Emotional regulation (part 1)
"The myth surrounding regulation is that regulation means 'calm.' The goal of regulation is how to connect to myself in the midst of my activation. It is not about making it go away; it is not about calming it down."
- Lisa Dion (Teacher, Entrepreneur, Author,
Coach and Mother)
Somatic regulation tools have been a support for me for longer than I'm even fully aware of.
The body will often do things so instinctively to regulate, that many people won't notice when it's happening...
Placing a hand on the heart...
Shaking a limb...
Making a sound on an exhale...
Wrapping the arms around the body...
Sitting on the floor...
Humming a little tune...
The body attempts to take emotionally activating information and make it more digestible through movement, vocalization, establishing connection with self, another, an item or a space. And as the quote above says, regulation is not about pushing away emotion, or making emotions wrong or bad. Being regulated simply means that you're more able to choose how you respond.
The ability to choose takes practice—practice in sitting with discomfort and presence at the same time, and reminding the body that it's safe to feel the full spectrum of emotion.
And why is it valuable to practice this?
Because life will always find ways to push your buttons towards growth. That's called being human. When you learn how to regulate yourself, and learn about what circumstances are particularly activating for you, you can take care of yourself and your loved ones more effectively and find creative solutions for life's puzzles without losing yourself in the process.
I was an emotional blob all morning. I was going to write “emotional wreck,” but I don’t actually feel wrecked by my emotions. I feel more puddle-y, malleable, blob-like. So an emotional blob I am.
Flying back to my current home in California from my childhood home in Massachusetts, I sat in the middle seat in my aisle visibly crying into my hands. And for some reason I was sweating so much that I’m sure both people on either side of me were going to be telling their friends the story of the smelly and sweaty and teary girl they sat next to. You’re welcome.
You see, returning to my place of birth isn’t always the most joyous occasion these days. I feel sad saying that, but it’s true. It has plenty of joyous moments in it—laughter with my cousins, running through the woods with my partner and pup, going to the science museum with my nephews, having a fake thanksgiving, dancing in the rain—but the theme of the return to Massachusetts isn’t JOY. If I were to give this recent trip a theme, the theme would be CHANGE. And—just like the Autumn leaves turn their stunning reds and oranges and yellows surrounding New England—change comes in seasons, change is natural, and change involves a death and rebirth cycle. The death part of the rebirth isn’t easy. It means acknowledging the leaves that are ready to fall to make space for the new growth. And the falling part also means landing in unexpected places sometimes. Which reminds me that I did literally fall while at a rock climbing gym with my cousin on this trip and hit my head, and it sent me into a deep spiral of recognition of how much I value my intelligence and that I don't want to waste it. Talk about landing in unexpected places, huh?
I truly believe that it’s okay and necessary to grieve the way things used to be to make the space to be present with what is becoming, and what is. And I believe that there can be joy in the grief and grief in the joy—my mom, who is also a fabulous writer, has written about this very thing before on her old blog, and I resonate. The body can be like a watercolor painting, and each emotion is a different color. One color may take up a lot of space, but the colors are always blending, and that makes the painting that much more beautiful and complex. Grief, Joy, Delight, Confusion, Contentment—blending and flowing through this vessel of life.
It certainly feels humorous at times, and like I’m the odd one on these plane rides—tears falling into my Minute Maid orange juice whilst everyone else around me goes on with their movies and iPhone games. But sometimes it’s the things that at first seem odd that are the most honest and true.
On this flight I needed to cry. And that’s natural and okay. And so is change. And so is resisting change. And so is stumbling through change to find that on the other side the lessons that needed to get learned got learned. The body figures out the pathway through. It may not be a linear path through the change, but when did an Autumn leaf ever fall in a straight line from the tree to the earth?
As I sit here now in my parents' home in Ojai CA—a space that feels solid and safe, that nourishes me in the ways I need now, just as my childhood home in Massachusetts nourished me in the ways I needed then—I’m still thinking about the leaves. The colors, the way they fall with such grace, and the way their season seems to last for an eternity and only a moment at the same time.