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What are the Fight, Flight and Freeze Responses?

What are the Fight, Flight and Freeze Responses?

The the body has two complementary nervous systems: 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘀𝘆𝗺𝗽𝗮𝘁𝗵𝗲𝘁𝗶𝗰 (arousing) and 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗽𝗮𝗿𝗮𝘀𝘆𝗺𝗽𝗮𝘁𝗵𝗲𝘁𝗶𝗰 (calming). Both are needed not only for psychological balance but for survival. Without a parasympathetic modification, the heart would beat too quickly to sustain life.

In an ideal situation, there is a smooth balance between the two nervous systems. The sympathetic is dominant in action, exercise, emotional and sexual arousal, as well as in stressful situations. The parasympathetic takes over in relaxation, sleep, meditation, massage, gentle touch, connecting deeply with another person etc.

When there is a real or perceived threat, the sympathetic system automatically goes to a fight or flight response. Either fighting or fleeing can resolve the stress. If neither is possible or successful, the sympathetic arousal can get so extreme that it is too much for the body to handle, going into total shutdown mode, sending the person into a state of freeze.

This can be full collapse, dissociation, or a more partial freeze such as an inability to think clearly or access words or emotions, or to move parts of the body.

We see this intense response in animals as well short term—example: the goat that freezes completely when scared. However, animals get out of the freeze response once the threat is gone. For humans, on the other side, it can continue even after the threat is gone.

Knowing how these states manifest is crucial for understanding how we should self-soothe and show our bodies we are now safe. Trying to convince ourselves to get out of these states is futile since even entering these states is not something we do with awareness – The amygdala perceives the threat even before cognition happens. That’s why we may have panic attacks even though nothing threatening has actually happened.

Photo source: https://tinybuddha.com/blog/how-to-stay-calm-in-a-chaotic-stressed-out-world/

I am planning on creating a series of posts to include how we can bring our bodies back to a state of homeostasis – a balance. Also, by understanding how each defense response works, you can understand why in some situations you react the way you do.

  • Why you have panic attacks
  • Why if you have anxious attachment (your past linked abandonment to a life threat) you may go into fight, flight or even total shutdown
  • Why you cannot fix anxiety no matter how you consciously convince yourself to do so

Which state do you experience most often?

Sending love to everyone and hope this is useful!

Head onto my bio to be on the mail list to receive the next attachment style guide.

If you want to discover the best self-soothing tools for you, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

Sending love,

Sorina

 

 

How to Heal Avoidant Attachment Style

How to Heal Avoidant Attachment Style

Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

Today we are going to talk about the avoidant attachment and how to heal it.

Background history
The avoidant attachment was created as a life threat response – the child was so emotionally neglected by their caregivers, that it had to learn to deny and reject his own needs. Moreover, they learned to not display any needs at all. They repressed them until they seemed gone.

Whenever feeling too vulnerable towards someone, the avoidant will retreat by shutting down emotions or avoid getting too close, in an attempt to avoid vulnerability. This is the reason why this attachment style is also known as “the turtle” or “the island”.

Avoidant attachment in relationships
Since their own caregivers denied their needs, rejecting any attempt of neediness the child must have displayed, the avoidant partner will be very disturbed if they see their partner showing any sign of “neediness” and “dependency”.

For them, it sounds almost like “I have been trying so hard all my life to not show any needs and here you come, doing all the things I’ve work so hard to suppress? No way I am going to tolerate that!” Actually, I am going to make you feel guilty for having needs like my caregivers did to me. I am going to tell you you are wrong for having needs.

Of course, this is an unconscious act of projecting a side of their personality that has been deeply suppressed. They are not aware of them doing it.

As they say, hurt people hurt people.

They feel overwhelmed by someone else’s emotions just like their caregivers were with their emotions.

I remember just the simple intention of trying to discuss a problem would irritate my avoidant partner. If I displayed any needs, he would go angry and then retreat. He just wanted me to drop it, and I thought I am the wrong one to want to solve things and have needs.

Suffering from anxious attachment, I thought he was right. So I tip-toed. I tried to become like him and not have any needs at all. But this is a cycle that never ends unless one decides to break it.

Now in a relationship with the same partner, only that we are both more securely attached, I am amazed that I am allowed to have needs with the exact same person. That it was never the fact that “that’s how they are”. No – that’s what they were taught. Once they heal, they can tolerate someone else’s discomfort. They are not overwhelmed by someone else’s needs. They can and want to solve problems and feel emotionally connected to their partner. Actually, my partner now initiates conversations about what he wants and needs. He even learned to voice his needs. I support him in doing that. Because healing attachment styles takes two.

Healing avoidant attachment
So is healing possible?

Of course it is.

Like any other trauma, attachment trauma can be healed.

Let’s see how healing the avoidant attachment can be approached.

First – if your partner is avoidant, don’t push them. They will just retreat even more. Give them space to see for themselves that their pain is their own. If you are going to push them to heal, that will just be their confirmation that you are the cause of their suffering.

If you are the one having an avoidant attachment – the way you can heal is by tolerating the discomfort that is going to show up when you get close to someone else.

In my clinical experience, people with anxious attachment tendency are usually faster to reach help. Why? Because they are the one wanting something and the partner is not responding. They feel immediate pain of not receiving the love they crave. People with avoidant attachment are more likely to find flaws in their potential partners and just think the reason why they could not have a healthy relationship just yet is the fact that they just did not find the right partner. It can take a few failed relationship until they start to see that the common denominator was..them.

I am just telling you this hoping that if you have avoidant tendencies, you can see whether you can relate or not.

And if you have decided to heal, here are a few steps to begin with:

• Understand and come to terms with the fact that the lack of care you received was unfair. But what you do from here is within your power
• Know there is no perfect partner that is going to be exactly what you need. Everyone will have flaws. You just need to differentiate between flaws and red flags. We all love someone who has flaws, and that is okay. We all have our dark side.
• Know that you are going to feel like wanting to run away when you will get close to someone. Your tendency will be to find flaws in them – that will be your weapon to feel at peace with the fact that you want and may run away
• Look at all the reasons why this attachment style is no longer serving you – we all need deep connection and this attachment style may push people away that actually might have been that special someone for you.

You have been hurt. I see you. I feel your pain. That was not right and a child should never have to go through that. You were just a child and you needed to be allowed to have needs.

My heart is with you and I pray you find the strength to be vulnerable once again.
And then one more time
Always one more time.

With all the love
Sorina

 

How To Heal Anxious Attachment Style

How To Heal Anxious Attachment Style

It’s time to move from fear to empowerment. It’s time to heal.

I’ve read several books on attachment styles and went to therapy just to find out that few people knew exactly how each attachment style heals. Most resources discuss the traits of each attachment style but few give resources on how to practically heal.

What are the exact steps we need to take to heal each attachment style?

As a short recap, attachment styles are the way we act  and feel when we start feeling close or intimate in a romantic relationship. It’s the way our caregivers related to us which created our definition about love.

For those anxiously attached, their caregivers were misattuned – they received the message that it’s not safe to explore the world on their own. They needed their caregivers for comfort, otherwise, they felt triggered. But the caregivers were not always around to soothe them. So, as adults, they’ve learned that the only way to feel good is to receive external validation and soothing. However, they cannot always get it, as it happened with their caregivers. This roller coaster is familiar yet can be the recipe for toxic and unstable relationships.

For those avoidantly attached, their caregivers taught them they will almost never be available for attunement so they have to learn to not have any kind of needs and therefore, to be extremely independent. As adults, they feel like they don’t need anyone and have an extreme fear of being needed as well. They want to keep their independence no matter what, as their were forced to learn it.

For those with disorganized attachment, their caregivers felt overwhelmed when it came to meeting their needs, responding with aggression or intimidation. This made them triggered with or without the caregiver, with an inability to be soothed. As adults, they have a sort of “come here, go away” attitude. They want closeness but when they have it, they sabotage it.

So how do we heal?

Today we are going to talk about healing anxious attachment.

It took me years to understand why no one would ever be available to meet my needs. Why my partners were so cruel to not be there when I needed them. To ask for what I need so loudly and still not be heard.

What was wrong with them? What was wrong with the world?

Well, let’s start with the start. There was nothing wrong with them. They were just adults with needs, just like I was. They were not my caregivers, so they were not responsible to co-regulate with me whenever I was feeling distressed.

When we are seeing our partners through the lens of our anxious attachment, we think they are responsible to make us feel safe and happy. This is why I think that even if they would agree, this would be the sure way towards a codependent relationship.

For us, our job is to learn that our internal state is our responsibility. That we have to learn to befriend that inner child and be the parent they never had. To show them they are okay now, so we can finally fill the gap between what our conscious mind wants (love and healthy relationships) and what our subconscious mind thinks we need (external validation that we are lovable).

Quick insight – our subconscious minds directs around 95% of our behaviors so you can already see who directed our behavior so far. We consciously said how we are worthy of love and we want a conscious relationship but ended ruled by our subconscious beliefs.

How do change this?

Our inner child needs the soothing they never had from the caregiver. To show up as our adult, healthy and loving self, we have to learn to provide that soothing to them when we feel triggered. To remember it’s not our partner’s responsibility to soothe us, but ours.

The moment we feel the abandonment and rejection kicking in – we have to pause. The stories about how we will end up alone and abandoned will keep on going. But the adult inside of us can take control.

Take a step back and just breathe. Deep abdominal breathing, to show your nervous system you are safe now. The 4-7-8 breathing technique, also known as “relaxing breath,” involves breathing in for 4 seconds, holding the breath for 7 seconds, and exhaling for 8 seconds. Try it out.

Your mission is to show your inner child that YOU won’t abandon him/her. That’s all they want to know. And no one besides you will ever be able to provide them the love and comfort that they expect from you, the now adult.

After you feel calm again, take a piece of paper and write down similar affirmations, while holding the image of your inner child in mind:

You are safe now with me
I will always be here to hold you when you are scared
I won’t ever turn my back to you when you feel alone
I will always have your back when you need me
My partner’s rejection is not a direct reflection of my worth

In time, you will love that self love is not outsourced. No one can give us self love and validation, and that’s what we need the most. You’ll learned to be rejected and not feel abandoned.

I’ll say that again – We can all be rejected without feeling abandoned. Actually, we can be rejected and know it has nothing to do with our worth.

Don’t forget – the more we detach ourselves from our attachment tendencies and we can see them as the child within us who just wants love and protection, the more we are able to work with, not against our attachment style.

In the next series, we discuss the other attachment styles and their healing.

Sending love to everyone,

Sorina

Mindfulness Practices That Ease Anxiety

Mindfulness Practices That Ease Anxiety

The American Psychological Association (APA) is talking about anxiety as “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” It is important to know that all of us have feelings of anxiety from time to time, especially before specific stressful events like exams, interviews or other life events that are perceived as difficult. Usually, when feeling that we are in danger, our flight or fight mode gets activated, so our body helps us survive the dangerous situation we might be in, like being attacked by a stray dog or hearing someone behind us when walking on a dark road at night. Nowadays anxiety doesn’t only get triggered when we are attacked by a bear as our ancestors were, but it revolves around work, financial security, emotional security and other stressful matters that cannot always be helped when the flight or fight gets activated. The system that once was helping us for survival can nowadays send false alarms to our brain and misbehave by perceiving a real threat even though there is nothing life-threatening happening.

Imagine being at the beach, with a nice drink in your hands, the breeze gently touching your face, while suddenly your heart starts racing like crazy. Laying on a beach is a situation most people would perceive as one of the most relaxing activities there are, however, our amygdala can get falsely triggered in any type of situation and make us feel as if we are dying even if we have all the conditions to relax. This is one of the common symptoms anxiety can have on an individual – a typical panic attack.

There are different approaches when it comes to treating anxiety, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) being the most widely-used therapy for all type of anxiety disorders. Medication can be prescribed as well if CBT alone does not provide results for a determined period of time.

However, recent studies are exploring the new approaches we can use in treating anxiety and depression. One of the practices that are becoming more popular for anxiety and depression is mindfulness. With practices derived from ancient Buddhist and Yoga teachings, mindfulness-based therapy (MBT), which includes mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR);  has gained popularity in the form of treatment in psychotherapy.

Put simply, mindfulness is the practice of being aware of what you are experiencing in the present moment, with no judgement. Being mindful means bringing that awareness to your thoughts and experiences while detaching from them without giving them a meaning. In anxiety, a mindful approach can help us see anxiety for what it is – a malfunction of our amygdala, instead of getting caught up in worse case scenarios that might make us more anxious than we were to begin with. By being mindful, we are able to watch the thoughts as they come and they go, just like the clouds do on a sunny day.

If your worries are negative and don’t serve any purpose, you can train yourself to disengage with them. For example, when thinking “I am a disaster, no one likes me” with mindfulness you don’t identify with the thought anymore and look at it like: ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve had it before. But it’s just a thought, a certainty.”

Here are some mindful qualities we can cultivate that can help us in working with anxiety mindfully.

Patience – realizing the impermanence of any feeling, including anxiety, helps us know any good or bad state comes and goes. By knowing this, even if we feel extremely bad at a given moment, we know for sure there will come a period of ease. Therapists usually recommend writing down the anxiety levels on a 24hr or 48hr period, so you can see that anxiety decreases, and that it doesn’t always feel constantly as intense as it might seem when you look back and evaluate your life.

 

Acceptance –  Resisting and denying anxiety are one of the attitudes we might adapt when feeling long periods of heightened anxiety. We try to resist it, thinking it will go away, but as they say – what you resist, persists. As Eckart Tolle beautifully says in The Power Of Now, “If you looked in the mirror and did not like what you saw, you would have to be mad to attack the image in the mirror. That is precisely what you do when you are in a state of nonacceptance. And, of course, if you attack the image, it attacks you back. If you accept the image, no matter what it is, if you become friendly toward it, it cannot not become friendly toward you. This is how you change the world.” And this is how you change your attitude towards anxiety, too.

 

 

Nonjudgment – means looking at your anxiety detached, without any judgment or evaluation. Without trying to think “this is horrible, I cannot live with it”, but instead looking at it for what it is – anxiety, that will eventually come and go. Attaching a strong negative meaning to it can only make it worse – during a panic attack, those who experience it think they will die, thought that only attracts worst-case scenarios make things far worse at the moment. Instead, while having a panic attack, through mindfulness you can see the feelings of panic or the physical symptoms as they appear, knowing it’s just a malfunction of your amygdala – that almond-shaped section of the brain that is responsible for detecting fear and preparing for emergency events, has perceived a threat that is actually not there. You are able to know being in a supermarket or in a crowd does not put your life in danger, so you are able to detach from that faulty system that tries to trick you into believing you are about to die.

 

Nonstriving, similar to letting it be, means allowing what you experience to just be. By practicing this attitude, we are able to look at what we experience for what it is, without trying to change it in any way. Whenever you are feeling strong anxiety or the urge of a panic attack, the first reaction will be to get out of the place you’re in. In this situation, by practicing nonstriving, you would be able to continue what you were doing before feeling the anxiety kicking in, without trying to exit the premises and look for a safe spot as soon as possible in order to ease your anxiety.

 

Self-compassion – How would you treat your best friend during a panic attack? Would you put them down even more by letting them know they are doing something wrong, or would you tell them they are just enough and nothing that happens is their fault? Anxiety might come with a lot of self-blame, especially when you know you shouldn’t feel scared but you still do, or when your therapist said next time you have a panic attack in a supermarket you should stay there, but you still run home as fast as you can. Knowing how to practice self-love and self-compassion will help you feel that you are doing the best you can. Even if some days might not look like it, there are plenty of other days when you put a brave smile on your face and still go to the supermarket, and still go see your friends even though you know anxiety might kick any time. And that is what bravery looks like.

 

As your self-compassion grows, you will come to know that you are there for yourself and you are doing the best that you can to deal with each situation you find yourself in.  In time, you will learn to ride a wave of anxiety until it dissipates, just as a storm runs its course in the sky, and then it all calms down.

 

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