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Co-regulation: Our need for trustworthy others.

And ... the benefit you have when you missed co-regulation as a child.

Benefit??? I hear you thinking... yes, indeed, benefit 😊

What is co-regulation?

The process by which a trusted other, someone with whom we have a warm relationship, supports us in regulating our nervous system in moments of stress and uncertainty is called co-regulation.

This trusted other, from a respectful calmness and a trust in the outside world and oneself (one's own calm nervous system), is going to help us calm or regulate our nervous system.

What if we did not know co-regulation or not enough co-regulation as children? Are we then doomed to failure?

From birth, we need co-regulation. Trustworthy others (adults, parents, grandparents, ....) who can give us a sense of confidence in a new, scary, uncertain world. From this co-regulation, we gradually learn self-regulation. Before the age of about 6, there is no real self-regulation. This is because the part of the brain needed for this (pre-frontal cortex) is not yet sufficiently developed.

This scientific fact supports the criticism of the recommendation, formerly more than now, by pediatricians for new-born parents to let their baby cry out when he or she does not want to sleep. In doing so, parents are advised to put their baby to bed in a separate room, pull the door shut and wait until the child finally stops crying from sheer exhaustion and falls asleep. This teaches the baby that no matter how scary and stressful the world is, that there is no one to come to the rescue and provide warmth, trust and security. The nervous system comes under constant pressure. Anything but much-needed co-regulation, in other words.

Co-regulation (proximity of trusted and affectionate others) during infancy and childhood provides a good foundation for self-regulation in adults. Does that mean that as adults we no longer need co-regulation? No, even as adults we permanently have co-regulators in our lives.

Imagine you find yourself in a stressful situation, or receive bad news. Who would you call first and ask for help, to share your grief or to vent your heart? That's your co-regulator No. 1. And if this person doesn't answer, who would you call? That's your co-regulator No. 2. In this way, you can identify at least 3 to 6 people who are your co-regulators.

Partners in a romantic relationship are usually each other's co-regulators. Parents are usually continuing co-regulators of their children, even when they are already adults. Babysitting your grandchildren (when they are sick) so your son or daughter can go to work is co-regulation. Giving financial support when your son or daughter is going to renovate his or her house is co-regulation. So co-regulation is not limited to emotional support.

What if we have known no or not enough co-regulation as children? Are we then doomed to failure? No, fortunately not 😊 In fact, I see a positive side in this.

When we experienced no or not enough co-regulation as a child, we have less well-developed self-regulation. As a result, we are going to have a greater need for co-regulation, which we will then usually seek from our partner in romantic relationships. If we do not fall into the trap of 'positive-oedipal partner choice' (choosing a partner who is the same as one of your non-co-regulating parents) and we choose a partner who is capable of healthy co-regulation, then our need for extra co-regulation can make our relationship all the more solid. May sound a bit contradictory but it is not.

In many relationships, after a few years, a subcutaneous irritation builds up that is pernicious to the long-term well-being of the partners. The irritations overshadow each other's positive attributes. But if we have a higher need for co-regulation, having these deep irritations is almost impossible. Because this need makes a positive image of our partner and a sense of well-being with our partner indispensable. And this is precisely the foundation that averts irritations in the long run and promotes trust in each other.

One condition, of course, is that we choose a partner who does not have narcissistic traits and possesses a healthy and balanced attachment style (for more info, see STEP 4 of the 8-Step-Transformation).

Now does that mean that not co-regulating your child is a good thing? No, not at all. Raising your child into a self-regulating adult with a healthy attachment style is still the goal. Because it is these adults who have the power to be the co-regulator of their partner and their children, and have the greatest chance of a happy life for themselves and their family.



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