I’ve noticed over the years that most people (including me) dysregulate to the highest degree when three prime ingredients are present: (1) uncertainty; (2) fear; and (3) no end in sight (when it feels like there isn’t a plan).
If you’ve ever witnessed (or been in the middle of) a fight in a bar, you’re basically an expert. If you’ve ever found yourself in a drinking establishment (to have a night out or perhaps to land a partner), you can imagine what most people look like at the beginning of the night out. Dressed nice, smelling good, there’s a conversation with one prospect in particular, maybe even some motion on the dance floor. You might even be considering if this candidate could be worthy enough to “bed down” for the night, or maybe even take home to your folks.
Now suddenly, we’re outside. That hot prospect is out there in the parking lot of the bar, fixing to fight another human, who they think spilled their drink. Picture it. You might not even recognize this former dance partner in this state (even though you were basically falling in love just minutes ago), who is now ready to take on some other lid-flipper for some obviously very important reason. And a group of friends are holding their party back.
There are no real words said, their breathing is very shallow, and they can’t respond to reason. Imagine, just 30 minutes ago you were considering marriage to this person, and now they can’t even form a sentence. What if you asked the fighter person to dance now? See, when someone gets dysregulated, it’s not that they lose the skills to be kind, use their words, or even their dance moves. This person has lost access to those skills.
Whether it’s a crying baby or a bar fighter, that’s what emotional dysregulation can look like. We often judge others (and ourselves) when dysregulation is present. Usually, when a person experiences a similar situation, they require someone who can calm or regulate them. Someone who can “walk them home.” Someone (or something) who can slow them down, maybe get them away from the situation, decrease the cortisol in their body, and get their pre-frontal cortex back online so they have access to all the good things they know to be true. The whole regulation process is often very difficult to do alone.
And as I discuss in my latest book, Feeling Seen, my friends, it doesn’t matter how tough we are, how intelligent or enlightened we are, we never outgrow the need to have someone walk us through the hard things. More on this later.