Emotional problems come in all shapes and sizes, from social anxiety to spending too much time worrying about things beyond your control. Maybe you feel depressed, hopeless, and alone. Everyone faces challenges to their emotional health at some point, but if your issues interfere with your ability to live a normal life, it may be time to get help.
According to the National Institutes of Health, 43.4 million adults in the United States suffer from a mental illness, which is nearly 18% of the population.1 Because of the stigma associated with mental health issues, many people suffer for years without treatment. A national survey from 2008 shows that only 58% of adults in the United States with a serious mental illness receive the treatment they need.2
There are many reasons why people don’t seek behavioral health treatment. People with serious conditions often find that long-term treatment is too expensive; even with good insurance plans, mental health coverage is limited. Some may be unsure of whether they need professional help or not. This is where a support group like Emotions Anonymous (EA) comes in.
Emotions Anonymous is a 12-step program that assists people with all sorts of emotional health problems.Emotions Anonymous is a 12-step program that assists people with all sorts of emotional health problems. Research shows that peer support groups make a strong contribution to members’ mental health. Group members gain self-esteem, knowledge, and confidence when they learn that they are not alone in their struggle for emotional stability.3
In meetings, members can share their personal stories with others in a non-judgmental environment. This kind of social participation can lead to a sense of control over your feelings, and ultimately relieve symptoms.3
Emotions Anonymous has an open-door policy and will accept people of any age, with any social, economic, educational, racial, and gender background. All that is asked of members is that they commit to becoming emotionally well. People in EA seek recovery through face-to-face group meetings, online Skype meetings, phone and chat-room meetings, and literature that is free to members.
History of Emotions Anonymous
Emotions Anonymous, formerly Neurotics Anonymous, was founded in 1966 by a woman who had suffered through years of panic and fear. Marion F. (as she is known in EA) read an article suggesting that the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) could be useful in helping people recover from emotional disorders, so she decided to start a group.4 The first group meeting of what is now EA was held in St. Paul, Minnesota, but these meetings quickly expanded throughout the country.4
By 1971, Neurotics Anonymous had grown to involve groups from neighboring states. While this growth was proof of the group’s efficacy, it was accompanied by some internal disagreements that proved difficult to settle. In July of 1971, after receiving permission from A.A. World Services to use the 12-steps and traditions, Emotions Anonymous was founded by a group that split from the original organization.4
Learn more about Behavioral HealthBehavioral health refers to a person’s state of being and how their behaviors and choices affect their overall health and wellness. Substance abuse and addictions of all kinds fall into the realm of behavioral health. Behavioral health disorders are illnesses that are precipitated or perpetuated by your conscious decisions and which you are unable to resist the urge to repeat, despite negative consequences. Read More
What to Expect from a Meeting
Emotions Anonymous is a support group run by and for people with emotional health problems, based on the 12-steps adapted from AA. There are no mental health professionals supervising these meetings; they function through peer support alone. You will not find therapy at an EA meeting, and advice or council is only given upon request.5 Members are encouraged to share their personal stories, struggles, and experiences—good and bad. Every meeting presents an opportunity for you to share, but if you do not feel ready, you can simply pass.6
There is no cost to attend EA meetings and no dues or fees required for membership. Anyone who finds Emotions Anonymous helpful is welcome to attend meetings or start a meeting in their area. The only requirement is a desire to lead an emotionally healthy life.5 Like its forbearer, AA, EA is a spiritual program that relies on a personal higher power, which is defined as any power greater than oneself. Everyone has a choice over what that power may be, so EA works whether you believe in God or not.6
Emotions Anonymous provides support for all emotional conditions, including:5
- Excessive anger.
- Excessive resentment.
- Low self-esteem.
- Obsessive and negative thinking.
- Compulsive behaviors.
“There will also be veterans of the program, who seem like perfectly happy, well-adjusted individuals. These people are essential to your treatment and can offer you hope for a better future.”When you go to your first EA meeting you will meet all kinds of people in various stages of recovery. Some people come to EA because they are severely depressed and need somewhere to turn. Some people come because their anxieties are making life unbearable for them. Others may be there because they are struggling to control their anger or compulsions. There might be people who have experienced a major loss or a serious trauma. But there will also be veterans of the program, who seem like perfectly happy, well-adjusted individuals. These people are essential to your treatment and can offer you hope for a better future.5
The 12 steps of Emotions Anonymous are:7
- We admitted we were powerless over our emotions, that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongdoings.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
EA groups help members understand these 12 steps and incorporate them into their daily lives. Each group operates autonomously within this basic structure. However, no matter where or when you attend an EA meeting, you can expect: 6
- A non-judgmental group environment.
- An environment of love and acceptance.
- A place where all are welcome.
- No criticism or arguing.
Emotions Anonymous does not condone: 5
- Discussing politics, religion, national and international issues, or other belief systems.
- Advocating for one religion over another.
- Labeling other people’s emotional illness.
- Disclosing what is said within a group to non-members.
12-Step Groups’ Role in Behavioral Health Treatment
People attend Emotions Anonymous at varying stages in the recovery process. Support groups like EA can work in several ways to help someone to progress from one stage of recovery to the next:
- Come before formal treatment, strengthening a person’s motivation for change.
- Accompany professional treatment, providing a support system and social connection.
- Come after treatment, supporting healthy life skills and preventing relapse.
- Be used apart from, or instead of, formal treatment.
Support groups like EA play a special role in the treatment process because they fill a void left by a formal behavioral health system.
People often wait until they are in a major crisis before seeking mental health treatment. They may be hospitalized for a period of weeks or months while the crisis passes. In professional treatment, people learn how to recognize triggers and develop tools for handling negative emotions. But when they return to their everyday lives, they struggle to consistently put those lessons into practice.
Research shows that support groups significantly benefit people with emotional disorders. Studies point specifically to depression, anxiety, and grief as problems that improve greatly from peer support.8 The strongest findings from two studies show that the positive outcomes of peer support groups were equivalent to those of professional treatment.8 Researchers say that group members gain a sense of control over their emotional problems and knowledge about behavioral health, so they become more confident speaking with the medical community, family, and friends about their illness.
People with emotional disorders find 12-step programs particularly helpful because they outline a plan for gaining control of their lives. One of the benefits of a 12-step programs include the opportunity to eventually pair with a sponsor, a veteran of the program that you can call in a crisis. Research shows that the sponsor/sponsored relationship closely resembles the therapeutic alliance found between professional therapists and patients.9 Other features of 12-step programs include:
- Tools and skills to use in your recovery.
- An opportunity to make amends to those you have wronged.
- The opportunity to attend as many meetings as you would like.
- A deeper connection with yourself, others, and a higher power.
- An opportunity to realize that you are not alone.
- A nonjudgmental environment.
If you need support for emotional issues that you just can’t seem to get under control, Emotions Anonymous is a good place to start. There are more than 660 EA chapters in 30 countries across the globe. For additional information, call Emotions Anonymous at (651)-647-9712.
- National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Any Mental Illness (AMI) Among U.S. Adults.
- National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Use of Mental Health Services and Treatment Among Adults.
- Seebohm, P., Chaudhary, S., Boyce, M., Elkan, R., Avis, M., & Munn‐Giddings, C. (2013). The contribution of self‐help/mutual aid groups to mental well‐ Health & Social Care in the Community, 21 (4), 391–401.
- Emotions Anonymous. (n.d.). Our History.
- Emotions Anonymous. (2010). Introducing Emotions Anonymous to the Health Care Professional.
- Emotions Anonymous. (1995). Welcome to a New Way of Life.
- Emotions Anonymous. (n.d.) 12 Steps.
- Pistrang, N., Barker, C., & Humphreys, K. (2008). Mutual help groups for mental health problems: A review of effectiveness studies. American Journal of Community Psychology, 42 (1–2), 110–121.
- Kelly, J.F., Greene, M. C., & Bergman, B. G. (2016). Recovery benefits of the “therapeutic alliance” among 12-step mutual-help organization attendees and their sponsors. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 162, 64–71.