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Updated: Jan 30, 2023

If we’re listening to someone, and they are emotionally dysregulated, that means they are not in control. We know this because we tried validation and they are still in free fall, probably speaking loudly, or using some tone of distress,

Likewise, if what the person said or did caused us to lose our center and become dysregulated – then we need to hit the pause button. Continuing to engage at this point will not be successful.

For example, let’s pretend I’m at the park with my young child, I need to go home to make dinner, but my child doesn’t want to leave yet. We’re going to assume here that I have done my due parenting diligence by letting them know they have 5 minutes left to play, and then we need to leave so that I can make dinner. 5 minutes passes, and I then assert that we need to leave. My child falls apart because they didn’t WANT to leave the park. They are loud and making a scene. What happens if I get pulled off center? Perhaps I respond in anger “I warned you we had five minutes left!” And drag my child away.

Of course, instead of being angry with a child, I could as easily be upset with an employee or friend – the feelings are the same regardless of our age. Age tends to impact how we act on those feelings. It would be better, rather than angrily shout at my child, if I had regulated myself. Imagine it going something like this: I practice listening with my heart. I get on my child’s level and look them in the eyes, and let them know, “I hear how disappointed you are to leave the park now. It makes you sad. You don’t want to go. We can discuss coming back tomorrow. Right now, though, I do need to make dinner so that our needs are met.” I honored both of us. They may sniffle as we walk home, but they know I heard them, and maybe we talk about which salad dressing they wish to choose. If we want someone to move beyond the feeling state they are currently in, we need to name and validate their emotions, so they flow.

So, if I got angry at the park, I would need to get back in control because my anger pulled me out of center. Right, then HOW?

This will vary for individuals, as we each learn how to regain our calm in different ways. Focusing on breathing or meditation can be one way to calm. Putting on music to the beat of 120 mimics our mother’s heartbeats from when we were in the womb. Movement of some form works for many. We must know how to do this (self-soothing) to listen with our heart.

Dr. Bruce Perry writes in “What Happened to You,”: Without some degree of regulation, it is difficult to connect with another person, and without connection, there is minimal reasoning. Regulate, relate, then reason. Trying to reason with someone before they are regulated won't work and indeed will only increase frustration (dysregulation) for both of you." Reasoning is last. This is because we need to get to the highest part of our brain to be able to do it. Regulate. Relate. Reason.

And if you're still struggling, HOLD hears you.

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