Lessons Learned on a Journey into the Autonomic Nervous System
Understanding Myself, Compassion for Other People
A Summary of What I've Learned so Far
/ˌɔːtəˈnɒmɪk adjective unconscious or involuntary.
Our Autonomic Nervous System shifts us between different states, depending on its response to subconscious interpretations, via our neuroception, of the present levels of threat, danger or safety. We, in turn, move into different states of being, where our actions or inactions, what we say and do, how we feel, even our personalities and behaviours, may markedly shift too. In a state of high threat response, we may behave in ways which we would never do while in a state of complete safety. We have all said and done things in the heat of the moment, which we regretted once things calmed down.
Hence so many of the "choices" we make in life are illusory, precisely because they are determined by these autonomic, involuntary and unconscious factors.
According to this understanding, I am not to blame for my chronic Nervous System dysregulation, and it is not something I did to myself, nor something I deserved, nor something I ever had much choice over.
What I now believe happened to me
My authentic self felt blamed, embarrassed, humiliated, harangued, bullied into becoming silent and invisible by the unnatural cultural norms and the modern society into which I was born. To survive, my core self became buried so deep, overcome by wounds incurred through living in an environment so very far from the one my (epi)genetics were optimized to thrive in, that my true self became hidden even from myself, and, in retreat, was never available nor open to find or receive the love needed and deserved, which may have uncovered it again.
To stay alive in this world to which I was born, my Autonomic Nervous System had to become highly sensitive, and to develop extreme survival strategies and coping mechanisms, for which I was in turn misunderstood and even punished, told I was bad, aberrant or unwanted, that I didn't fit in, due to the behaviours and "personality" manifesting through my involuntary biological responses which, after all, were only doing their best to help me survive.
Like everyone else, I was never taught about the ANS, so could not possibly have gleaned the above. Without any self-understanding, no teaching and no tools, my own autonomic behaviours became sources of self-doubt, self-loathing, self-disgust - a kind of emotional auto-immune response, which fed back to an ever more easily triggered ANS sense of danger. Without knowing, my opportunities to have ever chosen otherwise were very limited.
Eventually, my system was locked in to fight-flight survival mode for the vast majority of the time, with very little time spent in the relaxed states within which health, growth, restoration are possible, and so, without these rejuvenation opportunities, my body and brain became inflamed, chemically sensitive, prone to infections, auto-immune.
Due to forming toxic relationships through a misguided need to be seen and heard by at least someone, I ran out of places where I could run to and hide, and so with no bolt holes left where my ANS could ever feel safe enough to relax, but unable to fight the cultural sized predators and monsters, the only option left for it was to freeze and feign death.
Yet, none of this was my fault, none of the blame for this lies with me, my illness it is not a punishment for being bad, either in this life or past ones, nor for making wrong choices. Neither is anyone else to blame, because no-one else was ever taught this, nor given the tools or self-understanding for regulating their own ANS, and everyone around me has had to survive the same cultural and societal issues any way they can.
This all goes back generations now. It is an unfortunate set of evolutionary cultural circumstances we happened to be born in to.
More hopefully, now that we do have much more self-understanding, through the knowledge of ANS which has developed rapidly over the past few years, we may begin to adopt and adapt these new understandings. With a new self-awareness, we can start to be able to make more informed choices, and to take more voluntary actions, by using these tools to help regulate our own ANS, dampening the hyperarousal and over-responsiveness to all the phantom cultural triggers.
Indeed, according to the works of the likes of Professor Andrew Huberman, Wim Hof, and Dr Stephan Porges, the ANS is not so Autonomic after all, and this was a misnomer all along. It turns out that our Nervous System states are much more under our voluntary and somatic control, and we change or states through the portals of our breath, our skin, our eyes and our ears.
Although what happened to us was not our fault and we are not to blame, since this new knowledge of our not-so-Autonomic Nervous System now exists, and the new tools (most of which are free, and available to us at any time) for becoming the masters of our own physiology and psychology, are now out there and well proven, I do feel it becomes our responsibility to learn about this, and onboard these new tools. So I will continue to cover there subjects here.
At the least, I hope the new science of this will give us all a better understanding of both our own behaviours and those of others, and hence be able to be more kind and compassionate to ourselves and to one another. My biggest hope is that we can start to help each other feel as safe as possible, for as long as possible, and to allow and encourage the 8 C’s of our true selves to finally emerge and flourish: calmness, curiosity, clarity, compassion, confidence, creativity, courage, and connectedness.
In particular, I believe it becomes our responsibility to urgently teach the kids about this, to provide them the tools to optimize the somatic control of their own Nervous System states, as soon as possible, to help them to understand how their words, actions and behaviours impact the Nervous Systems of others, and to know their authentic selves. Indeed, I advocate that this is one of the very first things they should learn about in school.
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