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Self-reliance vs. Self-regulation

Updated: Jan 30, 2023

What’s the difference between self-reliance and self-regulation? It’s so easy as a parent to feel our needs don’t matter. Our awareness is so often on our children and their needs that we can forget about our own.

This may register as healthy parenting patterns. And while staying present to our children's needs is vital for them to feel safe, met, seen and responded to, your inability to tune into your own needs may stem from ways you weren’t met as a child. We come into this world needing to be tended to. Humans have the slowest development into healthy independence than any other mammal. We need to be held, carried, pottied, fed, changed, kept comfortable for minutes, days, weeks, months and years. And that’s just the physical needs. We also need our cries responded to and our emotional needs heard and met. And we also need attunement on a soul level. We need be met and seen and reflected to on all these levels. Many of our parents had no idea how to attune to us in all these ways. Terms like “letting the baby cry it out” became popular approaches. But what this was, was parents not responding to the reach, the emotional need of a baby. When this happens repeatedly to a baby, they begin to learn that no one will respond when they call out. That their reach will not be met. And the pain of continuing to do it is too much to feel, so they stop reaching. From the outside it looks like a self-soothing independant baby. But on the inside, this baby has now imprinted that their needs don’t matter. And because their needs don’t matter, they will no longer have needs that they need met by another. This creates an overly self reliant young human, and as they grow into a child and adult they have hard wired into their system that no one responds to their needs when they reach. So they just won’t have any needs. They will become so independent that they don’t need anyone else. Or just be someone that responds to others needs, but don’t have any needs of their own. Sound familiar? Our country loves this archetype. The lone cowboy. The independent immigrant building their own life away from their family. But the reality is, we do need one another. We are wired for connection as mammals. It’s part of our biology. Our babies are reaching in need of someone to respond. To hold them, to soothe them, to have them feel a sense of stable safety. When we allow for our babies to be dependent on us, there’s an independence that naturally arises and is on its organic developmental timing.

"When we allow for our babies to be dependent on us, there’s an independence that naturally arises and is on its organic developmental timing."

A toddler loves to try things for themselves and then needs support when it feels too hard. Ideally, they know someone will be there to support them to figure it out together. There’s a natural expansion and contraction that develops healthy neural pathways of knowing someone is there for them as they stretch out further in independent exploration. And from this a healthy ability to self-regulate naturally arises. From co-regulation to self-regulation. We are wired for both. So mamas, your ability to meet the needs of your children but not have any of your own needs may be stemming from a place in you that resigned long ago to believing your needs don’t matter and wouldn’t be met. Recognizing it’s ok to have needs alongside your children’s needs is vital. And maybe sometimes even opposing needs may be in the space. And that’s ok too. So many of us are consciously making different choices in how we parent from how our parents parented (or didn’t) parent us. And as we choose differently, can we include our inner children that also needed it to be different? And let them start to feel that if they reach they will also be responded to?

If that feels too difficult to do in the moment when outer needs are high, start by reflecting on how your needs were treated when you were your children’s age. Notice if you get triggered by your child’s needs and have a story that they’re “too much” or if you’re overly responsive because you want to ensure their needs are received differently than yours were as a child.

Play a game with yourself and see if you can notice that you have a need. For some of you, just beginning to notice your needs is a great first step. Once you’ve noticed, then notice what you do with it. Do you stuff it down, override it, let the pressure build and then demand it? Or something else?

As you begin to notice what your default is with needs, now take a risk and see what it would be like to speak your need, to make a request to an adult or your children. You can even name with your child that you both have opposing needs right now.

Perhaps your deepest needs won’t be met initially, but as you begin to make small choices in noticing, and speaking your needs, this begins to signal to the little one inside of you that needs are beginning to be met. This begins to create new neural networks in the brain signaling that when you reach, now... someone responds.

As you consciously teach your children that their needs matter, can you also offer that to the young one inside of you that her needs matter too? Small incremental steps are what allow us to shift from independence into interdependence. One ask at a time. We are humans, wired for connection and that’s inclusive of our needs. If this subject interests you and you would like to dive deeper, I encourage you to follow along and join us for the next Embodied Attunement Circle online. You’ll gain a powerful awareness on how to reparent yourself to bring more emotional regulation and joy into your parenting experience. Big Love and Delight,


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