I remember when my oldest was just beginning to walk and run. We lived on the North Shore of Boston and the beach was only miles from our home. Regular adventures to the singing beaches of Manchester By the Sea became the highlight of my week with this toddler. As she began to discover the waves, I recall her screeching with delight as she dared to get close but then went running as the waves chased after her little feet. After some time, her courage waxed and she would let the waves catch her. She learned something about growing safety as she would realize she was ok if the wave caught up to her. It was almost as if the growing safety let her know the waves were not really out to get her and she dared closer as she grew.
Now, I look back and there were so many stages and encounters with ocean waves as my children grew. There were plenty of times when their bravery extended beyond safety and one child would run to me crying, after being taken out by a wave. There might be some blood with the tears and there was always sand in crazy places. Eventually, it was almost as if they began to own the waves.
In these years, my kids needed me to show them how to make it through the waves, they needed me to show them that there were different ways to approach the waves. Sometimes we can jump over them or turn our backs to the crashing crest. Sometimes, when we get further out, we can dive under them to the other side or even ride them into shore. As I reflect on these days of letting them know they would be ok, it feels similar to the idea of coregulation of emotions, or utilizing others to help settle or understand emotions.
As children, we need someone to show us how to get to the other side of emotions. We will not know we will be ok if we are not shown or if we do not have someone with us. Coregulation is essential for a regulated nervous system as an adult. Coregulation of our emotions with someone else will get us to the other side of the “wave” of emotion and let us know we will not always be taken out. Just as I ventured into different ways to approach the waves at the ocean, we need someone to venture in, help us, be with us as we discover emotions.
In her book, The Wisdom of the Body, Hillary McBride talks about how if we are not shown how to ride the waves of emotions with consistency and frequency, it can be terrifying as our bodies experience sensation with no end in sight. It makes sense why we get caught in a sense of being “hijacked” by our emotions, even as adults. Do you ever have a sense that “if I feel that i may never return,” or “when i begin to feel, I think I am going to die?” When this happens, it is essential for our bodies to know we are safe and have supportive connections. Remember with the story above, if my kids did not have a connection with me and feel safe with me, they would have continued to be taken out and not know the fun of riding the swells on the other side of the waves. We can access coregulation as adults even if we didn’t receive much of it as a child.
Here are some ways to begin helping yourself with waves of emotions: