When being with my family feels like being in a tank of piranhas, there’s a fair chance I’m perceiving threat.
We talk about self-regulation as a means of returning to felt safety but sometimes it’s a much deeper process then just relaxing our muscles.
Here’s one variation:
- I use interoception (body awareness/bottom-up regulation) to relax my constricted muscles.
- Then I use neuroception (top-down regulation) to remind myself “this might be a difficult moment, but I am safe.”
- I pendulate back to interoception to check in, are my body and brain congruent? (both experiencing safety cues, accepting and not fighting this experience?).
- I sense some tension. Part of me is still feeling trapped, activating my mid-brain and limbic system, generating symptoms.
- I reach out for relational connection to soothe that part, activating the social engagement system and stimulating the vagus nerve.
- I pendulate back to neuroception. I actively chose to move into this situation, not avoid it. I remind myself of my resources and capacities.
Sometimes I can do this in a few seconds.
Sometimes it’s minutes or hours depending on how deeply triggered I am. No longer does it take days, and I celebrate that growth.
In this process each fail is a success as it facilitates the desensitization of my past trauma and present triggers.