Blog / Video #5
It’s an odd thing. We don’t often get what we really, really want in life, but when we do, it is amazing how quickly we can ruin it. For example, we often dream of a wonderful relationship, perhaps meeting the ideal man or woman, and yet if we do, it’s just not that easy. We can very quickly become the absolutely worst possible version of ourselves in a relationship, and yet it seems unclear why. Unless, of course, you understand how the nervous system works.
It all comes down to unfinished responses to earlier situations. Unfortunately, we deal with threat much less well than our mammal cousins. If a gazelle is chased by a lion it may become overwhelmed, freeze, and then (if not eaten) recover. However, we often get stuck in that frozen state of overwhelm and never quite fully recover. We are unable to get our system up and out of the pit of freeze that is often the hallmark of things that are too much for us to deal with in the moment. And so we stay trapped there forever, waiting for something, or someone to trigger us. It looks something like this:
An incomplete threat cycle
The net result is that we have stuff left in our system which should not be there. I call this my baggage. It’s a familiar term that we use to describe the things we seem to carry around with ourselves and can’t leave behind. Like many of the words we casually use, it has a wisdom beyond our initial understanding.
This baggage is stored in our nervous system, like a bomb waiting to go off. The problem with baggage is that it then affects how we respond to the next threat. If I’ve not finished telling you off about leaving your dirty plate in the sink, and have buried all of that angry energy, then the next time you do it, I feel even more overwhelmed even quicker. And if I freeze again, then I’m just storing up trouble for the third time, and so on and so on.
Unfortunately, after a while, my entire response to the situation becomes chaotic, rather than useful. So it starts to look like this:
The result of lots of incomplete threat cycles
The solution to all of this is to go back to square one and finish my response to each threat, one by one. But this is only possible once I feel safe again. The gazelle only recovers once the lion has gone. Safety is the opposite of threat. So it is our body’s cue to us to relax and stop responding to threat.
Once you get safe again, if you have unfinished business in your system, then your nervous system’s top priority is to finish that unfinished business. This is usually a discharge of the stored energy (charge) in your body. It can look and feel a bit odd or uncomfortable. Have a look at the discharge video on the resource page of this website to see what I mean. Or look at the difference between this diagram and the ones above:
A completed threat cycle
Odd, or uncomfortable, it might be, but it is your path back to health if you have an unfished reaction to an earlier threat in your system. So do it your body must.
Back to Square One
This has an unfortunate consequence. We spend our whole lives trying to find a nice safe situation in which to feel cosy and comfortable; a great relationship, the perfect job, a wonderful home, great friends, but what do you think will happen next once we find it?
The nervous system bathes in that new luxurious feeling of safety and then takes its chance to discharge its unfinished business. This takes your body (not you, but your nervous system) back to the most unsafe and overwhelming experiences of your life. And then you start to feel everything you haven’t finished feeling at the time. So, although you appear to be safe, you feel terrible.
Then you start to think that the relationship, the job, the house, etc. are not so wonderful after all. And you casually go about behaving like a total lunatic to sabotage it all. Paradoxically, once you do, you feel safer again for a few moments, because you have stopped the past being processed. But it doesn’t last long.
Pretty soon you are back to square one wanting your safe life back and wondering why you threw it all away. That’s if you are not busy blaming it on somebody else instead. (It’s a common error to think that this has been done to us in the here and now, rather than has happened to us before and we are just feeling it rather late.). It’s a horrible bind.
The solution is to consciously turn your attention to your body and start to welcome the trouble from the past, while holding onto the safe reality in the present which allowed it to emerge.
The 28-day recovery plan in my book ‘The Invisible Lion’ will help you to start that journey. It takes some work, but it’s a lot easier than dismantling and redoing your life over and over again!
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