(Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash)
Last year I did a unit of study called "Psychology of Emotion". It was a fantastic unit, and I learnt so much about myself, which was of great surprise to myself. One key concept that stuck with me was that of "coregulation".
I had never heard of coregulation before, and what came to mind was "codependency". Now codependency is not a healthy thing. It is where there is an excessive reliance on another person. Each person can place their identity on the other person, which is not how we have been created to live. Coregulation is NOTHING like codependency. In fact it is a process that we all have used at some stage in our lives.
Coregulation was observed in children. As a child, our emotional regulation is very low. We have not developed the skills to do so. So what happens is that we have an older person demonstrate for us what emotional regulation looks like. They display how to bring anger, frustration, excitement, etc. into a healthy place. One of my lecturers said something to the effect of, "We do not learn how to regulate our emotions in a vacuum. We need people to do so."
As much as this process is particularly noticeable in children, I put forward that we need to see how we can bring this into our adult lives. Here are the reasons for this:
- The modelling that we observed as a child becomes our "norm". We use the techniques and processes our parents in particular demonstrated, and we often think that it is the only option for us to regulate our emotions. As well-meaning as our parents are, the techniques they use aren't necessarily the only, or even the best option available to us.
- Our lives become more complicated the older we get. The situations we face in adulthood might require new or more complex regulating techniques.
- The church community should be the safest place for us to express emotions and learn healthy, Biblical ways of living. Coregulation can play a part in this.
My worry is that we have developed a mindset in church communities that the expression of emotions is not "mature", and therefore people have a fear of truly expressing their feelings. This could not be further from what the Bible describes.
Hebrews 12:15 is one such example, "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn." We need to learn how to see where people are at, and empathize with them.
Then those who have learn techniques to handle certain emotions in a healthy way can help those who are struggling. We can model to each other new ways of handling our emotions. In particular the church is meant to be a place that God can entrust the lonely (Ps 68:6). To me this speaks of how there are many who did not have an ideal family situation, and therefore their coping mechanisms are probably not going to bring much life and peace. What an opportunity for the church to step up, and for us as Christians to stand in the gap for our fellow brothers and sisters.
Have you learnt how to handle stress? Well there is someone else who is still struggling mightily with it. Anxiety? Depression? Worry? Hey! The church is full of people that have those struggles. If we learn to open up to one another the way James 5:16 says ("Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed."), we can truly help each other out.
The question is whether we are willing to a) seek help and allow others to bring their wisdom into our lives, and b) share our wisdom willingly with those who want to learn? Remember, we need each other to learn to healthily regulate our emotions. We have been designed for connection and community.