Mastering Your Emotions: Recognizing the Fine Line Between Regulation and Dysregulation

Regulate emotions

Let’s Talk About Regulating Emotions

A big part of my therapy practice is helping people understand the difference between being regulated and being dysregulated.

In the complex process of our daily lives, we experience a range of emotions, situations, and stressors. Our ability to navigate these emotions with composure and resilience is closely tied to the state of our nervous system. This is where the concepts of being “regulated” and “dysregulated” come into play. Understanding the difference between these states is crucial in achieving emotional well-being and self-awareness.

Being Regulated: The State of Balance

Being regulated is a state in which our nervous system is functioning optimally. I call this state being in Self. In this state, we are equipped to respond to life’s challenges calmly and effectively. Here are some key characteristics of being regulated:

1. Emotional Balance:

Emotions are felt and expressed in a healthy and manageable way. We can experience joy, sadness, anger, or fear without being overwhelmed. We aren’t avoiding or stuffing emotions; nor are we over reacting to our emotions. We know what we are feeling and can express our emotions in a constructive way.

2. Resilience:

We adapt to stressors and bounce back from adversity. Challenges are opportunities for growth rather than insurmountable obstacles. For example, maybe our partner says something unkind to us. It doesn’t throw us into a negative spiral and down to the trigger swamp. We respond skillfully and move on.

3. Self-Discipline:

We know good coping strategies and tools to manage stress, anxiety, and other emotional responses. And we use them. 😀 When unbalanced we take a deep breathe or go on a walk to get back in balance and allow our system to come back to clarity before we try to address an issue.

4. Connection:

We can maintain healthy relationships, as our emotional stability allows us to communicate and connect with others effectively. We can share authentically with others regardless of our emotional state. Our inside state matches our outside expressions. In other words, we are in alignment.

5. Focus and Clarity:

Our cognitive functions are sharp, allowing us to concentrate, make decisions, and problem-solve with ease. We know what is happening in our system and it makes sense.

Being Dysregulated: The State of Imbalance

Being dysregulated, on the other hand, signifies a state of imbalance within the nervous system. It often results from an overload of stress, trauma, or other external factors that disrupt our emotional equilibrium. Here are some common signs of being dysregulated:

1. Emotional Overwhelm:

Emotions can become intense, unmanageable and flood our system. This may lead to frequent outbursts, mood swings, or emotional shutdowns.

2. Reduced Resilience:

In this state, we may struggle to cope with even minor stressors, leading to feelings of helplessness or hopelessness.

3. Ineffective coping skills:

We think controlling circumstances is the way to manage emotions. We lack the skills to manage life when things don’t go as planned. Dysregulation often results in poor impulse control, which can manifest as impulsive behaviors, addiction, or self-destructive actions.

4. Strained Relationships:

Dysregulation can strain relationships as emotional volatility and communication difficulties can make it challenging to connect with others. We find ourselves shutting down and withdrawing or overreacting.

5. Cognitive Fog:

Dysregulation can cloud our thinking, making it difficult to concentrate, remember things, or make sound decisions.

The Journey Towards Regulation

Understanding the difference between being regulated and dysregulated is the first step toward achieving emotional balance. Just check in with yourself right now. Are you regulated? Or Dysregulated? No matter what the answer is, it’s ok. Knowing how to recognize your internal state is the first step to mastering your emotions. It’s important to recognize that everyone experiences moments of dysregulation from time to time; it’s a natural response to life’s ups and downs. Next time I’ll share some strategies to help regulate our nervous system and move from dysregulation to regulation.

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Lee LeGrice, Ph.D.

Dr. Lee LeGrice is a psychotherapist with offices in Denver, Colorado, and Fort Worth, Texas. In her practice, she focuses on two main areas: relationships and anxiety. A specialty of hers is helping people create safe, secure, loving relationships. 

Let’s face it, relationships are challenging! Healthy relationships don’t just happen, they take work! She feels passionate about putting attachment theory into practice for herself and her clients. And she wants the same for you.