PTSD and Dysregulation

If you have been following me for a while, then you know I talk about this a LOT. Gone are the days when we can think it’s okay for children to be raised in homes where there is violence, abuse, neglect and mental health issues and that the children ‘will just sort themselves out’. 

Or worse, “if the children are resilient enough, then they will be fine”. This is a total misunderstanding of how resilience develops. A considerable part of resilience comes from the ability to self-regulate. It is the ability to have something stressful happen, move out of your window of tolerance and then bring yourself back into your window. 

When you have grown up with instability or worse, the fact is that your window of tolerance is narrower than someone who has grown up in an attuned environment. 

To learn self-regulation, we first need to experience co-regulation. This is what it feels like to be soothed by another person. If our primary caregiver is in a domestic violence situation and is unsafe, how can they effectively use their nervous system to calm a child down? They can’t because their nervous system is constantly in a state of activation. 

These children arrive in the world as teenagers who have less tolerance for stress and lower self-regulating ability.

When I meet parents in the Relationship Cycle Breakers Course who are working to change these patterns, it gives me hope for our children’s future.

“When post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) first made it into the diagnostic manuals, we only focused on dramatic incidents like rapes, assaults, or accidents to explain the origins of the emotional breakdowns in our patients. Gradually, we came to understand that the most severe dysregulation occurred in people who, as children, lacked a consistent caregiver” (Van Der Kolk, in Porges, 2011: xi-xii)