For me, those words conjure up images of a Bill Murray movie that I love. Words have that kind of power and so do the images they conjure up. But what happens when words get misconstrued? This happens all the time and has the potential to create experience that falls into the traumatic category of experiences.
I was speaking with someone recently about misconstrued meanings and how to untangle them. We were speaking about nervous system responses and comparing the differences of a nervous system response being self-protective in nature versus responses modulating intensity of experience.
Self-protective in this instance refers to the physical acts of protecting oneself. Modulating intensity of experience refers to the behaviors that help bring the nervous systems down when there is too much excitement, input, engagement, or activation.
The discussion started out with the sharing of how difficult it is to understand how to experience pleasure. Pleasure feels good but what happens next is an experience that feels familiar but seems out of place.
The body starts to go numb. Then residual pain shows up. Familiar pain.
These descriptions led our intriguing discussion into self-protection responses versus modulating intensity. Or a nervous system response being self-protective in nature versus modulating intensity of experience.
The response in consideration is classically known in trauma therapy circles as a shut down response. It is a self-protective response to danger where someone, in the presence of danger, initiates a full system shut down as a way to survive. Typically, it is a shutting down as a way of not being noticed. This explanation is common in the trauma therapy world and is a real way for many to survive dangerous situations.
But where our discussion led us was wondering if this shut down response was now being used as a way to modulate the intensity of an experience. Pleasure seems like the last place a self-protective response would be necessary; especially since shutting down in theory is reserved for surviving a bear attack. Why would shutting down show up in such a different experience?
Unless this biological response is actually being used in a different way.
As our discussion progressed, we began to piece together how shut down was showing up in the nervous system to regulate intensity instead of being used as a self-protective response as we classically know it. Too much excitement, in this case, if even a little, was being tempered by the biological protective response.
While unfortunate to have happen, piecing apart this response as modulating intensity leaves a grace-filled doorway where we can begin to change a nervous system pattern without venturing into murky, traumatic, territory to do so.
Look for part two of this blog to learn how!