If we understand our brain stem as an important function in our information processing, that helps to make wiser choices for our relationships. In the ‘polyvagal theory’, things are clearer to understand. If we truly understand our -lower, more animalistic- information-processing level, we can understand how we will see the world as a reptilian, sometimes.
Are we being fed? Are we being followed? Are we really angry, or just afraid? Is this world safe enough for me?
If we recognise these purely evolutionary steps, it helps us evaluate the world around us wiser. Even more, it might be important to understand how these reactions block our rational evaluations and our relational capabilities altogether.
Relating and your Brainstem
If we understand that sex is vulnerable and if we understand our brainstem reactions not as ‘the truth’ but ‘just’ as a brainstem ‘idea’ about the world as being an unsafe place -or not-, that can basically help ourselves to understand our automatic reactions, and how they are likewise.
If we see the world around us as being a safe place we just let the information from our senses pass to the higher levels of our brains. If we are sensing (the term in the polyvagal theory is “neuro-sensing”) the world as being a dangerous place, we have our automatic reactions in our brainstem towards this ‘unsafeness’. And it basically has different steps down the ladder as we perceive the world more and more unsafe:
- If we perceive that there won’t be enough, that hunger will be a reality, then we’ll leave everything behind and go into Frenzy to get what we want.
- If we perceive that there will really be a dangerous situation because of lack of food or because of threat, we will choose Flight as a coping mechanism.
- If the world is even more dangerous will choose Fight as a coping mechanism. That doesn’t really equal anger because anger is more directed towards something and ‘Fight’ is just a means of threatening your aggressor away from you.
- If we can’t get our aggressor away from us we will probably try to be unseen by tensing up in Freeze hoping that our protective colours will guard us against harm.
- And if the situation is really hopeless and we get into the balls of our aggressors we choose Feign Death as a way to at least stay alive. We will accept pain and discomfort and will be limp instead of tense, and hope that our aggressor leaves us be, as being unattractive.
Taking it serious
If you look at these then what’s your favourite reaction in unsafe situations? What do you tend to do when you are in a relationship situation that you perceive as being “unsafe”?
What is your ‘fav’ brainstem reaction?
Chances are that you will tend to go into one of the states and will perceive your partner as somebody who won’t give you what you need or even an aggressor and you will react accordingly.
On the one hand, it might be wise to really own your own brain stem reactions and understand that these are automatic but can be untrained, on the other hand, it might be important to tell your partner what is likely to happen so that he or she can react appropriately to your personal ‘F’-s:
- If you go into a Frenzy then try to understand what you are hungry for and try to understand that you probably will not find in your relationship what you need, when you go into a frenzied mindset. Help your partner(s) understand what you’re looking for in situations like these. Is it respect? Is it safety? Is it love? Is it intimacy?
- If you go into Flight then try to understand what you’re fleeing from. Help your partner understand that all the directions other than the direction of your partner are attractive to you in moments like these because you’re afraid. And it might help to tell him or her what you were afraid of.
- If you go into Fight then try to understand what space you need. Help your partner to understand how you can get a feeling of freedom and not being cornered because actually you don’t want to fight your partner.
- If you go into Freeze then try to understand what you’re trying to hide from. And help your partner understand that your compliance seems real but is not. It will lead to anger in the future because it will feel unfair afterwards, to I have given what you don’t give from within.
- If you go into Feign Death then try to understand that you’re feeling of hopelessness is real, but that the situation actually isn’t. And help your partner understand that your hopelessness is not what you want but is in reaction to you seeing the world as being a hopeless place. Generate hope together.
Understanding our selves
Hopefully understanding your basic reactions and exchanging them with your partner, helps you both to stay out of these brainstem relationships where the Frenzy of one person leads to the Feign Death of the other one. Brainstem relationships like where the flight of one person leads to the fight of another one, or the Flight of one person leads to the Frenzy of the other.
Maybe, if you both recognise these situations soon enough, the brain stem reactions won’t escalate, and won’t feed upon each other. Maybe it’s a good idea to ask a (kink aware?) relationship coach to create a safe situation to talk. This helps to create a safe situation for both.
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Hope for the best,