A Blog about Sensory Processing Sensitivity from the Worldview of a High Sensing Male
You no doubt have heard of the term fight or flight. It is often used to describe the physiological effects of an organism’s response to stress or danger. We often think of this when witnessing an attack from an aggressor or predator animal to an animal designated as prey. I’m thinking of the lion and zebra on some sweltering African savannah.
It is often applied to human reactions to stress as well. More scientifically called the acute stress response, it can be invoked by even the perception of danger, whether real or imagined. From a physiological standpoint, it involves the discharging of energy from the sympathetic nervous system to prepare for various responses to danger. Much of this reaction is unconsciously bypassing our critical thinking processes.
The reaction to the perceived threat may consider several survival strategies. The actions may take the form of freezing, fleeing, fighting, or internalizing a state of fright, producing a condition known as tonic immobility, fawning, or even fainting. The reactions are often instinctive, genetic, and can also be learned behaviors.
As HSPs, are we more prone to falling into these states more quickly than others? Does our extra cautious nature put us in conflict with life more often and create the crucible for creating one or more of these states? Is there anything we can do to be more assertive or proactive when dealing with perceived threats or dangers? I think the answer is yes, and I’ve even included a fifth reaction that would override the unconscious responses and put us squarely in control of dealing with many of the imagined dangers. For now, I will call it the Flow Mode, in deference to the flow state.
Defining the reactions to acute stress response
Besides fight or flight reaction, there are several other responses to acute stress that are worth noting. These are both physiological and behavioral reactions. I’ll break them out below.
HSPs and Fight or Flight
Seldom in modern society do we have to confront life and death situations daily. However, our reactions to stressful everyday life events are often converted to acute stress and reacted to by the body as if we still live in forests or plains complete with modern equivalents of predators. For some, and especially for HSPs who have more highly tuned startle reflexes , who are subject to emotional reactivity, we as HSPs may have more reactions attuned to anxiety and aggression.
Because HSPs are more keenly aware of environmental cues, we often can misinterpret our bodily signals to represent significant threats and cut to an emergency reaction akin to panic. These threats are not usually life-threatening, but the reaction is still strong. The simple hearing of a threatening, angry voice within earshot can elicit a response to danger. Couple this with conditioning and life experiences, can set off without much conscious effort, a call to fight or flight.
How each individual reacts can be influenced heavily by genetics, experiences, and individual personality. I suspect many HSPs when reacting to threatening situations, might employ the fight mode last, as it is the least confrontational and least taxing to our systems. This response may seem to make us look weak in the eyes of aggressors, but in reality, we are survivors. How we respond is a function of our inherent nature and our drive to survive. It seems nature built this into our brain wiring.
To illustrate the point, an animal study was done on guppies swimming in a tank with an aggressive bass. The guppies were divided into three groups based on personality characteristics of bold, ordinary, and timid. After the study, 40 percent of the timid guppies who swam in the tank with the bass survived. Only 15 percent of the ordinary guppies survived, and yes, none of the bold guppies made it. Being a timid, cautious guppy has its benefits.
We are not guppies but being cautious does not necessarily mean being passive. Surviving doesn’t necessarily mean we flee from confrontation, though; fighting should only be used in the direst circumstances. Whatever our reaction to fear may be, we have the capacity to overcome what we perceive to be threats but it will take action before we experience the threatening situation.
HSPs should note that we can train our reactions to perceived threats with various brain training methods. Whether you use mindfulness training, meditation, EFT (tapping), self-hypnosis, neurofeedback training, or any other brain training technique, you can teach your mind to react to stress in a more ordered and calming way. Remember, this is not to reengineer your HSP sensibilities but rather to allow you to flow the stressors through your system to allow a mindful and moderate response. It is not emotional suppression but rather emotional regulation. Use that extraordinary HSP brain to survive. And you will swim with the guppies.
Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
Bill Allen currently lives in Lutz, Florida. He previously lived in Bend, Oregon. He is a certified hypnotist and brain training coach at BrainPilots.com. He believes that male sensitivity is not so rare, but it can be confounding for most males living in a culture of masculine insensitivity which teaches boys and men to disconnect from their feelings and emotions. His intent is to use this blog to chronicle his personal journey and share with others.