Week 3: Emotional Challenges

This week – emotional challenges! How do we manage the emotional challenges that life brings?

Life is difficult. We are constantly presented with challenges to our peace of mind, both from outside events, and and from our internal states. In Week 3, we explore the emotional challenges we are likely to face, and how to deal with those challenges in an emotionally intelligent way.

What to do Next:
  1. Watch videos (0301, 0302)
  2. Reflect and/or journal
  3. Continue practising your chosen Emotional First Aid techniques until they become your automatic responses to dysregulation
  4. Optional – explore the additional resources
Multimedia Course Content

Video 0301: Emotional Challenges

The inevitable emotional challenges, the self-inflicted emotional challenges, and the emotional challenges arising from inadequate emotional care in childhood. How they affect us, and how to repair the damage.

Transcript: Video 0301

Video 0302: Polyvagal Theory – Why Safety is the Key

NOTE: at 14:01 in the video (https://youtu.be/br8-qebjIgs?t=841) the presenter mis-states the vagus nerve information direction. Most of the information carried by the vagus nerve actually goes from the body to the Central Nervous System.
Wikipedia says: “…the vagus nerve comprises between 80% and 90% of afferent nerves mostly conveying sensory information about the state of the body’s organs to the central nervous system.”

  1. What are your main emotional challenges?
  2. How do you feel about the suggested practices for healing emotional challenges? Do you have resistance? Excitement? Anxiety? Hope?
  3. Do you see examples of the green, yellow and red states in your own life? How easily do you move between the different states? Do you ever get “stuck” in one of the states?
  4. What do you experience when you do the guided breathing practices?

Review Earlier Weeks

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: I have trouble relaxing. How do I get my vagus nerve to activate my “rest and repair” state?

A: There are a number of activities that directly stimulate the vagus nerve, for example humming, singing, and chanting. You can also use breathing techniques to influence the vagus nerve indirectly. (Many of the calming Emotional First Aid techniques from Week 2 directly or indirectly influence the vagus nerve.)

 You can also stimulate the vagus nerve with activities that involve co-ordination – playing music, singing and dancing with others, contact improvisation, acro yoga, tai chi and qi gong, and martial arts (without sparring), just to name a few.

Anything which stimulates a feeling of awe will also activate the vagus nerve, so watch the sunset, go out into nature, visit a cathedral or an art gallery, or watch someone performing a beautiful ritual or artistic piece.

Q: What are the suggested practices for healing emotional challenges?

A: First and foremost, practising awareness and emotional regulation lays the groundwork for emotional healing.

Then, we can move on to any practice which involves slow movement, feeling our emotional sensations, and mindfulness. This includes practices such as yoga, tai chi, qi gong, Pilates, Feldenkrais and Alexander method movements, dance, stretching, slow martial arts training routines, and gentle walking.

Activities which elevate the heart rate (cardio) have a different effect on the body, so for emotional healing, focus on slow, smooth, balanced, mindful movement.

Q: What do I do if I keep getting flashbacks and traumatic memories during the practice?

A: The most important thing to remember is emotional regulation. If the traumatic material is manageable – you can use emotional first aid techniques to keep yourself in the functional zone – then you are actually healing the trauma, bit by bit, just by sitting with the memory and remaining present.

If the traumatic material is too intense, and you lose the ability to be mindful and allow it to process, then you will need to adjust the way you do the practice. Some people find that doing the practice at the same time as some gentle movement, such as tai chi, yoga, or stretching, can help them to stay present and process the traumatic feelings and memories. 

If this doesn’t work for you, then we recommend you devote all your practice time to your 2-3 best emotional first aid techniques, to build your emotional regulation muscles a bit more. 


14 + 10 =

Additional Exploration

References, optional further study and additional practices

Academic References

Cook A, Blaustein M, Spinazzola J, van der Kolk B, eds. (2003). Complex Trauma in Children and Adolescents: White Paper from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Complex Trauma Task Force (PDF). National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

Porges, S. “Polyvagal Theory: New Insights Into Adaptive Reactions of the Autonomic Nervous System” Cleve Clin J Med. 2009 Apr; 76(Suppl 2): S86–S90.

Walker, P. (2013). Complex PTSD: From surviving to thriving: A guide and map for recovering from childhood trauma. Azure Coyote Publishing.

Van der Kolk, B. (2015). The body keeps the score: Mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma. London: Penguin Books.

Cascading Constraints: The Role of Early Developmental Deficits in the Formation of Personality Styles

Many personality psychologists view personality as dimensional rather than embracingthe typological approach. Discernable subclinical personality styles like narcissism seem to exist as a clustering of dimensional attributes. This article suggests that these styles arise as the knock-on effects of early deficits or suboptimal experiences, which constrain later development...

A Doctor Explains “Cognitive Bypassing” & How it’s Keeping us Trapped in our Trauma

There is no shortage of self-help gurus and coaches out there to help you “process” your traumas by creating new thought processes around them (the positive psychology movement is a good example). “Just think better, and you’ll feel better,” they say. While this may help in the short-term, it may well be counterproductive in the long-term …

Complex PTSD

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD; also known as complex trauma disorder) is a psychological disorder that can develop in response to prolonged, repeated experience of interpersonal trauma in a context in which the individual has little or no chance of escape. As children are completely dependent on their caregivers, any prolonged abuse or neglect in the formative years can lead to complex PTSD. Young children are unable to self-regulate their emotions, which means that simple emotional unavailability in their caregivers can turn otherwise normal life events into traumatic events for young children. 

Repeated traumatization during childhood leads to trauma symptoms that differ from those described for single-incident PTSD. C-PTSD symptoms and behavioural characteristics can be grouped in seven domains:

  • Attachment – “problems with relationship boundaries, lack of trust, social isolation, difficulty perceiving and responding to others’ emotional states”
  • Biology – “sensory-motor developmental dysfunction, sensory-integration difficulties, somatization, and increased medical problems”
  • Affect or emotional regulation – “poor affect regulation, difficulty identifying and expressing emotions and internal states, and difficulties communicating needs, wants, and wishes”
  • Dissociation – “amnesia, depersonalization, discrete states of consciousness with discrete memories, affect, and functioning, and impaired memory for state-based events”
  • Behavioural control – “problems with impulse control, aggression, pathological self-soothing, and sleep problems
  • Cognition – “difficulty regulating attention; problems with a variety of ‘executive functions‘ such as planning, judgement, initiation, use of materials, and self-monitoring; difficulty processing new information; difficulty focusing and completing tasks; poor object constancy; problems with ’cause-effect’ thinking; and language developmental problems such as a gap between receptive and expressive communication abilities.”
  • Self-concept – “fragmented and disconnected autobiographical narrative, disturbed body image, low self-esteem, excessive shame, and negative internal working models of self”.

About Erik Erikson

Erik Homburger Erikson (born Erik Salomonsen; 15 June 1902 – 12 May 1994) was a German-American developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst known for his theory on psychological development of human beings. He may be most famous for coining the phrase identity crisis.

Despite lacking a bachelor’s degree, Erikson served as a professor at prominent institutions, including Harvard, University of California, Berkeley, and Yale. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Erikson as the 12th most cited psychologist of the 20th century.

Erikson hypothesized that a child faces certain inevitable emotional challenges at each stage of development.  Integrating the apparent opposites results in “successful” completion of the stage.

Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages

Hope, Basic trust vs. basic mistrust—This stage covers the period of infancy, 0–18 months. Whether the baby develops basic trust or basic mistrust depends on the quality of the maternal relationship, which then helps the child develop trust that can transition into relationships other than parental. If successful in this, the baby develops a sense of trust, which “forms the basis in the child for a sense of identity.” Failure to develop this trust will result in a feeling of fear and a sense that the world is inconsistent and unpredictable.

Will, Autonomy vs. shame—Covers early childhood around 1–3 years old. Introduces the concept of autonomy vs. shame and doubt. The child begins to discover the beginnings of his or her independence.  Shame and doubt occurs when the child feels incompetent in their ability to complete tasks and survive. Children successful in this stage will have “self-control without a loss of self-esteem.”

Purpose, Initiative vs. guilt—Preschool / 3–5 years. Does the child have the ability to do things on her own, such as dress herself? Children in this stage are interacting with peers, and creating their own games and activities. If allowed to make these decisions, the child will develop confidence in her ability to lead others. If the child is not allowed to make certain decisions the sense of guilt develops. 

Competence, Industry vs. inferiority—School-age / 6–11 years. Child comparing self-worth to others (such as in a classroom environment). Child can recognize major disparities in personal abilities relative to other children. Often during this stage the child will try to prove competency with things rewarded in society, and also develop satisfaction with his abilities.

Fidelity, Identity vs. role confusion—Adolescent / 12–18 years. Questioning of self. Who am I, how do I fit in? Where am I going in life? The adolescent is exploring and seeking for her own unique identity. This is done by looking at personal beliefs, goals, and values. The morality of the individual is also explored and developed.

Love, Intimacy vs. isolation—This is the first stage of adult development. This development usually happens during young adulthood, which is between the ages of 18 to 40. Dating, marriage, family and friendships are important during the stage in their life.

Care, Generativity vs. stagnation—The second stage of adulthood happens between the ages of 40-65. During this time people are normally settled in their lives and know what is important to them. 

Wisdom, Ego integrity vs. despair—This stage affects the age group of 65 and on. During this time an individual has reached the last chapter in her life and retirement is approaching or has already taken place. Ego-integrity means the acceptance of life in its fullness: the victories and the defeats, what was accomplished and what was not accomplished.

“There is no one way to recover and heal from any trauma. Each survivor chooses their own path, or stumbles across it.”

Laurie Matthew