For years I had been hearing people like Allan Shore and Diana Fosha talk about “dyadic regulation” or “limbic regulation.” We’re composed of not one brain but an amazingly complex brain with a spectrum of functions. Different parts of the brain were developed over time, theoretically, as the need arose.
I knew about the brain structures they were talking about. A simplistic understanding is that the limbic brain is where feelings are generated, stored, synthesized.
Here’s a wonderful slide by my colleague Janina Fisher (2003) that describes the Triune Brain first proposed by Paul McLean in 1967.
I don’t know about you, but there’s a difference between learning something through my head and learning it with my whole body.
That was what happened when I really learned about limbic regulation from Pasha.
Let me start at the beginning.
I kept hearing at these conferences all about limbic regulation. It made so much sense when I would hear these experts talking. I “got” it with my mind.
At the same time I kept sorting out what it really was to have limbic regulation in my body. For years attachment issues confounded me. I understood it — but I still didn’t always have the felt experience that went along with it.
Over the years I had done a ton of work on myself to the point where I was able to get comfort from relationships, from touch. Yet I had to admit there was still this missing piece and old beliefs that hiccupped me with people.
Somewhere in those years I could feel the longing growing to understand this from the inside out.
That dovetailed with a longing I had had of getting a dog for many years but felt I was too busy, didn’t know what kind of dog, etc, etc.
Despite my “better” thoughts about it, I followed my impulse, my instincts. I went to look at a bunch of puppies one day. There was this little bundle of white fuzz ambling around on his own, truthfully looking a little disconnected (!)
I left, glad to have gone and seen these little bundles of joy but pretty sure I wasn’t ready for the jump into family life but there was something about him that kept calling to me long after I had been with him. My body kept telling me to take him home.
Over days I kept checking with my body, talking about it in therapy, with friends, with my partner, Dave.
The longing – for what I wasn’t sure – kept pushing me, till yes, Pasha came home, all three pounds of him.
I remember driving away with him, holding him, feeling his warm little being. Now those of you with children have probably had this experience already. It was new to me.
The thing about little babies, puppies, kitties is how relaxed their bodies are. They just melt into you. No resistance.
Notice the difference when you huge someone or reach out to them. Usually your body is holding back some, not giving in completely. Not so with these little newbies.
Holding Pasha was an “Aahhh!” Now I know what limbic regulation was. His little body, breathing being was what Allan Shore calls a “neurobiological regulator.” My nervous system relaxed being close to him
It’s why so many people have animals. Their unconditional love and joyous spirit combined with this dyadic regulation makes for good medicine!
What about you? What has your experience been with limbic regulation?