The Myth of Self Regulation and the Joy of Co-regulation

When it comes to healing childhood trauma or any other psychological issue that creates disequilibrium, like anxiety, anger issues, or depression, the recommendation has always been to learn how to self regulate. This is still a crucial part of shoring up one’s resilience and ability to handle life’s challenges. But it is not the only path to greater emotional balance.

For a number of years, there has been a lot of talk in the biopsychosocial community of therapists and neuropsych researchers about co-regulation.

I had always assumed this meant that since we are social creatures, we need others around to soothe us. Furthermore, even though most of these researchers don’t talk about it, the idea that we need other people’s presence to release more oxytocin into our systems which has a calming effect.

Apparently, there is more to co-regulation than meets the eye.

You don’t actually need somebody sitting next to you with their arm around you or holding your hand to activate all the wonderful feelings of connection and calm that co-regulation can bring. All you need is to actively spend time imagining anyone in your life who has ever been kind, understanding, connected, or caring towards you. It might have been a teacher, coach, relative, or someone currently in your life. 

Creating a circle of love is not a new idea, but connecting it to an inner sense of co-regulation, even when you’re alone, reframes the technique in a different context.

How to create a circle of love:

Think of someone, or a few people, who have been there for you. They may have been comforting, supportive or encouraging, but one thing they all share in common is that they saw the real you, accepted you as you were or as you are now. Even more than that, you felt grounded, seen, heard and known in their presence.

Think of this person, or people, and remember how you felt with them. Tune in to their genuine caring for you. Allow yourself to really remember how it feels to be accepted, liked, even loved, for who you are. Use all five senses to fully inhabit the experience, Dwell in the space for as long as you can.

Regularly repeating this exercise, even when you’re not triggered or disturbed by something, builds a completely new and supportive neural pathway in your brain giving you a sense of co-regulation even if you’re by yourself.

Accessing connection in this bodymind way, whether it’s somatically feeling the bond you felt or remembering a moment of deep connection, can be incredibly grounding and soothing.

Happily, there are other ways to release oxytocin, the bonding hormone that makes us feel nurtured and calm.

Here are some other ways you can encourage the release of oxytocin:




Listening to music

Loving kindness meditation, Buddhist Metta practice 



Qi gong

Watching an emotional movie




Petting an animal





Making sure you have adequate levels of vitamin D3, magnesium and C.

For a more scientific explanation of oxytocin’s role in physical and mental health check out this article:

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang 

Posted in

Nicole Urdang

Nicole S. Urdang, M.S., NCC, DHM is a Holistic Psychotherapist in Buffalo, NY. She holds a New York state license in mental health counseling and a doctorate in homeopathic medicine from the British Institute of Homeopathy.