Primal fears and avoidant behaviours

January 24, 2013

I’ve written a lot about mature masculine and mature feminine but today I want to talk more about what stops us stepping more fully into those roles and how we can become more aware and empower ourselves to embrace who we truly are and not to remain constrained by our limiting beliefs and historic woundings.

Pulsation of Life
Our natural state of being is one of pulsation. As human organisms, we pulsate. Most notably we can notice this in our heartbeat, our lungs, our digestive system, the cerebral spinal fluid amongst others. This state of pulsation is part of what defines us as living beings. Wilhelm Reich, father of Body Psychotherapy called it the pulsation of life. Every living thing has these pulsations.

This pulsation consists of two elements: expansion and contraction. For example, the lungs expand with air as we inhale and then contract or return to a less expanded state as we exhale. These states of expansion and contraction also correspond with the two aspects of the autonomic nervous system within the body: the para-sympathetic nervous system (expansion) and the sympathetic nervous system (contraction).

It is not only our body organs which expand and contract in this way. We can also say that as whole organisms we expand and contract in relation to our external reality. Expansion is a sense of moving towards the world to meet it, contraction is a sense of withdrawing, moving away from the world.

In even more simple terms we can define expansion as love, and contraction as fear. So part of the work of healing and developing awareness is to notice when we are in a place of fear and when we are in a place of love.

Primal Brain Fears
Fear triggers the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for our survival. This is a very effective evolutionary mechanism which has helped us to survive through-out millennia. However, today, since most of us do not face survival-level threats on a regular basis, this system is over-active and often serves to limit us rather than protect us.

In emotional terms our primal brain, which is responsible for our survival, kicks in when we feel the perceived threat of emotionally uncomfortable feelings. These are core feelings which can lead to a sense of survival threat. These fears which feel so threatening are:

Powerlessness                Betrayal
Worthlessness                Rejection
Shame                              Abandonment

Each of these feelings may trigger a fear-based reaction, an avoidant behaviour, stimulating the sympathetic nervous system into action and effectively closing us off emotionally and intimately from the world and others.

Avoidant Behaviours – Primal Brain Reactions
When our body perceives a life-threatening situation our sympathetic nervous system kicks in and as part of its evolutionary defence mechanism, it directs us into one of five different reactions. Most people know two of these (fight or flight). These reactions were first defined by American psychologist Walter Bradford Cannon as early as 1915, and have been developed since. The five reactions are:

Fight               Detach
Flight              Tend & befriend

So when we find ourselves in a situation which we imagine at some level may trigger us to feel one on the unbearable feelings (abandonment, shame, etc) we will tend to go into our fear-based reaction (contraction), instead of responding from a place of love (expansion).

The journey to our Self is one of awareness and compassion – hence my two guiding principles 1) be aware 2) be gentle with yourself. This is a daily practice. It is only by becoming aware of our own fear-based reactions that we can conquer them and begin to move into a place of love and expansion.

How Does This Work in Relationships?
This is a very brief description of a significant part of the healing process for many of us (if not all). And I have described it in relation to ourselves as individuals. But what happens when we bring another into the equation? Inevitably things become more complicated!

When we sit in fear, we are not in our mature masculine/feminine positions. In relational terms, both male and female need to be able to sit with these uncomfortable emotions. Then we can remain open (expanded) to the other.

One way we can define the essence of the mature masculine is presence. The mature feminine is about love. By staying with the challenging feelings which we experience as a result of perceived threat, we can remain open to the relationship rather than withdraw from it. So, man can invite a woman to step into her mature feminine through presence. A woman can invite a man to step into his mature masculine through love.

This is a difficult and challenging journey to our Self and to remain open in relationship with the Other but it is only through increased awareness of the natural state of expansion and contraction that we experience in life that we can hope to grow and evolve.

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