In healthy family systems the parents are the “master regulators” of connection. Parents work to help children regulate difficult emotions and feel safe and connected.In families where the parent or parents do not act as “master regulators,” kids experience either blending or disconnecting from their needs and emotions.
As an adult when we have a difficult emotion like depression or anxiety, if we didn’t have parents who were master regulators, and thereby didn’t develop our own internal master regulator, we either get lost in/blend with the anxiety or disconnect/push away it. And of course we can do a combination of both at different times in different situations.
Once you notice this, it’s important to begin to work on developing an internal master regulator. Here are some steps you can follow to do this:
- Notice when you are “blended” with an emotion. If you are blended, there will be fear that it won’t go away, or that it will last forever. There will be a feeling of being lost in it. There will be no witness or stepping back from it. It will feel like it “becomes” all of who you are.
- Once you notice you have become blended, take a moment to breathe. Give yourself some room. Step back energetically and emotionally. Notice your witness or awareness itself. The witness itself is not lost in an emotion. The part of you that can name, label, and point out an emotion is not lost in it. If you can even say, “I am anxious,” the you that can name the anxiety is not fully lost in it.
- See how you want to become a master regulator for your anxious or emotional parts. How do you want to soothe these parts? Do you want to bring in more quiet and less talk? More nature or music? Do you want to calmly and patiently and coax your emotional “cat down from the tree?” Do you need gentle coaching combined with physical touch? Listen and feel your way into self regulating and connecting. If you can’t feel a sense of the master regulator part inside of you, it’s okay to borrow someone else’s. Maybe some adults you admire; a friend, a grandparent, some new parents you know, the Dalai Lama, or a TV character. It doesn’t matter who it is, but imagine how they would help you re-regulate when you are lost in anxiety. What would they say or do for a young child? Try doing this for yourself.
- With practice, you can learn to be a master regulator for yourself, and develop a series of soothing, calming, connecting, and compassionate behaviors you can utilize in any emotional state. You will find yourself blending or disconnecting with your emotions less often.
- In stressful situations you may find you still default to your family of origin style. Don’t lose heart. Stress situations are like a Ph.D. program. Don’t judge yourself. Stress is an opportunity to learn the master regulator skills to an even deeper level. No matter what, love yourself in this process of discovery.