Understanding Self-Regulation

PTSD Part 4: What is Self-Regulation?

Estimated watch time: 5 mins 


Self-regulation is a way to control behavior, thoughts and emotions. This guide goes through the importance of learning to manage strong impulses with self-regulation. Without self-regulation it’s possible you can turn to destructive behaviors to manage the effects of trauma and stress.

Video Materials:


Understanding Self-Regulation

This lesson will focus on self regulation.

What is self-regulation? Self-regulation is the act of regulating, reducing and resolving our dysregulation through our own decision, skill and willpower. It is also controlling one’s behavior, thoughts and emotions while identifying long term goals and the ability to manage disruptive emotions and impulses.

Self-regulation versus self-control.

Self-regulation is reducing the frequency of strong impulses by managing stress, load and recovery. It is also the ability to monitor or manage your thoughts, emotions and behaviors in ways that are acceptable and produce positive results.

On the other hand, self-control is inhibiting the strong impulses. It is also control of one’s emotions, desires or actions by one’s own will.

How is self-regulation developed?

Self-regulation begins when we are children and follows us into adulthood. As we mature, our self-regulation keeps us from reverting back to childhood behaviors. Children develop self-regulation through warm, understanding, compassionate and responsive relationships. They also develop it by watching and emulating the adults around them. If an adult is lacking self regulation, they may suffer from lack of self-esteem, self-confidence and self-love. It may also cause them to mask their feelings of anxiety, depression or PTSD as anger or frustration.

Why is self-regulation important?

Self-regulation is essential to trauma therapy because virtually all survivors deal with ongoing emotional reactions to things that remind them of the past, such as triggers and secondary alerts. And with the increased vulnerability to stress, that usually follows trauma.
Trauma shocks all systems. These include the following:

  • Cognitive: Trauma affects the ability to process thoughts and make good judgments
  • Physical: Trauma affects our muscles, joints, metabolism, temperature, sleep, immune system, etc..
  • Spiritual: Trauma affects our world view, our understanding and meaning of life, society and the world.
  • Social: Trauma affects relationships with spouses, family, friends, colleagues and strangers.

An individual self-regulation system after trauma plays out in two opposite ways. Some survivors are prone to hyperarousal, which is like carrying an invisible volcano inside, stoked with easily triggered anger, panic or anxiety. Other survivors are prone to the opposite, hypoarousal, which is characterized by numbness and withdrawal. Unresolved trauma causes a person to respond with excessive fight, flight and/or freeze response in relation to their current situation.

What happens if we do not learn how to self regulate?

We may develop any of the following: anger, aggression, anxiety, withdrawal and or isolation, difficulty developing and maintaining relationships, substance abuse and addiction. Other addictions may include gambling, sex, shopping, food. Job dissatisfaction and lack of general well-being, which may lead to suicidal ideation or attempts.

Effective strategies for self regulation: mindfulness, which could include eating, breathing and walking. Cognitive reappraisal. Breathing exercises. Eating healthy, drinking lots of water and limiting alcohol consumption. Using self-hypnosis to reduce your stress level and remain calm. Exercising regularly. Sleeping seven to eight hours a night. Making time for fun outside of work. Laughing more often. Spending healthy time alone and managing your work life balance.
In the next lesson we will discuss coping skills.

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