When I feel powerless or like I don’t have a choice, my nervous system reacts as if my life is threatened, no matter if I am really in danger or not.
This happens on a subconscious level, beyond my ability to control my body with my thoughts.
When my nervous system detects a life threat my body goes into “shutdown mode” where it says, “We need to conserve energy, so let’s slow down digestion and protect you by keeping you from feeling like you have enough energy to do even the most basic tasks. You’re just going to play dead for a while, until the threat has passed, and we’ll keep your systems running just barely enough to keep you alive until then.”
While it’s great that my nervous system is trying to help me survive, it’s not so great when it inaccurately detects mundane things as life threats, like having to run errands or conquer an item on my to do list when I’m really tired.
Instead of just feeling even more tired, when my body goes into shutdown mode my stomach hurts like hell because my digestion has been interrupted, I feel a step removed from life, and I’m exhausted to my bones.
I know in my mind that I’m not really exhausted to my bones. I know I DO have energy and endurance, but knowing isn’t enough for my body to feel like it’s ok to use that energy.
I used to live in shutdown mode because of how misattuned my nervous system was with detecting actual life threats vs perceived life threats.
With therapy and every single step of my healing path, shutdown mode is now an exception, not the norm, that happens when I come up against the edges of my capacity to withstand internal or external stressors.
This past weekend I crossed the boundary of my capacity, and triggered by a perceived life threat, my body went into shutdown mode.
It ruins my momentum, it brings my life to a screeching halt, and it causes a pileup of backlog that I have to take care of once I feel alive and well again.
Laying in bed, convalescing, I traced my body’s internal sensations around the perceived threat back to two points over the weekend where I felt powerless and like I had no choice in a matter.
It wasn’t the actual choices to be made, but rather, it was the perception of feeling like I had no choice and like I had to override my needs that sent me into “life threat” shutdown mode.
Inspired by this realization, I created a decision making flowchart for myself, to help me recognize when I’m coming up against feelings of powerlessness, so that instead of spiraling downwards into shutdown mode, perhaps I can show my nervous system that I am safe and DO have power.
With a few caveats, I thought it might help others to recognize triggers and reclaim their power in places they feel powerless.
- This is tailor made for me, my own internal processes, and my perception of yes, no, I don’t know. You may or may not have the ability to begin at recognizing a sense of yes, no, or I don’t know, thus the chart may not be the right starting point for you.
- Just because you can reach a decision doesn’t mean actually making the decision is easy or won’t trigger threat responses in your nervous system.
- Shifting out of trauma responses that cause you to override your true decisions for the ones you think you need to make is a long process that doesn’t happen overnight or with just one decision. If you recognize that you’re making a decision from a trauma response but aren’t ready to shift out of that, that’s ok! It’s totally normal. Change happens in lots of tiny steps adding up over time, too.
Here it is – comments and feedback and even resistance is welcome. I made it for myself, but if it can help others and we can improve on it, then great! If you’re a designer that wants to collaborate to make it pretty, hit reply!
Feel free to forward this email to folks who would resonate.
You can choose which types of messages you receive from me by clicking “Update Your Preferences” at the bottom of this email!
👣 I found my soulmate rugs on Etsy. They’re Moroccan Boujaad runners with crazy colors that now live in what I’m calling my “happy hallway”.
🩸 On another note – I do believe that being triggered into shutdown mode happened because of what I set in motion from a blood offering ritual at the ocean just days before. In my experience, rituals can set in motion experiences that bring up the places I’m stuck, so they can be healed.
🎶 I’m obsessed with the little bubbly sound in the background of the chorus of this song, Other Side by Maya Jane Coles – https://open.spotify.com/track/7cF2hKTFZ1JgoyEObsx2K4?si=3a9a24bb77644439
🌀 John and I are watching the Simpsons from S1 E1, and it’s AMAZING. In S2 E7 the animation of Bart’s feelings around having to apologize is an excellent representation of how trauma distorts perception. Then Lisa talking to Bart about apologizing is a great representation of somatic noticing that helps heal trauma. Def recommend watching at least this episode.
💄 Affirmation for your deepest suspicions –> putting a feminine (or insert any “other”) face on toxic dynamics doesn’t create equality, so don’t feel like you have to go along with it. Fuck that shit.
Invitation to work with me:
I have one space opening in October for 1:1 messaging coaching where I’ll help you learn how to talk about what you do and convey the value of what you offer without sacrificing who you truly are. This is best for folks who already have a proven offer they’re ready to amplify. Apply on my website, and we’ll chat to see if this offer is a good fit for your needs!