The “Social Engagement System”

“The more primitive the operating system, the more power it has to take over the overall function of the organism.  It does this by inhibiting the more recent and more refined neurological subsystems.  In particular, the immobilization system all but completely suppresses the social engagement/attachment system.  When you are ‘scared to death,’ you have few resources left to orchestrate the complex behaviors that mediate attachment and calming; social engagement is essentially hijacked.  The sympathetic nervous system also blocks the social engagement system, but not as completely as does the immobilization system (the most primitive of the three defenses).”   Peter Levine, “In an Unspoken Voice,” p101
Wow!  That just makes total sense of why I can’t call friends for help when I’m triggered, and why the things they say can be very hurtful when I’m triggered and not a problem when I’m not.  I call it being triggered into the baby state, where I am truly helpless and lack all my adult behaviors, but I tend to be angry at myself for not being able to handle things better.  But the truth is: I am truly paralyzed, truly helpless, unable to “orchestrate the complex behaviors that mediate attachment and calming.”  That’s why I need help, the safe presence of another individual who UNDERSTANDS.


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