Lack of self-regulation and well-being

In this guide we are going to discuss how the lack of self regulation can impact mental health and how we can develop healthy self-regulation. 

How does lack of self-regulation impact well-being?

As people we have free range to do whatever we choose however, there are consequences to the way we regulate ourselves that impacts the way we engage with life which can affect our well-being.

In brief, the impact of poor self-regulation on well-being include:

  • Inability to cope with stressors
  • Intrusive thoughts and low self-esteem
  • Inability to meet their needs 
  • Poor quality of relationships
  • Poor performance at work and school
  • Safety concerns with regard to themselves and others

Regulation and control can either be by a larger entity such as social constructs and norms, family rules even when they are not explicitly stated, school rules, job responsibilities, and relationship boundaries.

These standards, whether they are stated or not, have a large impact on our behaviour, your thoughts, and also the way we experience our emotions.

However as we become more independent and begin to engage with the world, we tend to regulate ourselves, be it based on our own values or that which has been imposed on us by the larger world around us. 

The way we regulate ourselves can have a profound impact on the way we see ourselves and the way we interact with others and our lives depending on whether the way we regulate is helpful to our overall experience of well-being or not. 

This self-regulation or the lack of healthy self-regulation can affect the way we process our thoughts, feelings and behaviour which can in turn impact our mental and physical well-being. 

Let us take a closer look to understand self-regulation and how poor/unhealthy self-regulation can impact mental health. 

Self regulation

Self-regulation in the most simplest terms is the process of controlling ourselves. Self regulation in human beings can be of different levels. It can include biological self-regulation like our body’s way to regulate temperature and it can also involve psychological self regulation. 

For the purpose of this guide we are gonna focus on physiological self-regulation which can be of three types:

  • Behavioural self regulation

Behavioral self-regulation involves being able to control the way we behave in spite of what we think or feel. It is the process of acting in our best interest inline with our needs and our values. 

For example, even though you might not want to go to college today, you still chose to do it anyway by focusing on our goals.

  • Emotional Self regulation 

Emotional self-regulation involves having control of our emotions, it is the process of processing the way we feel, calming ourselves down, and acting in adaptive ways in spite of what we feel. 

  • Cognitive self regulation

This type of self regulation involves being aware of the thoughts that occupy us. It also involves developing insight of the beliefs we hold and challenging maladaptive beliefs and thoughts to develop resilience. 

Self regulation vs self control

Self regulation is different from self control (actively stopping ourselves from acting a certain way) in the fact that self-regulation involves focusing on the management and recovery from strong impulses. 

While self control is active in the moment control, self regulation involves restructuring certain behaviour, emotional, and cognitive constructs to make this form of regulation almost a way of life and being.  

Development of self regulation

Self regulation is learned during childhood and often through the process of socialization- we learn from the adult models who teach us actively or we learn them through passive observation. 

Ideally,a  child who is taught how to manage emotions, behaviour, and thoughts by their care-takers can lead to this very important skill to help them mature emotionally and manage relationships and tasks in adulthood. 

How do we self-regulate?

Self regulation- be it biological or psychological follows the same mechanism that starts with a stimulus. These stimuli can be an event, another person, or a situation. 

In terms of psychological self regulation, we notice the stimuli and make sense of it- cognitively and emotionally. As we make sense of it we begin to choose a coping strategy to deal with it. 

Based on the strategy to cope, we make a choice of how to respond and we carry out the response. Now, based on the response, we determine if we want to continue the same strategy or not. 

The way we self regulate can be adaptive or maladaptive depending on how the outcome impacts our sense of self and experience of the world. 

For example, if being in social situations distresses you, you might choose avoidance that gives you a sense of relief. This relief is an outcome which makes us choose the strategy of avoidance later in other situations. 

However, if this strategy causes dysfunction in the way we maintain our relationships with people and negatively impacts our ability to carry out our tasks and responsibilities- example, missing work meetings because of social anxiety, it becomes a maladaptive self regulation. 

The goal of healthy self regulation that is used in therapy is to help the client strike a balance in the way they deal with their emotions, thoughts, and behaviours in light of stimuli they consider aversive. 

This is done by helping them gain aware of their present pattern of self-regulation, evaluate these patterns and how true they ring to their own values and beliefs of themselves and the world, and reflect on them to change beliefs if needed and to come up with new strategies to handle what they face in their lives in healthy ways.

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Causes of poor self-regulation

Various factors can cause an individual to lack adaptive self regulation skills, these factors include:

  • Research finds that poor self-regulation is linked to Poor functioning of the prefrontal cortex over subcortical regions involved in reward and emotion.
  • Childhood poverty and experiences related to it has also been cited as one of the probable factors that impact brain development in areas related to self-regulation.
  • Poor self-regulation training by models around them during their early and development years.
  • Self-regulation in children is also observed in people with disorders that have impulsivity as a symptom such as ADHD or manic episodes of bipolar disorders. 

Impact of self regulation on well-being

Lack of healthy self regulation or poor self regulation can have a negative impact on various areas of a person’s life and adverse effect on their overall sense of well being. 

Well being is the experience of being healthy, happy, safe, and satisfied with their lives in the present. It incorporates satisfaction in all areas of their life- relationships, careers, personal development, and sense of self. A person who experiences well-being experiences satisfaction and joy.

For a person who struggles with a lack of healthy self regulation they may face problems in various parts of their lives that can negatively impact their sense of wellbeing and life satisfaction. 

For a person who struggles with a lack of cognitive regulation where they are unable to cope with intrusive and maladaptive thoughts, they can struggle with almost all areas of their lives. They can experience extreme anxiety with regards to their relationships, their jobs, and their overall ability to cope with the demands of their lives. 

A person who is anxious may not be able to regulate their fears and assumptions of the people around them and their own selves. They may struggle with engaging with other people and may struggle with low self esteem which can hamper their quality of life. 

When it comes to emotional regulation, it can have an adverse impact on their relationships and their sense of self. A person who is unable to regulate their emotions may struggle with expressing themselves and their emotions which can hamper the quality of their relationships. 

For example, a person who is unable to regulate their anger may cause fights and tension within their relationship. It might even cause physical and psychological harm to themselves and others. 

An individual who is unable to regulate their behaviour may struggle with the consequences of their impulsive behaviour. For example, a person who is in their manic episode may engage in risky behaviours which may put them or others in harm. 

While in their depressive episode, they may struggle to regulate their behaviours so as to meet their own needs- such as food, sleep, hygiene- and the needs of others.

It has to be highlighted that a person who lacks self regulation can struggle with all three types and each type has an impact on the other. For example, a person who lacks healthy regulation of their cognitive assumptions and beliefs can experience emotional dysregulation. 

Similarly, a person who lacks behaviour self regulation may also struggle for cognitive and emotional dysregulation which leads them to behave in certain ways. For example, a child who has not been taught how to regulate their anger may begin to struggle with explosive outbursts of anger, the consequences of which can impact their sense of self and lead to further maladaptive behavior. 


In this guide we discussed what self regulation is and how it develops in a person. We have also taken a closer look at the various causes of poor self-regulation and how it impacts an individual’s sense of well-being.

Frequently asked questions related to “Lack of self-regulation and well-being”

What causes poor self-regulation?

Causes of poor regulation of emotions, thoughts, and behaviour can include:

  • Poor models for learning self-regulation
  • Trauma and enagative life expereinces
  • Mental disroders such as ADHD and other impulsive symtomps expereinced in other disorders
  • Neurobiological develpmental delays in areas of the brain that controls self reglation
  • High stress 

What is a lack of self-regulation?

An adult with lack self-regulation skills often struggle with regulating their thoughts- so they might have disorted assumptions of themselves and the world around them. 

They also struggle with impuslive behaviour such as explosive anger or enaging in risky behaviour, they may also find it extrmely hard ot meet the needs ofthemsleves and others. 

Lack of self regualtin also lead to lowered selfesteem and the inability to handle stress and emotions effectively.

How do you fix self-regulation?

Developing a healthy pracitce of self-regulation is a process of developing insight and practicing strategies that help develop awareness. Some of these strategies include:

  • Mindful living and being present with your thoughts, emotions, and behavioural activities. 

It starts with noticing what we say, do, think, and feel and allowing oursleves to be with them without judgement. It then takes the effort of evaluating them and understanding how ti impacts our lives and them making mindful choices to change piur patterns. 

  • It also involves cognitive reframing of ourbeliefs about the world and ourselves by challenging our previously held beliefs with more optimisitc, hopful, and resileint ones. 

How does trauma affect self-regulation?

Trauma leads the brain to make changes in an effort to adapt to stress related to traumatic life events. This can lead the brain and our perceptions of the world on high alert which can impact the individual’s ability to distinguish between normal stress and extreme stress. 

Because the perosn is on high alert all the time, they might find it diffuclt to control emotins, stay calm, pay attention, and be less impuslive.

Why do we need emotional regulation?

Healthy and strong emotional regulation can enhance a person’s sense of life long wellbeing and satisifaction, improve performance at work and their ability to meet their needs and that of others, enrich personal relationships, and improve their sense of control over themselves and their lives.