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.
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
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
No longer identifying or giving facial social cues
Now identifying neutral faces as threat
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
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
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
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.
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.
Building Safety Anchors - https://www.justinlmft.com/challenge-page/5180d0d1-fa0d-4833-8a96-b41546791435/
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.