What is the most important skill for a survivor to learn? Boundaries? Self esteem?

I would argue- emotional regulation. That’s right feelings. Ugh right? 

Not fancy or exciting, but so incredibly important. Our ability to manage strong emotions is key to healing. Why? Well because the costs of ‘dysregulation’ are very high.

We love routine

Our bodies and brains are like 85-year-old ladies. They love normalcy and routine. They hate extremes and unpredictability. When we are thrown into this place, we do almost anything to get back to ‘normal’. We do very dark and unhealthy things to bring ourselves back within the lines.

This desire for continuity is called ‘homeostasis’. It is the desire of the body to maintain things at a certain level. If we think about it, our bodies do this for pretty much everything! Blood sugar is one example. We’ve all felt the impacts of low blood sugar when we get ‘hangry’. Another example is when we have a fever. Our bodies like to be within a pretty narrow range temperature wise. Even a few degrees difference can make us very ill.

Emotional Homeostasis

This idea is translated over into emotional experiences. When we experience highs and lows of emotion, we are out of regulation. As a result, we may use substances, self harm, food, over exercise or any number of tools to bring ourselves back within a normal range.

These tools are so widely used because they work. They are quick, easily accessible and very effective. It makes perfect sense why we reach for them again and again.

The problem is that these tools have consequences. Yes, they get rid of the emotion in the moment. However, as we all know the feelings come back quickly. Plus, there is generally an added tinge of regret, guilt and self loathing.

In other words, we use these tools at the expense of our self respect.

An alternative

The alternative is to increase our skills around emotional management. It is more difficult and less immediately effective than our other tools. However, over time our emotional lives become more stable. This means less managing in general. Trust me, that is a very good place to be.