CO-REGULATION IS MISUNDERSTOOD
Why do you feel a need to calm someone else down? Why is important to you that “the other” do not harbor and show strong emotions?
Where do your need of fixing come from?
I watch beings. I am not good at understanding dynamics when I am in the middle of them, but I am a good observer and a reflective person, so here I am going to share some stuff with you that I think is super important. Actually, some of the more important stuff I have said lately.
CALMING SIGALS AND APPEASING/PLEASING/FAWNING BEHAVIORS – ARE REQUESTS FOR YOU TO DE-ESCLATE.
If you do not de-escalate, you either cannot see the other, cannot understand their language, or you choose to ignore their request.
If they are calming signals the other one is still talking to you, themselves still feeling and acting like agents (not powerless). When they do appeasing/pleasing/fawning behaviors, they are experiencing negative stress, they are moving into a state of powerlessness. The are moving from being socially engaged, to survival mode. Then they can’t see, hear or perceive you anymore, other than as a potential threat.
The difference between calming signals and appeasing/pleasing/fawning is the level of distress. When a human is moving towards appeasing/pleasing/fawning behaviors they move into what we call fear. With other beings, we do not know if they experience fear (fear being a human emotional concept), but they do experience a negative affective state. They experience discomfort. Still being in a state able to send calming signals, the distress level is there, but low, there is room for choice and agency. Once the being moves into appeasing/pleasing/fawning, the choice is gone. And with it, their (sense of) agency.
When I say, I am sorry, I am sorry, I am sorry, and look down – I am not choosing my behaviors. It is a survival mechanism. I will promise not to do whatever I did wrong again, I will try to figure out what could distract you, make you less upset, more happy again (if you see a dog in front of you right now...). I am not doing this as cognitive choices. Appeasing/pleasing/fawning is an innate, inbuilt survival behavior and probably fortified as a learned behavior; it is a stress response to perceived threats. I can’t talk myself out of them or be talked out of them.
If you do not de-escalate when I do that, I will go further into survival mode.
Scare me, and I am not there to talk to you.
It is a simple as that.
And yes. I am “difficult” because I am so easily scared. Probably as a result of genetics and experiences.
I am probably super highly sensitive in my genetic make-up, and it has been fortified by experience. The result of this mix is a survival expert. But it is not the most beneficial thing to be in an everyday modern society.
If you feel a need to make a point with me, not listening to my request for you to de-escalate, I will perceive your anger, upsetness, annoyance, discontentment with me, but I will not understand what you say. I am by then not socially available to you, neither am I cognitively available to you.
Next important thing.
DO NOT TRY TO CO-REGULATE ME WITHOUT CONSENT.
What do you first to when you want to calm someone else down? YOU CALM YOURSELF DOWN.
What is the next step? If you are calm, and still want to help me calm down, you check if I am in a place of wanting to calm down or being able to calm down.
IT CAN BE VERY DISRESPECTUL TO TRY TO CALM SOMEONE DOWN.
What I need when I am upset is primarily not to calm down. I am not looking for co-regulation. I am however, if you are wanting to be around me when I am upset, looking for RESPECT FOR MY NERVOUS SYSTEM. Which means also – perhaps primarily – respect for my agency, right to choose, right to voice myself (or find my voice). And I right to have my emotions. They might look exaggerated, strong, too much, to you. But they are mine. You have no right to calm me down because my emotions are upsetting to you. Ask yourself, am I hurting myself having them? If the answer is no, let me have them.
You have heard it before “Never in the history of calming down has anyone calmed down by being told to calm down” Which is what you do when you go in with a need to co-regulate someone else.
So ask yourself? Where does that need come from? To calm someone else down? Are you afraid of having your own state becoming more dys-reguated? Who are you trying to help? Are you trying to protect me from my emotions, or yourself from yours? Or mine? Same goes with anyone of course, human or horse.
I want to add here. A dys-regulated person might look for co-regulation, but it needs to be done with respect, for them. I am not saying leave them to their own devices, I am saying stay calming yourself down, try to understand what the other need. Try out different things. Be flexible. Stay listening. Modulate your responses. Don’t get stuck in your paradigms. Check if what you see/hear is a request of letting out/go of emotions in a safe space and way, or a help to calm down.
Horse people pride themselves with their ability to calm a horse down. Where does this idea come from? That calming down horses is so important? If you are not in an environment where he can hurt himself (don’t be in such environments to your best ability), his distress is not dangerous. He moves into survival mode to take care of himself. Stay out. Take care of yourself. Calm yourself down. First. If you can’t, keep on staying out. If you can calm yourself down, and the horse is e.g. trapped with a hoof in a fence, focus all your calming down on yourself. Then do your work.
You cannot co-regulate someone else that does not trust you, you can calm yourself so the other can co-regulate with you. If there is trust, you can co-regulate the other. If you have consent to do that. If you can read the response, knows how to regulate your own out-going regulatory behaviors, if you can stop, give time to the other to adjust.
This is the language of keeping safe, of regulating, of communicating trust.
It takes time to build that consent. It is easily broken when you lose patience and let your annoyance, frustration, anger, disappointment ect take over and govern what you send out.
Patience is the key.
Which is why clinics which shows buidling trust, breaking a horse, creating connection... or anything similar, is just circus tricks.
Trying to co-regulate someone who has not given their consent – is a violation. Is manipulation. And it is, imo, questionable who you are doing it for. To avoid your own discomfort, to have power over, to prove that you can (to yourself, or on-lookers, I think that is very common with horse people who feel peer pressure and need to prove their horse skills).
Know that what you consider being co-regulatory behaviors, can mean something totally different to the one you are trying to co-regulate, so do not only seek consent. Seek consent of HOW YOU ARE DOING IT.
I am super sensitive to touch, sounds like breathing, I cannot be “rocked, moved or held into calmness by someone.
If I have gone into pleasing/appeasing/fawn, what helps me is to find my own inner rhythm. I can’t do that if I need to focus on de-escalating you.
Know also that I read only your body language, your tone of voice (pitch, timbre, warmth etc) – I do not hear your words.
I need to move. I need to move myself. Now, guess, now easy is that to do in public, where an adult rocking, walking in circles, tapping, stroking herself – repetitively will be seen as – to put it mildly – odd…
The way you can help me is by doing this with me, if you do it with respect. If you stay calm, if you can disregard your own discomfort. I am having problems usually, to allow myself to do what I need to do, what you can do is help me feel less shame, to forget the “social norm”. That would be building trust with me. Am I regressing into a kid state? Or am I having a severely sensitive nervous system? Am I triggered and having a flashback, am I having an emotional melt-down? Does it matter? For me, it is often a mix. Can I tell you which, in the moment? No. probably not.
After I have tried the appeasing/pleasing/fawning, which is not always something I do, but if I do, I will then move into flight, usually. Sometimes I go directly for flight (I am a “runner”). Occasionally fight (a pretty rare thing for me). Sometimes, quite often, I go into different kinds of freeze (the active one, or the non-active one). Often I shift between these states.
I picked that up already as a kid, that it was an abnormal thing to use movement to calm myself down. Without being able to do that, I instead often dissociate(d). It will make me appear to be calm, but if you can read dissociation, you will notice that I am slightly numbed out, not fully there. Which means I can appear very grounded, collected, calm etc. And I will be very compliant. When I am in that state – many people appreciate me. This is the version of me they like. Not the other one, not the one where I am me. Openly stating, showing my fears, taking care of them by moving myself. That, to most people, look disruptive, disturbing, “sick”. When all I am doing is tending to my nervous system in the way I need to do it. Does it make me less of a sensible human?
I would argue yes. Not saying that because that is how I want it to be. I am saying that based on experience. Based on what is communicated to me. If I want to belong, I need to “behave”. I behave by dissociating. Then I am allowed to belong.
I want to repeat something important. Co-regulating someone else without consent – is a violation.
I am going to be “rude” and point something out. Someone being sexually attacked, abused, violated, is experiencing someone else taking the right to regulate their own nervous system, calming themselves down, by using another person. Abusing another is a form of self-regulating, self-soothing, self-calming, self-empowering. It is using another person for their own needs.
So again, why do you need to regulate someone who does not appear to be calm? If there is a slight detection of you doing it for your own sake, don’t do it. Simply let the person, or being, have their emotions, or affects. Don’t try to change someone else’s emotions or affects out of your own needs (or because you read about it in a therapy book). That will be perceived as manipulation.
I think of horses too. Their need to move when in distress, and peoples need to keep them still. If we want beings to be able to calm down, we need to let them move. Calmness does not come from enforced stillness. The stillness you see after enforced stillness, is not calmness, it is numbness. It is a giving up. It is an overstimulated nervous system that has gone into shut down.
ALL STILLNESS IS NOT CALMNESS.
But also know the paradox. The ones not in a position to trust another being, to be co-regulated, for whatever reasons, do not lack the need of social bonding (mostly). All social beings have the same social needs of touch, being seen, heard, included, feeling that they contribute, we are just differently able to receive it. The need is there. To ignore it is not to be respectful either. To modulate your response is.
Co-regulation is a necessity for all social species. Our sense of safety is dependent on it. But not everyone can co-regulate in the same ways, not everyone can trust and let someone else co-regulate them, and the most sensitive ones will pick op on the slightest intention in you that does not feel congruent or genuine. And your attempts will only feel manipulative, no matter what you intend to signal. You can’t decide to signal calmness. It is not a technique (as connection never can be – which is also a hugely misunderstood topic, more in another post).
There are very few people who can touch me without sending me into dys-regulation (probably the opposite of what you intended). But most animals can (if they are not trained into not listening to themselves).
Also know that in my life history I have been manipulated into all kinds of various states. I do not respond well to people manipulating me. And I am not special in this. We are a lot of dys-regulated “souls” “out there”. Even if your intent is good, make sure your intent is received the way you intended it to. Ask questions.
And some ending statements.
Looking calm, even feeling calm, is not the same as being calm. Many people who are calmed by someone else, will think they are calm when they just numbed out. They also often want to comply, they will pretend to be calm to protect “the other” and his/her feelings. Or they will not even know what calm is.
To allow for co-regulation is to show a really high level of trust (emotional, affective, non-cognitive trust) break that trust, and the violation is huge. The damage done enormous. Which is why grooming someone into trust and then breaking it is such a violent and harmful thing to do. That causes betrayal traumas, as in contrast to rape or other forms of attacks that creates temporary dysregulation but does not include a breaking of a close social agreement (on partner, friendship, therapist, parent level). Rape or other forms of attacks breaks a social contract. It violates my right to move freely in the world. Grooming violates my right to build trusting relationships.
Bonding is a diverse and very complex mechanism – and some of it overlap between species, but some don’t. But a common rule, I think, in all species is, don’t move to fast when building your relationship, don’t violate. Listen, calming signals and appeasing/pleasing/fawning behaviors/language are pretty easy to spot once you understand them. Not de-escalating when they are communicated will prolong the building of trust or making it impossible. That is just how it is, it does not matter whatever you feel and think about it. You can not force anyone to trust you. And if you break trust often enough, it will stop to be repairable.
PS. I am not dumber than I realize that I have the same responsibilities as anyone else. I too need to check if my intent is perceived the way I intended my message to come through. I know I fail often. I am just starting to realize how much of this I am not good at. I am learning to get to know my own nervous system. I am learning how I can better hear my own inner voices. I am learning how easily drowned out they are by outer overwhelming stimuli, but my social fears. I have a strong need to surround myself with patient and kind people, so I can develop a sense of safety. I am openly sharing my processes around all this. If you don’t like it, don’t read. If it feels like oversharing to you, stay away. My sense of integrity does not come from hiding or staying silent, it comes from staying true to myself. Listening to myself. And when I listen to myself, I hear my needs to communicate my thoughts, feelings and experiences.
If you feel a need to judge me, I don’t feel a need to hear that. But as always – I love open, honest, curious discussions and I am very open to constructive feedback. I do not seek pity, saving or a “free ticket” from taking responsibility for anything related to me or my life, my choices, my actions, what I voice. If that is what you hear, that is on you. And yes, this last part is a bit defensive. I have received so much critique lately for how I function, I feel a bit sad and tired over that. If you read this far. That was very likely not coming from you. 🧡
Text and picture are copyright protected © Katarina Lundgren 2021
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