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Finding My Strength: Overcoming Trauma with Self-Regulation

*Trigger Warning Disclaimer*

Please note that this article discusses topics that may be triggering or emotionally challenging for some readers, including trauma, mental health struggles, and personal adversity. If you have experienced trauma or are currently facing mental health challenges, the content may bring up difficult emotions or memories. Reader discretion is advised, and we encourage you to prioritize your wellbeing. If any part of this article becomes overwhelming, we recommend seeking support from a mental health professional or a trusted individual.

Understanding Self-Regulation and Emotional Regulation

Before we talk about my personal journey of self-regulation, let’s first understand what self-regulation is and how it is different from emotional regulation. Both of these skills are important for managing anxiety and maintaining mental well-being, but they have different roles.

Self-Regulation

This is the ability to control our behavior, emotions, and thoughts to align with long-term goals. It’s not just about managing emotions but involves guiding our entire response system in challenging situations. Effective self-regulation is crucial for maintaining self-control under stress and acting according to our values.

Emotional Regulation

Highlighted in Yale and Harvard’s research, this refers to managing and expressing emotions in a socially appropriate manner while still working towards our goals. It is a critical part of self-regulation, essential for thoughtful action and managing disruptive emotions.

Both self-regulation and emotional regulation are developed early in life and are integral to handling life’s challenges and mental health. Proficiency in these areas allows individuals to navigate stress, communicate effectively, and view obstacles as opportunities for growth.

Scientific Foundations

Concepts like neuroplasticity and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) provide key insights into self-regulation.

Neuroplasticity highlights our brain’s adaptability, illustrating how we can form new neural connections for change and growth.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) aids in altering negative thought patterns, aligning well with strategies like mindfulness, which creates a pause between feelings and actions.

Cognitive reappraisal, an integral part of this process, involves actively changing our interpretation of challenging situations, thereby altering our emotional response to them. This technique allows us to reframe our thoughts, leading to more positive emotions and behaviors in response to life’s stressors.

Yale’s Center for Emotional Intelligence continues to lead in integrating emotional intelligence into education. Their RULER program is a prime example, providing educators and students with the tools to understand and apply essential emotional skills like self-regulation. This research-based approach is reshaping learning environments into spaces where emotional growth and academic success go hand in hand, emphasizing the profound impact of emotional intelligence on lifelong learning and well-being.

Communicating Needs for Self-Regulation

As we journey towards better self-regulation, it’s vital to openly communicate our needs with loved ones. Recognizing bodily signs of stress, like a fast heartbeat or tension, is essential. When you notice these, kindly express the need for a brief pause, not to avoid the conversation but to take a moment for deep breaths and recenter. Expressing the need for a pause during intense moments helps others understand our process and respect our space. It’s about setting boundaries and kindly explaining that while we’re committed to managing our emotions and reactions, we may need their patience and support. Encouraging a supportive environment allows us to practice self-regulation more effectively and fosters understanding and respect in our relationships.

Managing Stress: 13 Techniques to Regulate Your Nervous System

In my journey towards self-regulation, I’ve discovered the profound impact of managing stress on our physical and emotional well-being. Your nervous system, responsible for everything from your heartbeat to your emotional responses, plays a key role in how you handle stress. Maintaining a balance between the two parts of our autonomic nervous system is crucial. This system includes the sympathetic system, which prepares us for ‘fight or flight’ during stress, and the parasympathetic system, which helps us ‘rest and digest’ when we’re relaxed.

Here are 13 techniques, inspired by Calm, to help you regulate your nervous system and achieve a balanced state of mind and body:

  1. Physiological Sigh: Practice two quick inhales followed by a longer exhale to calm your sympathetic system.
  2. Physical Activity: Engage in activities like walking, yoga, or dancing to release tension.
  3. Weighted Blanket: Use a weighted blanket for deep pressure touch, aiding relaxation.
  4. Meditation: Regular meditation can significantly reduce stress and restore your nervous system.
  5. Mindfulness: Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present and engaged in the moment, aware of our thoughts and feelings without distraction or judgment. It involves a heightened state of awareness and focuses on the present, which can help in managing emotions and reducing stress. Incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine to stay grounded in the present moment.
  6. Singing or Laughing: Stimulate your vagus nerve through singing or laughing to relax your body.
  7. Self-Massage or Hug: Use the power of touch to provide comfort and relaxation. I personally love to cuddle my dogs.
  8. Tapping Technique (EFT): Emotional Freedom Techniques. It is a form of psychological acupressure, often known as “tapping,” that uses the fingertips to tap on specific points on the body while focusing on particular negative emotions or physical sensations. EFT aims to address the root causes of emotional distress and promote emotional healing and wellness.
  9. Grounding: Connect with the earth by placing your bare feet on the ground.
  10. Nature Connection: Spend time in nature to foster mindfulness and relaxation.
  11. Cold Shower: Utilize the shock of cold water to jolt your nervous system.
  12. Co-Regulation: Engage in meaningful conversations and empathetic interactions with others.
  13. Prioritize Sleep: Ensure adequate sleep for brain and body rejuvenation.

Incorporating these practices into your daily life can lead to a more balanced, healthier state of mind and body. Remember, it’s about finding what works for you and making your mental health a priority. Read the full list here.

Understanding My Journey to Self-Regulation

My path to understanding self-regulation was set against a challenging childhood, one where stable role models were absent, and guidance on emotional management was non-existent. Growing up with a mother with an undiagnosed mental illness, I faced the complexities of an unstable home environment from a very young age. This lack of stability and safety in my formative years left me without the basic skills of self-regulation and emotional coping.

The unexpected loss of my stepfather at age 13 marked a turning point in my life. It plunged my mother into a deeper state of instability and mental distress, leaving me to face the challenges of adolescence with little guidance.

Leaving home early, I was thrust into a world where I had to be self-reliant. Yet, without the tools and understanding of how to manage and adjust behavior, emotions, and thoughts in a healthy way.

Reflecting on my childhood, the lack of a stable environment led me to linger in toxic relationships, seeking belonging in the wrong places. This pattern of clinging to others, fearing solitude, echoed through much of my adult life, leaving me feeling perpetually lost and adrift.

A Turning Point in the Face of Deep Trauma

The turning points in my life were not just challenging events; they were profoundly traumatic experiences that reshaped my entire existence. I faced an unimaginable horror when I witnessed my grandfather’s suicide, a moment marked by the harrowing sound of a gunshot and the subsequent agony of watching him tragically pass away in front of me. This trauma was a profound shock to my system, leaving scars that would take years to heal. This event unearthed a multitude of buried childhood traumas, serving as the catalyst for much that I had long suppressed to resurface.

Less than a year later, the person I trusted most, my husband and best friend, brought another wave of betrayal and heartbreak. While living overseas isolated and vulnerable, I discovered he was seeing someone behind my back. This devastating revelation was masked by an elaborate lie about his sexuality. He confessed to being gay, spinning elaborate stories about his lifelong struggle with his sexuality. This revelation left me emotionally shattered, alone in a foreign country.

Navigating these compounded traumas while also dealing with isolation and financial dependence, was an immense challenge. I mustered the strength to leave with my two dogs and start over, which if you’ve ever lived abroad is not an easy feat. Yet, it was only after I had left Japan and a year of grappling with this supposed truth, that I uncovered the reality: he had been seeing another woman all along. The lie about his sexuality was just another layer of deceit.

These experiences were far from ordinary challenges; they were extreme, life-altering events that forced me to confront my deepest fears and vulnerabilities.

This transformative journey wasn’t just about recovery from my past; it was about learning and instilling the principles of self-regulation that I had never been taught. It was a process of discovering how to break ingrained patterns, foster resilience, and create a sense of stability and safety that I had longed for since childhood.

Confronting Solitude and Harnessing Self-Talk in the Depths of Despair

The period following my divorce was far from a tranquil journey of self-discovery. It was an ordeal of unbearable loneliness and profound emotional turmoil. Every day and night was a battle against the relentless tide of grief, betrayal, and a sense of abandonment that threatened to consume me. The solitude I faced wasn’t a chosen path of enlightenment; it was a harsh reality thrust upon me, a stark reminder of the support and comfort I desperately yearned for but didn’t have.

My nights were filled with tears and the haunting memories of the emotional abuse I had endured. Waking up drenched in sweat from nightmares, I was a world away from peace. The comfort of a mother’s embrace or the loving touch I longed for was painfully absent. Instead, I found myself grappling with the cold embrace of solitude, half a world away from the only family I could lean on, which was my sister.

During this time, I turned to alcohol, not as a solace, but as a means to numb the excruciating pain. The revelation that my ex-husband’s claims of being gay were false only added fuel to the fire of my distress. It felt as though my soul had been shattered, my once vibrant and bubbly personality lost in the depths of despair.

Despite the crushing weight of my circumstances, a part of me refused to give in. I was determined to see another day, to claw my way out of the darkness. Self-talk, in these moments, wasn’t a gentle, reflective practice but a critical lifeline. It was a way to remind myself of my strength, to assert that I could and would endure. I clung to the belief that these feelings, no matter how overwhelming, were temporary, and that I would emerge from this darkness.

This period of forced solitude became a critical juncture, guided by my therapist’s wisdom. He saw it as an opportunity for me to confront and heal from my past traumas and to finally learn to stop abandoning myself for the sake of others. I always wanted to be chosen by someone and to feel needed. This time for me was about learning to be alone and trust myself. To choose myself rather than yearning to find love.

Now, nearly two years later, I am living close to my sister, finding my way back to sobriety, and healing. The tears have subsided, and I am now channeling my experiences into writing, with a hope to guide others. Through sharing my story, I aim to create a space for those who have also never had the tools to navigate such complex and harrowing emotional journeys. My goal is to offer brutally honest insights into the realities of life’s hardships and the resilience it takes to overcome them.

Harnessing Inner Strength and Learning to Self-Regulate

In the face of these immense challenges, I embarked on a journey of self-discovery and healing. Reading became more than a pastime; it was a lifeline that offered insights into coping strategies, self-regulation, and healing from deep-seated trauma. The books I turned to provided not just knowledge, but comfort and a sense of direction during a time when I felt utterly lost and alone.

The Power of Music and Literature

Calming classical music became my sanctuary, a refuge from lyrics that echoed the pain of love and heartache. Audiobooks, particularly those focusing on positive thinking and personal growth, became my constant companions. They were more than just distractions; they were lifelines, offering new perspectives and helping me retrain my thoughts away from negative spirals.

This period was about flooding my brain with positivity and knowledge. Whether doing chores, walking my dogs, or even trying to fall asleep, audiobooks were my go-to. They allowed me to consume valuable insights effortlessly, even when my mind wandered, requiring me to replay segments to grasp the concepts fully.

Stepping Away from Crutches

In the wake of my divorce, I discovered the crucial need to self-regulate my emotions, moving away from depending on friends or family as emotional supports. This self-imposed period of solitude was not about isolation, but about building my inner strength and resilience. Below are some of coping skills I used in those moments.

  • Conscious Decision to Not Reach Out: In moments of intense anxiety, my instinct was to seek comfort from my sister or friends. However, I made a conscious effort to refrain from doing so, understanding that this was a crucial step in learning to self-soothe and regulate my emotions independently.
  • Mindful Breathing: During times of overwhelming emotion, I would practice deep, mindful breathing. Focusing on my breath helped me to center myself, reducing anxiety and bringing my mind back to a state of calm.
  • Self-Talk for Reassurance: Self-talk became a vital tool in these moments. I reassured myself with affirmations like, “This will pass,” “You are safe,” and “The worst is over.” This internal dialogue helped me to navigate through the pain and reminded me that healing was a continuous process.
  • Rediscovering Joy in Hobbies: To fill the void left by not reaching out to others, I turned to activities that brought me joy and a sense of accomplishment. Painting, in particular, became a therapeutic outlet. This allowed me to express my emotions creatively and find peace in the act of creation.

This phase of consciously stepping away from external sources of comfort was instrumental in my journey towards self-regulation. It taught me the importance of being my own source of strength and comfort, a lesson that has been invaluable in my ongoing path to emotional healing and growth.

Healthy Habits and Lifestyle Changes

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle has been integral in managing my anxiety. This involves eating nutritious foods to avoid nutrient deficiencies and steering clear of temporary fixes like alcohol. Looking back, I can humorously reflect on my brief love affair with tequila, acknowledging it as a part of my journey. Though it was a rocky phase, it led me to a healthier relationship with alcohol and, surprisingly, a great friendship that emerged from that period.

One of the key changes I made was inspired by the book ‘The Upward Spiral.’ It led me to develop daily routines that actively enhance my brain chemicals – Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins. These routines involve simple yet impactful activities like morning cuddles with my pets, soaking up sunlight, keeping my space clean and organized, engaging in physical exercise like weightlifting and hiking, and finding moments to laugh. Each of these activities plays a significant role in boosting my mood and contributing to my overall well-being.

For those interested in exploring these routines in more detail, particularly how they leverage our brain’s natural chemistry for emotional balance, I invite you to read my article on ‘Daily Rituals to Boost Happiness’. There, I share specific strategies and insights into how these activities form an integral part of my journey towards mental health and self-regulation.

Self-Reflection and Acceptance

Despite having a structured routine, there are days when loneliness and depression hit hard. On such days, I remind myself that these emotions are temporary. Embracing the full spectrum of emotions, including sadness and grief, is crucial. It’s okay not to feel okay at times.

Even now, two years into this journey, I find myself reaching out for connections, a reflection of my own longing. Amidst my newfound strength and independence, there are moments when I deeply yearn for the comfort of a loving and trustworthy partner. This longing for true companionship and a reassuring, understanding presence underscores our deep-seated need for meaningful human connections.

I’ve grown better at self-talk, finding a balance between seeking these connections and nurturing my self-reliance. While I cherish my solitude and personal growth, the wish for a loving, trustworthy man to share life’s journey remains an integral part of my heart’s narrative. It’s a balance of embracing my solitude and acknowledging that human connection, in its most authentic form, is something to be cherished and sought after.

The Path to Self-Regulation

Self-regulation in the face of anxiety is not about achieving a state of constant happiness. It’s about understanding and managing our emotions, recognizing our triggers, and applying techniques to navigate through them. Whether it’s through physical activities, mindfulness practices, or simply allowing ourselves to feel and process our emotions, the journey to self-regulation is a testament to our resilience and capacity for growth.

Trust the process and be patient with yourself. The key is consistency and being there for yourself. Each step you take, each promise you keep to yourself, builds trust and self-respect. And on days when you falter, remember, that’s okay too. The journey towards self-regulation and emotional well-being is about showing up for yourself, one step at a time.

Seeking Professional Support

While sharing my journey and strategies, I want to emphasize the importance of seeking professional support when needed. Therapy was a crucial part of my path to healing, providing guidance and understanding that I couldn’t have achieved alone. If you find yourself struggling, remember that reaching out to a therapist can be a profound step towards healing and self-discovery.

Disclaimer

Please note that while I share my personal experiences and insights in this article, it is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or mental health.

Influential Books and Their Impact

My journey to self-regulation and managing anxiety has been significantly influenced by a collection of transformative books, each offering unique insights and practical wisdom:

“Super Attractor” by Gabrielle Bernstein: This book wasn’t just a read; it became a mantra for me, a source of continuous inspiration that I turned to day after day. Gabrielle Bernstein’s teachings on manifesting positivity and embracing a life of joy didn’t just resonate with me—they became a part of my daily routine. I listened to ‘Super Attractor’ over and over, letting its messages seep into my consciousness and guide me through some of my darkest times. Bernstein’s practical approach to becoming a ‘super attractor’ of good energy wasn’t just theoretical for me; it was a lifeline, shifting my mindset and playing a crucial role in my journey of profound personal transformation.

“The Upward Spiral” by Alex Korb: It provided an understanding of how to ‘hack’ brain chemicals and emphasized the power of daily routines in enhancing well-being.

Wired for Love” by Stan Tatkin: This book was a game-changer for me, recommended by a therapist who finally understood what I needed. It unveiled the mysteries of attachment styles in relationships, illuminating why I felt anxious and sometimes overwhelmed in my connections with others.

“What Happened to You?” by Oprah Winfrey and Bruce D. Perry: This book was a revelation, offering me a new perspective on trauma and its lasting impact. They dive into how our earliest experiences shape our lives, influencing our behaviors and reactions in profound ways.

“Set Boundaries, Find Peace” by Nedra Tawwab: Tawwab’s practical advice on setting healthy boundaries was key in my journey towards finding peace and establishing healthier interpersonal dynamics. 

“The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle: Tolle’s teachings on the importance of living in the present moment helped me cultivate mindfulness and reduce anxiety.

“Happy Days” by Gabby Bernstein: A source of inspiration in overcoming trauma and embracing happiness.

“Addicted to Drama” by Dr. Scott Lyons: This book illuminated how drama can unconsciously infiltrate our lives, guiding me to identify and move away from these cycles. It was key in helping me understand and break free from drama-addicted behaviors, fostering a more peaceful and authentic way of living.

Each book contributed to my understanding of mental health, self-regulation, and the power of the mind, playing a crucial role in my path to healing and self-discovery.

Books Currently in My Audible Account (Yet to Be Read or Being Listened To):

“8 Rules of Love” by Jay Shetty: Currently being listened to, an exploration of enduring love and its alignment with personal growth. Loving this so far.

“How to Be the Love You Seek” by Dr. Nicole LePera: Awaiting my attention, expected to offer insights into self-love and emotional resilience.

“The Myth of Normal” by Gabor Maté: Up next, anticipated to provide insights into societal norms and mental health.


Thank you for taking the time to read my story. I truly value your perspectives and experiences. If you’re comfortable, I warmly invite you to share your own journey or thoughts in the comments. What resonated with you? What aspects of self-regulation you struggle with? Any insights you found particularly helpful.

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