How Our Feelings of Safety Guide Our Behavior

How Our Emotions of Security Information Our Conduct


By Michael Allison, efficiency and polyvagal coach

“He’ll lie, cheat, steal and do no matter it takes to win!” No, this isn’t a quote a couple of former president; it is a textual content message I acquired from a mum or dad of a 14-year-old junior tennis participant. This mum or dad was upset that his boy gave up and didn’t struggle again towards the cheater within the match.

“I’m unsure if he’s bought the killer intuition. He doesn’t get mad and need to destroy the child when he’s dishonest. I ponder if this may be discovered, or possibly he’s going to be a fantastic participant who isn’t an excellent competitor.”

I coach athletes, performers of every kind, and coaches (mother and father too) on a novel software of polyvagal idea to regain management of our physiology for optimizing our resilience and efficiency, on and off the courtroom. On this tennis match involving two gamers and a mum or dad coach, we’ve three fascinatingly totally different unconscious, adaptive physiological reactions driving distinctly distinctive behaviors, narratives, and private experiences.

The boy who cheats to win is stealing factors as a result of he’s afraid to lose and is trying to find a way of security and management in his physique. With restricted inside sources, he’s developed his go-to technique of “hooking” (calling in balls out) that always serves him properly in junior tournaments with out referees. Nonetheless, it’s not an excellent recipe for making mates and establishing a stable status; neither is it sustainable long run.

The boy who doesn’t cheat to win experiences a dishonest name by his opponent as a cascade of bodily emotions that overwhelm his resilience. As an alternative of combating again, he rapidly appears for a spot to cover, loses power, provides up, and needs to get off the courtroom altogether.

The dad who desires his child to develop a killer intuition is amping up and waging struggle towards a teenage boy in an effort to cease the ache and struggling he feels inside his physique when he helplessly watches his weak son combating adversity, being taken benefit of, and being unwilling to assault, struggle again, and do no matter it takes to win.

Regardless of every of their totally different responses to the identical scenario, all of them share a standard theme beneath the floor of what we see, hear, and interpret. They don’t really feel secure. And so they aren’t alone, as we see the identical predictable sample of behaviors, feelings, and reactions displayed in dramatic vogue on the skilled stage as properly.

Beneath their feelings, behaviors, and reactions is a physique sensing hazard, being below risk, or feeling overwhelmed with no manner out. Though this may sound tender, that is really laborious science based mostly on polyvagal idea, a neurophysiological framework developed by Stephen W. Porges Ph.D., that describes how feeling secure or unsafe in our physique biases what we expect, really feel and do.

Michael Allison

Naomi Osaka, 2021 US Open. These pictures have been taken in sequence and present the sample of survival responses all of us share.

Supply: Michael Allison

What appears to be intentional—poor selections or character flaws—really should not deliberate selections made by our pondering mind. These are adaptive bodily reactions triggered by the autonomic nervous system and observe a sequence of survival responses all of us share.

Always, in each surroundings, interplay, and scenario, on and off the courtroom, we both really feel secure or unsafe. This sense emerges in our physique beneath aware management and impacts each side of our well being, resilience to adversity, sickness, illness, and total well-being. We’re all the time scanning and evaluating the present circumstances as secure or unsafe, whether or not we realize it or not, and this influences how we expertise the world, work together with others, and really feel about ourselves from the within out.

That is taking place in each side of our lives—sports activities, enterprise, colleges, relationships, politics, and many others. The cultures we play in, work in, study in and reside in are aggressive, evaluative, unpredictable, and continually altering. Due to all of this, we don’t all the time really feel secure. Past the removing of risk, in an effort to really feel secure we should obtain ample cues of security, stability, and connection from the world round us, inside our personal physique, and in {our relationships} with others. Sadly, this isn’t how life treats most of us, and we are able to get locked in a mobilized risk response and adaptively retune our physique to be on guard, hypervigilant, aggressive, anxious, or stressed. When the risk persists, and we fail to flee or overcome the problem, we finally deplete our metabolic sources and overwhelm our capability to maintain going. As a last-ditch effort to outlive, we’ll reflexively preserve what’s left, hunker down, numb the ache, withdraw, collapse or shut down altogether.

Michael Allison

Novak Djokovic, Tokyo 2020 Olympics following the identical predictable sample of adaptive reactions.

Supply: Michael Allison

After we have a look at the world by means of a polyvagal lens, we see the predictable patterns of behaviors taking part in out throughout us, the sequence of survival responses in ourselves and others, and our bodies that both really feel secure or unsafe. After we meet the physique the place it’s (ours and theirs), we cease blaming, shaming, and criticizing. We acknowledge what’s beneath the reactions, and we begin searching for methods we will help ourselves and one another to really feel secure in our physique, alone and collectively. That is our shared journey from our first breath to our final.

We will see “security” taking part in out within the meteoric rise of a 19-year-old Spanish tennis participant named Carlos Alcaraz. Beneath his blistering forehand, artful drop photographs, and lightning velocity across the courtroom is a physique that feels completely secure, snug, and in management.

We will hear “security” within the story of an on a regular basis Ukrainian who stayed in her nation regardless of whole chaos and uncertainty as a result of she felt a way of unity and heat from the individuals round her and wished to assist out in any manner that she might.

We will really feel “security” in our personal expertise after we alternate a fist bump to indicate that we’re on this collectively, obtain an appreciative smile from somebody who wanted our assist or really feel our canine’s paw gently curl round our neck after we pet his stomach.

We all know what security is. We all know it after we see it, hear it, and really feel it in our personal physique and when it’s being expressed from the physique of one other. It’s important. It’s contagious. Even when below fixed analysis, dealing with a aggressive tradition of fighters, or navigating a world of uncertainty and problem—we will help ourselves and one another to really feel secure in our our bodies. We have to, and it’s time.


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