Manage Your Emotions Like a STAR™

17.09.2020 |

Episode #3 of the course Control your emotions, control your life by Dr. Sofia Santiago


In this lesson, I’ll introduce you to the STAR™ group of strategies to help you get a grip on your emotions. [1]

But first, let me address a common objection. If you’ve thought, “I don’t need a special “strategy”—I’m awesome at not showing anger, fear, sadness, or any other emotion whenever I don’t want others to see what I’m feeling. I’ve got things under control,” I’ve got to tell you that what you’ve been doing is not controlling your emotions, but suppressing them.


Suppressing Emotions

Suppressing an emotion means feeling it, but not showing you’re feeling it. [2] We’ve all done it.

For instance, do you show your emotions when…

• you’re at a dinner party with your other half right after an intense unresolved argument between the two of you?

• you discover on a first date that the person looks 20 years older than the picture in the online dating profile?

• your boss reprimands you in front of your best client?

Probably not.

When you suppress an emotion, you’re not getting rid of it—you just pretend you don’t feel it and act as if the emotion didn’t exist. But it does—it’s just temporarily bottled up. In contrast, when you control (or regulate) a negative emotion, you reduce the intensity of that emotion and may even eliminate it and replace it with a different, positive emotion.

While it’s okay to suppress emotions every now and then, consistently doing it is unhealthy because, among other things, suppressing emotions:

1. Depletes many of our mental resources (such as memory), leaving less of those resources for other concurrent activities. [3]

2. Makes us feel less life-satisfaction and lower self-esteem.

3. Intensifies the emotion.

So why do we suppress some emotions?

One reason is that society teaches us to suppress certain emotions from an early age. Often girls are encouraged to express all sorts of feelings—except anger; and boys are encouraged to express anger but hide other sensitive emotions such as sadness, fear, and often even love. In our culture, men are under pressure to constantly prove their strength and self-worth, [4] so they suppress emotions associated with weakness. Women, in turn, tend to suppress certain emotions because they’re aware of the emotional double standard: when a woman expresses an emotion such as anger, fear, or disgust, people declare her “overly emotional,” whereas a man displaying the same level and type of emotion is considered to just be “having a bad day.” [5]

Now you know the risks of suppressing emotions. Let’s turn to healthy alternatives.


Command Emotions Like a STAR™

If you’ve ever tried to tell an angry person coming at you to “Calm down! Don’t be mad!” you know it doesn’t work. It may even make them more upset. And the same thing happens when you tell yourself, “Don’t feel this way!”

Instead, try applying one or more of the STAR™ emotional regulation strategies you’ll learn in the following four lessons. The STAR™ acronym will make it easy for you to remember the elements of the process that goes from a trigger to an action that you can control. They are:

The Situation (S)

Your Thoughts (T)

Your Attention (A)

Your Reappraisal (R)

As you learn each technique, keep in mind the two windows of opportunity when you can use it [6]:

1. Before the emotion arises: If a negative emotion hasn’t fully developed but you notice it’s coming, creeping upwards like a dragon out of its den, apply a STAR™ technique before the emotion becomes a full-blown angry dragon flame attack.

2. After you’ve started feeling the emotion: If the negative emotion is already underway (in that you are already stressed, angry, or sad), then take a breath. Press the pause button and apply a STAR™ strategy before you act on the emotion.

* * * *

Let’s start in the next lesson with the first STAR™ technique: controlling situations (S).

See you tomorrow!



Recommended book

Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown


Works cited

[1] The STAR acronym is a trademark of Dr. Sofia Santiago.

[2] Gross, J. J., & Levenson, R. W. (1993). Emotional Suppression: Physiology, Self-Report, and Expressive Behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 64, 970-986.

[3] Richards, Jane M. & Gross, James J. (1999). Composure at Any Cost? The Cognitive Consequences of Emotion Suppression PSPB, Vol. 25 No. 8.

[4] Santiago, Sofia (2020). Quit saying women are not hardwired to be competitive (Parts 1 and 2). LinkedIn Pulse.

[5] Santiago, Sofia (2019). Difficult Conversations Just for Women: Kill the Anxiety. Get What You Want.

[6] Gross, James J. (1998). Antecedent- and Response-Focused Emotion Regulation: Divergent Consequences for Experience, Expression, and Physiology. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 74, No. 1, 224-23.


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