Complexity and Co-Regulation 

There are only two things that overwhelm our nervous systems: complexity and intensity.

Intensity, being intense, is fairly obvious. Complexity, on the other hand, can sneak up on us. Today I want to talk about complexity. For instance, when I have too many decisions to make or too many people to get back to, it can be hard to decide what to do next. Another familiar example of complexity happens when we are short on money, anxious about it, have too many bills to pay and can not decide who to pay. It is complex because there is no simple way forward. 

Complexity can make us wonder, “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I stay on track or make good decisions?” It can send us into a constricted mode where we narrow our focus, forget we have options and feel ashamed of ourselves for not functioning better. When I get overwhelmed by complexity for too long, I end up feeling “I don’t wanna.” I do not want to do anything, I just want to go watch TV or play solitaire… Getting overwhelmed by complexity often leaves us feeling inadequate and ashamed.

When we are flooded by the complexity of details and emotions, co-regulation helps. It reduces our sense of isolation, shame and inadequacy and draws us into the present. As we get more present and embodied, our reactivity drops, our perspective expands and our competence goes up.   

A remarkably simple way to reduce or dissolve shame is to play the mirror role in a co-regulation exercise. Simply mirroring someone antidotes shame by pulling us out of isolation into more connection. 

When we are not overwhelmed, practicing co-regulation exercises that build capacity for tracking self and other increases our capacity to handle complexity in our lives. 

Take a look at and try Hands Show Breath or Pinky Paws.


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