Pleasing Others to Cope

Threat Management (2)

Pleasing Others to Cope Storm's Edge Therapy

Surely, there must be more than just our automatic biological reaction to immediate danger. In this globalised world of pandemics, market crashes and global warming we also have our everyday lives filled with traffic jams, office politics and exploding to-do lists. Although you may now be feeling stressed from the description so far, we can still add elements of our lives that are invisible. Change, for example, can be exciting but it is also challenging, especially when we are not quite ready for the next new trend or situation. You might not see these as dangerous, but your body does and still needs mechanisms to cope.

So following the previous blog (“Beyond Fight/Flight/Freeze”) while Freeze is not, in fact, the opposite of Fight and Flight as they are all an upregulated responses; we do have down regulated hypo-arousal responses. These are responses to threats that are overwhelming, but are longer-term and could be perils we have anticipated. Here we slow our system down for the long haul, a marathon strategy rather than for a sprint.

This is not a calming down to a comfortable normal, but a state of under arousal which means that many important functions are not getting enough resources. This is important as we still have an overactive sympathetic nervous system response; it is now stress that is in the background. The body is not in a healthy balance where the parasympathetic nervous system can shift from emergency rations into “feed and breed” and then into “rest-and-digest”.

Biological systems are compromised to the point where we might be agitated or irritable, struggle to sleep, feel overwhelmed and out of control, the immune system is under-resourced leading to chronic health complaints, etc. Socially we withdraw and psychologically we abandon our needs, like not bothering to set personal goals. These are responses that are built around learnt patterns of adapting to intangible threats where we feel powerless to escape. Added is the danger of compromised warning systems due to reduced awareness leading to poor avoidance and management of threats, a classic vicious cycle.

Within the standard model that is currently evolving this is represented by the Fawning Response: pleasing a dangerous person by attending to their needs. This is a strategy to actively manipulate a situation to reduce the amount of threat by aligning with the danger.

Simply put, this is when a victim anticipates the needs of the perpetrator and gives them what they want in order to reduce the likelihood or the intensity of the threat.

This is an example of both the hypo-arousal, the slowing down of the central nervous system, and of implementing psychological patterns that have developed over time. In reality, this relational tactic can seem to be as automated and as natural as the more biological reactions to immediate danger. We see this method of making safety in the “people pleasing” strategy as well as in the Dependant Personality Disorder.

Pleasing Others to Cope Storm's Edge Therapy

In an ongoing abusive situation, the victim may feel that Fawning is both effective in reducing the danger and feel that they are in charge. However, this may be true in the sense that the situation might otherwise be much worse. But in reality, this is not a tool for creating a safe environment, instead merely a coping strategy. So the situation is, in essence, not changing and they are not in charge. This is still a person that is in danger and a body that is responding as such. Nevertheless, this is a functional long-term management strategy for an ongoing situation. Coping is good, but just coping is not good enough.

The primary danger with this response is that although it makes it possible for the person to survive the situation, it leaves them only surviving and nothing more. So while reducing the level of impact of the harm, it also reduces the motivation for the victim to find another solution. The result is that instead of working towards true safety, the person merely minimises harm. This can lead to accepting the current status quo as normal and unchangeable, maybe even acceptable or deserved. This is likely to make the feeling of powerlessness grow deeper with each bargain struck.

In this Blog we expanded from Fight/Flight/Freeze to include Fawning (pleasing), in the next Blog we discover more long-term coping mechanisms that you might be using without knowing.

Beyond Fight/Flight/Freeze

Threat Management (1)

We are generally quite familiar with descriptions of our Fight or Flight response to immediate danger; this is the up-regulation of our Central Nervous System, or a state of hyperarousal. In addition, people speak about a Freeze response; they do this implying that Freeze is the opposite response. Fight is the aggressive moving towards a physical threat with the goal of overpowering the situation. Flight is running away from danger in order to escape. While the Freeze response is seen as the involuntary shutting down of the nervous system. However, while this covers most of our reactions to immediate risk, there are a number of other ways that are as common within broader threat management but not as dramatic and easily recognised.

Beyond Fight/Flight/Freeze Storm's Edge Therapy

Now for a little theory, according to the current Polyvagal Theory of threat management Fight or Flight are seen as the responses of the evolutionary modern myelinated vagus nerve fibres. While the Freeze response is due to the activation of the evolutionary older unmyelinated fibres. So while we share the Fight and the Flight responses with our mammalian cousins; the Freeze response is far higher up the evolutionary tree, including all vertebrates: birds, reptiles and fishes.

However, this is not the whole picture of Threat Management in our daily lives. Firstly, human threat management responses are far more inclusive than only the immediate central nervous system reactions to immediate physical danger. Our modern lifestyles can open us to stresses and dangers that are ongoing, unavoidable and invisible. This can be from the daily commute jammed into a small train carriage, to mortgage payments, and job interviews to being trolled on social media where we don’t even know who or where in the world the threat is coming from. These are all dangers that cause a response within our bodies as well as mind that need to be managed, especially if the situation cannot be resolved.

A second limitation to the Fight/Flight/Freeze framework is that these are all automatic reactions of the nervous system becoming more aroused, “getting wound up”. The Freeze Response is misunderstood as a slowing down, but it is actually still a hyperarousal response. The nervous system is still regulating upward; however, the stress systems go up so high and/or so fast that there is an overload and then complete shutdown. Commonly this is due to feeling especially powerless or due to the shock of something happening so quickly or being completely unexpected.

We as sophisticated and civilised social beings have a number of other responses to manage threats, especially ones that are not immediate and physical. Threats can also be social, psychological and structural. Such daily experiences are racism, a toxic work environment, a hyper-competitive family system, underemployment, etc are all intangible hazards that can even go unnoticed.

Beyond Fight/Flight/Freeze Storm's Edge Therapy

Our responses go far beyond merely waiting for a trigger and then implementing an automated response. People anticipate, notice patterns and strategically plan ways to either avoid or minimise the chance of the threat developing or just reduce its intensity. Within this range of risks and responses, we probably find a greater part of our everyday lives.

We speak of Flight or Fight because it is easier to notice these situations as well as the responses within our own systems, both body and mind. This gives us the illusion that we are not under threat, if we are not in a wound-up, hyperaroused state. However, many of the threats in our daily lives are not as noticeable and we don’t have this intense fear reaction; but these threats are as real and have, at least, as much impact on our bodies and our psychology.

With this understanding of the immediate fight/flight/freeze response, now let’s look at how we cope with ongoing dangers that we don’t see – “Pleasing Others to Cope“.

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Myths and Misunderstandings about Self-Harm Storm's Edge Therapy

Myths and Misunderstandings about Self-Harm

  • Myth 1: People who self-harm are attempting suicide
    • Fact: Self-harm is most often used as a way to keep living despite experiencing emotional distress, rather than a way to end their life
  • Myth 2: People who self-harm are just attention-seeking
    • Fact: In fact, they tend to keep their self-harming a secret as a result of feelings of embarrassment, shame or guilt as well as not expecting others to understand or that it is a deeply personal act. It is not ‘just attention-seeking’ however sometimes it can be a cry for help
  • Myth 3: Don’t approach a person who self-harms, leave it to the professionals
    • Fact: Taking time to listen without judging encourages people to get their problems out into the open; the first and essential step along the road to recovery. You don’t need to focus, or even discuss, the self-harming, rather focus on the distress that is underlying the need to harm
  • Myth 4: You will know if someone is self-harming if they have cuts on their arms
    • Fact: Cutting is one form of self-harm; others include burning, hitting, bruising, swallowing, poisoning, etc. There is usually a great deal of effort made to keep the injuries and scars hidden; including actions that leave no mark or a mark in an area hidden by clothing
  • Myth 5: Self-harming is just the latest fashion and young people will simply grow out of it
    • Fact: Self-harm is not a phase or a fashion; read our blog on the different functions of self-harming. Listening to certain music, or dressing in certain ways does not lead to self-harming. People of all ages, backgrounds and of both genders self-harm. Self-harm is always a signal that something is seriously wrong
What is Self-Harming? Storm's Edge Therapy

What is Self-Harming?

In its broadest sense, self-harm describes a wide range of acts that people do to themselves in a deliberate and usually hidden way, which are damaging; includes cutting, burning, scalding, banging heads and other body parts against walls, hair-pulling, biting, swallowing or inserting objects as well as self-poisoning. It is a practice that has not fully settled on a name with other terms frequently being used; self-injury, self inflicted violence, self-injurious behaviour and self mutilation. Currently the phrase Deliberate Self-Harm (DSH) is being used in professional contexts.

Importantly, Self-harm in defined as inflicting immediate and direct physical damage or pain without the intent to kill oneself. The damage can be alarming with the uninformed not being able to understand and, therefore, making the assumption that the act was an attempt at suicide. Self-harming has many varied functions, but it is always a sign of emotional distress and that something is seriously wrong.

It is listed in the DSM-IV-TR (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association) as a trait for diagnosing Borderline Personality Disorder and often associated with mental illness, trauma & abuse, low self-esteem & perfectionism and eating disorders.

People self-harm for a number of reasons, for some people self-harm provides the means to cope with overwhelming emotions, a way to control feelings of helplessness and powerlessness. For others, self-harm temporarily combats feelings of numbness to the world around them. It is important to bear in mind that everybody’s experience is unique, and there are no universal rules or reasons for self-harm.

Read further about the different function of self-harming.

Key Tips for Surviving Auditions Storm's Edge Therapy

Key Tips for Surviving Auditions

Auditions are a big deal! Treat them as such, but don’t let them define you.

Now that’s a difficult balance to get, especially when it’s been a while since your last audition.

Auditions are a few intense moments to prove yourself, often to strangers that don’t know you. Those few moments could be life changing, getting a role that could make your reputation. It all comes down to what you do in those indescribably fast and fleeting minutes. They are the very definition of a high anxiety provoking situation- very high value with very low margins for error.

If that’s not bad enough, expressing your Self and presenting your abilities for all to see can be incredibly exposing, leaving you feeling fragile and vulnerable. So auditions can be both intense and personal. A really daunting combination.

So how to not only survive, but thrive in this knife’s edge space?

  1. Be Prepared

Think of what you can do to prepare, know the situation, casting director, etc. Get as good an idea as you can of what will be expected of you at the audition and in the role. Performing is a job, one that is personal, revealing, emotional, taxing, unpredictable, but it’s is still a job. So auditions are job interviews, in part, so be ready.

Anxiety is the belief that your abilities are not a match for the demands of the situation. Preparation can increase your belief in yourself through being clearer about the situation and, therefore, able to make a realistic judgement of your fit. If you are sure that you are a match for the role, you can go in with greater confidence. If you assess that it’s going to be a stretch and you are unlikely to get the role; you can strategically withdraw or take a shot with realistic expectations. Either way you are more in control or the situation and of your career.

CG Jung: “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”

  1. Manage your Anxiety

Ok, now that we’ve done the clever cognitive stuff, performing is not an intellectual pursuit. Getting our heads in gear is important, but an audition is not a job interview. To be brilliant in that moment you need to be present and focused, creative and powerful, unambiguous and memorable. Thinking is for the preparation so that you can focus yourself emotionally and creatively when on stage.

Anxiety naturally draws you into your head, but not in a sophisticated and useful way. Anxiety tells us something is important getting us physiologically prepared for action. So the body is in a higher state of arousal and the brain is taking in great stimulus and processing it quickly. All good to a point; your excited and ready. As the level of anxiety increases the body becomes less refined in it’s movements, not good for fine motor skills or hand eye co-ordination, and the brain becomes increasingly focused on danger preparation. So our creative powerhouse starts to run simple well-engrained scripts like jump out the way of that car, look out for snakes as well as everyone is against me, I’m not good enough, I’m not ready for this, etc.

Be honest with yourself! If you struggle with anxiety and self-doubt, this is part of being a human being doing something that is important to them.  That’s not the problem! The problem is not dealing with these powerful feelings. Find ways to calm and reassure yourself so you can be your best for those crucial moments. There are plenty of anxiety management resources online, but follow the key principles of personalise, practise, potent and passion. Generic tools that you haven’t honed won’t help when the intensity starts to spiral; meet fire with fire.

CG Jung: “A man who has not passed through the inferno of his passions has never overcome them.”

  1. Respect the Experience

Success or failure is secondary to this being an experience in your life; no matter what happens you lived it, you grew as a person and you can learn something. We have a tendency not to process our experiences, but if you want to survive and thrive through the crucible of auditions they need to be a learning experience above an examination. Others’ are sitting in judgement of you, but you are using them as a resource to learn to be better at auditions, as a performer and as a person. This might sound dramatic and philosophical, but auditions are somehow outside of your life – they are an integral part of your chosen lifestyle. Therefore, as much as they are for work they are also the material that make up the days of your life, your resources for growth.

So no matter the outcome, commit to reflect on the learning about the audition process, on your performance and skills as well as reflect on how this affected you, good or bad. This builds your sense of being in control of the process. Also you cannot fail if your primary goal is to learn and improve and that is what you do consistently.

CG Jung: “Mistakes are, after all, the foundations of truth, and if a man does not know what a thing is, it is at least an increase in knowledge if he knows what it is not.”

  1. Win the War

As the saying goes be less focused on the short term of winning a particular battle, this particular audition, it’s the war you need to win, building a successful career. So treat an audition, even a really really important one, as a part of the process. Don’t shy away from the experience; tell friends and family that you are going for it and how it goes. There is no shame in doing your job, which is going to auditions and winning some while losing others. The shame and embarrassment comes when you have something to hide from yourself and from others. You are allowed to hope and be disappointed, just as much as you are allowed to celebrate. You are a performer with all the ups and the downs that goes with life on the stage/screen/etc.

So be open and plan to go out with friends to tell them how it went. Or have a long walk along the Thames, or play with a puppy in the park. You need to actively process the experience as a learning and as a normal part of the life of a performer. Stay away from self-destructive habits or those gateway activities that always seem to lead you in a dark direction when disappointed. Seek the support you need or be alone or do something you enjoy or read a prepared uplifting script. Whatever, helps you integrate the experience into your life path in a meaningful way and to manage the emotional turbulence. The key is to decide before hand the post audition activity, no matter the result rather than respond to extreme emotions.

CG Jung: “Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”

In Summary

  • Prepare for the audition and have a plan for processing the result.
  • Expect anxiety and train yourself to manage the effects of increased arousal levels.
  • Treat the audition as an ongoing part of your career progression.
  • You need to find the way that works best for you.