Stories and from my private practice and the theory I teach
Sometimes people come and see me because they have mysterious body aches and pains that have no real known cause. For instance they have this chronic pain in their shoulder or neck, yet they’ve never had a injury, not to their shoulder or neck, and sometimes not to any part of their body. Then, there are those who are in pain and discomfort but they don’t know why they are sore all the time, yet I later find out they were in a major car accident or their life was threatened by a family member years or decades ago and they can’t imagine how their pain and suffering are linked to something that happened ages ago.
After all, how could just being threatened and never having one finger laid upon you cause physical body symptoms?
This article sums up how this is possible.
What you are about to read is my start-off point when I need to educate my clients about their mysterious body pains.
First I tell them about their autonomic nervous system.
Our autonomic nervous system, also known as our automatic body responses, or ANS is the part of our body that reacts and just turns on to protect us and keep us from harm. It is what pulls our leg away from that knife that we drop when we are cutting vegetables in the kitchen and it what makes us startle and jump when we hear a loud sound. (our ANS actually does A LOT more for us, but I want to keep this in the context of the threat response cycle).
It is also what kicks in when we feel threat from another person, or when we have a accident that harms our physical parts.
Either way, our ANS, our automatic nervous system goes through a series of steps to ensure we do what we can to protect and keep ourselves from death.
The Threat Response Cycle
A big note of caution: I’m simplifying this to provide a basic overview – if you have specific questions about a threat that may have happened to you PLEASE get in touch. This response in our human world is not always a linear, step-by-step cycle, especially when disruptions occur within the cycle. It is these disruptions that cause trauma, and subsequently things like post-traumatic stress.(more on this soon…)
The threat response cycle is a sequencing of responses that occurs automatically as a result of novelty in our immediate environment.
It goes something like this:
1. We perceive threat – we stop – notice – orient to the external – we evaluate our situation (this happens in milliseconds, not even, it is quick!).
2. Startle occurs at the same moment as the primary orienting response, however it involves another part of our nervous system that brings up our heart rate and breath and gets us ready to either fight or flee (also known as the sympathetic nervous system, SNS).
3. We orient and look around us again, but this time, in a defensive manner – followed by this is higher activation of the SNS – more readiness to either fight or flee.
4. We “choose” our specific defense: Fight, flight, freeze.
Then, if NO THREAT is actually encountered our physiology should return to as it was before the initial response. We go back to cooking dinner, reading that book, playing with our kids…..
But, if THREAT DOES OCCUR, and we are NOT ABLE to act out the automatic (autonomic) instructions written within our nervous system to defend ourselves, we are left with something called an incomplete threat (and typically movement, or motor) response in our system.
It is this incomplete threat response that stays stored in our nervous system as a written instruction to move, or run, or hit, or protect.
Imagine all those muscles that never got to act and do what our automatic systems wanted?
Imagine all the energy bound up in our cells?
It is this failure to “run-hit-protect” that bounds the emotion of fear to threat. Or to put it another way, a pure threat response that gets to fully act out stays biological and not emotional.
Meditating and creating a positive mind-set towards an accident, or a person who may have threatened us may seem great for our higher psyches to cope with past situations, but if our body is still craving the need to express these movements and complete this threat response cycle we will forever be held captive by it and true healing will never take place.
Something to consider and to be continued, and please send me an email as these responses can’t be “un-done” by a twelve-step approach.