Multilevel Emotion Regulation Theory (MERT) © Simone de Hoogh – Preliminary Version
For (More)Able Neurodiverse Children, Teens and (Young) Adults
MERT is a holistic theory developed by Simone de Hoogh. The theory explains how neurodiverse (young) individuals and parents of neurodiverse children can develop emotional regulation skills and direct their energy towards self-chosen goals, and contribute to society.
Multilevel Emotion Regulation Theory (MERT) is based on Simone’s years of experience as a Solution Focused Coach supporting corporations through transitions, as well as her experience as a mum of two intense, sensitive and hyper-reactive children (now young adults). Further, Simone has supported neurodiverse children, teens, and (young) adults, parents, organisations and educational institutions as a life coach, family coach and an ECHA Specialist in Gifted Education (Advanced Diploma in Educating the Gifted and approved by the European Council of High Ability (ECHA)) and within PowerWood.
Multilevel Emotion Regulation Theory is all about embracing Neurodiversity as a positive force for change in society.
Neurodiversity is to us:
- Normal, natural variation in humans
- Different way of looking at conditions (that were traditionally pathologised)
- Increasingly supported by science
- Challenging widespread social norms and stigmas
Neurodiverse children need a different style of parenting, teaching and counselling
Multilevel Emotion Regulation Theory (MERT)
- MERT reflects on emotions of (more)able neurodiverse individuals as qualitatively different from the norm and are expressed in different forms on different levels and can be regulated accordingly towards positive change.
- MERT aims to improve
- General well-being
- Harmony in the (family) relationships
- Educational outcomes
- MERT aims to facilitate directing the (advanced) cognitive abilities and heightened intensity and energy towards self chosen goals.
The general aim of MERT is to Improve the quality of life by growing understanding and developing compassion.
Underpinning theories of MERT
There are many theories and concepts underpinning the Multilevel Emotion Regulation Theory. To name a few: The Theory of Positive Disintegration by Dabrowski, Asynchronous Development by Silverman, Family Dynamics by Gottman, Thickness of the Boundary in the Mind by Hartman, The Theory of Successful Intelligence by Sternberg, Risks of High-Ability by Webb, Evolutionary Psychology: parenting, change, stress response, Attachment Theory by Bowlby, Neuroscience etc.
The Multilevel Emotion Regulation Theory (MERT) provides practical tools and strategies to apply in the heat of the moment to prevent the Cycle of Emotional and Sensory Overload and further escalation. It outlines how to strengthen the Baseline while staying compassionate towards ourselves.
It’s all about our Journey
We can apply the MERT model to improve our own, our child’s and our other loved one’s emotional well-being.
This model describes the journey between who we are and who we would like to be, our personality ideal, acknowledging that if or we go up, our personality ideal will go up as well, we will never get there, it’s all about the journey. We use the ‘Gap Energy’ to move towards our aim.
Please be aware that in this model it’s very normal to go up and down and keep going up and down as is illustrated by the routes of the aeroplanes.
There are no clear boundaries between the different levels, and you can be at several levels at the same time. It is a very flexible model, so it’s adaptable to your personal journey. This model is based on the iterative process. The different levels are described in more detail below.
We have the starting point, the runway, we move up improve our Baseline, but it might well be that something changes in personal circumstances and we have to look again at the Runway, we move up again and learn about Awareness and we have two reassess our Baseline again. Also life is not makeable and throws at us stuff this can be challenging and draining our Baseline so much that we have to go back to the Runway etc. etc.
MERT has six distinct levels that we will describe here shortly.
Understanding & Clearing The Runway
The journey starts with the realisation of the importance to understand where we and if applicable our child is coming from, which we call ‘The Runway’, and look at what might be obstacles on the way to be able to take off.
Clearing the runway of all unnecessary stressors or irritations is of real importance to be able to create a strong Baseline. We raise awareness and explore our own needs, and if possible we connect with our needs and limitations.
Understanding and clearing the runway is about understanding how we are evolutionarily defined in our own being, parenting, relating, our behaviour and stress responses, what our innate characteristics are, how we are influenced by our childhood experiences, how strong or fragile our support circle is with friends and family. How able are we to self-care, to repair in important relationships, what are our personal circumstances e.g. being a single mother or part of a couple, being disabled or struggling with a learning disability, battling an addiction, and how we are influenced by our economic, social and political situation e.g. how poor or rich we are and our direct environment is materially and in education, how safe economically we are, if we have just fled a war zone, or are an asylum seeker etc. etc.
This level is about being aware and accepting ourselves and the people we love and understanding where we’re coming from and where our child is coming from and our partner, and connecting with our own needs.
“Our aim is to accept what we cannot change, find the courage to change what we can and the wisdom to see the difference.” (Serenety Prayer)
Practically this means that during life changing events small and big (e.g. new child, illness, change in family composition, loss of a loved one, getting a puppy, unhappy child etc etc) we might have to revisit The Runway to see if there is anything blocking the Runway and if there is any clearing up that we can do now.
Our well-being is hugely influenced by our Energy level and our Emotional Resilience. We call those together our Baseline.
How high or low our energy and resilience level are defines if in a challenging situation we are able to keep our cool, keep our eye on the ball and direct our energy associated with our heightened intensity and sensitivity towards our own chosen goals and applying the PowerWood Tools or if the emotions are running wild and/or the situation escalates, whether it is with an attack of despair or anger in us or our child.
Lack of Baseline makes us lose control and have further negative experiences.
The level of our Baseline defines also if we’re able to implement a tool or strategy. If we’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed we will trigger your child’s Cycle of Emotional And Sensory Overload, and if this happens whatever tool we apply won’t work.
Our baseline will also define if we’re able to be compassionate in general and to see the positive in ourselves, in others and the situation and if we’re able to access our creativity to find practical solutions that work.
So prioritising our own Baseline is crucial in achieving our goals.
Only 10% of our minds is conscious, 90% is unconscious and choice is only possible when we are aware and we need to be conscious about anything we want to make a choice about.
Imagine if we are the captain of a ship, and we are not aware of what’s going on in the rest of the ship, someone might dig a hole in the cargo hold or the engine room is at the verge of exploding. How are we going to make sure that this ship is sailing towards our aims if everything below little wheelhouse on the top deck is in our subconscious.
So many things can go wrong. We’ll probably crash…
There is no change possible without awareness. The first step towards change is to grow awareness and appreciating ourselves for that. At this level we start using the Raising Awareness Process to focus on growing awareness. Our aim is to become aware of everything that we want to change.
On this level we refocus from goal-oriented to process oriented.
When my daughter was eight months old, she found a sandwich with peanut butter on the table and tried to put it in the VHS video slide. My daughter didn’t do anything wrong, she was just exploring her environment with the intrinsic motivation that every child has innately that will drive them to learn everything they need to learn.
Before I knew it I was shouting at my daughter and I nearly pulled her physically aggressive away from the situation.
This experience with my daughter made me revisit my own runway. Where did this reaction come from? It must have been evolutionarily defined because it went against everything I made a conscious decision about: we wouldn’t shout nor hit our children.
How was I raised? I found out that my parents followed one of the most common parenting advisors of their time, and he advised to scare the… Out of children by raising your voice and hitting before they were four years old, so they would never hold it against the parent because they wouldn’t remember it later. Children brought up like this would be perfectly conditioned to fear you enough to just follow your lead and behave.
Our aim is to get in charge of our Stress Responses and the Involuntary Mechanisms, although developed to give ourselves the best possible start in life, can become in later life, when we don’t need them any more, a hindrance in achieving our personal goals.
This part of the journey can be challenging as it can be painful to become aware of how we have been (often not in a helpful way) influenced by the behaviour of our parents, how they have been influenced by the behaviour of their parents etc. etc. and how our own behaviour influences our child and the relationship dynamic so it is extremely important to be kind to yourself and keep the Baseline strong. You are the best person you can be at this moment and that is good enough!
We don’t have to work hard, we just raise awareness. We can trust the process, we don’t make any demands on ourselves nor expect to make any changes or improvements, we just focus on growing awareness, and the change will cascade down as part of the awareness.
Emotional independence is about being emotionally independent of how others feel or behave. That we feel in charge of our own Runway, Baseline, Awareness, and emotional reactions and feelings, that we are getting aware of at which level we are at this moment, aware of what we need and getting there to support ourselves by prioritising ourselves and are able to assess if we have excess energy to give, besides the excess that we need to be able to cope with what life might throw at us, with other words the emotional resilience to cope with any external challenges.
At this level we explore our stress responses and involuntary mechanisms in relation to how we emotionally connect.
We remove everything from our inner mental runway that doesn’t help us to achieve our goals.
We are focusing on taking good care of ourselves, structurally improving our Baseline, giving when we have the energy, engaging when we have the emotional resilience.
“We cannot feel more compassionate to others then we feel towards ourselves.” Simone
When we feel lousy we are aware of that and we try not to react it out on others, or if we do we are aware of that and use it to raise our Baseline for both ourselves and others.
This newfound emotional independence gives us space to explore, who are we, what do we need, or do we want to achieve in life, what are our norms and values?
Authenticity is about being true to ourselves, for as far as we can and are aware and respecting in others where they are on their journey.
Finding practical ways to help ourselves be more authentic and true to ourselves.
We take responsibility for our own intellectual, creative, emotional, practical and spiritual needs.
We take responsibility for achieving our own goals, we learn what we need to be authentic, how our Baseline has to be nourished.
Applying the iterative process to get more and more close to the core of ourselves. For example: Learning to be able to say no when we are asked to help do something, despite our fawn stress response, and if we don’t manage to say no, to say I have to think about it or I have to check with my husband or my diary.
Compassion and Focus
We have everything ready now, our Runway is clear, our Baseline is strong, we use Awareness to prevent us from flying down and for strengthening our Baseline further, we are Emotional Independent and are growing our Authentic Self.
We feel compassionate about ourselves and others and we now know where we want to head for and what we want to achieve. We have all the emotional means to be able to go there. Until something happens that shakes our world and we have to fly back to the Baseline as we need extra energy and emotional resilience to face the challenge. Or we might have to go back to the Runway to check if there is anything there that we can understand better and clear. We might have to revisit the Awareness to grow awareness about something we discovered in this level.
New Normal (The Butterfly Paradigm Shift)
Somewhere along the journey, you will experience what we call the ‘New Normal’, a paradigm shift symbolised by the Butterfly in the MERT Model, moving from feeling overwhelmed by your emotional reactions and your emotional responsibilities towards feeling able to be in charge of your own emotional reactions, feeling emotional independent.
When you experience the ‘New Normal’ you are able to take emotional responsibility without getting emotional over-invested in the behaviour or feelings of others, nor getting emotionally triggered by it. You will be able to hold the space emotionally for others.
Good luck at your Journey!
The MERT is giving understanding, practical tools and strategies to apply in the moment to prevent escalation and help strengthening the Baseline.
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OE (Overexcitability) is an element of a Developmental Theory –Theory of Positive Disintegration by Dabrowski- that is one of the underpinning theories of MERT (Multi-level Emotion Regulation Theory) developed by Simone de Hoogh. Overexcitability explains and allows us to look at ‘extreme’ behaviour as a valuable asset in our or our children’s life.
A HUGE thank YOU to the son and daughter of Ernest Hartmann’s who gave PowerWood permission to use and put the full academically approved questionnaire about the Boundary in the Mind on PowerWood’s website.