City Social Magazine

MAR 2013

City Social Magazine in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

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Page 45 of 67

TM ConFIgurE Your LIFE For FuLFILLMEnT By W. Nicholas Abraham, Ph.D., LPC Many if not most of us struggle with self-regulation. Self-regulation is a key ingredient to not simply controlling aggression, but more importantly, to living with peace of mind and literally, peace of heart. Put simply, we have stress response systems, which sense and send alarms to the brain when something is going wrong. Naturally, we then seek ways to get what we need to lower the sounding alarm. We are unaware as children but during the developmental years, we are educated about the how to regulate our responses; these are what I call the skills of life management. When the mentors (parents, teachers) are empowering, we are encouraged to take an active role in our emotional formation, just as we would with learning the building blocks of mathematics or science. With "good enough" teachers and environments, we actively learn to self-regulate and to release our emotions appropriately. And that's the key word: Appropriate. Given that we are all in different developmental phases, genetically as well as environmental unique, life becomes a constant game. We roll the dice with our responses to search out ways that will protect us as well as care for others. Therefore, what is appropriate will forever be a judgment call that leaves us in existential angst because we are alone in our decisions, but with proper nurturing and confidencebuilding, we can learn to live with them as "good enough." Our stress-response systems can become better organized over time and less hyper-reactive, particularly in the adult years. We can re-parent ourselves. Whether we had or didn't have good enough environments to help us develop skills for managing frustration and tolerating our inability to get what we want or need, we are not "old dogs learning new tricks." We are human beings capable of both unlearning old behaviors and learning new ones. Yes, at any age, we can learn to self-regulate. Starting as early as we possibly can, we can choose to refuse to excuse our actions through genetic predisposition, developmental problems, or parental environment. Regardless of the apparent results of these poor environmental factors (lack of impulsecontrol, hypersensitivity to transitions, and a tendency to overreact to minor challenges or stressors), we can change. What we need most in developing self-regulation is specific praise, new daily structures, good sleeping habits, proper nutrition, exercise, healthy environments in which to experiment with new behaviors, enrichment through the arts, and a healthy community to help us manage the chaotic feelings that will arise as a result of creating a new normal. In doing so, we are able to resolve past wounds that have hindered our self-confidence and write a new chapter in our book of life. The more we develop, the more we are able to deal with the challenges of life. We can learn to adapt to rainy days, to find options when life throws roadblocks, to measure our response against a given situation, and to weigh and discern the value of the response against the consequence. In a very para46 Read us online at doxical way, we give up our control in order to learn how to control in a more healthy way. As we develop, we also begin to tolerate certain levels of stress and anxiety. We begin living more in the moment, in a state of mindfulness of the present, knowing that the feelings will pass, predictability will grow, and resilience will befriend us. With each challenge, we seek the make the next right choice, and the alarm that once went off to protect us now signals us to reward, and with selfreward comes a new pattern and a new pathway to expertise. What was once threatening is now seen as an opportunity for us to become our own Master of Self-Regulation. Here are a few tips for becoming a Master of Self-Regulation: • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Accentuate the positive first, sincerely. Use humor and wit to get through difficult moments. Ask a simple question before behaving: "Am I reacting or am I responding?" Deflate the ego by telling yourself that another's behavior is about them, not you. Always have a plan and stick with it, even if you have to change it from time to time to accommodate the unexpected. Take care of yourself by denying your wants and the immediate need for gratification and tell others no without feeling guilty. Count the times you say yes to others' requests and reward yourself for your kindness. Reflect backward and plan forward. Have courage to confront an issue without confronting the dignity of the person. No calling yourself or others names. Change the environment if you feel you are being triggered to an unhealthy behavior or old response. Rest, relax, unwind, and rewind. No one should always be on alert. Create a habit of looking for options. Walk away and calm down. Have a support group that gives objective feedback. Practice passive listening. As Frank Tygen said, "Your ears will never get you in trouble." Practice active listening, which is being engaged with the speaker and mirroring back what is heard and often what has not been said. I have a quotation in my office that reads "Listening to what is often unsaid." Slow down. If there is ever an example of the need for slowing down, it's American society. We could make this a whole year's resolution instead of a week! Tell yourself that it's not that urgent. Ask yourself, "What's so urgent?" "Can it wait?" "Will it really matter in a few years?" "Is it worth the strain on my heart?" If you answer honestly, you will start laughing again at yourself and get back to being human again. Learn assertiveness skills and become responsible for your actions but not the results. Become aware of the difference between the consequences of your actions and the results of making conscious, reasonable, and healthy choices. Make the best choice you can and then give it over to God. • Develop emotional boundaries. Someone getting angry doesn't mean you have to get angry, too. • Pray the serenity prayer often: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." • Avoid people who bring out your worst without judging them. • Learn to endure suffering and hurt by practicing unpleasant duties. • Practice stewardship. We pass through but once and we don't take it with us. My favorite line is from a preacher, "I ain't never seen a U-Haul on the back of a hearse." • Practice acceptance of things as they are and not as you would have them. • Be direct, not sideways. Don't dump on your children the anger you are experiencing toward your wife or your boss. • Discern between which bridges to close and which ones to repair. • Remember, you are the only one in your life who is always with you. Learn to love and accept yourself, especially your shortcomings. • Always have something to look forward to. Freedom is no longer doing what we think we should do out of compliance to old fears and traumas, freedom is about what we do with what we are given in the here and now, and while we can't control our environment, we are no longer children dependent upon the grownups. Dr. Nicholas Abraham is a writer, speaker, musician, and licensed professional counselor in private practice. He can be reached at

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