Reprocessing Our Autonomic Nervous System

THE MOMENT OF CHANGE: Awareness of Neuroception

It is possible to develop a deeper and deeper awareness of our automatic nervous system. Do this by remembering a time when you were startled by someone or something. Maybe you heard a car backfire. See if you can identify the moment when you felt the change in your body and then how your story changed. Can you pinpoint the moment your body automatically went into survival mode?

Then find a time when your state changed in the other direction, from danger back to safety. Perhaps you saw a friendly face or heard a familiar sound and felt a return to ease. Again look for the moment when you felt that happen and see how the story that accompanied the feeling began to change. Can you pinpoint the moment your body automatically went into connection mode?

Welcome to that most dangerous intersection, where awareness meets action. You are now entering the zone of possibilities for real change. Will you feel our ancient built in bias to negatively lash out in survival mode or will you intentionally create safety in your body in self-regulating equilibrium? Welcome to LegalNoodle, where the body is the mind.

The Three Steams of Neuroception

Neuroception comes from three different sources. 1. Embodied within ourselves, 2. Environmental external stimulus, and 3. Relational (other people). This post will end my summary of Chapter 5 of Anchored by Deb Dana. Let’s get experiential by ripping out page sixty-five and pasting it into this post. Here are some questions to practice awareness of the three sources of information that your neuroception is taking in:

The Three Streams of Neuroception, Anchored, p. 65

Am I unconsciously living in the past?

It is important to discern whether our responses are coming from the past or are grounded in the present. To do this, we can use a clarifying question. First, bring perception to the present moment. What cues are you getting right now? Is your neuroception one of safety or danger? And now ask the question, “In this moment, in this place, with this person or these people, is this the response (or this intensity of response) needed?” Notice we ask if the response is needed, not if it is appropriate. Categories of appropriate or not appropriate, good and bad, don’t apply. The autonomic nervous system doesn’t make meaning, value, or assign motivation. It simply takes in cues and enacts the response it deems necessary to ensure survival. If the answer to the clarifying question is yes, you’re likely anchored in the present moment and your response can be a useful guide in making decisions. If the answer is no, look for a familiar cue that has reached out from your past and taken hold in the present. Think about other times in your life when you have felt this way. What is your earliest memory of feeling this way? Look for the cues of danger that are similar between the past and now. When we find the thread that connects experiences, we have new information to help us understand our patterns.

YouTube Lesson on Polyvagal Theory by Deb Dana
Neuroceptive delusions of danger

Safety is essential for survival, but to our nervous system, not being in danger is not the same as being safe. Being out of danger doesn’t guarantee we experience a neuroception of safety. The systems that have been put in lace to create safety impact how we communicate and shape the ways we create connection..

Think about the systems you regularly interact with. What are the cues of safety and danger that you feel as you navigate though these systems? You’ll recognize cues of safety in the ways you feel alive and anchored in regulation safe within your body, and cues of danger in the ways your sympathetic and dorsal survival states activate. Bring perception to these experiences and see where your neuroception takes you.

In order to find well-being we need to attend to cues of both danger and safety. We need to reduce or resolve cues of danger and actively enhance and experience cues of safety. One without the other doesn’t bring us to well-being. To explore this, think of a particular experience that feels just a little unsafe or holds just a hint of distress. Start by bringing perception to neuroception and identify the specific cues of danger that you feel. Use the three streams of neuroception to look for cues inside your body, outside in the environment, and between you and others. When you identify a cue of danger, consider how you might reduce it or if there is a way to resolve it. What is possible? Experiences often include more than one cue of danger. Stop and explore each one you find.

Deb Dana Teaching Polyvagal Neuroception on YouTube
Humans have a negativity bias to ensure survival

And now move your attention to cues of safety. Take time to see what embodied, environmental, and relational cues of safety are present in the experience. We humans are built with a negativity bias to help insure our survival. Because of this, we are on the lookout for cues of danger and often miss the cues of safety. Look back on the experience and see if there are any cues of safety you might have missed. Next bring some curiosity to exploring what cues of safety it may be possible to bring in.

Awareness is the active ingredient needed to work with neuroception. To engage with your inner surveillance system and learn to use it wisely, bring awareness to the cues of danger and make an intention to connect with cues of safety. With awareness, we can explore with curiosity and create the conditions necessary to create an embodied sense of safety in our daily living experiences.

Stuck in chronic state of survival mode

My default information pathways of my body are often stuck on danger. Heretofore I have lived my life in a chronic state of survival mode, without being fully aware of it. Now I can reprocess my self-regulation and seek safety using my new awareness of neuroception.

anchor in autonomic safety

By Dean McAdams

Born a poor peckerwood in a Tujunga holler, Dean practiced secrets of the ancient & modern masters to end up liberated in the coastal paradise of West L.A.