S3 E16

Think being regulated means living in a flatline state of calmness?

Did you know that you can co-regulate with nervous systems that aren’t human?

Confused about having complex trauma despite having a “good” childhood? 

In this week’s episode we’re discussing co-regulation and misattunement. These are terms you’ve heard a lot on our podcast this season, and probably on social media. We’re dedicating this episode to explain what these terms mean and their importance in relationships from a Neuro Somatic Intelligence perspective.

Our nervous systems are in constant interplay with the other nervous systems around us communicating through an unspoken language of social synapse. This dynamic dance begins early in our development, even before birth.

Early childhood experiences with primary caregivers set the stage for a lifetime of how individuals perceive themselves, others, and the world. Trusting relationships during development create a sense of safety and confidence, while emotional misattunement  leads to a feeling of not being seen or heard. This all lays the foundation for self-regulation and teaches us that we have the power to navigate our emotional states. 

If that foundation isn’t strong, individuals can struggle with relationships, even if they want them. Thankfully there are powerful, non-human ways to co-regulate. We share our personal transformation stories of co-regulating with beloved pets and nature.

Jennifer shares her deep bond with her dog, Grace, who played a crucial role in her healing journey. And Elisabeth shares about the support and love she received from her angel pup. We both get a bit emotional.

We, also, unpack how early childhood experiences, even in loving households, can have profound effects on our emotional well-being and behaviors throughout life. Then we talk about the maladaptive behaviors often used to cope when emotional co-regulation is lacking.

Thanks to a brave anonymous question in our private Facebook group, we discuss the intricate connection between maternal stress and early nervous system development. Elisabeth uses this tender question as a real life example to explain the role the HPA axis has on stress in early development.

Even though it may be a fact of life that your nervous system has been shaped by complex trauma, we firmly believe that change is still possible for you. Just like it was for us.

It is possible to learn tools to respond differently and re-regulate, even if you have a hypersensitive nervous system. Use the NSI tools that we used to learn how to self soothe in new, healthy and adaptive ways that move you forward to create a new life. 

Join us on the Brain Based Wellness site for 2 free weeks of neuro training to get started. We teach live on the site every week and there’s an intensive library for you to explore. Go to rewiretrial.com. We’re looking forward to seeing you there!

Episode Highlights:

  • Crucial role that trust and predictability play in co-regulation
  • How establishing boundaries is essential to avoid internalizing the dysregulation of others 
  • Recognizing relationship limits
  • The most divinely intelligent co-regulation tool available to you
  • The connection between Attunement and reading the room
  • Importance of deep emotional work in regulating the nervous system
  • Impact of emotional misattunement 
  • Navigating emotional dissonance 
  • Inherited trauma responses
  • Creating a new homeostasis 
  • How thoughts and beliefs can trigger stress responses
  • How negative beliefs like shame and unworthiness shape emotional regulation
  • Role of emotional processing and releasing
  • Influence of Fathers

Listen to more episodes of Trauma Rewired HERE


[00:00:00] Elisabeth: We talk a lot on here about co-regulation. A lot of this season we’ve talked about how our nervous systems are always in interplay with one another, talking to each other across that social synapse of the unspoken language of the nervous system. One of the words we throw around a lot, and that you see a lot on social media and here on a lot on this podcast is this term co-regulation. Making sure that we all are on the same page about what that means in terms of Neuro Somatic Intelligence, what it means in terms of relationship, so people can be really clear on that.

[00:00:40] Jennifer: Yeah, it is and we’re going to talk about misattunement today, too, and the interplay that these two have with each other.  Of course this all begins in our really early development. I think it’s up until we’re 18 months old, we are solely reliant on another person’s nervous system to regulate us. That really begins in the womb. Actually, that’s our first time we really experience a physiological platform of regulation.

[00:01:12] Welcome back to Trauma Rewired, the podcast that teaches you about your nervous system, how trauma lives in the body and what you can do to heal. My name is Jennifer Wallace. I am a Neuro Somatic Psychedelic preparation and integration guide.

[00:01:25] Elisabeth: And I’m Elisabeth Kristof, founder of Brain Based Wellness, a virtual platform that trains your nervous system to be more resilient, handle stress, and change behavior.

[00:01:34] I think when we talk about self regulation, period,  or having nervous system regulation, we want to remember that we’re not talking about maintaining a continuous flatline state all of the time. People sometimes come to me and ask, ‘if I’m regulated, does that mean I’m going to be calm all the time? What if I want to have a response that’s different than that, or that seems boring?’ 

A well regulated nervous system is not flat line. It’s really having the ability to modulate between being in a more activated state when that’s appropriate, but then being able to come down out of that activated state so that you can do all these other things that are important in a rest state, like repair your tissue and digest your food and reproduce.

[00:02:22] So a healthy nervous system is able to flow between those states. And that’s really what regulation is. Then co-regulation the same way is a very dynamic process. We’re never co-regulating into one state all of the time. It’s this continuous unfolding of how our nervous systems respond to one another. One person’s nervous system impacts ours, and we adapt to that. Then there’s a response to ours. There’s this interplay, it’s like a dance between two nervous systems. They’re changing, they’re responding, they’re adapting, so it’s not a stagnant state.

[00:03:02] Jennifer: No, our nervous systems are never in a stagnant state. To have co-regulation, we really need to understand what self regulation is as well to understand co-regulation. Why don’t we give some definitions to co-regulation? Or was that your definition of co-regulation?

[00:03:20] Elisabeth: A little bit, but we can go deeper into it.

[00:03:22] Jennifer: Let’s define what co-regulation means to us, so that we’re really clear as we move through this conversation. When I hear the word co-regulation, I think of grounding, calming. I think of safety. I understand it to be the experience of attuning to another person’s body and feeling safe with them.

[00:03:50] Elisabeth: Yeah, I think a beautiful part of it is being able to continuously create regulation and safety between one another, across that social synapse. It’s a term that you hear used a lot in psychology. It’s this continuous interplay between our nervous systems. It’s not one behavior or one experience of an individual, it’s the result of each person repeatedly regulating in the presence of another person. Our bodies are always adapting and responding. 

So it’s me being able to accurately read the signals that are coming from your nervous system through that unconscious social synapse- your vocal tone and body posture and all the things that your nervous system is communicating to mine, being able to adapt to it. Aand then being able to stay within a window of tolerance within a certain amount of regulation in myself, in response to you, that then helps your nervous system also stay to keep from going into those places of really high levels of activation or so much stress that we shut down. 

When we are two well balanced nervous systems coming together, we can increase that balance and really stay in a healthy functioning state. If one person is really dysregulated and another person is calm and in a resilient place, my nervous system can actually help the other nervous system come down out of that over activated state.

[00:05:30] Jennifer: I think there’s a predictability encoded into it, also. That I can predict that my nervous system is going to feel safe around yours. I’m going to consistently feel seen, heard, felt, understood by nervous systems that I have developed enough trust with to know that even in those times there might be a little bit of gray space or maybe like, ‘Oh, she’s not feeling me. She’s not hearing me.’ I have the tools and the words to be able to voice that still within the safe nervous system.

[00:06:05] Elisabeth: Yes. And another big component of that is emotional co-regulation, because that’s always occurring between two people as well. So the emotions of each person in the group are in flux. Emotions are energy moving through our body, and we have different emotional states going on. If there’s good, healthy co-regulation between two people, the result can be that there’s a decrease in the overall emotional distress.

[00:06:36] So say I’m coming into this conversation with a lot of anger or stress or grief or something like that. And you are in a well regulated grounded space. The Presence of your nervous system, because we are such social beings and I’m going to be responding to yours, will help my physiological processes actually be able to better deal with and move those emotions through instead of my big peak emotions dysregulating you. Then I respond to that stress and we both become increasingly more activated. 

[00:07:12] So co-regulation can actually go both ways. It can be where I am a Presence for re-regulation and safety for another person, but we can also impact each other in that we can increase the amount of dysregulation going on inside of ourselves because of our Presence. If we’re both under a lot of stress and my nervous system is signaling to you- ‘threat, there’s something wrong’ because I’m so stressed out.’ Now your body is reading ‘there’s something in this environment or in this person or in this moment that I need to be afraid of and on the lookout for.’ So then your sympathetic nervous system starts to get activated and you move into more of that arousal state. I’m already there so that ramps me up even more. It can be a real cascade and then in another direction where it can be sort of co-dysregulation.

[00:08:10] Jennifer: Yeah, we were talking about this recently, and I do think there’s something here around the trust and predictability of the other nervous system and the consistency at which you experience the co-regulation of the other one. Say in this example, you show up under a lot of threat. Well, I’m in a nervous system that really trusts your nervous system. So maybe I’m going to start trusting that there is threat and there’s really not. So then both of us get really super amped up. 

[00:08:35] But what if a nervous system comes in and they’re laden in shame and guilt. That nervous system comes in then my nervous system is regulated. I experienced this recently, which is why I want to unpack it a little bit. The other nervous system came in and brought my nervous system down. I could not regulate the other nervous system’s shame and guilt. I think it’s because when I think about this other nervous system, there’s not a lot of trust. When I predict the safety of my nervous system with theirs, it’s not there. I know I don’t feel safe there. So then the other person’s nervous system brings me to the point of down.

[00:09:17] Elisabeth: Yeah, I think this is a really important thing to talk about. I remember when we were talking about this. And I remembered that I had a counselor that used to always say to me, ‘We’re always sicker in our sickness than we are well in our wellness’. Meaning you can’t always run always into the burning building. You can’t always go down to meet the person who’s in a, let’s just say dysregulated, state right now. 

[00:09:47] Because remember that our brains are wired for survival and they’re going to look out for those signals of danger. If that’s really strong all the time, you’re in a really high stress situation with this person because of the person’s nervous system. Then it can end up going the other way where they are more impacting your nervous system to move into states of dysregulation than you being grounded and safe enough to help them come out of that state.

[00:10:18] So there’s always this interplay/ I think it’s important to remember that we do have to have healthy boundaries and sometimes recognize that it has to do with how much we can not internalize what’s going on for that other person and how much enmeshment exists in that relationship. Like you said, how safe we feel with the other person, what the relationship is like. Then also to some level of acceptance of some things, some situations, some relationships are just too much for me. Maybe not all the time, but maybe if I’m already in a more stressed out state or maybe it’s just time to pull back a little bit from certain situations until we have the capacity to do that without it harming us internally. And evaluating sometimes if some relationships are ultimately in alignment for our optimal nervous system health.

[00:11:15] Elisabeth: I’m really glad you brought up this experience with another person’s nervous system and wanting that relationship, but also seeing that sometimes the relationship is too much for our nervous system to be able to regulate around and stay in a safe space. Even though it might be something that we want- social connections that we want- can still be overwhelming.

[00:11:40] There are lots of ways to find co-regulation that don’t necessarily have to include being around other human beings, because for those of us with a high level of relational trauma, it can be hard. It can be hard to begin the process of recultivating safety and regulation in relationships. So there are other ways like being out in nature, regulating with nature or having a pet and using that as another living, breathing nervous system to find safety and intimacy and connection with.

[00:12:12] Jennifer: Pete Walker in his book about complex trauma. He really highlights in a chapter, the importance of having a pet and how much an animal can be so supportive in connection. In my own experience, I’m very, very close with my dog. She’s in her 14th year and we’ve known each other since she was two weeks old. Grace came into my life between Turkey and breast cancer. What I’ve learned from her the most is love. 

[00:12:53] I learned that I could be loved. I learned that I could receive love. I learned that I could give love. And I could be love. I could understand the frequency and the energy of love with her that I really didn’t understand how to give, receive, all of that, in a really full way, reciprocal way, that I didn’t experience with another nervous system.

[00:13:24] I’ve thought so much about Grace and mine’s relationship over the years, not just for this recording. When I think about her timing into my life and what I was experiencing in my nervous system through being kidnapped in Turkey. There was a five year gap between Turkey and breast cancer. And then there was that experience.

[00:13:55] Then there was the experience, honestly, of embodiment. Getting through all the stories and then being in my body. There were so many times throughout my dysregulation part of the journey of the healing part where I don’t know that I would be here if it wasn’t for her. I think that the suicidal ideation would have been too… I think the calling would have been different if I didn’t have, I’m gonna get emotional, if I didn’t have an experience of a love connection that would even help me to remember the spark later when I would go on to work to heal my attachment wound to my mother, my mother wound particularly, and my primary wound. Her love is a live wire into being able to receive other love, to be able to give other love. I really think that she saved my life in so many ways. 

[00:15:03] I think animals save people’s lives all the time, every day. When I was in my angrier stages and in years where I didn’t really understand very much of anything, I used to be so angry when homeless people would have dogs. I used to think that was so selfish that you would put an animal through that. It wasn’t until much later that I love to see animals with homeless people. I love that they have something at the end of the day. (emotional) If there’s no shelter? I get emotional. If there’s no food, can they still experience that love in the world? That is so important for people to connect to.

[00:15:51] Elisabeth: Yeah, I’m going to get emotional too. I also have an Angel pup that definitely saw me through many years of extreme dysregulation. She passed about a year ago. I think it is so true. Everybody deserves that love. We talk about getting that one pain free rep so that our system can learn that something is possible and safe. With people, it may not be possible to experience that yet. It’s too much. The relational wounding is too deep and too dysregulating. 

[00:16:34] When we have other resources like an animal or nature, there’s been many times where I’ve let myself just express big emotions into the Earth. I’m surrounded by the trees and the water. Then it becomes possible. Then I start to learn that it can be safe to connect to another Being. That it can be possible to be vulnerable and intimate and exposed and experience emotion. That starts to increase my capacity to make other types of social connection possible.

[00:17:15] Jennifer: The beautiful thing about nature, this comes up a lot on this podcast for us, is that I always feel like when I’ve done everything and I’m still feeling like not quite myself, I know if I go into nature, I know if I give it to the earth, I know if I get on my hands and knees on the ground, I know if I get in that river, I’m going to feel better. I’m going to feel better. Always. It always works.

[00:17:42] Elisabeth: I think nature is the most intelligent regulation tool that there is. I can neuro drill my way out of some things and the tools are incredibly useful. But there’s a divine intelligence to nature and to the earth that reestablishing that relationship does so much for my nervous system that is beyond my comprehension. It’s more divinely intelligent than I can wrap my mind around. And it’s there for us.

[00:18:15] Jennifer: Yeah, absolutely. And this is why self regulation comes into play and is so important. I mean, self regulation is something that we have through life. It’s something that we always have access to do. And you either have good tools, like we do with NSI and our functional neurology. Or you have,  I don’t want to say bad tools but, maladaptive co-regulating tools that lead to eventually maybe addiction or extreme isolation, agoraphobia even. 

[00:18:47] All of it lives on a spectrum as we always talk about. When you learn how to self-regulate in a safe way, you have primaries who teach you that, who model that behavior, even back to the emotional co-regulation that you were speaking to a few minutes ago. When you have regulation that is modeled for you, when you have a caregiver that is attuned to you, in resonance with what this little body is feeling as we are developing. When you have someone who is attuned to you, you really learn that you are everything that you need. You are already the self regulator, like I’m safe. I can be self regulated and grounded within myself.

[00:19:34] Elisabeth: Yeah, in so much of our very early childhood, our infancy, we’re so dependent on co-regulation for our nervous system health. And to have healthy development to grow up in a way that is conducive for optimal brain function and development. As co-regulation has been identified, obviously, it is a precursor to emotional self regulation, but for infants, it is a necessary component of just general regulation. Infants have these instinctive regulatory behaviors like gaze redirection, or self soothing practices that an infant will do or venting. Infants can express emotions pretty well, but the most effective way that an infant regulates distress is to seek out help from a caregiver.

[00:20:24] So in order for an infant nervous system to be healthy and start to learn that process of regulation, that modulation between being activated and coming back down into calm, they really need a sensitive, reliable, responsive caregiver that over time indicates to them that emotional distress is manageable. Teaches their body and their nervous system how to process emotions and the soothing behaviors that they will later learn to re-regulate after distress. And that is really a huge part of the reason why attunement is really important. So let’s talk about what we mean by attunement?

[00:21:09] Jennifer: The visual that I have is of the orchestra getting all their instruments to the right tone. They’re matching each other. They’re in resonance with each other. So when I think about what is attunement is in the physiological state of being, it’s when our own internal state shifts to understand the inner world of another person and to be able to kind of modulate.

[00:21:3\] Well for the primary in this case, like the mother, we’re talking about the first 18 months, it’s to modulate to ‘what does this child need? My child is in distress or there’s an emotion coming up and how can I feel into that?’

[00:21:54] Elisabeth: Yeah, I think of the saying, read the room. When someone comes in and is in attunement with my nervous system, they might know if I am sending signals that I’m moving into an activated state, or I’ve clearly been under a lot of stress, it’s maybe not the right time to bring up certain subjects or to push really hard or to move into a really high level of intimacy. Maybe I’m indicating I don’t want to be touched. All of these things are that ability to read that and to know, ‘okay, this is a better way to respond to this nervous system’. And how can I calibrate what I’m doing, what I’m saying in order to create more safety where this person is at.

[00:22:42] Dr. Dan Siegel has a definition of attunement that I really love. It’s ‘when we attune with others we allow our internal state to shift, to come to resonate with the inner world of another’. I think that’s important. That’s really beautiful- my inner world is being seen. And like you talked about the instruments are coming into harmony, but not at the outside level, at the level of our internal state.

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[00:24:25] Jennifer: This is a really vital part of of our development and really leads to, I say this quite a bit, because this emotional misattunement, this lack of emotional co-regulation, it leads to isolation for the individual who’s not experiencing connection. And it could come to be expressed or felt as neglect. as abandonment even when… you can have a loving parent. You might not even have any major big T traumas. Maybe it’s more you felt a lot of aloneness in your body because your parent was away a lot. Or maybe you lacked eye contact in your development when you were growing up.

[00:25:13] All these little behaviors really stack up to create an isolated nervous system that learns to self regulate back to the self regulation of food, of alcohol, of TV, of sexual codependency that eventually translates into addiction. Dependency of substances, perhaps because we don’t get the emotional co-regulation. We don’t feel seen, we don’t feel heard. So then all the emotions that we don’t get, we put into something else.

[00:25:47] Elisabeth: Yep. And we rely on those “maladaptive” behaviors to help us process the emotions, or repress the emotions, and to just re-regulate in general. I think it all has a lot to do with trust. I think when we have a caregiver that is really attuned to us and can hear, see, respond to what’s going on in our internal state, that really becomes the underpinning for a secure attachment style that then allows us to feel safe exploring the world and having really healthy brain development, nervous system development. Because we need that exploration in order to develop well. 

[00:26:33] And like we talked about in the episode on attachment styles, the children that had dysregulated mothers did not feel safe exploring the world. They were slow to return to play. They were either really clingy to their mothers or avoided them altogether and they couldn’t soothe themselves. They couldn’t come back down into a calm state. 

[00:26;54] And when we are living in this way where we don’t feel safe with the attachment of our primaries, we also don’t feel safe exploring the world and having autonomy either. And that leads to a lot of disruption in the way that we develop.

[00:27:10] Jennifer: Because this lack of trust, these primary experiences as we’re developing, really set the stage and prime it for a lifetime of how we experience ourselves, other nervous systems around us and the world at large. It can really teach us that other people are not safe. My emotions aren’t safe. Being me in the world isn’t safe because I haven’t been received well thus far- up until a certain point when we get into this work, this healing work. We’ve been on the journey already our whole lives, but we intentionally start to get into this and realize that I haven’t felt safe in being seen and heard no one’s got me. Because that’s what I hear a lot from clients is that my parents were there. They loved me. I didn’t want for anything. That’s my experience, even. I didn’t want for anything in my life. 

[00:28:10] And yet there was this emotional dissonance between me and my caregivers where I really never felt like.. I was born to these two people? (laughing) They do not get me. I am a different template. What happened was, we’ve talked about this, I go out of the home and experience a big T trauma. When I come back into the house that goes unseen. My behaviors, the way I was showing up in my protective mechanisms. I was showing up with a lot of addictive behaviors and the emotional pendulum swing was huge. And that just kind of how it went. That’s misattunement.

[00:28:55] Elisabeth: Yeah, like you say, nobody knew that you were binging. That’s showing me already that you’re hiding a lot of yourself from the caregiver, from the primary, because it doesn’t feel safe. And even though we might grow up in an environment where, yes, all of our needs are met, we don’t want for anything. But that emotional component is so big. Having the emotional co-regulation with a caregiver is very different than just having our physical safety needs met. 

[00:29:26] It’s also important to remember that we’re not just responding to what they’re saying or even what they’re doing, but we’re responding to their nervous system state. So while the caregiver could seem very, maybe they’re physically there for us and predictable in certain ways. Like we get dinner every night or we know that we’re going to have a safe place to live. But at a nervous system level, maybe their nervous system is very unpredictable.

[00:29:59] So it is in that way that we can develop mistrust. And we really need to know as babies from the very beginning is remember, we’ve talked in here about survival of the nurtured, that what we really need is that co-regulation. So we need to know that we can trust the world and the world is our primaries. And it’s not just them, it’s their nervous system. We need to know that we can count on that nervous system to help us in regulation and emotional expression.

[00:30:30] Jennifer: You want to jump into this question that we got on our Facebook page?

[00:30:35] Elisabeth: Yeah. I think this is a beautiful example of this. It’s almost exactly what you’re talking about. So on our Facebook Group for Trauma Rewired recently someone posted an anonymous question: Can your kids inherit your trauma response? And she talked about ‘I’m not saying that nothing was ever stressful for my kids, but they didn’t experience any direct trauma per se.’ However, both of her daughters had a similar Freeze response to her. They would completely shut down, they couldn’t speak, even when the issue didn’t seem that threatening or stressful. They just weren’t appearing to her as very resilient. Especially with just normal levels of conflict or difference of opinion that they really were showing that to be shut down.

[00:31:19] Then she went on to say that when her daughters were born, her husband left for an extended period of time because he was in the military and that she was really stressed out and alone. While she loved them very much, she worked full time and juggled everything. It was really hard. Her previous relationship was abusive and she had not processed any of that trauma or stress and has big stress responses herself. So she was asking, could this be coming from that?

[00:31:50] Jennifer: Well, I think yes/and. I do think that we inherit, we are biologically connected to the person who births us. So there is some inheritance coming through our matriarchal lines for sure. But also, this is exactly what I was just talking about with that covert trauma, where nothing really happened, but the nervous system of the mother wasn’t around, the father’s wasn’t around. So these young ladies learn how to regulate through themselves. And they felt the dysregulated nervous system of their primaries, they felt the dissociation- probably the fear responses. The up-down of the sympathetic-parasympathetic nervous system was probably up and down and was very unpredictable for these young bodies as they were growing up. I think that this question is a huge conversation.

[00:32:53] Elisabeth: Yeah, it really is. As we’re starting to look at all of this and take a deeper dive into this question, I do want to encourage people to have compassion for themselves. This can be very hard to look at- how we impact the people that we love, probably most in the world, our children, if you have children, with our own nervous system and our own unresolved trauma. It is important to remember that we’re doing the best that we can until we know differently and have other tools. And that we are neuroplastic Beings. Children also are very resilient and there’s lots that they can learn and use all of this as a catalyst for their own growth. 

[00:33:31] And with parenting, too, to remember that good enough parenting is also a real thing. Where you don’t have to be perfect to prevent harm for your children, as long as you’re mostly stable. It’s okay to sometimes have high stress moments or lose your shit every once in a while. That’s not really what we’re talking about. We’re talking about that chronic stress during development. Which, in this case, it does sound like there might have been that chronic stress happening.

[00:34:04] Jennifer: Yeah, I say, to follow up what I just said, this is no fault or no judgment of the primaries. Even in my own experience with my primary. This is just is what it is. And now we have tools, we can take action. We can rewire the beliefs. We can all do the work that we need to come together and create the close relationships that we really truly desire. Maybe even cultivate trust through other people now, as we are older. That’s what happens with us as practitioners, we become the corrective co- regulators and attuners to the primaries when our clients didn’t get it.

[00:34:47] Elisabeth: Yes. One of the members in the Facebook group also commented: ‘This is an incredibly important topic. Neuro Somatic Intelligence can heal two living generations at once, maybe even three.’ And I love that idea that as we help ourselves to restore our own nervous system health, she will be helping her children. And as her children learn practices, they will be helping themselves and her. It’s something that collectively we can create a lot of change and cultivate resilience through becoming aware of our nervous system, what it’s communicating to us and then learning tools to work with it.

[00:35:24] So I want to keep that floating in our mind as we talk about all of this, but what I think about most when I hear this is the HPA axis and our stress response. Because our HPA axis is the process of our body that responds to stress. It’s really the communication between three areas of the body that control how we respond to an outside stress.

[00:35:53] So you have your hypothalamus, which responds to a variety of signals from your internal and your external environment. It’s a structure in your brain, like the control center, trying to help you maintain homeostasis. Like controlling your body temperature, your hunger, feelings of satiation, blood pressure, and hormone levels.

[00:36:14] So in this case, it’s the communication between the hypothalamus and your pituitary which is a little gland also in the base of your brain. Then that pituitary gland is kind of the master regulator for your other hormones and glands. So it can communicate with your adrenal glands. In the case of the HPA axis, it could also communicate with your thyroid, or your sexual organs to produce estrogen and progesterone. 

[00:36:44] In this case, we’re looking at how it communicates with your adrenals and produces stress hormones like epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol. So you have this axis of communication, the hypothalamus speaking to the pituitary and then that producing stress hormones. That’s really the line of communication for how your body responds to stress. And that is very shaped by our maternal HPA axis. 

[00:37:16] So our HPA axis develops very much in response to our mothers. If the mother is under a lot of stress, either while she was pregnant or in those early years of development, it can increase the size of the amygdala and also the amygdala sensitivity and activation. So if you have a more active fear response, it can increase the activation of the HPA axis, getting higher amounts of cortisol and stress hormones in the blood. It can decrease your hippocampal development, which is responsible for learning and cognition. It can also have an impact on something called your mesolimbic dopaminergic activation, which is a big word, but essentially that has to do with your dopamine levels and it can affect your mood and your behavior. There’s a lot of studies linking this to addiction patterns.

[00:38:11] Jennifer: Back to, you said it, this really starts in the womb, especially when you talk about heart rate, blood pressure. We are feeling all of that as we are developing. Then our brains are literally developing around what we’re experiencing in the womb, first off. Then we have that first 18 months where we are very reliant on others’ nervous systems. Then we go into the next few years of our brain’s development, and it can really get stinted and overinflated in some areas, and really shut down in others. We hear this, I know we’re going to get into homeostasis here in just a minute, and I always struggle with this because what is homeostasis when you have developed under threat and stress?

[00:38:59] Elisabeth: I was thinking about that question a lot as I was going through the studies because, yeah, it stuck with me ever since you first brought it up in a recording that you and I and Matt did together. You were like, what homeostasis? Like, what homeostasis are we returning to? And we’ve talked a lot about how when we do this neurosomatic work, or we use our neuro tools, we work on the site to train our nervous system regularly. We’re not necessarily trying to return to the homeostasis of our infant self or a three year old self. It’s  about actually creating new responses sometimes that our body has not ever been able to do. It’s about creating new patterns and new reactions to events.

[00:39:42] As I was thinking about this question, as I was reading these studies, I think that’s a lot of the reason why mother’s stress level impacts our development so much. It’s because it is setting the child’s homeostasis to be one where the system is more stressed out. That is the homeostasis to have more activated internal state, higher heart rate, higher blood pressure, more inflammation. I mean, there are certain things of homeostasis, like body temperature that I feel stay within a pretty consistent range, but even that can have fluctuations.

[00:40:25] So yeah, what homeostasis are we returning to? What is our body’s set point? I feel like that gets shaped quite a bit in early development, and can be really impacted if our mother’s body is flooded with those stress hormones that are shaping our homeostatic set point.

[00:40:49] Jennifer: These set points are really what we are reshaping in our work now with the self regulating tools of NSI and with the emotional regulation, with the EFT. And with co-regulation- making co regulation safe. Or knowing that I’m safe enough in my body to experience other bodies. And knowing if this is in resonance- is this an attunement for how I even want to live my life in these relationships? So back to- we are creating a new homeostasis for our bodies. That is even down, let me back up- in the rewiring of the set points it really has a lot to do with our belief systems. The belief systems that live in our nervous systems are really important here.

[00:41:35] Elisabeth: Yeah, whenever we’re talking about stress, which we are when we’re talking about the HPA axis, we’re talking about response to stress. It’s very important to remember that our thoughts can also be stressors, right? The way the world is now, the world that we live in, it’s not just a physical threat that’s going to cause the activation of this axis, right? It’s going to impact our cortisol levels and our stress response. We don’t have to be chased by a tiger because we also have a frontal lobe that holds a lot of prediction and thinking. So it’s not just, ‘oh, the tiger is chasing me.’ It’s after the experience I’m worried about more tigers and I have the ability to ruminate on that and create these predictions and thoughts that are then constantly creating that activation in my body. There is as much physical response that happens inside of me to my thoughts and my beliefs. The deep beliefs drive a lot of those thoughts that then are constantly creating that chronic stress state inside of the body.

[00:42:50] Jennifer: Getting back to what I was saying, when I hear the words co-regulation like: safe, seen, felt, heard, understood. When you don’t get those, think of what the opposite beliefs are: I’m not worthy of using my voice; I’m not worthy of being seen; I’m not valuable in my body. This really does prime the stage for some limiting beliefs, but it just feels more heavy than that. When I think about those limiting beliefs that are rooted in worthiness and value, those also carry dense vibrations of shame. When that is not understood by your primary, they can’t attune to how you’re feeling shame. They can’t pull you up out of it and teach you another way.

[00:43:46] Elisabeth: I think there’s really no way to separate our belief systems that are woven into our neuro matrix and the physical reactions that occur inside of our body and our nervous system. They’re just not separate. As much as we talk about certain areas of the brain and certain parts of the nervous system, it is really important to remember, it’s all one big system. It’s all integrated. So I can do a lot to try to practice regulation, but if I also am still holding inside of myself those deep core beliefs that got baked in from the environment, I’m going to just be constantly re-regulating myself against the dysregulation that occurs because of them. Especially the shame that you talked about. If I have that deep toxic shame that often comes with cPTSD, it’s like I have to, at some point, get in there and dig around and unearth those deep beliefs. And start to learn how to take contrary action and regulate around that new action and build a life around different beliefs, little by little, in a minimum effective dose way. Because I can’t get by with just regulating my way to safety without also doing the deconstruction of my beliefs.

[00:45:20] Jennifer: And the deep emotional work. You can only regulate yourself enough. If your emotional body is completely dysregulated, it’s going to throw everything off.

[00:45:29] Elisabeth: Yep. Yeah. And I think, (laughing) I don’t know what I think. 

[00:45:35] Jennifer: Well, self regulation means that we have the safety within us that we can ground and regulate. And that is really important. And in secure attachment, we are modeled and shown and taught how to do that.

[00:45:48] Elisabeth: Yes.

[00:45:49] Jennifer: Or we get to this age and we go to rewiretrial.com. (laughing)

[00:45:53] Elisabeth: (laughing) That’s right- start learning the tools and processes because I think that when you look at these studies there is a lot of evidence of the impacts. Some of the people that I was listening to in the studies I was reading were like, this is permanent. These changes are very deep. They happen during development and not all of it is reversible. And yes, got it. 

[00:46:19] But, we can still … I will always have a nervous system that is shaped by complex trauma. That is the fact of my life. I’ve had these experiences at an early age, and I’m going to come up against dysregulation- dysregulation in relationships, especially. And it is, I think, possible to still have that type of brain development, that type of nervous system function, and to learn tools to: respond differently, to re regulate, even if my nervous system is hypersensitive to keep learning how to self soothe in new, healthy, adaptive ways that move me forward, and then to really start to create a life that is in alignment with the nervous system in the brain that I have now. So that I’m not continuing to harm and reinforce the patterns that got created as a small child.

[00:47:20] Jennifer: Absolutely. You know, last season we did a two part on Complex Trauma and the Developmental Brain, because you and I specifically really started to see that there’s an impact on my brain as to how I have developed. There is something there and I need to know how to work with that because there’s a life I dream of. There’s a way of Being that I see myself as, and that I want to be, a way that I want to be in the world. So I need to learn where my shortcomings are. 

[00:48:01] This is just for me personally, for my personal experience in the world, I need to know where I have some shortcomings, if you will, or where there’s a little lack of development or where there could be more, whatever the words are, that make people feel good. And then how can I expand on what I already have? How can I work with it in a way that is very expansive and not limiting? 

[00:48:24] I think that it all comes down to safety, trust, and predictability for me. My relationship to myself, and how much I can trust me. And what other people can I put around me that also understand me and get me and allow me to be vocal and be seen and understood or maybe if I feel misunderstood that we can still open up and have that conversation/

[00:48:51] Elisabeth: Yeah, I think that’s it exactly. It’s developing the safety inside of myself and then cultivating relationships with people that are safe to process through some of this stuff with. Whether that is a good therapist or a neurocoach or friends that speak this language and understand. For example, to give a tangible example in life, recently there was a boundary violation. I experienced a boundary violation with someone that I set a boundary with repeatedly and they violated it one more time. I am thankful listeners know I’m someone who had a big, big boundary violation at a very early age and a lot of anger that came from that boundary violation that was not safe to express.

[00:49:36] So anger is a very dysregulating emotion for me and my body still works really hard to repress it. After the boundary violation, the response inside of my body was really disproportionate. It wasn’t actually a huge deal, but I went immediately into a deep level of repression. I was really dissociated that afternoon. I was finding myself wanting to snack and numb out and scroll on social media. I felt bad. I had a headache. I was a little bit nauseous. It was a big, big response inside, almost like where I could see myself outside of myself. It was a pretty high level of dissociation, but very quickly- because I do this work- I can understand, okay, I’ve trained my frontal lobe enough to be able to stay somewhat cognitively aware of what’s going on.

[00:50:26] I can recognize it. And then I had the awareness- when I move into these behaviors, there’s repression going on. Something needs to come out. Then I was able to use some of my neuro tools, was able to do some big rage processing. Then talk with some other people. You were one of them in my life who could help me work through it. Then figure out what right action to take, like concrete action in the real world to reset up those boundaries and protect myself and feel in alignment. 

[00:50:59] That all happened within the span of like two or three days. So even though my body’s reaction is still pretty big, because that was something that was baked in at a very early age. I now have a completely different way of working with it that allows me to process it and then to start to create change in my life, to set the boundaries, to take care of myself and to keep building relationships that are in alignment so that I’m not just driven by that reaction, even though that’s how my nervous system is and may always be.

[00:51:31] Jennifer: And you were able to take action, conscious action from a regulated and grounded place. That is what is helping you to re-pattern. What happens when this goes wrong is when you continue to set boundaries and the person doesn’t hear you or doesn’t acknowledge the boundary that you’ve set because then we’re dealing now with a dysregulated nervous system that can’t receive boundaries. How can we grow in our relationship if I set a boundary that you can’t acknowledge?

[00:52:01] Elisabeth: Yeah. Or it goes even more awry when I get that response inside of my body and I’m still so repressed and dysregulated that I don’t even know why I’m walking over to the kitchen to get some food or why I have a migraine or why I’m shut down. I never re-establish the boundaries or take action in the world. I never move the emotion through and I continue to just stay in a relationship that’s reactivating that same response in me over and over again. I’m repressing it. And then there’s all this harm in my behavior and in what’s happening inside of me physiologically.

[00:52:39] Jennifer: Your physiological body is in danger with that level of repression, or maybe active suppression, depending on where you are in your journey to recognizing that. But there’s a phrase like knowledge is power. Knowledge is power when you put it into action. And that’s the same thing that we’re talking about here.

[00:53:01] Awareness is power when you can choose a different way, when you have the tools to self regulate and when you can move into another way, when you have that conscious awareness to choose something else and to know this is what’s happening for me and now I can move accordingly through it. And it doesn’t totally take you out. Like it’s been a few days now, but you’re here, you’re Present, you’re engaged.

[00:53:28] Elisabeth: Yeah. I think it’s just an example of how, yes, all of these things happen. There’s clear evidence about maternal impact on stress response and HPA axis as well as fathers. There’s also studies I found that show that the father’s involvement and Presence create a safe environment and that that environment has a huge impact on the development of healthy HPA axis function.

[00:53:55] Yes, all of this does shape us- shapes our brain function and our nervous system function and our stress response. And makes us more susceptible to chronic stress over time or less susceptible and safer. And it is possible to re-pattern regardless.

[00:54:14] Jennifer: Yeah. We don’t talk about fathers as much here, but they are, or they do have significant influences on the development of children. And specifically on HPA axis development and activity across several developmental stages in infancy research shows that fathers influence the development and attunement of the HPA axis system indirectly through the relationship that they have with the infant’s mother.

[00:54:41] I feel like that is so key because once again, if we do have a mother as our primary, we are experiencing her nervous system as she experiences it. So if the father is having a negative effect on the nervous system that is being directly communicated to us, even if we are not in the room with the turbulence or with the chaos.

[00:55:02] Elisabeth: Yep. To circle back to the Facebook question. Yes, absolutely. Your nervous system has an impact on your child. And part of the reason that they could be going into such a strong stress response, such a shutdown, Freeze response is if the HPA axis is very sensitive or the amygdala is really active.

[00:55:25] Remember that’s our threat detector triggering those 4F responses. It’s very hypersensitive to activation. And when we’re under a real big stress load, we often don’t go into Fight or Flight. We go into Freeze and shut down and Flop. So if those kiddos developed with a very sensitive HPA axis, a hypersensitive amygdala, because of those conditions, yeah, they could go into a more severe stress response at what seems like not that much stress. But for their nervous system and for their brain, it is not interpreted that way.

[00:56:04] Remember, it’s always about perceived stress, and not actual. And how our nervous system is interpreting whatever’s going on in the environment. So yes/and remember that we have the capacity to create change inside of ourselves then that trickles out into all relationships in our life.

[00:56:18] Jennifer: Thank you so much for that beautiful question from our Facebook group. The link to join our Facebook group is in the show notes. If you would like to join us as well, we love taking your questions there.

[00:56:39] Elisabeth: Yeah. We love to connect with you guys. Whether it’s through our Facebook group, we see the questions there and we will respond to them sometimes here on the podcast, like we did today. And we also especially love to work with you live and in community. So you can join us on the Brain Based site for live nervous system training with me and Jennifer and our facilitators-five times a week. Join us at rewiretrial.com to start learning these tools that make change and resilience to stress possible.

[00:57:07] Jennifer: And come be in a regulated space. Where we’re holding you. We are holding that space. So thank you all so much for joining us today and we will talk to you soon.

[00:57:17] Elisabeth: Thank you.