Advertisement
  • Forum Stats

    Number of Members: 5,984
    Total Threads: 30,495
    Total Posts: 220,017
    Currently Online: 47

    Newest Member: AfraidoftheAnger
  • Desensitizing Your Fight or Flight Response

    Desensitizing Your Fight or Flight Response
    By Ewa Schwarz, OnlineCounseling.org
    January 2010

    Creating a Sense of Safety in Your Life By Changing the Meaning of Your Experiences

    Eight years ago I wrote an article on being a highly sensitive person. So much has happened since that time. I have learned how to take the quality of being highly sensitive and evolve it into something that works for me, while living a relatively normal life.

    By desensitizing my emotional triggers, my entire perception has been allowed to changed, including how external stimuli affect my body. As I have taught my body and mind to feel safer and experiences less stress, I have developed higher tolerance levels for things that used to easily overwhelm me. This is what I want to share with you now.

    Being highly sensitive means that a person’s senses are very easily overwhelmed. What then happens is that the fight or flight response is triggered, causing a person to feel unsafe. It is possible to train and condition yourself to feel far safer than you normally do and to desensitize those triggers. This allows you to lead a much more normal life, one where you can process information very differently than you do now.

    The additional information that an HSP perceives can then be put to use in a way that works for you instead of against you. You have a heightened sense of awareness in which you can read your surroundings better than the average person. When you can process this information clearly, you can make much different choices than when you are in reaction. Having this extra information becomes a gift rather than a curse.

    The key is to teach yourself how to feel safer than you do now, to redefine all of your triggers. This takes a combination of approaches from both the mental perspective as well as the physical. This process also requires that you examine all beliefs that you have in your unconscious mind and replace them as necessary.

    Lets start with this idea of feeling unsafe. From a very early age we were accosted with information, easily misunderstood, our parents have no clue how to deal with us, etc. Over the years we found that this combination actually increased our sensitivity to the point where we were uncomfortable in our own skin.

    What really happens over the years is that we felt increasingly unsafe. Combine this with low self esteem and limiting beliefs and it becomes a recipe for struggling to exist. Many HSP’s experience anxiety, depression, chronic stress, and so many more physical challenges. This cycle can not only be stopped, it can be reversed.

    How we perceive what is happening around us now, the definition that we give to events is more often than not based on our past experiences. If we were unsafe in the past, it will trigger the mind into assuming that we are unsafe again now. Your mind is there to try to protect you and it thinks that it needs to be on high alert all the time looking for potential threats. As an HSP these “threats” seem to appear so much more often.

    Yet defining current events from our past experiences is what contributes to the ongoing assault on our senses. But over time the source becomes largely from our own minds. We need to look at each and every incident that triggers an emotional reaction within us and to break it down so that we start to understand that we actually are safe in the current moment.

    When you go into an emotional reaction, an assumption is being made based on the minds directive to try to protect you. If you are in reaction, your mind has perceived a threat. It has made an assumption that you are unsafe. It then takes that assumption and from that mistaken perspective, it further defines what is happening around you as if you really are in danger.

    Your fight or flight response kicks in, flooding your body with hormones. It is this constant flood that contributes to becoming ill. The body cannot process these hormones if they become chronic, which is what happens to HSP’s. This constantly being triggered and being put on high alert trying to protect yourself is exhausting.

    The solution is to train yourself to always go back to what the initial assumption is. Is it another person’s emotional reaction? Does it feel like they are attacking you? You need to redefine this. The only reason any person goes into emotional reaction is because of fear. Fear takes on so many different forms it is mind-boggling. The bottom line is that all emotional reactions stem from some form of fear.

    There are the obvious forms that fear comes in, such as: phobia, dread, anxiety, panic, angst, insecurity, stress, depression, etc. There is also fear of change, confinement, constancy, death, pain, illness, loneliness, not having a (good) source of income, etc.

    Then there is anger, annoyance, bitterness, hatred, resentment, prejudice, judgment, being “right”, any belief that causes you to feel a negative emotion towards another person is fear based. Underneath any of those labels is a fear of getting hurt, being misunderstood or wronged, of somebody being that much different than you (our partners being no exception).

    People can also have fears of beneficial aspects of life: love, commitment, self-actualization, public speaking, the future, success, etc. Fear can also be subtler and come in the form of doubt, needing to be liked or admired, in how you look, what other people think of you, needing to please another (at home, work, socially, etc.), getting older, irritability, etc.

    How we define our value is a prime breeding ground for fear, experiencing fear or doubt about your value. There is also the fear of speaking the truth in all situations, including relationships, family, work, friends, etc. Do you have a fear of conflict? How do you handle an aggressive personality? Are you what you would call a peacemaker for others? What subtle or not so subtle fear is underneath that?

    Knowing this you go back to your own initial emotional reaction. Your mind has made an assumption that you are under some form of attack or that you are unsafe. Instead, choose to see that the other person is in fear and reacting to try to defend themselves. You have a choice here, to continue with your reaction and believe that the threat is true, which it is not, or you can talk yourself through this to feel safe again.

    Acknowledge that your mind is trying to keep you safe. That is the truth. Then look closer at the source of what is causing your mind to assume that there is a potential threat. Tell yourself that you really do not know what the “threat” really means, which you don’t. Your mind will try to justify its own assumption by creating meaning that is not there. Repeat to yourself that the trigger does not have the meaning that you think it does, that your mind is trying to define it based on your past.

    Breathe deeply and slowly and tell yourself that you are safe. Do not allow your mind to continue with its justifications that you are in danger. As with anything new that you learn, you need to practice this. It will take a lot of time and much trial and error to change a lifetime of habit and of feeling unsafe. You can do this with any trigger really.

    Even the times where external stimulus causes you discomfort, part of that discomfort comes from your body tensing up and your mind spiraling into that unsafe zone. Yes you will still probably need to minimize the external over stimulation, but realize that you have just been triggered into fight or flight and you do have the means in which to calm yourself and minimize the hormones that flood you.

    You do this by acknowledging how your mind has jumped to protect you by putting you on high alert. There is no threat to you. Breath deeply and slowly and tell yourself that you are safe. Consciously relax the muscles in your body. Calmly take whatever action you need to, while working on what it will take to make your body feel better internally. You may not have external control over events, but you always have this internal choice.

    It is essential that you work on breaking the habit of allowing your mind to define every trigger from your experiences in the past. All emotional triggers fit this definition. Work at it relentlessly, day after day, week after week, year after year. Change the definitions of what your mind automatically jumps to. Search for whatever it is that you can tell yourself in that moment that will allow you to perceive safety and cut the fight or flight response short.

    What you will find is that over time, you will start to notice that your fight or flight response starts to lessen. You start to feel safer. You stop defining events as threatening to you. This is going to be a very long process, but it is well worth the battle to take back control over your own experience. It is worth the effort to maximize your physical and emotional health.

    For myself, being able to minimize my triggers and in many cases eliminate them has become one of the best and biggest accomplishments of my life. Now when I experience all this extra information that I regularly do as an HSP, I can process most of it without all the extra meaning that my mind used to give it. This information is so valuable in understanding the world.

    With this information I can clearly see and clearly understand what is happening for other people. For the most part I have stopped taking other peoples actions personally, because I have taught myself to stop perceiving events as possibly threatening and to fully understand how we all act out of fear. This puts me in a position of personal power. I now have the tools to even further deconstruct my fight or flight response. I can’t even begin to imagine what further freedoms await me.

    All of you who are reading this can do this. But in order to do this, you will have to let go of many old beliefs and to challenge many ways of thinking that you are accustomed to. Yet the old adage becomes more valid than ever in this regard, with a slight adjustment.

    Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy and be able to feel safe in your own skin?

    Author’s bio: Ewa Schwarz has been a counselor, life coach, healer and teacher for 20 years, having studied a wide range of mind-body healing practices. She owns and runs OnlineCounseling.org. Sign up for her free monthly personal growth Ezine, read one of the many archived articles, her blogs or free counseling articles that she provides to help everyone, whether they can afford counseling or not.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Desensitizing Your Fight or Flight Response started by David Baxter View original post
    Comments 3 Comments
    1. icthus's Avatar
      icthus -
      I remember a point in time at which I came to a sort of logical end of my emotional vector that made clear to me how my emotions and whatever problems I might have were absurdly at odds. That began the upside of a graph for me. The downward graph began in one definite moment when I felt crushed between the contrasting specific beliefs of two persons I highly respected. I literally felt as if something deep in my brain had short circuited--like in the amygdala, as I learned the term later. All I can say is that is how the trauma felt, and that it began many months of struggle.

      One of the things also that helped me in the upswing was the belief, somewhat like Plato, if you will, that there is a reality out there despite the confusion of shadows I see. Thus there are real things that should make me feel afraid as well as targets of fear which are off center with respect to reality, and also there are appropriate degrees of fear that should match reality. If my actions might influence someone to do wrong, I should fear that my actions might cause such a reaction. If I am in a crosswalk when a truck is barreling toward me at close range, an anxiety and flight response is appropriate ... unless the sudden flight response without any anxiety is more so.

      I would see even pragmatism--whatever helps my anxiety meter stay in the "normal" range, whatever helps me cope and act normally--as somehow rooted in an ideal of reality. Emotions and reality should align, and when they do, pragmatism works, at least over the long haul.

      I commend you, Ewa, for your discipline and patience in spiraling toward reality. Wow!

      As to your claim that "all emotional reactions stem from some form of fear," I had never considered the possibility, and it seems to me intuitively and initially to be a thesis I cannot cavalierly dismiss. Fear is too ingrained in too many human emotions and actions, as implied by your illustrations. But the whatever in me pushes back with, "What about pride being the root of all emotions?" Not that I am expecting a definitive, widely held answer. Nor perhaps is one needed.
    1. ESchwarz's Avatar
      ESchwarz -
      Quote Originally Posted by icthus View Post
      I remember a point in time at which I came to a sort of logical end of my emotional vector that made clear to me how my emotions and whatever problems I might have were absurdly at odds. That began the upside of a graph for me. The downward graph began in one definite moment when I felt crushed between the contrasting specific beliefs of two persons I highly respected. I literally felt as if something deep in my brain had short circuited--like in the amygdala, as I learned the term later. All I can say is that is how the trauma felt, and that it began many months of struggle.

      One of the things also that helped me in the upswing was the belief, somewhat like Plato, if you will, that there is a reality out there despite the confusion of shadows I see. Thus there are real things that should make me feel afraid as well as targets of fear which are off center with respect to reality, and also there are appropriate degrees of fear that should match reality. If my actions might influence someone to do wrong, I should fear that my actions might cause such a reaction. If I am in a crosswalk when a truck is barreling toward me at close range, an anxiety and flight response is appropriate ... unless the sudden flight response without any anxiety is more so.

      I would see even pragmatism--whatever helps my anxiety meter stay in the "normal" range, whatever helps me cope and act normally--as somehow rooted in an ideal of reality. Emotions and reality should align, and when they do, pragmatism works, at least over the long haul.

      I commend you, Ewa, for your discipline and patience in spiraling toward reality. Wow!

      As to your claim that "all emotional reactions stem from some form of fear," I had never considered the possibility, and it seems to me intuitively and initially to be a thesis I cannot cavalierly dismiss. Fear is too ingrained in too many human emotions and actions, as implied by your illustrations. But the whatever in me pushes back with, "What about pride being the root of all emotions?" Not that I am expecting a definitive, widely held answer. Nor perhaps is one needed.
      Hi Icthus,

      You always have a choice as to what you want to believe, whether you realize that you have that choice or not! This applies to every single belief that has ever crossed human existence, including all widely held societal beliefs. What is reality? Who defines it? How do you explain how everyone's experience of reality is slightly different (or sometimes vastly so) than the next person? Who defines what is appropriate, never mind an appropriate degree of fear? The human mind is barely understood and what we do know is still largely speculated about.

      How do you judge how another person will react to one of your actions? If you really believed your own statement, you would never leave the house for fear of such reactions! If you have a thousand people watching your actions, you will have a thousand variations on how your actions may influence each person, cascading through their memories and filtering through the subconscious experiences from their pasts, each of which is incredibly unique. When I speak about the fight or flight response, I use it from the perspective of emotional triggers as opposed to physical threats to simplify where human evolution needs to head to next.

      I read your third paragraph with interest and from my perspective I would say: when you realign your emotions to a different reality, pragmatism works. When it is said that you create your reality based on what you think or believe, it does not happen magically or through some powerful force outside of us. It is a very practical, measurable and definable change that occurs when you change what you choose to think or focus on. You inevitably make different choices. You communicate differently. You take off the blinders that are unknowingly there through typically overactive fight or flight responses that create tunnel vision, tunnel hearing, and tunnel understanding. You don't know you are in the tunnel until you experience the increased awareness that comes with the lack of it. It is a conundrum until actually experienced.

      The simple act of minimizing your fight or flight response results in an increased awareness. With this ever expanding awareness, which is in direct proportion to the amount of fear you have or the fight or flight that you experience, you start to see more potential opportunities that you explore that you would not have noticed, or that you would have previously judged as not being relevant. Your innate curiosity, which is mostly dormant with FOF, becomes activated. As you explore more, you see more. The more you see, the more you act upon without the fears that would typically hold you back.

      My first thought about "What about pride being the root of all emotions?" was: why would you think that pride would be the root of all emotions? It makes me wonder how you came to even ask that? This is the strength and power of curiosity at work. Rather than take people's words at face value, being curious about why people say what they say (or do what they do) reveals far more about that person's experience and who they think they are than the words that are uttered. It is infinitely fascinating to see the three dimensional aspect of words. What people say really does not convey that much about what they are trying to say, but when examined more closely in this curious (double entendre intended) way, the words actually say far more about the person speaking the words than what they are speaking about.

      But back to pride. Let's define it as: "A sense of one's own proper dignity or value; self-respect." So then are you asking if we do not feel this about ourselves, then we will emotionally react more easily? That if we perceive someone as not treating us with dignity, not valuing or respecting us that we will react? That if we truly feel all these things about ourselves that we will not react? That we possibly will not even be able to conceive that someone is not treating us properly? By my earlier definition, when someone appears to not value another person, their words are only showing who the speaker of those words really is.

      If you define pride as: "Pleasure or satisfaction taken in an achievement, possession, or association: parental pride.", then are you asking if we define ourselves in this way, but perhaps our achievement disappears or is eclipsed by a better one, we no longer have a possession, or our association changes (lose a job, child grows up, etc.), then we will emotionally react more easily? That if we no longer have the pleasure or satisfaction through these external sources, tent how we define our happiness or value is no longer there, then is that what will make us react, or even not feel safe? Then perhaps pride is actually the furthest thing away from our real selves, if who we defined ourselves as can no longer exist when we use this definition and circumstances change. Then what kind of self understanding does that leave a person with?

      If you define pride as: "An excessively high opinion of oneself; conceit", then I would need to first ask, how do you define an excessively high opinion of oneself? I will use myself as an example. I have a very high opinion of myself. In fact, you could argue that in some cases it is in fact excessively high. Out of place even. I have no doubt that there is a very wide range of perceptions on how people perceive me as perceiving myself! Yet who is right? What would it be based on? Why should it be true? The fact remains that I have a high opinion of myself. But is it pride? What does it mean?

      How do I explain the difference in knowing who you are, so completely and so thoroughly, without judging any part of it as good or bad, but that this is just who you are in this moment, and that who you are is always evolving. To trust in oneself. To not get offended or to use other people's words to doubt yourself in any way, regardless of the apparent "validity" of their argument. But also in a way where I don't have the need to convince anyone else to even think remotely in the same way that I do, to see me as I see myself. That requires such a high opinion of oneself, that it would make pride look like a speck of sand compared to all the stars in the universe.

      What I am referring to is who each one of us is supposed to fully be themselves. This is private to everyone. This is each of our personal connection with God, it is who we are intended to be, different from the next person, yet in alignment with Source. When each one of us can reach the point where we see ourselves so fully, so joyfully embracing every aspect of being ourselves exactly where we are right now, I suspect that there will be no fear in our lives. Our awareness will be so acute that how we live is unfathomable to us now. That 95% of our mind that is subconscious and the 5% that is conscious will eventually switch over.

      I don't know that I specifically answered you question, but I do know that I have scattered many seeds for thought! I happily share the tools that I learn or am given with anyone who wishes to pick them up and use them for themselves.
    1. icthus's Avatar
      icthus -
      Hi ESchwarz!

      Thank you for your lengthy and in-depth response. It was certainly more than I expected and probably more than I can reciprocate, not least due to my limited energies and divergent focus.

      Scattered thoughts occur anyway. "You always have a choice as to what you want to believe": Certainly I would agree that choice is part of many beliefs; whether choice is always part of any given person's beliefs in every case is more than I know.

      "How do you explain how everyone's experience of reality is slightly different (or sometimes vastly so) than the next person?" Having lived a little while, I am of course aware of different perspectives concerning the same thing--"two Jews, three opinions" as one saying goes. Now switch the perspective: How do you explain commonalities in perspectives on the same thing? Or the possibility of communication, say, between us? In the illustration of the near-accident of a pedestrian by an approaching truck, would dodging out the way be uncommon? Why?

      I am suggesting not that there are no differences in perspective on the approaching truck, but that the existence of common or near-ubiquitous agreements implies (but does not prove) that there are points of correspondence between human perception and things whose existence and properties do not depend on human perception for their existence. Nor need those things be solely comprised of physical objects with their properties.

      However, I would also accept as a truism that the more we know, the more we know that we do not know. To function at all, we must extrapolate and construct models from limited data ... and here, I think, is where there is room to change perspectives and beliefs about things to which we exhibit a fear response. My father has battled Lyme's Disease for over fifty years, with lots of stories along the way, usually involving suffering of some kind. Yet I have often heard him muse that he is never quite sure if a thing that happens to him is either good or bad. I think I can see his point, though I might quibble with him on specifics and he has experienced a range of unpleasant emotions along the way. The beauty is that the Krumholtz lies green in the tundra (or White Mountains of New Hampshire where I used to see it).

      "How do you judge how another person will react to one of your actions? If you really believed your own statement, you would never leave the house for fear of such reactions!" Sorry if I am being obtuse, but I do not understand. What statement of mine? How does such statement logically require in fear never leaving the house?

      As to the issue of pride, I can only wonder if your mental explorations imply you are coming to agree with, or at least sympathize with, my push-back to your claim "all emotional reactions stem from some form of fear."

      "What I am referring to is who each one of us is supposed to fully be themselves. This is private to everyone. This is each of our personal connection with God, it is who we are intended to be, different from the next person, yet in alignment with Source." I believe in a supernatural Source to reality and meaning whose personal attributes (if I can call them that) in many ways exceed our own and yet to whom we humans relate according to our capacity. Thus human fear and suffering are not without meaning or purpose, nor I think do they represent arrival in every sense.

      And I in turn am left to wonder if I have misunderstood you somewhere other than where I have already stated. And I hope nonetheless that my brief response bears value for you.