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Self-Regulation and Uncertainty

Uncertainty pervades all aspects of our lives, right from our birth. When the baby is born the first thing they express is uncontrollable distress and anxiety. This hopefully gets named and soothed by the parent or caregiver. Recent developments in neuroscience back up the idea that the way this uncertainty is addressed in early infancy, shapes the adult responses later in life (Gerhardt, 2015). Certain therapists have looked at this process very specifically and called it ‘trauma of birth’ (Rank, 1929). As the caregiver names and soothes the distress for the baby, the child learns a safe attachment and creates the basis for self-regulation.

What helps us to self-regulate is a natural tendency to grow and actualise (Maslow, 1943). This natural tendency is expressed by the ability to self-reflect and to change as a consequence. So we are, in my view, caught up between two forces: the organismic growth and the need to tolerate the uncertainty that pervades our lives.

Immersed in this world of uncertainty, the force that motivates us is the searching for

meaning (Van Deurzen, 1997; Van Deurzen & Adams, 2010). In Gestalt terms, the meaning- making process is an organising process that happens at the ‘contact-boundary’ between the self and ‘otherness’ (Perls, Hefferline & Goodman, 1951). In other words, meaning is how we meet the environment; or how we organise our understanding of it.

I believe that since life is full of uncertainty, we sometimes stop trusting this ability to self-regulate and we fall back into unhelpful patterns. Those factors can not only hinder our ability to function and self-regulate, but also affects our self-esteem and self-worth (Rogers, 1951). We always adapt to our environment, no matter how hostile it can be. However all of those adjustments, injunctions and learned adaptations, can be modified and unlearned. The key to this process is trusting our organismic valuing process (Rogers, 1951) which is our innate ability to know what is best for us.