What is Emotional Regulation?
This is the skill to monitor and manage your own emotions, such as self-soothing, giving yourself an emotional energy boost when exhausted, lifting your mood when feeling down in the dumps, calming yourself when you get scared, etc. Anyone's emotional regulation game can get thrown off, but also some folk are never given a chance to learn how to regulate their own emotions.
When you can't regulate your own emotions, you can experience "emotional dysregulation" — which is being pulled about by your emotional issues, for example working up your own anxiety into a frenzy, digging yourself a deeper hole in depression, lashing out emotionally at yourself or others, having explosive moments, or being totally utterly defeated and dejected when something goes wrong, etc.
For plurals, these issues can be compounded by all running on the same bodily systems. Emotions and bodily metabolism, neurotransmitters, hormones, endocrine system, etc. are all tied closely together. Our feelings influence our body chemistry, our body chemistry influences our emotions.
It's important to work on these issues so that your system can learn to selves-regulate.
There can be many causes of emotional dysregulation for plural system, so let's talk about a few of them so that y'all can perhaps figure out what factors are contributing to the situation, and maybe can seek help for various issues.
This may look like an exhaustive list, we assure you it is not. If your issues aren't on this list, it's not because it's unusual or obscure — it's just not on this list. You are assuredly not alone, and we would be happy to try to help you find resources and expand this list for others like you.
- Life is not safe. The top reason for emotional dysregulation — that needs to be addressed before others if at all possible — is whether or not your system is currently safe. See Safety Issues below.
- Overwhelmed by Other's Emotions (aka Empathy). If you think you're overly empathic and are absorbing emotions from people around you, or if you're not sure what boundaries are and what they have to do with empathy, you should read this article.
- Front Has Insufficient Emotional Regulation Skills. The current front may not be able to regulate their own emotions - in other words it may have as much to do with who specifically is front as the circumstances y'all are under, and your& ability to regulate your emotions can change depending on which headmate is fronting. This can be used to y'all's advantage by using positive triggers New to pull forward a more regulated and stable headmate when activated. Their ability to control the physical effects of emotional regulation can help your whole system. Here's a conference session with some skills for things you can do yourself, pretty generic, but a lot of great self-soothing skills to try
- Internal Boundarys Are Insufficient. Leaking anxiety & panic reactions New from other system members, or emotional flashbacks from traumaholders in your& system - which can be caused by broken boundaries to work on this improve internal system boundaries New or defuse internal feedback loops
- Flooding (uncontrolled flashbacks) which we also call "trigger cascades." One headmate has a flashback but it also triggers other flashbacks from other system members, so everyone starts having flashbacks at the same time. The same cures as above, but a more intensified issue. It's prevented the same way: better internal boundaries. Also be aware of system triggers New and recognizing when y'all are triggered so that y'all can go into safety mode, turn on compassion and try to not take the feelings coming up personally. See discussion of deprogramming triggers below.
- Perfectionism, Too Hard on Yourselves, Unreasonable Expectations. If y'all have a lot of depression or generalized anxiety, also don't underestimate being compassionate with yourselves. If y'all are having depression due to your diagnosis or feeling like your situation is hopeless due to being plural/multiple, if you are dealing with anxiety about your headmates, or you can't figure out what's triggering your headmates, also consider that trust issues in your system may be a problem. New Also Hope is a big foil for depression. As such, you might find the work on Better Spoons to be helpful. Here's the Better Spoons conference session (about 1.5 hours) or the Developing Better Spoons online course (sliding scale, see course intro for details).
- Denial or Difficult New Paradigm Shift. There are many reasons that folk may become emotionally deregulated when they first find out they have DID (or complex trauma, OSDD, etc.) New.
- Undermined by Abuse. There are types of emotional trauma and abuse that specifically undermine self-confidence, reality testing, and emotional regulation New (long article on gaslighting and related abuse).
- Anxious System Kids, Traumaholders Need Attention. Many traumaholders are children who have not gotten their basic emotional needs met, and meeting their needs for attention, love, care, protection and nurturing internally can go a very long way towards repairing emotional regulation for your whole system.
- Headmates or Traumaholders are Stuck in PTSD. We mentioned stuck/lost headmates above New, sometimes they need help becoming co-conscious and getting unstuck from trauma-time or PTSD loops New.
- Mysterious Triggers. Amongst myriad possibilities — one not talked about enough is event-driven triggers, such as those around our children's developmental milestones, our own milestones or our anniversaries of events in the past. These can present a challenge because fronting folk may be unaware of an anniversary date, or that there are traumaholders over-activated by external children and actively afraid that what happened to the traumaholders at that age may happen to the external children. Similarly, we may have traumaholders afraid of other system members not realizing they share a body due to things like age or other resemblances to problematic persons. In other words, because many traumaholders are young they may over-identify with others themselves, or conflate people with any similar traits with each other. It can be really baffling why your traumaholders are in an uproar over something, and no matter how many times you scan your environment for threats or incidental triggers, the problem is the calendar date, the time of year, an upcoming holiday, or the age of your body, your partner's body or your children, etc. Treat these, once discovered, like other triggers.
If your system is not physically safe or materially safe — this needs to be addressed. We do understand sometimes people are stuck in unsafe circumstances. However it's important to self-help work that you are aware that your system is upended for a reason. It can often give a sense of relief just knowing there's a good reason for what's going on.
Many plural or DID systems were built to survive (or evolved over time to survive) and as such it's entirely reasonable to be on high alert (hypervigilant) and/or anxious as heck if there's a real and present danger in your life. Background folk in your system may be "flipping out" about things you (front/host/co-aware or co-conscious folk) may not even be aware of. When you're not aware of what's got your system triggered, it can make you "feel crazy."
This also extends to things one might not immediately think about, such as still being in contact with former abusers, or being exposed to innocuous triggers (a lot more about why seemingly normal and non-threatening things can become triggers here).
So, if at all possible, evaluate whether or not y'all are safe. If you are — good. If you are not sure, you probably aren't. If you can, do stuff to make your& life as safe as possible.
If you cannot, be aware of how the dangers are affecting your system. You can still do other things on this page, but also will likely be faced with the issues of an activated endocrine system and leaking internal feels at the same time.
Of course you should do trauma and trigger work with a trained professional. We also are fully aware that trained professionals are not accessible for everyone for a wide variety of reasons — and thus this is too important of an issue to relegate only to therapeutic work. Please make sure y'all are safe and that someone y'all trust is nearby or on call, keep their number nearby, or have them check on you after a short time. Just for safety's sake. Make sure you have your system's permission to do any trigger deprogramming work — it's ok to be concerned or nervous, but look out for those who are saying no in any form, however quietly or weakly.
Also, try to work on trust issues, communication issues, rescuing lost folk, reparenting system kids, etc. before working on triggers on your own. The fact is the better your system is doing, the better that y'all will handle anything that is kicked up by working on your triggers. Go to the Self-Help Indexes New page and work through other issues on the page before doing this.
In addition to tips above, sometimes we can deescalate our triggers New (alone or with help). It's important to understand that our emotional outbursts are not the trigger in itself. The trigger unleashes an autonomic nervous system response — basically a lot of neurological, metabolic and/or hormonal changes in the body — and it's the bodily systems responses that cause the emotions that go along with whatever blend of chemicals and system activation is happening in the body.
It's extraordinarily challenging to get ahead of the response by trying to control your emotions. You can get somewhere, but there's a cause and effect chain that starts with a physical reaction first, not an emotional reaction (though an emotion can in itself also be a trigger — see the page on triggers for more about how a trigger is formed).
The good thing is we don't need to know what trauma took place to know what the trigger is. Tracking anxiety and panic attacks, one can get pretty good at spotting patterns and figuring out what the trigger is. We talk about the process of discovering and working with triggers in this podcast episode about our coffee trigger New.
In the process of trying to catch trigger events, it may be helpful to create intentional mental alerts to bring your conscious mind's attention to the fact that y'all are getting triggered. These are implementation intentions, purposeful prompt->action chains that can help you get "ahead" of the trigger reaction. You can set a mental alert such as "When I <start feeling butterflies in my stomach>, I will <notice>." This allows an interruption in the process of getting gradually triggered (anxiety triggered) ahead of it escalating or becoming a panic attack.
If y'all are into "energy connections" whether emotional attachments, or spiritual attachments it can be very very helpful to learn about "De-cording" and what energy bonds and cords are, and how to do proper energetic hygiene. There are visualization processes that y'all can do to detach unhealthy energetic or emotional attachments to other people. It may be good to be careful if you have spiritual triggers or baggage before reading the article — as we come at it from a somewhat spiritual angle ourselves — but it definitely doesn't have to be and we did try to be careful about that. Here's our article on Crisses on Cording.
Another technique very useful for deprogramming triggers is EmotionalFreedomTechnique New aka EFT. It's like the at-home version of EMDR, and as such could use some similar warnings as EMDR. Because folk we're speaking with likely have complex trauma, EFT needs to be modified to work with complex trauma just like EMDR. It's a great tool, and we'll put out more information on the modifications needed to use it with complex trauma — but it's covered in the book by Gary Craig on EFT for PTSD if you are already using EFT and want to know what the modifications are.