What is a Personality Disorder? Storm's Edge Therapy

What is a Personality Disorder?

What is a Personality Disorder? Storm's Edge TherapyDistress, Dysfunction, Danger

A person has a disorder of their personality when they don’t feel safe and secure in the world; they do not assume their world is safe; therefore, they are compelled to make it safe for themselves. However, they only have one strategy to make themselves safe in the world using this tried and tested strategy in all situations and all of the time. While in theory, these are good strategies, their unsystematic causes distress, dysfunction and/or danger. This means that their earnest efforts at creating a safe and secure environment have very real limits; their approach does work at times but when it doesn’t, they have no flexibility.

Let’s take a look at some of these helpful strategies that now they might cause harm to a person due to a lack of flexibility. There are different types of personality disorders; these are defined by their safety strategy:

  • The Narcissists’ strategy is to feel safe by being insulated (not isolated) and superior. This can be a great approach to situations where others are “losing their heads”, like in a crisis for example. This is one of the reasons that narcissists thrive in certain roles like management or as surgeons. However, this is a terrible way of trying to make friends, dating, when trying to make a sale, etc; any area of life that requires connection or co-operation.
  • Borderline Personality Disorder makes safe by cocooning themselves in chaos; in crisis they legitimately don’t need to worry about the bigger picture, like who you are or where you belong.
  • Dependent Personality Disorder, they are safe by exclusively focusing on the needs of others; you don’t have needs, so you don’t need to feel safe as long are others are ok.
  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder, they are safe from reality in magical thinking realms.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder, in perfectionism they feel safe because they do everything possible hoping that a problem never even arises.
  • And so on for each personality disorder; centred on one inflexible strategy to be safe and to feel okay.

What is a Personality Disorder? Storm's Edge TherapyThe House Always Wins

One of the most well-established psychological principles is that when a reward is inconsistent its use is reinforced, in this case the occasional success of your safety strategy. This means that when there is a disordered personality, the sufferer knows from experience that their approach does in fact work. This fortifies the idea that “if it is not working now, then I should just try harder”; the problem today is my implementation, not the proven strategy. This is the same scenario that digs gamblers into deep holes, an instinct called doubling down. The gambler was winning with a strategy and when their “luck turns”, they stick to the same tactic merely because it worked well in the past.

The key flaw underlying this entire problem of personalities in disorder is the lack of flexibility. Like the gambler, you are not evaluating why your current method of making safe is not working. This is largely because you feel too fragile to let your defences down long enough to look at the situation and partly because you don’t have alternative tactics ready to apply. Deep down you feel fragile, vulnerable, stuck and don’t know what else to do.

Do take a look at our pages and other blogs relating to personality.

Is Procrastination Limiting Your Progress? Storm's Edge Therapy

Is Procrastination Limiting Your Progress?

Is Procrastination Limiting Your Progress? Storm's Edge TherapyProcrastination is a non-specific symptom. This means it is a general indicator that there is a problem, but gives no direct signal of what the problem may be. Please note there is no connection between procrastination and what might be called “laziness”. A blocked or stalled working process can result from a number of different directions:

  • not having enough motivation to match the intensity of the specific task,
  • not wanting to do the task because you do don’t like it or because you don’t feel able to do it well enough,
  • resisting doing the task because you don’t agree with it or because you are avoiding the consequences,
  • or it could be secondary to another condition like depression, anxiety or fatigue.

Three Levels of Treatment

The first and simplest level of intervention is the use of “Activation Techniques” to change habits and behaviours. This is helpful when you have shifted into ineffective working patterns and they have escalated into a cycle of demotivation. An external structure and scaffold are applied to reboot your working routines and unravel the negative spiral to procrastination. This is also the treatment strategy when your work has stalled as a consequence of fatigue, for example. This is the “Breaking Cycles” strategy.

The Pomodoro Technique is an Activation Technique you can explore…

Is Procrastination Limiting Your Progress? Storm's Edge TherapyThe second approach is to address your motivation: to understand what motivates you generally, for the task in question and why your motivators are not working now. This is a deeper process of understanding who you are, what you want to achieve, what success looks like for you (at this time of your life) and what feels like fuel – what translates into motivation for action. There are a number of motivators with none being more important or effective; everybody is built differently and so is motivated differently. This is the “Personal Drivers” strategy.

Psychologically we understand motivation to be two dimensional: on one axis is extrinsic (direct rewards like payment, prestige or even new skills) or intrinsic (personal meaning and accomplishment), then on the other axis we find moving away from pain (motivated to get away from something bad) versus moving towards pleasure (motivated to get something good).

The core internal drivers are:

  • Belonging: the feeling of belonging to a group or cause with aligned values and social status
  • Personal Power: the sense of freedom and independence
  • Meaningfulness: your efforts have meaning according to a personal value system
  • Safety: the feeling of being able to control your own safety and stability
  • Curiosity: a sense of being stimulated or challenged by something new with the aligned excitement
  • Achievement: the satisfaction of completing a goal or doing something well

Is Procrastination Limiting Your Progress? Storm's Edge TherapyThe final level of intervention for your procrastinating when the first two have not been successful is to investigate the ways in which you might be blocking the recovery. You might ask why would l not want to do a task that I really want to do? Tasks have meanings and consequences, simply put. You might want to do your job to get paid, but it means to you that you are giving up your dream of doing something else: singing, getting a degree, travelling, etc. You might be happy to do a task, but resent the way that your boss has made you do it. You may enjoy your work, but are scared of success because a promotion means a role that you wouldn’t like or don’t feel able to perform at the advanced level. The consequence of being successful could be feeling exposed or overwhelmed. This is the “Breaking Barriers” strategy.

Is Mindfulness Useful in Therapy? Storm's Edge Therapy

Is Mindfulness Useful in Therapy?

What is Mindfulness?

Is Mindfulness Useful in Therapy? Storm's Edge Therapy

Currently, this fashionable catchphrase is everywhere and promoted as the cure for everything from improving your relationship to weight loss. So what is it and can it possibly live up to all the hype? At the simple level mindfulness is noticing your thoughts, well that’s not a big deal everyone knows what they are thinking. The key element the practice of mindfulness adds is noticing what is happening at the time and not getting caught up in those thoughts. So if you are worried about paying your bills or what a friend said earlier, your mind is thinking about the issue and, hopefully, on task to solve the situation. But without noticing this can go in any number of directions:

  • your mind could go around in loops without getting anywhere,
  • you could slip into a dark place unawares,
  • you could work yourself up into anger about a small incident, etc.

Is Mindfulness Useful in Therapy? Storm's Edge Therapy

Catching Your Own Slippery Thoughts

Mindfulness is aimed at putting you in the driver seat in relation to your thought processes. So instead of getting lost for hours worrying about the nasty comment from your friend, you catch your thoughts and find a way out. This is especially helpful when trying to change a habit, even a thinking habit. For example, after a nasty comment you might steam and swirl until you explode. By noticing that you are spiralling you have the possibility of catching your pattern and make a different choice; without the skill of noticing then the only choice is running with the same old damaging habit.

A Guide Is Needed

Well if it is so simple and so useful why isn’t everyone already mindfulness whizzes? Firstly, it is a skill; mindfulness is an ability that you need to develop over time with practise. Secondly, it is simple but vague and elusive; which means that you need guidance and there will be ups and downs. Thirdly, it can be uncomfortable and the benefits don’t come immediately or systematically. In short, it is useful, but not particularly easy to learn.

This is made so much worse by the casual and superficial marketing; do this thing and it will be great. Mindfulness is actually multifaceted with different elements having different benefits; it is not just one tool. The benefits of mindfulness in a therapeutic context is that you have an experienced guide and that the process is focused on individualised problem solving. It is specifically structured around learning to use the abilities of your own mind to understand and improve your mental health struggles.

Using mindfulness can be a powerful tool within a therapy process whatever you are trying to resolve.

Can Depression Sometimes Be Helpful Storm's Edge Therapy

Can Depression Sometimes Be Helpful

Isolation has Forced us to Face Ourselves

Can Depression Sometimes Be Helpful Storm's Edge Therapy

Depression is a known phenomenon; we know what it looks like and what it does to a life. But is not simple to say why it exists, because it is not one thing. There are many different reasons for depression to become a part of a person’s life, from a purely biological reaction to chemotherapy to feeling powerless in a cruel situation. We can call one of the depressions “Existential Depression”, because it forces us to examine our existence. This is real depression and is as devasting and as stuck as any other form, despite being fundamentally psychological.

No matter the trigger once low mood reaches a clinical level it is Clinical Depression and consumes the person’s whole world; mind and body.

Depression Becomes Part of You

 

If our lives are going in a direction that feeds us, allowing us to express fully who we are as well as allowing us to grow into our potential, then we continue without the need for depression. However, at times our life may instead be going in a direction that eats us: our path is causing us harm, limiting our growth or restricting our self-expression. We can feel this and are built to course correct, but what if we feel our life failing and we are not able to reroute and change our direction. This could be due to external restrictions: family frameworks, social expectations, limits in resources. On the other end of the spectrum, internal dams hold us firmly in place: beliefs that we are not capable, not deserving or even that there is something wrong with our very nature.

Can Depression Sometimes Be Helpful Storm's Edge TherapyWe Need to Change, But Can’t

This is when Existential Depression is activated to force a course correction, whether we want to or not.

Depression is a natural and functional response that encourages us to become more reflective, reclusive reducing external and social stimuli, focused on internal processes and acutely aware of the negative (what is not working). Our bigger picture and future thinking are shut down permitting nothing but a focus on what is wrong with the immediate situation.

Depression is dangerous when it gets stuck and there seems to be no way out, because it is by design our dark place. For all of its potential, this is not the place to stay for very long.

If you are struggling with Depression do visit our resource page or make contact.

 

The Fixed Fighters & The Fuzzy Flighty Storm's Edge Therapy

The Fixed Fighters & The Fuzzy Flighty

The Fixed Fighters & The Fuzzy Flighty Storm's Edge TherapyThreat Management (5)

In this final blog of the series on common strategies that everyday people use to survive situations that threaten harm to their bodies, emotional stability, dignity and even threaten to take their lives. In the face of danger there are, in fact, a range of options and people are built to respond differently. This can depend on whether the danger is right now or a general pattern that can be predicted as well as responding differently to pressures if they are physical, psychological or social. We have shown that as the threat to safety becomes more social we can employ strategies that are more interpersonal and are, therefore, more effective.

My Way Is The Only Way

The Fixed Fighters & The Fuzzy Flighty Storm's Edge Therapy

At the final level of this particular model we outline the ways in which people are able to structure their entire personality around a threat management strategy. This can happen when danger is part of a life from so early in development that peril becomes the organising principle around which the child builds the way that they understand themselves and how they relate to their world. Expectedly this personality level response will also follow that active versus passive choices. The way of thinking and doing that moves toward actively managing threats is the Fixed Response. Here the person is rigid in how they approach every aspect of their lives; they have decided how they do things and that is that. So of course, they will move forward towards danger because they already have the firm belief that they have the correct way to handle the situation.

Fixed people are self-assured and organised, but are unaccommodating and challenging, even to the point of being contradictory. This strategy means there is no space for anything unexpected; they control what they allow into their lives and how everything is managed. These fixed people are effective at not allowing danger near them, but this does also mean that to do not allow many people close or many new opportunities.

Unsurprisingly, a fixed approach to life does not allow for change and growth; so the disadvantages are not only intimacy and excitement, but a real struggle to adapt to a changing world. Actually at the level of everyday, small changes they are better at coping than most, this unfortunately gives them confidence in their ways. However, as they are not only unyielding but convinced of their rigidity, these types of people are unable to adapt as society makes significant shifts. Even more so than at previous levels, when a person builds themselves around coping with danger, their strategy becomes the prime threat to their very survival.

You Can’t Touch This

The Fixed Fighters & The Fuzzy Flighty Storm's Edge Therapy

As we have seen throughout the model for every person that finds a way of moving towards the threat, there is an approach that is based on avoiding the situation. Where a fixed person is rigid and in control, the person using the Fuzzy Response is vague, disconnect and disorganised. Fuzzy people, as the name suggests, are “flighty” and flitter from one thing to the next, always busy; or alternatively, “spacy” and are seemingly in a constant daydream. They manage threats by not dealing with them; they move away and do something different or disengage emotionally moving on as soon as the problem has passed. Nothing seems to settle and cause any level of impact. Again, in many ways, this seems to work well, if you can’t stop the threat then don’t let it harm you.

As we have seen every strategy has a sound logic and useful application; however, any tactic used without discrimination causes its own form of damage. Fuzzy people live their lives to avoid the impact of injury; this means that their choices are not based on their own needs, desires and individual natures. They are moulded by the external environment, not themselves. More so they are unable to experience situations and people with any depth when using this approach. This lack of meaningful engagement is the common feature of both strategies; whether you are moving toward containing danger or fleeing from its impact you are disengaging from anything that is truly meaningful to you. Danger defines your life and personality, not who you are.

The Hope for More

The Fixed Fighters & The Fuzzy Flighty Storm's Edge TherapyThe Threat Management Model we have presented covers a full range of strategies to extreme danger from a bewildering physical assault to living with a toxic partner to an uncaring culture. Each level of response has stayed true to the fundamental choice of either charging into the difficulty or attempting to escape. All of these different strategies are available to us all because they evolved for our species and they work. They are in no way problematic by design, but any brilliant tactic used at the wrong time, place or manner will become a threat itself. The hope of this model is that in seeing what is happening unconsciously you will now be able to start making your choices more strategically rather than in urgent desperation. In addition to choosing differently depending on the situation, the hope is that when a strategy is not working or causing more harm than good you will change rather than merely trying harder using the same strategy.

Coping with a crisis is a necessity, but just coping is a situation that leaves you without agency and the confidence that you can protect yourself in the future. A trauma reaction does not come from what happens, but from feeling powerless to stop being injured and from feeling vulnerable to being in the same danger in the future. Coping is not resolving; all of the responses outlined in this model are for containing, harm limitation, they do not go far enough as devices of self-protection. Look out for future blogs covering different strategies to manage situations from a position of greater strength and for ways to build your own sense of agency.

[Beyond Fight/Flight/Freeze] [Pleasing Others to Cope] [Collapsing to Survive] [ Controlling Social Space] [The Fixed Fighters & The Fuzzy Flighty]

Controlling Social Space Storm's Edge Therapy

Controlling Social Space

Threat Management (4)

Controlling Social Space Storm's Edge Therapy

In summary so far, the responses outlined above are the immediate moving aggressively towards or backing away from physical danger: Mastering of Danger. Next, there is the response of being overwhelmed and shutting down in response to a threat either rigidly or in collapse: Managing of Overload. Then in response to long-term psychological danger, there is engaging or disengaging from interpersonal control: Manipulating of Others. The next two responses are also framed in partnerships, but in relation to managing the danger within a social interaction like a conversation or meeting. Following the model, there are also two opposing ways of closing down a psychologically or socially situation that is threatening.

Look Away Towards Me

Controlling Social Space Storm's Edge TherapyThe first is the Frenzy Response; when a person goes into a manic state and in a disorganised manner takes over the social space. This leaves no room for others to contribute and is chaotic enough so they are not able to easily take control; essentially they create a type of safety by taking up all the space so no one else can. This is a response commonly seen in therapy when the client feels that some internal material will be too much to handle.

It is also seen in certain psychiatric disorders like anxiety or borderline personality disorder for example. It is one way to conceptualise a troubled teenager who is taking up all of the space in the household to prevent greater threats from developing, like an argument between their parents. If everyone is focused on their drama they are setting the agenda; so while they may be receiving negative attention this is better then some greater danger.

Pouring it All Out

The social threat partner commonly used is similar to Frenzy in that it takes over the space in the conversation to disable others from any level of control. However, it is not chaotic, but highly directional and focused. And it is not about managing the other person as much as releasing the internal pressure. This is the Fountain Response; where the person rapidly and intensely pours out everything that is inside. We could see this as a frantic venting of an intense emotion. The tactic puts the person evacuating at the centre of the conversation. Instead of trying to shut down and overwhelm the other person, it has the effect of drawing them into a position of sympathy and care.

Controlling Social Space Storm's Edge TherapyAlthough this might be seen as a healthier response, where you are getting an emotional release and potentially some support. It is still a psychological pattern that is aimed at managing threats that do not move the person out of the victim position. This is because the response is still uncontained; it is still coming from survival mode and desperation. The strategy is not actually to shift the evacuator into a position of power, but needs the receiver to rescue and assume the task of containing.

These are still mainly responding to threats applying psychological patterns that are outside of conscious choice. Evacuating everything that is inside, largely indiscriminately, is still an extremely uncomfortable position with the person feeling like they’re in danger and needing to defend themselves. In addition, the emotional catharsis may be short-lived, because there are likely little boundaries around this manic response: is this a safe person, a safe situation, how will the use this information. The person can feel extremely vulnerable afterwards as they probably shared internal experiences that they did not expect or plan which can lead to shame, regrets and feeling exposed. This does not then feel like relief or shifting into a position of been empowered.

In this Blog post, we extended our understanding to threat responses by including Frenzy and Fountain, in the next post we discover the ways that we organise our personalities as a survival strategy.

[Beyond Fight/Flight/Freeze] [Pleasing Others to Cope] [Collapsing to Survive] [ Controlling Social Space] [The Fixed Fighters & The Fuzzy Flighty]

Collapsing to Survive Storm's Edge Therapy

Collapsing to Survive

Threat Management (3)

When working with people adapting to horrible circumstances and then supporting them to make a life beyond merely surviving, a number of other threat management patterns are evident. These additional psychological patterns are all aimed at managing ongoing detrimental situations, rather than a shock response by the nervous system. The partnered Flight and the Flight responses are aimed directly at managing a physical threat situation, either by moving towards or away.

Flopping Over

Collapsing to Survive Storm's Edge TherapyThe Freeze response is when the sympathetic nervous system overloads with its partner being the Flop Response. This is not about a hyperarousal that has overwhelmed the person, but a true opposite of a parasympathetic nervous system overactivation. Flopping actually looks quite different; rather than the intensity and rigidity of the Freeze Response, here we find a collapse. The body becomes soft and floppy, even to the point of falling over. There isn’t a fear emotional response as in freezing, but a disconnecting from emotions – all emotions. And the mind becomes vague and confused without a clear direction or plan.

Collapsing to Survive Storm's Edge TherapyA Flop Response can be both acute and chronic. The immediate response to a threat could look like daydreaming, confusion or even fainting. And the chronic long-term response is a disengagement from getting your needs met, setting future goals, even simply having preferences or wishes, etc. This can be a response to an immediate threat that is physical, but more likely to something that is ongoing and psychological or social; like being bullied or an abusive domestic environment. A life that has “flopped” is passive and empty with the person following the path of least resistance as a lifestyle. The cover mantra that helps make this strategy ok is “making the best of a bad situation”.

Faking Your Way Through

Last in the standard Threat Management Model is the Fawning Response; this is the strategic manipulation of a dangerous person by proactively meeting their needs. The word fawning, displaying exaggerated flattery or affection, is used to evoke the idea of fake and exaggerated pleasing behaviour. This is not an authentic attending to someone through admiration, but a survival strategy born out of abuse and desperation. However, it is a means of gaining some degree of power as it is the pleaser that is orchestrating and potentially reducing the harmfulness of the situation.

Collapsing to Survive Storm's Edge TherapyThe partner to Fawning is the Fibbing (Faking) Response, where you disengage from a person or a situation by lying. This is a strategy that works when a threat is built around a set of circumstance; the victim will change the circumstance through misinformation. So when a dangerous person makes a demand, accusation or judgement, the victim would lie and present the situation differently with the hope that’s this will change the expectation and, in turn, reduce the threat. Like Fawning, lying can be used to deescalate an immediate situation, but is built on an ongoing strategy that has become a habit for survival.

Outlined in these first three blogs in the Threat Management Series is the standard, if extended, model of survival responses to a threat. There is a movement from immediate, biological reactions to what could almost be called “lifestyle” strategic responses as well as expanding from events to include relationships. An additional dimension to this framework is that each level has an active (Fight, Freeze, Fawn) and a passive partner (Flight, Flop, Fib/Fake) partner. This reflects the broader difference in strategies of either engaging or disengaging. This is why the model is most often merely called the Fight or Flight response; in addition to those responses being the most biologically identifiable and established.

[Side Note: On Being a Victim]

Throughout this series the term victim is used, which is considered in many situations to be politically incorrect. As it is seen as a judgment of the person and diminishing or derogetory. However, this is a specific choice as all the responses described are from a position of having no power. Although some responses are more strategic and effective at reducing harm, they are still about the person not been able to control the situation. A victim is a person being controlled and in the position of responding, rather than being able to determine the situation and outcome on their own terms. A victim is a responder not an agenda setter. A survivor has shifted to the position of been able to control their own situation, rather than only being in a position of reacting. It is inaccurate, disrespectful and invalidating when somebody feels like they have no control and are the victim of the situation to not acknowledge the true state that they are in. When feeling like a victim this can be acknowledge without implying some character flaw or that they are forever powerless to change. A victim is a real position to be in as well as a real place to escape from – a journey defined.

In this Blog post we completed the standard Threat Response Model by including Flopping and Fibbing(Faking), while in the next post we discover further long-term coping mechanisms that you might be using without knowing.

[Beyond Fight/Flight/Freeze] [Pleasing Others to Cope] [Collapsing to Survive] [ Controlling Social Space] [The Fixed Fighters & The Fuzzy Flighty]

 

Pleasing Others to Cope Storm's Edge Therapy

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.

Frozen in Fear

So following the previous blog (“Beyond Fight/Flight/Freeze”) while the Freeze Response 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.

People Pleasing Response

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] [Pleasing Others to Cope] [Collapsing to Survive] [ Controlling Social Space] [The Fixed Fighters & The Fuzzy Flighty]

Beyond Fight/Flight/Freeze Storm's Edge Therapy

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.

Beyond Biology

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.

Everyday Hidden Dangers

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“.

[Beyond Fight/Flight/Freeze] [Pleasing Others to Cope] [Collapsing to Survive] [ Controlling Social Space] [The Fixed Fighters & The Fuzzy Flighty]

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