Working Through Intense Emotional Dysregulation with Self-Soothing Practices

Martin Handy

11 Dec 2018

Every one experiences very intense emotional dysregulation at some time in their life. More rarely some people will experience regular emotional dysregulation. These emotions can be very powerful and overwhelming and can stop you from living your life. They may stop you from work, getting out of bed, feeling able to deal with very normal routines and tasks. They may drive some people towards thoughts of self-harm and suicide.

For some people they may begin with a feeling of disillusionment with the world and life in general. They may start as workplace stress and build into anxiety. Certain events may trigger overwhelming feelings of overload such as trauma – grief, loss, medical interventions like surgery, serious illness,hospitalisation, relationship breakdown, employment problems, natural disaster, PTSD, bullying and abuse.

Emotions may include anger, depression, anxiety, grief, hopelessness, frustration,self-hatred or even a complete loss of emotional response (anhedonia). Periods of these feelings can range from just a fleeting moment to bouts of it for hours or even days at a time. Frequency can also range from something once or twice a year to daily across a few days or for a few months.

If you feel something is not quite right it is worth talking to someone about it who is trained and qualified to understand it and how it can be worked through. I use the term ‘worked through’ for good reason because there are times when it cannot be managed but lived with and worked through. Emotional dysregulation is complex and may have more than one trigger or a number of triggers that lead to an episode. Emotional dysregulation may have a physical or external cause (diet,lifestyle, sleep pattern, work ethic, routines, rest times, hobbies/interests,relaxation, exercise and outdoor time). It may be an accumulation of past traumatic events that have not been processed consciously and therapeutically.

Dysregulation requires a patient and calm approach like you are approaching a child who is experiencing a great deal of emotional pain and suffering. Just like you would approach a child like this, you need to approach yourself and your experience with self-compassion, self-understanding, a huge amount of growing self-knowledge about who you are, your experiences, thinking habits, goals, will power, resilience to adverse experiences, empathy, determination and belief in your Self.

You are not alone. Thousands of people experience this each year in the UK and they can work through the episodes and the experiences by developing a greater knowledge of themselves, their triggers and their strategies. It requires a great deal of courage to look into oneself and realise what needs to change and dysregulation often comes at a time when an individual needs to change something or a number of things about their life and what they are doing in it: looking honestly at agendas and motivations in relationships, how they let people treat them and how they treat others, friendship groups, work ethics and choices. It can be very painful lifting up rocks that have been covering something up. It can be very painful looking inside dark and closed closets. It can be very frightening to look into parts of the past that have brought significant pain and hardship that have not really been processed and unpicked so the wounds can be cleaned and healed properly. There is always a great deal of repressed and denied aspects of one’s life there but it can be worked through.

I always suggest to people to really think hard about this process because it is an amazing and liberating process to work on yourself. It is an amazing journey of pain and hardship that brings clarity and freedom. It may not seem like that at the beginning and in certain stages of the process of self-analysis and counselling but what benefits come without some element of sacrifice and hardship? Life is challenging. Life is difficult, traumatic and challenging at times but this is a reality and we all have to work through these experiences in order to see the strength, compassion, love, wisdom,determination and self-belief that is also a part of our reality and the greatest part of our reality. This is a process of self-journey, exploration and discovery and is something to celebrate. Out of the pain comes release and joy.Out of the overwhelming emotions comes regeneration and a coming out into co-creation and re-creation.

Self-soothing is the first step towards working through emotional dysregulation and bringing one’s being back into balance and positive self-belief. Through the preparation of the counselling journey look at the following things:

  1. Diet – is it balanced and gives you the energy you need to live your life? Eating well is self-soothing and works through dysregulation.
  2. Sleep pattern – is it regular and gives you the rest you need to work through this and have some balance of waking, dreaming, deep dreamless sleep phases of night-time consciousness? Sleeping and dreaming well is self-soothing and works through dysregulation.
  3. Exercise– are you getting enough to give your body the balance, vigour and strength to work through this? Exercise is self-soothing and works through dysregulation.
  4. Outdoor sunshine time – are you getting enough to increase the serotonin in your blood and build reserves of Vitamin D, the happy vitamin? Sunshine is self-soothing and works through dysregulation.
  5. Recreation– are you giving yourself time to develop hobbies and interests to give you that balance of left brain right brain nourishment? Painting, art, drama, drawing,creative arts, revisiting childhood loves or creativity and joy are great medicine. Look at these. Recreation activities are self-soothing and works through dysregulation.
  6. Relaxation– are you giving yourself some time to just be still and create some quiet in your mind and body using mind-stilling techniques, yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong?Relaxation time is self-soothing and works through dysregulation.
  7. Medication– might you benefit from medication that can help control intense emotions like mood stabilisers or anti-depressants so you can work through talking therapies to address the underlying issues or are the above strategies enough to give you that stabilisation? Medication can be self-soothing and works through dysregulation.
  8. Support Network – do you have one or two or maybe a group of friends around you to support you through this or are they part of the problem? Do you need to look at developing some contact with strong, supportive people you can trust? Might you have to break connections with groups of people that consume lots of alcohol,smoke, take recreational drugs or have very intense hedonistic lifestyles that would hamper and distract you from your self-healing journey? People around you can be self-soothing and work through dysregulation.
  9. Goals – what goals and aspirations do you want to set for yourself? Focus on small, manageable and achievable steps at first that may move towards longer term and bigger ones. Think about what you want to achieve in 3 months, 6 months, a year, 3 years. Hold a vision again for a new you. Having a good goal set is self-soothing and works through dysregulation.

There is a great deal to think about and it is important to work through these issues with knowledgeable and trusted friends or a professional.

Hold the vision clearly of what you want yourself to look like. Hold it now.

Hold a vision of yourself of what you might look like if you carry on the way you are. Fire it off into a fire or down the drain. Obliterate it and destroy it in the fires of Mordor. That is not going to happen.

Hold that vision again of what you want yourself to look like in 3 months, 6 months, a year, 3 years. Hold those individual visions and see progress and growth, a journey between all of them joined together along a path, or roadway. See yourself driving or riding a bike between them.

Now look at where you are now and make a decision of what you are going to focus on, just one thing you can look at each day, commit to and change. Now do it.

Go gentle, go lightly, go well.

©Martin Handy 2018