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Flight & Fight / SNB103

Updated: Mar 19, 2023



INTRO -

  • In this episode, I continue the Polyvagal audio master class with a look into the sympathetic flight/fight state of mobilization.

  • My name is Justin Sunseri.

  • I’m a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist obsessed with the polyvagal theory.

  • Welcome to Stuck Not Broken.


DISCLAIMERS -

Lots more PVT resources on justinlmft.com, including one-pagers on the fundamentals in the file share section.


But before I get into things -put yourself first. I keep every episode as safe as I can, but just by the nature of the topics, you may experience some stuff come up. Take a break if you need to.


This podcast is not therapy, nor intended to be a replacement for therapy.



BIOLOGY OF FLIGHT & FIGHT

Sympathetic branch of the ANS


Flight then fight from the top of the ladder

  • If we can’t run, then we fight

Fight then fight if coming from the bottom of the ladder

  • Sympathetic surge is necessary when coming from the immobilization


Limbs used for getting away or using aggressive force

  • Legs for running, arms and upper body for pushing, lifting, throwing and hitting


The body is being mobilized

  • Heart rate speeds up

  • blood pressure increases

  • Cortisol and adrenaline increase

  • Muscle tension

  • Increased metabolism

  • Pupil dilation

  • Sweat


SURVIVAL MODE

Evolutionary benefits to the sympathetic state

  • Pain tolerance increases to help with running or fighting

  • Better able to scan the environment to find danger

  • Breathing becomes shorter and faster, to increase heart rate and stay mobilized

  • Faster rate of speaking since we’re inhaling less


Survival state isn’t intended to be ongoing

  • It’s supposed to be acute, sympathetic energy is supposed to be released in a burst of running or fighting

  • People that come from abusive homes aren’t getting the relief of discharging the sympathetic activation


DOWN THE LADDER

We are no longer in Safe & Social

  • Creating distance between ourselves and others

  • Others are now a threat

Facial Cues

  • No longer identifying or giving facial social cues

  • Now identifying neutral faces as threat

Hearing

  • Middle ear muscles turn off to better hear deep sounds or high sounds

  • Harder to understand the sound or meaning of human voice


FLIGHT/FIGHT IS NOT BAD

  • These still exist within us for a purpose

  • We still access them

  • Feeling these things isn’t a failure

  • This is not an issue of pride

  • We just don’t want it to be out of control

    • We want to stay anchored in safety


BSA can be helpful when it comes to this

  • As we build our moments of safety mindfully, we build the capacity to tolerate the flight/fight energy because it exercises those safety pathways

  • BSA is all about identifying and mindfully, purposefully practicing being in the state of safety

  • As the tolerance to the defensive energy builds, then it can start to discharge

  • But we have to feel safety first, be in the present moment and actually experience these shifts

  • Not about feeling the painful stuff, really about feeling the safety




USE-DEPENDENT

  • The nervous system adapts based on the needs of survival

    • If you had to exist in a defensive state to get your needs met, then your nervous system shaped around that

    • Homes saturated in defense are probably more likely to create young nervous systems in defensive states

    • But this isn’t just in childhood, also applies to adults

  • Being in a state of Flight/Fight can become chronic

    • Police officers exist in a flight/fight state chronically out of necessity; also other first responders

    • “Hypervigilance” to us vs them

    • Turning this off for them is difficult

  • We can become dangerous to ourselves or others

    • Seeing danger in others when its not there

    • Lots of blame and judgment, fear and anger

    • When stuck in flight, we avoid school

    • When stuck in fight, we lash out at others

    • Relationships are compromised

    • Much more impulsive in this state


DAILY EXPERIENCE

  • Flight: panic, anxiety, fear, dread, on guard, hypervigilant, foot tapping

  • Fight: Anger, rage, irritation, aggression, muscles tense, clenched fists

  • Both: Flat affect, wide eyes, distracted, sitting upright or forward, shallow breathing, breathing into shoulders or chest, not hearing safe people, sensing danger everywhere, speaking faster and louder, increased heart rate

  • Sympathetic evolved to be used in short durations, not ongoing

    • Very taxing on the system, resulting in many problems for those stuck in defense

    • ACEs evidence of those stuck in defensive states


STORY FOLLOWS STATE

  • Our thoughts match our polyvagal state

  • The flight/fight state is about identifying and surviving danger

    • So our thoughts will be as well

  • Thoughts of blame, judgment, avoidance

    • “I didn’t pass the test because my teacher hates me!”

    • “Our relationship is failing because you never loved me!

  • The story matches the intensity, reinforces it

    • Dangerous along with increased impulsivity of the sympathetic state


COMING OUT OF DANGER

  • Requires safely discharging the energy

  • Done in a safe environment with a safe person

  • Moving from Danger to Safety can feel like danger, keeping someone in the flight/fight state

    • Like last episode, safety is uncomfortable, exposed


ANNOUNCEMENTS -

  • BSA is on the website - justinlmft.com


THANKS SO MUCH FOR LISTENING!

  • I hope you’ve learned something new to help you climb your polyvagal ladder.

  • Bye!

  • This podcast is not therapy, not intended to be therapy or be a replacement for therapy. Nothing in this creates or indicates a therapeutic relationship. Please consult with your therapist or seek for one in your area if you are experiencing mental health sx. Nothing in this podcast should be construed to be specific life advice; it is for educational and entertainment purposes only. More resources are available in the description of this episode and in the footer of justinlmft.com.


This week’s Patreon episode -

Intro/Outro music & Transition Sounds by Benjo Beats - https://soundcloud.com/benjobeats


National Suicide Prevention Hotline - 1 (800) 273-8255

National Domestic Violence Hotline -1 (800) 799-7233

LGBT Trevor Project Lifeline - 1 (866) 488-7386

National Sexual Assault Hotline - 1 (800) 656-4673

Crisis Text Line - Text “HOME” to 741741

Call 911 for emergency


This podcast is not therapy, not intended to be therapy or be a replacement for therapy. Nothing in this creates or indicates a therapeutic relationship. Please consult with your therapist or seek for one in your area if you are experiencing mental health sx. Nothing in this podcast should be construed to be specific life advice; it is for educational and entertainment purposes only.


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