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  • Writer's pictureElfreda Manahan-Vaughan

Emotional Stability versus Emotional Flexibility

I came across an interesting podcast recently about emotional stability. (I’ll be posting the link to the podcast on my Facebook page tomorrow). It was an interview with Dr Peter Koval lecturer at the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences. In the interview he discusses his research into emotions and how he believes that emotional flexibility is more important than emotional stability. Working with clients one of the key points I try to impress on them is that they are normal, it’s not wrong for them to feel the way they feel, they just need to be able to manage their emotions better. The work of Dr. Koval reinforces this fact. According to Peter Koval there has been a lot of emphasis, in the field of Psychology, on emotional stability, which is the ability to maintain your emotional state no matter what is happening around you. The reality is however, that those who are good at remaining stable are often in fact experiencing the full gamut of emotions but allowing themselves to experience the emotions and then let it go depending on the situation they are in, and the appropriateness of the emotion. He goes into detail as to why the belief that emotional stability appeared better from a psychological perspective, this was in response to the negative perception neuroticism has in the Big 5 or OCEAN – Openness, Conscientiousness, Extrovert, Agreeableness and Neuroticism – personality traits. The Big 5 is used more now when it comes to personality traits testing rather than those from tests like the Myers Briggs Personality Test. The problem with looking at emotional stability as a positive quality is that it denies our emotional experience but also contributes to inertia or emotional inflexibility which can be found in individuals who experience depression. This happens when we respond to what’s happening in the environment with the same emotional response, which in the case of experiencing depression is to feel sad, down or hopeless. When we allow ourselves to become more adaptable or flexible then our emotional response becomes more appropriate and also, fluctuates as the situation we find ourselves in changes. Koval gives the example of being able to empathise with a friend when they have experienced loss or tragedy. It would be inappropriate to be happy in this situation and not allow ourselves to feel the depth of the sadness. When working with clients, I help them to understand that, for them, in a given situation their emotional response is appropriate for what they are feeling, and they should acknowledge it and let it pass. In the extreme end of emotions, if someone is having a panic attack then riding it out or practicing the flooding technique – this involves letting the panic run its course and subside without doing anything to change it – allows the panic to subside much more quickly than if you try to do something to stop it. Clients often feel ashamed for feeling angry or for being upset with someone because they think it’s not ok to experience negative emotions. The truth is they are just emotions and labelling them as positive or negative is not useful. Another way this affects us is when we want to say something but think we can’t and then spend hours going over it in our head and often losing sleep and feeling stressed. By acknowledging an emotion and simply stating that you are feeling a particular way then you give the emotion the chance to peak and then abate, which gives you time to then respond to whatever is happening in the next moment without still feeling sad or angry or frustrated or whatever other emotion you feel. This is why the practice of Mindfulness is so useful. It allows us to notice how we are feeling and experience it fully, knowing all the while that it will pass. When I teach Mindfulness students often ask me if they will feel happy all the time or never lose their temper if they are Mindful. The answer is no, you always feel whatever you feel, and you may still be angry or sad or excited but instead it will be appropriate to what is happening in the moment. In simple terms, if someone cuts you up in the road you may still think they’re an idiot, but you won’t be still thinking about it hours later and telling everyone you meet in order to maintain this emotional state. Emotional flexibility allows us to acknowledge and experience our emotions without getting carried away by them or missing out on the good moments because we are still feeling upset about something that happened, hours, days, weeks, months or even years ago. Thanks for reading. If I can help you with anything please get in touch,, 00353868373582 I hope our paths cross again in future, Elfreda Mind Coach, Meditation Instructor, Trainer

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