Experiences and Coping Mechanisms to Deal with Difficult Emotions among Women in Early Adulthood: A Qualitative Study


  • Sahrish Fatima Ali BS (Hons) Scholar, Department of Applied Psychology, Government College University, Faisalabad, Pakistan. https://orcid.org/0009-0004-1258-4389
  • Muhammad Umar Khan Assistant Professor, Department of Applied Psychology, Government College University, Faisalabad, Pakistan. https://orcid.org/0000-0002-9990-2594
  • Qasir Abbas Assistant Professor, Department of Applied Psychology, Government College University, Faisalabad, Pakistan.




Adulthood, Anger, Coping, Difficult Emotions, Fear, Grief, Guilt, Interviews, Qualitative Research, Sadness, Thematic Analysis, Women


Difficult emotions are defined as the emotions that are considered to have negative connotations. Researches showed that there are some significant differences in the way difficult emotions are dealt with among genders. This study explored these emotions in women and also focused on finding out strategies that women use to effectively deal with these emotions. A qualitative exploratory research design was used in this study. The sampling technique used in this research study was convenient sampling. The participants included seven female early adults in their 20’s (Age range 21-29; M=25, SD=1.3). Semi-structured, in-depth interviews of almost 60 minutes long were conducted. The collected data was then analyzed through thematic analysis method. Codes, themes, super-themes and clusters were generated after conducting thematic analysis. The results of the study include 5 clusters i.e. “the difficult emotion of sadness”, “the difficult emotion of anger”, “the difficult emotion of fear”, “the difficult emotion of guilt” and “the difficult emotion of grief”. Along with this, after analysis 10 super themes were generated i.e. “causes of sadness”, “coping strategies for sadness”, “causes of anger”, “coping strategies for anger’, “causes of fear”, “coping strategies of fear”, “causes of guilt”, “coping strategies of guilt”, “causes of grief” and “coping strategies of grief”. Two of the themes among all the themes generated in the current study i.e. “challenging thoughts” and “using religious strategies” were found to be common coping strategies among women to deal with all the difficult emotions explored in the current study. Quantitative studies should be conducted and experimental studies should also be done to further provide pieces of evidence for the level of effectiveness of each coping technique, to get more objective results and how much of a long-term effect these strategies have on the individual. Similar studies should also be done with men.


Altinyelken, H. K. (2018). Promoting the psycho-social well-being of international students through mindfulness: A focus on regulating difficult emotions. Contemporary Buddhism, 19(2), 185-202. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/14639947.2019.1572306

American Psychological Association (2017). Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. Washington DC: American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/index.aspx

Andersson, N., Cockcroft, A., Ansari, N., Omer, K., Chaudhry, U. U., Khan, A., & Pearson, L. (2009). Collecting reliable information about violence against women safely in household interviews: experience from a large-scale national survey in South Asia. Violence Against Women, 15(4), 482-496. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1077801208331063

Berkowitz, L., & Harmon-Jones, E. (2004). Toward an understanding of the determinants of anger. Emotion, 4(2), 107. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1037/1528-3542.4.2.107

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77-101. doi:10.1191/1478088706qp063oa DOI: https://doi.org/10.1191/1478088706qp063oa

Brown, S. P., Westbrook, R. A., & Challagalla, G. (2005). Good Cope, Bad Cope: Adaptive and Maladaptive Coping Strategies Following a Critical Negative Work Event. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90(4), 792–798. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.90.4.792 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.90.4.792

Cacciatore, J., Thieleman, K., Fretts, R., & Jackson, L. B. (2021). What is good grief support? Exploring the actors and actions in social support after traumatic grief. PLoS One, 16(5), e0252324. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0252324

Chaplin, T. M. (2015). Gender and Emotion Expression: A Developmental Contextual Perspective. Emotion Review, 7(1), 14-21. doi: 10.1177/1754073914544408 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1754073914544408

Cheng, G., Zhang, D., & Ding, F. (2015). Self-esteem and Fear of Negative Evaluation as Mediators between Family Socioeconomic Status and Social Anxiety in Chinese Emerging Adults. International Journal of Social Psychiatry. 61(6), 569-576. doi:10.1177/0020764014565405 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0020764014565405

Cullen, M. (2020). How to Regulate Your Emotions Without Suppressing Them. Greater Good.https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_regulate_your_emotions_without_suppressing_them

DeMarrais, K., & Tisdale, K. (2002). What happens when researchers inquire into difficult emotions?: Reflections on studying women's anger through qualitative interviews. Educational Psychologist, 37(2), 115-123. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1207/S15326985EP3702_6

Deng, Y., Chang, L., Yang, M., Huo, M. & Zhou R. (2016). Gender Differences in Emotional Response: Inconsistency between Experience and Expressivity. PLOS ONE 11(6), e0158666. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0158666 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0158666

Dworkin, S. L. (2012). Sample Size Policy for Qualitative Studies Using In-Depth Interviews. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 1319–1320 https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-012-0016-6 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-012-0016-6

Ekman, P. E., & Davidson, R. J. (1994). The Nature of Emotion: Fundamental Questions. Oxford University Press.

Fivush, R., & Buckner, J. (2000). Gender, sadness, and depression: The development of emotional focus through gendered discourse. In A. Fischer (Ed.), Gender and Emotion: Social Psychological Perspectives (Studies in Emotion and Social Interaction, pp. 232-253). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511628191.012 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511628191.012

Gelbrich, K. (2010). Anger, frustration, and helplessness after service failure: coping strategies and effective informational support. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 38, 567-585. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11747-009-0169-6

Gupta, S., Avasthi, A. & Kumar, S. (2011). Relationship between Religiosity and Psychopathology in Patients with Depression. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 4, 330-5. doi: 10.4103/0019-5545.91907 DOI: https://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5545.91907

Hjeltnes, A., Binder, P. E., Moltu, C., & Dundas, I. (2015). Facing the Fear of Failure: An Explorative Qualitative Study of Client Experiences in a Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Program for University Students with Academic Evaluation Anxiety. International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being, 10(1), 27990. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3402/qhw.v10.27990

Kaftan, O. J., & Freund, A. M. (2019). A Motivational Perspective on Academic Procrastination: Goal Focus Affects How Students Perceive Activities while Procrastinating. Motivation Science, 5(2), 135. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1037/mot0000110

Kiger, M. E. & Varpio, L. (2020): Thematic analysis of qualitative data: AMEE Guide No. 131, Medical Teacher, DOI: 10.1080/0142159X.2020.1755030 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/0142159X.2020.1755030

Lazarus, R. S. (1991). Cognition and motivation in emotion. American Psychologist, 46(4), 352. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.46.4.352

Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalistic Inquiry. Sage. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/0147-1767(85)90062-8

McLafferty, M., Armour, C., Bunting, B., Ennis, E., Lapsley, C., Murray, E., & O'Neill, S. (2019). Coping, Stress, and Negative Childhood Experiences: The link to psychopathology, self?harm, and suicidal behavior. PsyCh Journal, 8(3), 293-306. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/pchj.301

McRae, K., Ochsner, K.N., Mauss, I.B., Gabrieli, J.J.D. & Gross, J.J. (2008). Gender Differences in Emotion Regulation: An fMRI Study of Cognitive Reappraisal. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 11(2), 143-162. doi: 10.1177/1368430207088035 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1368430207088035

Mortazavi, S. S., Assari, S., Alimohamadi, A., Rafiee, M., & Shati, M. (2020). Fear, Loss, Social Isolation, and Incomplete Grief due to COVID-19: A Recipe for a Psychiatric Pandemic. Basic and Clinical Neuroscience, 11(2), 225. DOI: https://doi.org/10.32598/bcn.11.covid19.2549.1

Nixon, C. D., & Singer, G. H. (1993). Group cognitive behavioral treatment for excessive parental self-blame and guilt. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 97(6), 665–672.

Park, C. L. (2021). Religion and spirituality in adjusting to bereavement: Grief as burden, grief as gift. Grief and bereavement in contemporary society. pp. 355-363. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003199762-33

Rossetto, K. R. (2014). Qualitative research interviews: Assessing the therapeutic value and challenges. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 31(4), 482–489. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407514522892 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407514522892

Saldana, J. (2008). Analyzing longitudinal qualitative observational data. Handbook of longitudinal research: Design, measurement, and analysis. pp. 297-311.

Sanders, C., Rogers, A., Gardner, C., & Kennedy, A. (2011). Managing ‘difficult emotions’ and family life: exploring insights and social support within online self-management training. Chronic Illness, 7(2), 134-146. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1742395310390232

Schaffner, A., K. (2019, December 27) What an Unhealthy Coping Mechanism Looks Like. The Meadow Glade. https://themeadowglade.com/what-an-unhealthy-coping-mechanism-looks-like

Schindler, S. & Querengässer, J. (2019). Coping with sadness - How personality and emotion regulation strategies differentially predict the experience of induced emotions. Personality and Individual Differences, 136, 90-95. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2018.01.050 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2018.01.050

Scott, E. (2021). How Negative Emotions Affect Us. Very Well Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/embrace-negative-emotions-4158317

Sims, C. M. (2017). Second wave positive psychology coaching difficult emotions: Introducing the mnemonic of 'TEARS HOPE'. The Coaching Psychologist, 13(2), 66-79. DOI: https://doi.org/10.53841/bpstcp.2017.13.2.66

Smythe, A. (2012). Coping with Grief and Loss. Early Years Educator, 14(8), 28-30. DOI: https://doi.org/10.12968/eyed.2012.14.8.28

Taboada, M., & Zabala, L. H. (2008). Deciding on units of analysis within Centering Theory. https://www.sfu.ca/~mtaboada/docs/research/Taboada_Hadic-Zabala_CLLT.pdf DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/CLLT.2008.003

TenHouten, W. (2022). The Emotions of Hope: From Optimism to Sanguinity, from Pessimism to Despair. The American Sociologist, 54, 76-100. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12108-022-09544-1 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12108-022-09544-1

Toth, P. L., Stockton, R., & Browne, F. (2021). College Student Grief and Loss. In Loss and Trauma (pp. 237-248). Routledge. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315783345-17

Vishkin, A., & Tamir, M. (2020). Fear Not: Religion and Emotion Regulation in Coping with Existential Concerns. In The Science of Religion, Spirituality, and Existentialism (pp. 325-338). Academic Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-817204-9.00023-8

Wiest, B. (2018). 7 Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms That Are Secretly Wreaking Havoc On Your Psyche. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/briannawiest/2018/11/13/7-unhealthy-coping-mechanisms-that-are-secretly-wreaking-havoc-on-your-psyche

Young, K., Chessell, Z., Chisholm, A., Brady, F., Akbar, S., Vann, M., Rouf, K. & Dixon, L. (2021). A Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) Approach for Working with Strong Feelings of Guilt after Traumatic Events. The Cognitive Behaviour Therapist, 14, E26. doi:10.1017/S1754470X21000192 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1754470X21000192




How to Cite

Ali, S. F., Khan, M. U., & Abbas, Q. (2023). Experiences and Coping Mechanisms to Deal with Difficult Emotions among Women in Early Adulthood: A Qualitative Study. Journal of Professional & Applied Psychology, 4(3), 440–459. https://doi.org/10.52053/jpap.v4i3.165