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Relationships, Right Hemisphere and Emotion Regulation

Complex/developmental trauma has many different facets to it. Overlooked by the general population and clients alike is the role of neglect and parental mental heath. Specifically, the role of the mother.


Many clients with an emotional neglect or parental mental health challenges will share with me they think there could not be this much dysregulation in their system given the childhood they had.   Sure, their mother had severe post partum, but that cleared up when they were 3 and they had no interaction or sense of emotional closeness with their family ever, but that can’t really be that upsetting right?  They had food and clothing and no one ever called child protective services. Doesn’t it have to be bigger than this?


No, it does not.


I am not minimizing the enormous effect of abuse or socioeconomic status on outcomes for individuals.  This is about highlighting the role of maternal mental health and regulation on outcomes for children.


Brain Basics:


The brain is the most complicated super computer in the universe.  The more we come to know about it the more we realize we really know almost nothing.


Here’s some things we do know about the brain.  It has a left side and a right side connected through a super highway called your corpus collosum (do not need to remember this).


Generally when we think of the left hemisphere and functioning we think of the following “L” words

  • Language
  • Linear Thinking
  • Logical Analysis



Generally when we think of the right hemisphere and functioning we think of the following “R” words

  • Regulation
  • Relationshipsto Others
  • Relationships to Self


As the first hemisphere to develop, during 18-30 months, the right hemisphere plays a dominant role until development switches to the left hemisphere when a child learns how to talk (remember L=Left=Language).


This critical time in development, 0-30months, is directly mediated by the infants interaction with their caregivers.   Specifically with their mother, or lack thereof.


The absence of the mother can be a physical one, as in the case of neglect, or in an emotional/psychological one where the mother’s Self is unavailable to help facilitate development of the infant.


This can be due to a variety of reasons including mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, substance use, or simply the mother has not matured enough in her own emotional development to have a coherent sense of Self.


Seburn Fischer states in her book Neurofeedback in the Treatment of Developmental Trauma: Calming the Fear-Driven Brain

“The single greatest cost of the mother’s inability to regulate herself…is to the development of her child’s right hemisphere, the part of the brain that governs the regulation of emotion…affect regulation is a prerequisite for the development of a coherent sense of Self and other.”


Understanding the role of maternal regulation and attachment to infant and eventually adult regulation and attachment is essential as a preventative factor for psychological trauma.

Why do we care?  It isn’t that big of a deal, right?

The World Health Organization (WHO) states psychological trauma is one of the contributing factors of depression.  In addition WHO states

Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease.



What To Do When Things Go Astray


So how do we move forward when we see this as something in our past?

Two of my favorite ways to work with this type of adverse childhood experience are neurofeedback and Internal Family Systems.


In Internal Family Systems we can teach the adult how to create attuned, calm, regulated relationships with parts inside themselves, which can heal and recreate the initial relationship between parent and child that was not healthy and/or available.


In neurofeedback we can help to train parts of the right hemisphere mimicking the regulation that should have happened in the original parent child relationship thereby helping to foster a more regulated right hemisphere and thus better relationships and emotion regulation.


If you, or someone you know, is struggling with emotion regulation and relationships and would like to learn more about integrating neurofeedback and IFS please reach out to me directly.


I will also be speaking in November at the national Internal Family Systems conference where I will be presenting Bringing the Brain into Ifs: Integrating Neurofeedback and the Ifs Model.


Grace and Peace,