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Jul 03 2014

All About Self-Regulation – Learning To Manage The Hot and Cold of PTSD (Pendulation Article 2)

As I wrote in Pendulation Article 1, I have been doing the Pendulation Exercise lately because of dealing with a lot of triggers.

Here are some of my own results from doing the Pendulation Exercise:

  • Sometimes after about 10 minutes of doing Pendulation I feel a 30% reduction of activation.
  • Sometimes there is a moment when I feel a shift into neutral occur, as if my system has gone back into more of a neutral state.
  • Sometimes I start to breath more deeply and realize I had been breathing in a highly stressed, shallow, quick manner.
  • Sometimes I feel a surge of emotion that passes quickly.
  • Sometimes I feel lighter and more positive inside.

If you experience things like this – reduction of activation, shift into neutral, breathing more deeply, surge of emotion, lighter and more positive – these are signs that you have regulated your own state; you have just done “self-regulation.”

Self-Regulation is a Type of Self-Resourcing. Self-resourcing is any way one consciously acts as one’s own resource in terms of managing and handling various symptoms. There are many types of self-resourcing. Self-regulation is one type.

From Wikipedia: “‘Pendulation’ refers to the movement between regulation and dysregulation. The client is helped to move to a state where he or she is dysregulated (i.e. is aroused or frozen as is often demonstrated by physical symptoms such as pain or numbness) and then helped to return to a state of regulation. This process is done iteratively [using repetition]. The goal is to allow the client to resolve the difficulties, both physical and mental, caused by the trauma.”

Dysregulation is when the nervous system is in activation (fight, flight) or immobility (freeze) and experiencing related emotional states and/or physical symptoms.

Self-regulation is the act of regulating, reducing and resolving our dysregulation through our own decision, skill and willpower. After some time of doing pendulation and building inner links or inner connectivity between Activated parts of oneself to Resources, the traumatized parts may relax and calm down, and the frozen/immobilized parts may begin to melt and come alive again.

Self-regulation helps us get a handle on both the “hot and cold” of PTSD – the activated states of hyperarousal and terror which are like being highly charged with electricity or heat – and the frozen states of immobility and numbness which are like being a frozen over lake:

Hot and Cold of PTSD

Notice that in the above image there is a peaceful meditating Buddha behind the terror and chaos, and a living passionate heart behind the frozen ice heart…I guess I’m hoping to be able to find these lost parts of myself eventually by putting a lot of effort into doing my Somatic Experiencing exercises. I hope that by learning to self-regulate more and more I can stop drowning in the fear – although sometimes it’s impossible to self-regulate if the fear is too intense, I will acknowledge that.

Here is an analogy to help clarify the concept of self-regulation:

The Little Car that Couldn’t & The Little Car that Could

The Little Car That Couldn’t Shift Down. Imagine you are driving a stick shift car in high gear all the time, and you have forgotten how to downshift the gears into neutral. Self-regulation is relearning how to down-shift, so you are able to ratchet down the level of anxiety bit by bit into neutral gear, the resting state or the natural state of “calm alertness” wild animals exhibit after they naturally release trauma. The Little Car That Couldn’t Shift Down is stuck in high gear because it is Activated:

Activation: Any emotion or physical sensation arising from the fight and flight response to trauma — alarm, terror, hyperarousal, upset, tension, anxiety, disgust, anger, dizziness, discomfort, guilt, physical pains, shock, horror.

The Little Car That Couldn't Shift Down

The Little Car That Couldn’t Start. Another problem is a car that won’t respond to anything, but is completely still and motionless no matter what you do because it is in a frozen state. In this case, we need to access life energy – i.e. learn to turn the car on and recover the car’s access to gas (energy). If we are frozen, we need to recover access to our: interest in and caring about things, emotions, life force, life energy, enthusiasm, varied reactions to things happening in the moment, engagement in the present time, passion, likes and dislikes. We can also gradually recover the ability to shift through the gears of the car smoothly and easily to manage the energy in the way that will serve us best in each moment.

This car has a few more problems than just being frozen, but you get the idea…

The Little Car That Couldn't Start

The Little Car That Could Move Between All States

As I understand it, as we do pendulation and learn more and more how to self-regulate, we gain the ability to stop, go into neutral, and even move into higher gears consciously and safely. We can freely move to wherever we desire, based on what is needed at the time, without getting stuck anywhere. We become the Little Car That Could Move Between All States:

The Little Car That Could Move Between All States

Thank you for reading! And I wish you the very best on your healing journey.

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Heidi Hanson is an artist and writer in Asheville, North Carolina currently working on an illustrated book chronicling her journey healing from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.