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Maladaptive vs. Healthy Modes of Self-Regulation

Another major distinction that we draw in Self-Reg is between maladaptive and healthy modes of self-regulation. In both cases, a child or youth is struggling to deal with stress that has caused a homeostatic imbalance. e.g., avoidance, withdrawal, denial, recruiting anger for a burst of energy (the effect of catecholamines), and various artificial means of triggering the release of catecholamines.

Maladaptive Is Temporary, Healthy is Long Lasting

The problem with maladaptive modes of self-regulation is that they provide a momentary burst of “energy, provided by a shot of dopamine that has been depleted by the stress-response. But they do so without turning off the stress-response. In fact, in many cases the maladaptive mode actually exacerbates the stress-load, intensifying the child or youth’s craving for dopamine.
Unfortunately, in today’s world there are no end of artificial maladaptive modes of self-regulating. Gaming, social media, caffeinated drinks, alcohol, amphetamines, and now, marijuana. These malapative modes trigger the release of dopamine, which provides a provide a brief spurt of “psychic energy.” But because stress inhibits the release of dopamine, the child or youth ends up in a cycle in which the stress-response becomes entrenched and dopamine-craving more intense.


Think about when you reached for the back of chips, or when you stepped out for a breath of fresh air, or thought “just one more episode”. All of these behaviours are self-regulation in action, but were they maladaptive or healthy? Here are some more resources that may help you begin to answer that question:

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