Saturday, January 16, 2016

Self-Regulation? What? How?: Adventures in Ambiguity (Part III)

How can I possibly know anything about emotional self-regulation? I was faced and am often still faced with the quandary of growing up without it, not really knowing that I lacked it, and then trying to figure out how to develop it. And though trauma therapy helped me make great strides to develop it, I still have my days...

The process works out differently for everyone, and some people have less difficulty than others.  This represents what I experienced in my journey thus far.

In “good enough” parenting, the goal of parenting focuses on teaching children the skills they will need to live outside of the family. In high demand systems and families, leaders and parents foster dependency and don't teach good coping skills like emotional stability and balance because they don't have it themselves. (You can only give to someone that which you have yourself.)

Instead of spending my energy on the hard work of growing up, I had to sort through trauma and learn how to function as I went along because I didn't have the skills that I needed.

I started therapy at age nineteen and worked hard at developing good and healthy thinking, but I was never able to get over the emotional element of trauma. I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop, and I swung around like an emotional pendulum. I reacted to what happened in my life, and I had to work to learn how to respond from a place of safety and power. 

That work laid the foundation for the exit counseling that I would receive when I was thirty years old.  By then, I felt that I'd sorted through a great deal of the chaos and had a picture of what a better, less chaotic life looked like.  I had a plan, and I'd learned some good skills to get me well on my way.

I still had quite a lot of chaos to straighten out, but I didn't feel so lost and helpless anymore. 

Though I'd come a long way, I still struggled with boundaries, particularly with my parents. I didn't cope effectively with many triggers, and I still had a very difficult time in certain situations. I felt separated from so much of my goodness and my good abilities. Everything felt so futile and exhausting.

No matter what I did, I could give the right textbook answer about how to respond maturely from a place of confidence, but I didn't feel it. I knew about good boundaries, but I didn't know how to defend them or was too afraid to defend them. A boundary which a person doesn't defend is just a nice idea, and did that fact frustrate me!

I was still too hypervigilant from so many traumas and trauma upon trauma. I was still very isolated socially and didn't feel safe enough to reconnect with others in a healthy way.

Still quite disappointed in my progress and frustrated with myself, I decided to keep looking for alternatives that would help me cope more effectively. At age thirty-seven, I ended up putting great distance between my parents and myself so that I could have the opportunity to heal.

I sought out a few different types of therapy and worked on learning new ways to self-soothe, and I realized what many self-help books were talking about when the mentioned “re-parenting.” I had to learn and master skills that good enough parenting would have given me. And this was hard to even admit, because so many of the areas of the parenting I did receive were excellent. But cognitive behavioral work (looking at thoughts beneath emotion) wasn't enough to make up for hypervigilance.

I greatly benefited from EMDR therapy for trauma because it addressed my emotions and not just how I thought about things. As Judith Herman says in her book, Trauma and Recovery, the therapist serves as a witness to the harm suffered and an ally in recovery. I plugged away in extended sessions weekly (or more often) for more than two years, and I continue to follow up with my therapist.