In happy times we’re doing something we’re good at and enjoy doing. We feel we belong somewhere called home, and have love in our lives. We’re free to let our feelings out at appropriate times and let them guide us at all times. We’re in tune with ourselves; instinct, emotion and intellect collaborating in a living work of art.
But as we all know from experience, life is complex and subject to surprises, both pleasant and otherwise, those unavoidable ‘tipping points’ that upset the balance and radically alter priorities. At these times instinct takes over; we become aroused and focused only on the event, whether opening to a wonderful surprise or defending against an unexpected threat. While it’s prudent to expect the best and avoid serious risks, traumatic tipping points will occur and it is quite impossible to predict or escape them altogether.
When we feel threatened we enter a state of alarm—the well known ‘fight or flight’ response. Our senses sharpen, the pupils dilate, muscles tense, blood pressure goes up, and adrenalin floods the system. It doesn’t matter whether the threat is real or imagined.
But, if we can’t fight or run and feel still in danger, or are injured, we then close down into the deeper defense of shock. In shock we curl into a rigid posture protecting the organs, the pupils constrict, blood pressure drops, and opiates flood the system—natural anesthesia. This is nature’s ultimate defense against bleeding and pain.
It’s important to realise that alarm and shock are healthy primal reflexes that give us (and most animals) the best survival odds in acute trauma. The problems arise when alarm and shock have not, or cannot be completed in effective action. In this situation the enormous energies mobilised for survival get bottled up in chronic contractions and disconnections, around which we must adapt and compensate. It can be argued that many if not most health and healing problems stem from this lack of completion, of being stuck in survival mode, continually acting out the alarm or hiding away from life in shock.
When hurt, we hold. Being held, we can let go.
By Al Pelowski