Updated: Mar 10, 2020

Introduction to the Embodied Self-Regulation approach

We are whole beings. At our healthiest, we are the integration of our external self and internal self. From an integrated, embodied self, we make decisions and regulate our emotions based on what we know to be true in our hearts (emotional self), our guts (intuitive self), and our thoughts (cognitive self). This approach is confirmed by many therapists: Kim Chernin, Marsha Linehan, Niva Piran, Daniel Siegel.

Is the self an entity, or rather a process? Would you consider it rather as a separate construct, or rather an ever-changing experience? Which way of conceptualizing the self lets us more possibilities to modify or influence it then, leading to more empowerment as a person?

Big psychologists like William James or Zygmunt Freud tried defining it in the past. In recent research, psychologists put more effort into the concept of self-regulation as it comes easier to measure, quantify and study its nature. Then, how much trying to influence the totality of emotions, physiology, cognition and cultural and social context, will be reflected in the self. Is it an outcome or rather the motor of this whole regulation process? This question seems more philosophical than psychological. In my research, I’m more interested in the daily manifestations of self, practices of self-regulation and the ways to reach the best attainable potential of self so that it develops to its highest possibilities. But in my opinion, the underlying condition is for an individual to admit that the locus of control is inside rather than outside.

Self-regulation seems a healthy basis for maintaining healthy relationships. This is logical- being sure you know who you make it easier to form relationships, as your role in it is clearer. There is also a self-determination theory, linked to the goal achievement, according to which maintaining the pathway towards achievement is an example of self-regulation.

Looking at the definition of self-regulation (Karoly, 1993) we can extract various ways of seeing it: 1) as a transactional process that guides individuals toward their goals over time and changing circumstances and 2) as management of thoughts and behaviors through specific mechanisms, 3) process initiated when the routine is being challenged or 4) as phases: goal selection, goal cognition, directional maintenance, directional change, and goal termination.

This view, however, is based on an individual with an already existing strong sense of Self, otherwise, the goal-setting risks to be unaligned with the core sense of self and lead to frustration. In case of the absence or loss of self, many self-destructive behaviors may emerge. It’s the feeling that Chernin expressed as “there is no I” leading to misattunement, dysregulation and a lost or false sense of self.

“The mindful and yogic path to self-regulation provides an embodied (lived experience) and a cognitive framework for both knowing and regulating the whole, integrated self within the context of life experience. It embraces the whole journey, more so than the goal. The destination is the realization of one’s own true nature.”

In the theory of embodied self-regulation, proposed by Catherine P. Cook-Cottone in 2015, there are few differences from the traditional view on self-regulation in the context of the target of the intervention, the emphasis, the outcome, and the ecological scope. In short, the embodied theory sees the body as a container of the self thus any self-work must include active practices that involve the body-mind connection, not purely cognitive. In the last wave of therapies, emotional regulation and self-regulation became integral in treatments. These are the essentials in mindfulness and yogic approaches by cultivating the awareness of self as an observer of the mind, receptive state of being both internally and externally.

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 © Ewa Kampelmann 2019