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By: Nancy Niessen

Shortly after writing my first blog for TMC, Reframing is Ageless, I had a challenging encounter with a particular relative. The big emotions I was feeling were an indicator of my stress level. A friend came to visit the next day and after I shared my frustrations, our conversation turned to her challenging relationship with siblings. She’s begun her journey into learning about Self-Reg and asked,

“Will Self-Reg help my relationship with my sisters?”

I offered that Self-Reg could.

It has helped my relationship with my relative, though it hasn’t repaired everything in that relationship. As I listened more I thought I understood what she was looking for from Self-Reg and replied,

Self-Reg is not a magic bullet. It’s not going to magically repair a challenging relationship, one that has a turbulent history. But it can help.”

She pondered that and asked, “So it will help me cope with what is going on with my sisters and the difficulty we have interacting?”

And there is the crux of Self-Reg – it isn’t about coping. Self-Reg is about thriving. That is one of my most profound take-aways from the Level 2 course. “Just coping” can be a stressor in that whatever it is that is stressful is still there. It strikes me that “just coping” is like self-control in that it requires will-power and trying to suppress something. We may not be able to remove every stressor and stressful situation in our lives, but Self-Reg helps us to identify and consider how to mitigate our stressors.

I’m not sure that I’d say that Self-Reg can “fix” a relationship, but it can definitely have a positive impact. This applies to relationships with siblings, parents, friends, teachers, students, work relationships, romantic relationships, etc. Self-Reg gives us tools to navigate relationships by starting to consider our own self-regulation. Self-Reg encourages us to dial into our own energy and tension states in order to better understand our actions and reactions individually and in a relationship. Self-Reg teaches us to understand limbic reactions whether they are our own or another person’s. Self-Reg asks us to reframe the behaviour of others as well as our own behaviour, thereby inviting compassion into the relationship on a more regular basis. Self-Reg encourages us to recognize and reflect on our stressors and those of others, and to consider how we might reduce or eliminate those stressors. Self-Reg suggests that we make sure to restore when we are feeling depleted, but more importantly before feeling depleted. Self-Reg allows us to look at ourselves and others with “soft eyes” and this can only be good for any relationship.

Learning about Self-Reg doesn’t mean that everything will suddenly be perfect in our relationships. That’s not realistic. We can’t eliminate stress and not all stress is negative. With my relationships I regularly layer in all the other things I’ve read and learned over the years, like how to set healthy boundaries and effective communication techniques, but Self-Reg is at the core in terms of understanding how I respond and how others respond. What I’m realizing upon reflection is how connected all that other learning I’ve done over the years is to Self-Reg and The 5 Steps. I’m more aware of when I’m tired, rushed, head-full and consider the impact that will have on my interactions with others. Is this the time to engage? Would it be better to cocoon and restore right now? If I have to engage, what are the stressors at play for me and how might I reduce them? My friend and I talked about preferred ways of communicating. She likes to “think aloud” throughout a planning process where one of her siblings is stressed by what she perceives as changing plans. I suggested that knowing this, perhaps my friend might “think aloud” with others and, when ready, offer her sister the final decision once it’s made. This would be a way to honour each person’s needs in terms of communication and it would recognize and reduce one of the sister’s stressors (a perception of constantly changing plans). We also talked about being aware of energy/tension levels when engaging about delicate topics and the importance of being conscious of how much energy we have available to deal with additional stressors since our energy stores are not endless.

So, “Will Self-Reg fix my relationship with…”? As our own limbic arousal is lowered, that impacts those around us because our calm ripples outward. However, we cannot control anyone else nor how others respond, though by considering our own Self-Reg and through modelling, it might well be that changes in others do occur. By “lending our calm”, their stress level might be lowered, thereby allowing for less reactive interactions. But changing someone else is not the point of Self-Reg, as many of us on this journey have come to understand. It’s about us, about ourselves. That’s part of the “self” in Self-Reg. As I said to my friend, I wouldn’t be without Self-Reg. That is, once we start learning about Self-Reg we see pretty much everything through that lens. Self-Reg has certainly helped me in my life with a variety of relationships. There will always be stress, stressors and challenges in relationships, both positive and negative. I just navigate them more successfully now…and when I hit a speed bump, Self-Reg helps me to reflect, restore and grow in my understanding.

Nancy Niessen is a retired elementary teacher whose career spanned over three decades. Most of her time was spent in the Early Years and Special Education. During her teaching career, she also instructed ETFO’s Kindergarten Specialist AQ and was part of her local Reggio Study Group.