Transforming Reactivity - How to Unwind the Nervous System

You know that situation where a driver isn’t careful and the one put at risk by his behaviour almost starts a fight? Or when someone throws their anger at another person who then freezes for a moment? Both situations are examples of our instinctive reactions to threat.

Our reactions on this level can feel faster than light because they are very instinctive (driven by the reptilian brain; see the post "Three Layers of Transformation" for explanation of what reptilian brain is). And typically we use either fight (e.g. react in anger) or flight (e.g. run away either physically or emotionally by shutting down). Which of these reactions we use more depends a bit on what was successful for us in the past.

Although the instinctive reactivity system is our ally in real threat situations it has a pitfall, which is that it also gets activated by things that remind us of previous threats. Which is not always helpful especially when the context has potentially changed.

Let’s take for example criticism and receiving feedback. If we received harsh pressure and unconstructive criticism as a child or failing had significant consequence we might find that years later the whole instinctive reactivity still gets activated when we receive just simple feedback and that it takes a while to go back to a more stable state after that.

In fact reactivity is often one of the key limiting factors to transformation because it is so instinctive and therefore very hard to suppress or control with thoughts unlike emotions.

So how do we transform it..? The key is to reduce some of the charge that we still have in the system from previous threats that we haven’t completely been able to unwind from.

In other words the nervous system stored energy as a result of the past experience and that energy needs to be released for relaxation to replace tension around the particular topic that causes exaggerated reactivity. Interestingly it is far more important to unwind the nervous system around a particular issue than to explore the past experience in detail, which makes this a far easier process.

The key ingredients to unwinding the nervous system around a particular issue are:

SLOWING DOWN AND CREATING SAFETY – to allow the nervous system to prepare for releasing
WORKING WITH SENSATIONS IN THE BODY – to access the areas where the charge is stored
TAKING ONE BITE AT A TIME – to ensure the charge is released gradually and avoid overwhelming the system again

The meditation track “To the Rescue” can be a support in situations of high reactivity as it is designed to help the nervous system unwind progressively. However, it can’t replace a personal session as it doesn’t allow me to pace and adjust exercises to your state.