Self-regulation is the ability to modify our thoughts, emotions, and impulses.


Self-regulation skills let us become aware of our emotions and our responses to people and situations, and they let us change those as needed. They enable us to control our impulses long enough so we can consider the possible consequences of our actions or come up with alternative actions that would be more appropriate. We become able to do something (that we don't really want to do) and also to stop doing something (that we'd really like to do). Self-regulation can also apply to cognitive functions, such as remembering to pay attention.

We're able to exert this control no matter who is or isn't watching. Self-regulated children are self-disciplined even if the teacher is looking the other way. For this reason, self-regulation is not at all the same thing as obedience or docility. It is something we do for ourselves. We're in charge, not people around us who try to exert control.

What it feels like:

Being able to self-regulate enhances our well-being and makes us better able to deal with problems. We become able to control our fits or rage or despair, to take action that's honest and in line with our values, and to work well with all kinds of people in all kinds of situations. Our goals, our responses, and our modes of expression begin to match up.

What not to do:

Don't beat yourself up if you're less able to self-regulate. If you have CPTSD, a lessened ability to self-regulate is a part of your injury. It's not automatically a fault of character or a weakness.

Don't lose patience with yourself. Learning how to self-regulate takes time.

Don't drive yourself too hard. When you're learning to become more aware of your emotions, listen to your instincts when they tell you that you'd best ease off for a while

What to do:

Gradually and gently become more aware of your emotions and inner states, for example by journaling or practicing mindfulness.

Learn to remain present to your emotions without judging them harshly.

Learn how to choose which situations and/or people you engage with, and how to modify situations and people that trigger a strong negative emotional reaction. Ways of modifying situations are taking a time-out, using conversation-stoppers on difficult topics, or practicing Medium Chill.

When evaluating an emotional event, learn to take a step back and see things as if you were an independent third-person observer. This might also prove helpful to some people during difficult events.

Try out some of the methods that commonly help reduce stress and improve self-regulation. Exercise reduces both emotional distress and the physiological effects of negative emotions, and it improves emotional control. Other things you might give a try are mindful deep breathing, purposely relaxing your body, visualizations, or creative ways of self-expression such as painting or journaling.