Emotional Regulation: How to Resist the Urge to Go to the Dark Side

by | Aug 24, 2016 | Blog, Brain Science, Relationships



(He doesn’t make a very good

significant other,

so don’t be him at home!)



Harnessing the Force

Let’s be honest – we all go to the Dark Side at times. Emotional regulation goes haywire if our limbic system senses threat and we don’t perceive enough resource to handle things relationally.  That's when we drop down to Darth Vader land. Fight flight freeze takes over and we stop caring how we come across to our partners, want to have the last word, care more about being right, and do anything to win. (Light saber sound effect in back ground)

Disguised as American grownups, we can look innocent and wholesome enough… until we “go limbic” (aka cross over to the Dark Side) and all hell breaks loose. We become bratty kids in adult bodies. This occurs when we drop into more primitive-style relating run by old structures of the brain such as the amygdala rather than the newer, more evolved and wise part of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex.

Hmm, sounds familiar. Kinda embarrassing isn’t it?

It is, but it’s preventable with Jedi training. (Hear an introduction into how our minds affect adult relating  here or an intro into a mindfulness exercise here.)

Jedi Training – Learning Emotional Regulation

The idea is we train our mental muscle to literally grow connections in our prefrontal cortex and thereby tame our ever-watchful but sometimes overzealous amygdala. Sometimes this is called mindfulness training. While the tone here is wistful the science is real – the research is in and mindfulness training actually is the bomb!

They’ve lost their minds!

Let’s say we keep it together pretty well, but it’s close others who cross over and go Vader on us?

Then you especially need to use the Force! Dealing with someone close who has been triggered into Vader-land is a very volatile situation because before long, if you aren’t trained, their limbic minds will pull yours down right along with them. You must work very hard to stay up in your pre-frontal cortex and resist the urge to dysregulate. If you can win this battle and keep ahold of your mind, you both win, because guess what happens… they will very likely come over to your side and calm their little rears down. And even if they don’t, at least you have only one Vader-mess to contend with, not two!

(Listen for an upcoming podcast episode on Mirror Neurons and Neural WiFi for more on this, coming soon)

Neurologically this is a fact… Defensiveness begets defensiveness. Mean begets mean. And the best news, calm begets calm, compassion evokes compassion…. You get the idea.

True, true. Ok, sounds good, sure I’m all up for Jedi, but Missus Yoda, HOW do you train to be all Luke-ified in relationships?

Good question, because it does literally take training and practice to overcome the pull to go limbic. Lots and lots of awareness and practice. Mind control, literally.

Practicing mindfulness and self-compassion do help over-ride the dark impulses. The idea is to stay connected to your pre-frontal cortex (Jedi) rather than having your behavior ruled by your limbic system and your amygdala (Vader).

Villagers truly underestimate the Power of regulation, or calm. Being self-possessed holds way more power than wall-punching or voice raising or impulsive acting. You maintain your capacity to assess the situation, to pivot your response in small incremental steps if needed, to maintain creative outside-the-box thinking, to maintain a connection to the other, which is not only a nice thing to do, it is most effective in getting our way. We aren’t being altruistic, that isn’t maintainable. We are looking for win-wins.

Four starter hacks to move toward Positive Coupling and Resist the Dark Side:

A Jedi never blames their opponent when they are defeated. So, don’t blame your partner when you get dysregulated no matter what they’ve just done! Look for your part, even if it’s .02 percent, and seek how you can improve your side of the street. The rest will come along.

Self-righteousness is always a dark side attitudinal stance. Check your cocky self and move towards humility to grow the Force in you.

If you can’t feel some sense of vulnerability or care, Darkness looms. The tricky part of this trap is you don’t know it because it feels good not to feel bad. That’s the dangerous draw!! Feeling nothing means you are defended, cut off, not in the light, not connect with the Force of good. Take a walk, talk, get it out, write, cry, express your mad, do what you need to reconnect to yo’ bad self. You’ll know it when you find it. You gotta get the let down. There ya go!! Now you can have that conversation and give feedback to your partner and offer suggestions and advice. But not before – don’t do it without connection first. Here is the secret: Cut offs are brittle and weak. The capacity to feel and respond is wise, true strength, and maintainable for years to come.

Last bit – win an argument by taking your time. Slow down. Reflect. Come up with multiple options. Fast is slow and slow is your prefrontal cortex, master in training. Channel Yoda. We are trying to get blood flowing to the top of your mind, away from the primitive fast acting reactive light sabers. Use your words not actions. Pouting, withdrawing, yelling, and cutting off the conversation are all actions. So is breaking up and getting back together impulsively. Yoda pauses. What is good today will still be good tomorrow, and next week, so sleep on it and slow down to be a master of close relationships.

More suggestions to develop Jedi mind control in general:

We all understand that becoming a true Jedi of your mind takes more than reading a simple blog post, right? By using breath awareness, mindfulness practices, interpersonal strategies that emphasize here and now relating, self-compassion, and learning all you can about interpersonal neurobiology and attachment you can begin to grow the part of your mind that seats secure relating, impulse control, and emotion management. We can use all of these strategies to better control the part of the mind that manages threat and pulls us into black and white, all or none, right or wrong impulsive thinking and acting.

But for now the main message is that you don’t have to go to the limbic-brain Dark Side. It is resistible even when you think it isn’t. Let’s strap ourselves into our higher prefrontal cortex for your own wellbeing and the wellbeing of those you love.

So next time you sense the Dark Force calling, take a few deep breaths and go Jedi. Your partner and your kids will love you for it!


by Sue Marriott, podcaster, blogger, therapist, mom.


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