Co-Regulation – We Just Can't Do It Alone!Sep 09, 2023
We humans are social animals.
Our social nature is a defining aspect of our species.
Our ability to form and maintain positive social connections is integral to our emotional and psychological well-being.
It’s also central to our capacity to thrive and adapt in a diverse and interconnected world.
But even more than that – in a very real sense, ‘I’ am always a ‘we’.
Our very self is constituted relationally.
We are an open circuit, completed only in relationship with others.
The idea that we are all separate selves wandering about trying to optimise our private experience as best we can is a total delusion.
Of course, it can feel like we are, and our world is in many ways designed to reinforce the delusion.
But scratch the surface a little and we find our fundamental reciprocity with others.
And nowhere is this reciprocity more evident than in the ways we can come together to co-regulate our nervous systems.
Co-regulation as a natural part of life
So far in this 'Core Teachings' series we’ve focused on self-regulation – how we can regulate our own nervous systems.
Co-regulation refers to a collaborative and interactive process where we come together with others to mutually regulate each other.
Co-regulation actually happens naturally and as a normal part of social life.
It is an essential aspect of healthy social interactions and relationships:
A parent holding and comforting a crying child, helping the child regulate their emotions and feel safe…
A friend listening with empathy as their friend tells them about an issue they’re having trouble with…
A partner providing emotional support and understanding to their loved one during times of stress or sadness…
These are everyday forms of co-regulation which naturally arise between people who are well attuned to each other.
But co-regulation can also be approached more intentionally.
Once we start bringing intentionality and a bottom-up somatic approach to self-regulation, we can do the same thing for co-regulation.
And this takes somatic resourcing to a whole new level.
Because of our intrinsically social nature, somatic co-regulation can be even more powerful than self-regulation.
But the best way to prepare for a co-regulation practice is to gain a good grounding in somatic empowerment – learning to track your arousal states and make friends with your nervous system, applying somatic resourcing techniques when needed, and deepening your general sense embodied presence.
Without this grounding, co-regulation can actually be quite scary, especially for anyone with a history of relational trauma.
Also, without a strong focus on the somatic element, co-regulation between people who tend towards a mind-based approach to life can quickly get lost in stories.
So, conscious co-regulation should involve this level of preparation.
It should also be practised with someone who themselves has this level of preparation.
Like self-regulation, co-regulation can be approached as a way to return within the window of tolerance when triggered, and also as a way to build a more robust sense of somatic safety and connection generally.
Below are some examples of somatic co-regulation practices to play with:
Physical Touch: Gentle touch, such as holding hands, hugging, or placing a hand on someone's shoulder, can convey support and comfort, activating the body's relaxation response.
Breath Synchronisation: Engage in breathwork together, where you both focus on deep, rhythmic breathing. Matching breath patterns can promote a sense of connection and calmness.
Mirroring: Observe and mirror the other person's body language and facial expressions. This nonverbal mirroring communicates empathy and helps the other person feel seen and understood.
Co-Regulated Movement: Engage in slow, synchronised movements together, such as walking, swaying, or gentle rocking. This shared movement can create a sense of safety and containment.
Co-Regulated Breathing Touch: Place a hand on the other person's belly or chest as they breathe. Lightly matching the rhythm of their breath can help them feel supported and grounded.
Co-regulation and the growth zones
Establishing a co-regulation practice with someone else who is on the path of somatic empowerment, and building a foundation of safety and trust together, enables you to take the next step together – intentionally playing together in the growth zones.
This is a much safer way of exploring those zones than doing so with others who may not have an understanding of the nature of triggered responses and how to regulate them in themselves and hold space for them in others.
It’s not always assured that one or the other of you won’t tip over into an activated state, but at least if both of you are coming to the practice with understanding and experience, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to keep one foot in the sense of safety as you move into the vulnerable spaces at the edge of the window of tolerance.
Throughout this email series we’ve emphasised the importance of somatic safety for our ability to relate positively with others, to experience genuine intimacy, and to bring as much of ourselves and our full capacity to our lives as possible.
Interestingly, the other side of this coin is that being alive and in connection with others is always at its heart a vulnerable experience.
Vulnerability is the willingness to be open, honest, and emotionally exposed, even in the face of uncertainty or potential emotional risk.
It is the act of showing one's true self, including one's fears, insecurities, and imperfections, without self-defence or pretence.
Vulnerability is therefore a powerful source of genuine connection in relationships.
And so it’s important to be clear that the sense of safety we create on the path of somatic empowerment isn’t meant to make us invulnerable.
It’s meant to create a container in which we can safely let our authentic selves out in the presence of others, to embody all of ourselves – even those parts of us that can feel unacceptable, unlovable, scary, abandoned, too little or too much…
And to do this in a regulated way that respects the boundaries of everyone involved.
In our hearts, we all long to experience love and to forge deep relationships—being fully seen, heard, and felt by the people close to us.
We hope that the teachings in our 'Core Teachings' series have given you a deeper sense that this experience is not something that needs to remain a distant longing.
By cultivating a deeper relationship with your own animal body and making friends with your nervous system, learning to track and regulate your arousal states, and developing a more robust sense of embodied presence, you can develop a strong enough sense of safety to allow you to show up vulnerably and authentically in your relationships, grounded in your body and able to let the truth of yourself enter more fully into connection in love.
This is the beautiful opportunity we all have right now.
This is the work of embodied intimacy.
Want to take it deeper?
If you want to dive deeper into the practice of co-regulation, our ReSource tribe has over 300 members and is a beautifully supportive space in which to play at the edges of your vulnerability among others on a similar journey.
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