Show Notes for Episode 5: Self-Regulation is a Limited Resource

Allison Sweatman & Andrea Coston

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Here’s the show notes for episode 005 of the Trauma-Informed Everything podcast:

  • Call back to episode 4 about sympathetic/parasympathetic nervous systems
    • The goal is to be in the parasympathetic NS more so we can rest and digest
    • Connection with another human being can give way to parasympathetic activation and overall regulation, which is GOOD.
  • First, what is regulation of self?
    • When we talk about self regulation here, we are usually using it fluidly in terms of emotional and behavioral regulation, because those so often go hand-in-hand. Thought regulation is harder to observe, but it plays into that.
    • Self-regulation is necessary to participate in society.
    • Thoughts-emotions-behaviors. If your thoughts are creating emotions that are not regulated, the chances of you engaging in a behavior that society deems unacceptable will increase.
    • Self-regulation is a limited resource.
      • Thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are all connected in terms of our ability to regulate them. So, a day full of racing, out-of-control thoughts can lead to a moment of no emotional control and an inability to regulate your behaviors.
      • Example: your boss gripes at you first thing in the morning for being just a couple of minutes late to work. This leads to thoughts of self-loathing, anxiety over losing your job, and these last for most of the day. You get in the car to leave work and feel as though you might cry, but you hold yourself together. You calm down enough to drive away and you decide to pick up dinner from your favorite restaurant on the way home. You get home and realize quickly that they gave you the wrong order. You throw the meal in the trash can take a deep breath to try and calm down. You’re feeling angry and there is a person from a toxic relationship in your past who you have committed to not call or text anymore, but because you have absolutely exhausted your resources of regulation of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, you text them. Earlier that day, you never would have texted them. You would have had the reserves of regulation to prevent yourself from engaging in that behavior that you yourself have decided is unacceptable and unhelpful. This is how your rude boss at 8:15 am can make you call your ex at 7:30 pm. The boss set you on a series of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that were difficult to regulate.
      • Another example- kids in foster care or who have been adopted often go to school and do okay throughout the school day with behavior and emotional regulation, only to get home from school and absolutely break down. They might have emotions that are completely out of control and they might seek to act out in ways that are unacceptable. This comes back to two things that might be helpful to remember: the fact that their brains have exhausted their reserves for regulation. This is not something they have control over, necessarily. And then the fact that if they are truly breaking down in the presence of a foster parent or adoptive parent, it can mean there is a felt safety there, which while hard to manage in the moment, can actually be a really good thing in the long run in terms of attachment and trust. Remember, the question “Was there one adult with whom you felt safe as a child?” is a huge indicator of whether or not therapeutic treatment for trauma will be successful. The coregulation of a caregiver early in life is essential for the ability to self-regulate.
      • Both of these are examples of “holding it together” throughout the day only to get home and engage in behavior that might be unacceptable to oneself or others. These show how self-regulation is a limited resource.
      • There are strategies to employ so that children and adults don’t have to spend their self-regulation reserves so much, but unfortunately we don’t always have control over everything that causes us to spend our self-regulation power. 
      • Enter healthy coping strategies such as co-regulation! Coming in the next episode