Julie Miller's Mental Health Blog

Impulse Control Disorder #2

Posted on: April 14, 2010

Self-regulation/self-soothing is a tremendously important skill for all humans, and in American culture, we’re just not that good at it.

Self-soothing is a skill we are supposed to learn from our caregivers (parents, etc.) when we are small children.  We learn by observing our caregivers soothe themselves when distressed, and if they self-soothe in a healthy, internally-focused manner, we will learn to do that as well.  If they drink, rage, obsess, or act out in some other compulsive manner to soothe, then we’ll do the same.

We may have a slightly different “flavor” of acting out to self-soothe, but the principal will be the same.  Obsessive compulsive spectrum disorders, including impulse control disorders, are most certainly about soothing anxiety.

As a trauma therapist, my perspective is that trauma underlies the problematic behaviors.  The affect (emotion) and negative self-referencing beliefs can be targeted in therapy (especially EMDR).  We can trace back to the first time the individual believed this negative belief, or experienced the emotions.  We can also target the worst experience they had based on this belief or emotion.

Resolution of the underlying trauma can give the individual a “foot in the door” to gain a sense of control over the problematic impulses and behavior.


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