Thank You, Body, for Checking Out (& the Intelligence of our Nervous System)

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It might sound surprising or confusing to read “thank your body for checking out, for dissociating, for numbing out the moment, for forgetting, for blocking, and even for pleasing.” But, in life threatening situations — which is qualified by a person’s unique response to a unique life-threatening-feeling situation — this is our body’s way, our nervous system’s way, of making not only our sense-of-self check out but also to downsize our defenses to appear less tempting to a predator.

Let me back up and stress that what feels like trauma to me (my unique response to what I interpret as a life threatening situation) might be “no biggie” to you. And vice versa. What matters is how a person internalizes a situation and how her body and nervous system responds. Unfortunately, our culture has historically victim shamed and blamed, ultimately dismissing people who deserve compassion, support and many times, legal help.

I started writing this post after finding myself repeatedly finding it helps for people to understand their coping mechanisms of checking out as a part of their healing journey from various traumas. Checking out or dissociating isn’t caused by a defect of character or “laziness” or “apathy.” Checking out or shutting down doesn’t mean people deserve whatever happens. It’s actually a way to shield oneself from a life threatening situation. Instead of blaming themselves, by exploring the psycho-education of nervous system science, and how the body’s reptilian defense system sends the body into immobilization as a way to protect itself from further harm, explains how the body serves us in an instinctual way. This is the “freeze” or “shutdown” you might have heard about before. So that’s why I say, “thank your body.”

Thanking your body doesn’t soothe or resolve the situation, and that’s not the point; However, it is a way to practice building a compassionate dialogue with your body as well as shedding some of the shame often associated with not being able to fight back.

Survivors are shamed and blamed because they didn’t mobilise, fight and make an effort. That’s a misunderstanding. It’s a poorly informed explanation because the body goes into that state and they can’t move. The theory had traction because it gave survivors feelings of validation. Survival was really an expression of the heroic nature of our body in trying to save us. Sometimes it goes into a state in which we can’t move, but the objective is to raise our pain thresholds and to make us appear to be less viable to the predator. Within the legal system, there’s been a lot of issues when a person hasn’t fought off a predator. And I think this is being poorly informed about how bodies respond. ~ Stephen Porges, TheGuardian.com

If the subject matter of this blog brings up specific memories, thoughts, unexplainable feelings or sensations for you, it’s important to not only a) get support surrounding any trauma you or loved ones might have experienced but also b) begin to get curious about the intelligence that resides in your body through some nervous system science. Contact me if you’d like to talk about therapeutic support, and/or check out the resources below.

Book Resources:

One of my favorite easy-to-digest books is Stephen Porges The Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory.

Also, The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk.

Online Resources:

Polyvagal Theory Applied – Moving from Fight or Flight to Social Engagement for Sustainable Living - podcast

Polyvagal Theory in Practice - PVT explained in practice

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