Heal for Real Podcast - Episode 100 - Co-Regulation Leads to Self-Regulation

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Everyone say it with me: Co-Regulation leads to self-regulation!

This is a key concept for understanding trauma healing at the nervous system level because it teaches us how we can access neuroplasticity with support from other people who have regulated nervous systems.

In this episode, I talk about

  • What is nervous system regulation exactly? 
  • How does co-regulation lead to self-regulation 
  • The Role of Co-Regulation in Neurodevelopment from the womb onward 
  • Bottom Up Brain Development (Dr Bruce Perry’s neurosequential development theory)
  • Dysregulation, trauma and the healing impact of Co-Regulation
  • The Fruit of the Spirit:How the Gospel makes us naturally more regulated and co-regulated

Scriptures mentioned in the episode: 


Co-Regulation Leads to Self-Regulation

Think about the safest person in your life - the one who you just feel truly safe with.
It might be the presence of the Lord.

What do we mean by Regulation?
Not being calm or zen all the time
Being able to flow between states

Being able to access the appropriate state at the appropriate time - resting when appropriate, being active when appropriate - inflammation, immunity, even feeling pain when appropriate

Self- Regulation refers to the nervous systems ability to do this on its own most of the time


Co-regulation refers to the regulated nervous system of one person helping another person’s nervous system come back to balance or homeostasis. It’s the ability of the state of one person’s body to have an impact on the other person’s state.

The Role of Co-Regulation in Neurodevelopment
The mother’s body is the regulator of a baby’s body both in the womb and particularly in the first 3 years of life.

The baby has no ability to regulate its own body and tend to its own needs. It needs mom to do that.

Mom’s non-verbal attunement and bonding with the baby is what sets up the foundations for the nervous system to be resilient and handle stress appropriately throughout the rest of life.

When this is not occurring, the nervous system doesn’t develop with a fundamental sense of safety. Instead, it develops with a sense of chronic stress

Co-regulation modulates stress in our development so that we can progressively move forward in our development (physical, emotional, relational, mental etc).

One example of this would be the overstimulation a baby experiences at the sound of loud noises - for a baby who is born dysregulated, the baby is overstimulated by everything. Let’s say an ambulance drives by - that noise would be so severely distressing for a baby - but what nodulates that, what makes that stress bearable for baby? It’s the soothing comfort of mom’s voice, and her body.

Through the constant tending and comfort of mom - the baby learns at a felt-sense physical level that life is safe. And it is through this that the nervous system develops a sense of resilience and an inner sense of safety in the world.

Now it’s not just that mom comes when she is called - it is the physiological and biological state of mom when she comes is she FEELING the bonding with me, is she deriving joy as she helps me - is she feeling a sense of connection with me. There is actually a process of neurotransmitters happening: the dopamine when mom hears me cry or fuss, and then the oxytocin and endorphins that we experience together as mom tends to my needs.

So through this process of constant reinforcement and repetition my nervous system adapts either to safety or to danger as a little one. If I adapt to safety, my nervous system will be more resilient, more balanced, and as a result every area of my life will be healthier from physical to relational to emotional.

Now - if I adapt to danger every element of my life will be more at risk of disorder, dysregulation and lack of health.

Bottom Up Brain Development
Dr Bruce Perry’s work discusses the bottom up development of the brain in which the lower regions of the brain are developed first and then as the right supports are brought in, the brain develops the higher regions and without that it will get stuck in the lower regions of the brain.

Dysregulation, Trauma and The Balm of Co-Regulation 

Now - what acute trauma does is it shakes up our stress physiology and kind of sets the nervous system back to a place of severe dysregulation where we are getting stuck in that sympathetic place or getting stuck in the parasympathetic place for prolonged periods of time.

The system has lost its ability to self-regulate.

In the case of developmental/childhood trauma the nervous system may never have learned true regulation and in that case there are coping mechanisms that develop in place of regulation to soothe the dysregulation.

So because the nervous system is neuroplastic, there is the ability of our nervous system to adapt and change over time, with practice adn with the right conditions and the right support. So where the nervous system has been maladaptive to stress and trauma and lack of co-regulation, it can learn to become adaptive to safety and balance over time with practice and tools and support.

And so that is what co-regulation is doing. It is tapping into this amazing God given ability that is built into our biology to actually become healthier, stronger, more fortified in the presence of another safe human being.

Now - this is not simply a matter of sitting down with a person who is safe and then, suddenly now you nervous system is regulated.

No it requires more practice and more wading through difficulty than that because there is an engrained pattern of neurophysiological pathways that have become so used to - so survival dependent on this dysregulated way of being that actually if we have been traumatized, we may have mixed up our safety signals completely so that when we actually sit down with someone who is safe - we may actually be stimulated by that and made uncomfortable by that. And if we are with someone who is unsafe we may be made more comfortable.

So co-regulation is actually a skill-set that every practitioner who works with people needs to know and understand because it is what allows you to meet a person at a non-verbal level, track their nervous system and direct their nervous system to a place of MORE regulation. And like any skill - it takes time, practice to learn how to do this. 

The Fruit of The Spirit - How the Gospel Make Us Naturally More Sensitive and Co-Regulatory:

Galatians 5:13 - 26
Life by the Spirit

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[c] you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Matthew 19:13-15
Then children were brought to him so that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people,  but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”  And he laid his hands on them and went away.

1 Corinthians 13
The Way of Love

13 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Thessalonians 2:6-8
Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. 7But we were gentlec among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.


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