be resilient in the face of challenges and setbacks, you must let go of your limiting beliefs.

So how do you let go of these limiting beliefs?

There are two basic steps:

  1. Increase your awareness. The best way to become more aware of your limiting beliefs is to tune into and pay attention to your self-talk immediately after something stressful happens. Limiting beliefs are often hidden within the stories we tell ourselves during times of stress. Once you learn to see these limiting beliefs, you’ll then be able to deal with them.
  2. Challenge the beliefs. Once you’ve identified some of your limiting beliefs, the next step is to challenge them. Not in a judgmental or moralistic way. But simply to point out to yourself that they’re neither realistic nor helpful. And more than likely, they’re simply old artifacts leftover from an earlier phase of life.

Learn More: 10 Ways to Deal with negative Thinking →

In the process of letting go you will lose many things from the past, but you will find yourself.

Deepak Chopra

2. Listen to your emotions (but don’t let them boss you around)

For the last 150+ years, the entire field of psychology has been encouraging people to stop ignoring and suppressing their emotions and to listen to them instead.

And while I’m all for listening to your emotions, you could make the case that the pendulum has swung too far in that direction…

Some people are so focused on their emotions that they get lost in them.

For example:

  • You want to set a boundary with your overbearing manager at work.
  • But the more you consider what that will look like and how angry she might get in response, the more anxiety you start to feel.
  • As you continue thinking about the boundary, you can’t stop catastrophizing about all the negative things that could happen as a result of your boundary.
  • Now you have so much anxiety yelling at you not to set the boundary, that you eventually give in and “let it g.”
  • Consequently, you get some temporary relief from the anxiety of setting a boundary, but int he long-run you continue to feel overwhelmed, stressed, and burnt out at work.

In short, you let your anxiety boss you around to the point that you gave up on a really important decision to set a healthy boundary. And what’s more, your overall level of painful emotion probably went up because now you have regret and guilt about not setting the boundary when you know you should have.

Trusting your emotions can be just as foolish as ignoring them.

Emotions are one source of information you can use to make a decision. But there’s nothing inherently special or more true about them than other sources sources of information.

When faced with a difficult decision you should certainly listen to your emotions and be aware of them. But it’s a mistake to simply trust them or act on them unquestioningly.

Emotionally stable people have a healthy relationship with their emotions, which means they listen to them with respect but don’t follow them blindly.

When in doubt, make sure your emotions align with your values before you decide to follow them.

If you’ve never looked within, you should probably start. But if you look within all the time, maybe you should try picking your head up and looking around instead.

Max Nussenbaum

3. Tame your inner control freak

It’s a basic fact of human nature that people don’t like feeling helpless…

  • It’s stressful to watch your kid go off to school for the first time and feel like you can’t be there for them during the day if something should happen.
  • It’s scary to submit a proposal to a client and then have no more control over whether it gets accepted or not.
  • It’s agonizing to watch a loved one dying from a disease we’re helpless to do anything about.

But painful as it is, our resistance to helplessness has a purpose. Our prehistoric ancestors were able to survive and thrive in the face of harsh conditions and constant danger precisely because their resistance to helplessness nudged them to find solutions to pressing problems…

  • Not wanting to feel helpless in the face of cold whether would be a powerful motivator to figure out how to make clothing or build shelter
  • Not wanting to face helplessness in the face of starvation would motivate you to continue hunting or gathering food despite being exhausted.

The point is, we’re all wired to resist helplessness and try to control our environments whenever possible. And this is largely a good thing!

But like most areas of life, too much of a good thing can become counterproductive—harmful even.

The need for control can cause tremendous suffering and emotional instability if we’re not mindful of it.

For example:

  • Your partner goes away on a trip and you’re afraid something bad might happen to them.
  • Not only to you feel anxious, but you feel helpless too because there’s nothing you can do to protect them.
  • In response to that helplessness, you start worrying, which gives the illusion of control and temporarily alleviates the feelings of helplessness.
  • But the long-term effect of this habit of worrying is that leads to even more anxiety.
  • Now your initial anxiety is compounded and you become increasingly dysregulated emotionally.

Many of our bad habits that cause emotional instability—from chronic worry and reassurance-seeking to passive-aggressive communication and self-criticism—all stem from an overactive need for control.

Nobody likes feeling helpless. But sometimes we are and there really is nothing we can do. Your emotions will be much calmer and more manageable if you can learn to tolerate that helplessness rather than giving into counterproductive defense mechanisms that only make things worse in the end.

Learn More: Face the Real Fear →

Resistance to control is not the same as freedom from it. As long as we resist, we remain shaped and determined by the force we oppose.

Anodea Judith

4. Drop unhelpful expectations

An expectation is an assumption about how things should go.

For example:

  • You expect that your partner will be patient and compassionate when you describe how tough your day was.
  • You expect that your boss will compliment all the hard work you did to get the new project ready on time.
  • You expect that your grief over the death of your best friend will subside after about a month.

Now, all of these may be perfectly reasonable expectations. But that doesn’t mean they’re helpful…

  • If you always expect your partner to be compassionate and patient, they will eventually fail to live up to that standard eventually. And when they do, you’ll be surprised and frustrated, which will likely lead to conflict and tension in your relationship.
  • If you expect that your grief will subside after about a month—because that’s what several people have told you happened to them—what happens when your grief lasts longer? It’s likely that you start getting anxious or frustrated with yourself for feeling sad and grieving longer than you should. No you’re feeling bad about feeling grief, which is likely to only prolong and complicate your grieving process.

Here’s the takeaway:

Even reasonable expectations are frequently unhelpful.

At their core, most expectations are another way we try to exert control and alleviate helplessness… By telling ourselves this is how thing should go, it gives us a (false) sense of security and certainty, which briefly alleviates our helplessness.

But at what cost in the long-term?

So much of our emotional volatility comes from being surprised, frustrated, and guilty about things not going the way they should. But that expectation is just a story we’ve told ourselves.

Reality is under no obligation to follow your stories about how things should go—your expectations.

For most of us, expectations are the default. We have expectations about ourselves, other people, and everything else in life.

But what if your default was not to have any expectations and to only use them after thoughtfully considering them and their utility?

I think you’d find yourself much calmer and less emotionally reactive to the many stressors and difficulties life inevitably throws our way.

Learn More: 3 Questions to Let Go of Unhealthy Expectations →

We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.

— Shemuel ben Nachmani

5. Replace self-criticism with self-curiosity

Whenever I hear someone describe a situation where they felt overwhelmed by difficult emotion, there’s almost always a subtle culprit working behind the scenes to make things more painful—and often much more painful—than they need to be…


Specifically, emotionally unstable people almost always have a habit of criticizing and judging themselves for their own inner experiences:

  • You feel sad and then immediately criticize yourself for being weak because you feel sad.
  • You feel anxious and then immediately judge yourself for feeling “overly anxious” which, of course, then leads you to feel anxious about feeling anxious.
  • You feel angry and then immediately criticize yourself for getting angry for no reason, which only leads you to feel guilty for feeling angry and therefore even more angry.

Feeling bad is hard enough without feeling and about feeling bad.

Almost all forms of excessive or overwhelming emotion are in fact the result of compounding emotions.

A compound emotion is when you feel bad about feeling bad—angry about feeling anxious, guilty for feeling sad, nervous about feeling disappointed, etc.

But the reason we do this to ourselves, the reason we compound our emotions, is because we’re in the habit of criticizing and judging ourselves for how we feel emotionally.

The best antidote to this self-criticism and the emotional compounding it results in is to practice replacing self-criticism with self-curiosity.

For example:

  • If you find yourself feeling angry for no reason, hit the pause button and say to yourself: You know, there doesn’t seem to be a reason why I’m feeling angry, but maybe I”m missing something? What’s happened to me recently—including thoughts that have gone through my mind—that might have triggered some anger?
  • If you find yourself feeling sad, try to catch yourself in the act of self-criticism, and instead, be curious about your sadness. You might, for example, ask yourself whether your sadness is trying to help you… maybe feeling sad about the loss of a loved one is your brain’s way of reminding you to remember them and think about all the great times you had together?

Whether you happen to like them or not, your emotions are always trying to help.

If you want to feel more emotionally stable, practice listening to them with curiosity rather than judging them and criticizing.

Learn More: 4 Tips for Building a Healthier Relationship with Your Emotions →

Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them.

— Eckhart Tolle

All You Need to Know

Emotional stability comes from healthy habits that help you respond to difficult emotions in a calm, productive way:

  1. Challenge limiting beliefs
  2. Listen to your emotions (but don’t take orders from them)
  3. Tame your inner control freak
  4. Update unhelpful expectations
  5. Replace self-criticism with curiosity


Add Yours

Hi Nick, I’m starting my practicum soon for becoming a licensed therapist. I’ve found your materials to be incredibly helpful both personally and professionally. Thank you for sharing your expertise on such clear and succinct way!

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