An important part of psychological well-being is healthy self-soothing. Being able to calm yourself down is important. When someone feels too much anger, he may yell, curse, or hit someone else. Acting out our emotions destructively is one consequence of poor emotional regulation. Another way of dealing with painful emotions is to try to numb ourselves with alcohol or other drugs. Many problems result from our inability to regulate our feelings well.
When we are born, we rely on our mother (or primary caregivers) to calm down. Our brain is designed to rely on interactions with others to find balance and adjust to surrounding circumstances. Early in life, infants need connections to caregivers in order to develop healthy brain function. The interactions between the child and parent enable the child to achieve balance or regulation within her own mind. Interactions with caregivers allow the child’s brain to develop the structures necessary to move from emotional regulation with a parent to more independent forms of emotional regulation.
When children who are infants, toddlers, and preschoolers experience healthy emotional regulation in their relationships with their mom, they become school children who are seen by peers and teachers as likeable. These children also perform well in school, show good social skills, and act in ways that build their relationships with others. But children with poor emotion socialization have difficulty in peer relationships, have trouble in school, and are at risk for emotional problems such as anxiety and depression during their childhood. These effects persist into adulthood.
Children need environments, like home and school, where they can be emotionally expressive. Children need parents who express their emotions, but do not overwhelm their children. A mother’s emotions have a powerful influence on her child’s emotional development. Children benefit when mothers talk about their own emotions. When their children are emotional, mothers who avoid yelling and punishing and provide positive responses to their children, enable their children understand their emotions better. Children also need their emotions to be accepted. When children are raised in an environment where they learn to explore their own emotions, and they learn to make connections between their emotional experience and events they see. They are able to understand their emotions in various situations.
After they reach school age, children who assess and process emotional information will in turn respond more appropriately to others and have skills that promote their own emotion self-soothing. The more emotional intelligence that children have, the greater their empathy they have with peers. These children also behave in ways that promote relationships, and they are more popular. The children who can identify their emotions and who self-sooth them well are seen as more likable and more prosocial in relationships with their peers. These early emotional experiences are a foundation for emotional intelligence.
When we are feeling highly emotional, we are in a state of emotional imbalance. An event with the people or events around us can trigger an emotional reaction. These emotional reactions are made more likely by past experiences that created vulnerabilities within the individual. These vulnerabilities are embedded in our memory and directly influence our thoughts, feelings, and choices.
Our emotions and affect influence what we see and hear. Our perceptions can be changed by the affect being experienced by the perceiver. “An affect oriented clinician can help a client more accurately perceive his environments by teaching him (Affect Management Skills Training) AMST skills to regulate his affect,” writes Dr. John Omaha.
The development of affect regulation, enables the emergence of a strong sense of self. When one has poor sense of self, he will not be able to self-soothe well. An adult with a strong sense of self is able to manage disturbing events and respond quickly to stressful demands. She will be able to remain self-aware during a disturbing event. This optimally functioning adult will be flexible, highly skillful, and self-aware in the area of emotions and affect. She will genuinely and with authority increase positive emotions, like joy, and calm negative emotions, like shame. This has been called a self-reflective function. Self-soothing with be accomplished by making use of inner images of safety, soothing, validation, and affirmation. The optimally functioning adult will not use alcohol, other drugs, food, sex, relationship, or work to numb out emotions. They will manifest vitality and will pursue the goals she sets for herself with energy and persistence. Please watch this video and learn about healthy emotional regulation from Dr. John Omaha:
What if we could just make our pain disappear? This may seem only a fantasy, when we are struggling with painful depression or feeling overwhelmed with anxiety. Yet we are all born with the ability to calm ourselves. Some of us develop these emotional regulation skills better than others. The good news is that we can learn skills as we grow into adolescence and adulthood to sooth our painful feelings.
Our affects are biological. These affects include joy, startle, fear, anger, sadness, shame, and disgust. These affects are part of the hard-wiring of our brains. Affects are universal. Our nervous system sends signals all over the body which change our heart rate, muscles, and perspiration. These affects are part of human life for all of us on the planet earth.
Our affect becomes a feeling when we are aware of the affect. When I notice my ear feeling hot, I am experiencing shame as a feeling. As affects are repeatedly experienced through our lives, they get associated with memories, thoughts, and images. Nathanson writes, “affect is biology, emotion is biography.” The story we tell our friends, families and ourselves about the feelings that we experience is our emotion.
The first memory that I have is of being in the garage of my family’s new house on Wagman Drive in San Jose, California, USA. It was 1966, and I was 3 years old. I feel joy when I think of this memory. The affect of joy is linked to my memory in the garage and thoughts of my early life with my parents and older brother and sister. This is an example of an explicit memory.
We also have implicit memories. I may have implicit memories about my adoption, although I was adopted when I was only a day old. These adoption memories are connected to sadness and fear. When something happens that reminds me of my adoption, I may feel sad or afraid. These are the ways that neural networks are formed in the brain and throughout the body. Yet it is possible to change these responses with Affect Management Skills Training (AMST).
We can learn to down-regulate distressing emotions and affect by using the Disposal Skill. The Disposal Resource is done by imagining standing at the kitchen sink and throwing the upsetting emotion down the drain. This implies a reduction in the intensity of the painful emotion, such as anger or shame. “The disposal resource may be represented by a sink disposal unit, a garbage disposal, a black hole, and a bottomless pit,” writes John Omaha.
As children, we begin to learn to calm ourselves. The better our mother, father, or other caregivers, regulate their affect, the better we acquire the ability to self-soothe. If we learn a healthy sense of shame as a child, we are able to see our limits and set healthy limits for ourselves. If our father is alcoholic, we may develop difficulty stopping self-destructive behavior, like drinking or overeating. Unhealthy shame leads us to feel worthless and is the most painful emotion we can experience.
The good news is that our mind can change our brain. We can form new neural pathways in our brains. AMST enables us to form new ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving by learning skills to calm our emotions and affect as well as balance our brain. Please watch this video and learn to down-regulate painful emotions:
Note: It is helpful to use the Butterfly Hug when using the Disposal Skill. You can watch the video below on the Butterfly Hug for instructions on how to use it:
Do you feel afraid too much? Do you have difficulty trusting people close to you?
The Safe Place Skill is an important part of Affect Management Skills Training (AMST). The Safe Place Skill and the Container Skill provide a foundation for our future healing and our development throughout our lives. When we lack the skill of trust, we are limited in our work and relationships. Yet when we are able to reclaim our ability to experience authentic containment of disturbing memories and a general feeling of calm, our life changes.
In our early life as a baby, we had the opportunity to develop a secure attachment with our mother. If we formed a secure attachment, our life had a strong psychological foundation upon which to build. In essence, we are developing a sense of safety in our early experience with our mother. Some of us have only a grandmother, father, or foster mom who raises us, but the challenge is still the same. Our task is to develop a healthy sense of safety.
When we feel safe at the appropriate times, we are able to venture out from our mother figure and experience the world independently. If we do experience the sensation of safety when we are in fact safe, it affects how we think and the choices we make. The relationships we develop are different, because we do not feel safe at the appropriate times.
When we have a well developed skill of trust, we are able to identify who is dangerous and who is safe. We can feel sensations in our body that help us distinguish situations and people that are unsafe. This is a skill that can save our life. We need to know who to trust and how much.
There is an important difference between feeling numb or feeling calm or neutral. Some people suffer from Alexithymia which is the inability to recognize emotions and express feelings with words. They feel numb.
We have implicit and explicit memories. When we have an explicit memory, we are aware of the past event and feel the emotions related to the memory. An implicit memory is a real event that we are not aware of as it effects our emotions. We see a dog and our heart beats rapidly, because we were bit by a dog in the past. Yet we may have no idea that we are feeling afraid. This is an example of an implicit memory.
Of course, ninety-five percent of our thinking is subconscious, below the level of the thoughts of which we are aware. Many thoughts are affecting us that are hidden from our conscious mind.
The Safe Place Skill can be used to soothe ourselves in situations that are stressful in daily life. It also can be used to learn to consciously induce the relaxation response. The relaxation response is our body’s ability to calm itself down. Affect Centered Therapy can rapidly enable us to feel safe and contain our worries. In this video, I demonstrate the Safe Place Skill, please watch and learn for yourself:
Do you worry too much? When our minds will not stop with its their endless negative thoughts, it can be really upsetting. Affect Management Skills Training (AMST) is a type of therapy that has a remedy for worry. When we have upsetting memories that will not stop, there is a skill to empower yourself to change it. “The mind can change the brain,” says Dr. Daniel Siegel.
During the container skill, we imagine a container that will hold every disturbing thing. The goal of the Container Skill is to wall off the memories of harmful experiences and the unpleasant overwhelming emotions connected to them.
AMST uses imagery as well as techniques to activate both the right and left sides of the brain. This enables one to be in a whole brain state which enables one to see reality from a clearer vantage point. When we see things more as they are we think, feel and act differently.
The Butterfly Hug is one of many techniques used to activate both the left and right sides of the brain. The activation of both the left and right hemispheres of the brain is called, Bilateral Brain Stimulation. In her book, “Getting Past Your Past,” Dr. Shapiro recommends crossing “your arms in front of you with your right hand on your left shoulder and your left hand on your right. Then, you tap your hands alternately on each shoulder slowly four to six times.”
Dr. John Omaha, creator of “Affect Centered Therapy,” says that he demonstrates the Butterfly Hug to clients without emphasizing any particular speed and pressure of the tapping. He said he figures that each client will find the best rate and strength of touch that works for them.
Francine Shapiro suggests another technique to activate both sides of the brain: “alternate tapping your thighs (with the tips of your right index finger, then left index finger) at the same slow speed for the same for length of time (as she suggests above for the Butterfly Hug).”
AMST not only used Bilateral Brain Stimulation, but also uses symbols to influence the subconscious mind. The language of the subconscious is dreams. Advertisers and film producers know how to use the power of symbols. Commercials on television and on the internet motivate people to buy products. We can learn to use images to motivate ourselves. If we wish to use religious or spiritual images, AMST has the means to do so.
By rehearsing these skills of emotional regulation when our upsetting emotions are at a lower level, we develop mastery. Just like a musical instrument or a sport, the more we practice the skills, the better we perform. Please watch this video and learn how to use the container skill from AMST.