Response Reflexes and Possible Reactions
Response Reflexes and Possible Reactions
Inhale through the mouth quickly. Pull back everything: head, shoulders, feet, etc. Attaching all of your posture to physical retreat. Then hold, intensely, and watch your environment.
The quick movement and intense hold, causes extreme muscle tension everywhere, head to toe. With everything else moving backwards, few extensions of your body opt to move forward. The hands may fly out and up, to balance and protect with palms out, a deep instinct to ward off attack. The chin tucks down slightly, and the neck muscles tighten, as a gut feeling inside warns to protect the vulnerable neck. The eyes immediately sense the need to watch and study the influence of this response, causing them to move forward, practically bulging out of the head. Finally, the hold and watch pattern causes you to hold your breath. If you opt to hold this for a while, a quick release of the air tension blows out of the mouth, only to gasp in more air for the next hold duration.
This is a fear response, deeply rooted in the limbic system, when encountering the unknown, the unannounced, or the unsuspected. The impulse to pull away, protect, and evaluate is a natural response to the unknown. We see this behavior in the animal kingdom when we witness most any animal caught off guard. The ears go back, wings flap to launch the bird in retreat, claws scrape the ground as the animal scrambles back to evaluate, and eyes bulge out as the animal freezes in an important decisive moment before fight, or flight.
The response is quick, instinctive and could be described as a reflex, an automatic, unthinking, involuntary response to a stimulus. Scientific studies have also referred to this as the Startle Reflex. The Latin meaning of the words reflex and response, are “to bend back” and “to answer.” These are quick, instinctive responses. Human babies display pure fear responses as they discover the world around them. Later as humans mature, the response might become far more subtle and internalized, after a lifetime of social conditioning. Some adults might simply display a low, barely perceptible inhale of air, a hold, and body tension that pulls the individual’s posture backward while the eyes shift around the environment.
If this fear is more reflexive and automatic, what happens when our thinking catches up after these reflexes? We react. With our thoughts more actively engaged, evaluation of the situation is quickly calculated, and now we act again, as the Latin meaning of “re” suggests, or act anew. Paul Ekman, facial expression expert and author of fourteen books, including Emotions Revealed, describes the moment when a person is in the reflexive emotional state and evaluating the situation as the Refractory Period. After this point, we have choices, if we are conscious of the response, and then aware of the options in reactions available to us.
With the fear response filling our lungs with air during quick gulping inhales, and body tension building up from pulling back and tighten up, often the reaction that follows is an instinctive release of this tension. Medical dictionary use of the word, reaction, is often referred to “an action caused by the resistance to another action, or a return to the opposite physical condition.“ In small children we see this all the time when a child is startled, or falls. There is the brief moment of silence as the child holds his breath and quickly evaluates the situation. After that split second of hold, a release or purge is followed, often either a cry or a laugh. Both of these emotional reactions involve a great exhale of air out of the mouth, and a release of body tension. Watch this YouTube video of a young child responding to his mother blowing her nose, and then reacting after his evaluation of the situation. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9oxmRT2YWw
The brief evaluative moment, or Refractory Period, during the response and the reaction plays an important role, influencing the emotional content of the reaction. If we perceive the stimulus that ignited the fear as a valid fearful situation, we will continue to hold onto the fear in our systems, either engaging a full retreat or flight mode, or maintaining low levels of tension, being wary, watchful, and stressed. In truly fearful situations, this is an absolutely life sustaining reaction. However, often the fear response is simply due to being surprised, and the reaction can release the need to hold onto the stress inducing stimulus.
The fear response with chronic attachments to the fear condition can cause tonic states of stress in our lives. Many people have created acronyms to explain our habit of holding onto this fear. A popular acronym is FEAR = False Expectations Appearing Real. When we reach that brief moment of evaluation and accept the fear stimulus as a validation of a truly fearful situation, the fear response stays in our systems. However, when we engage the analytical brain in the brief evaluative moment, and choose to react by releasing, perhaps the acronyms could be reinterpreted as these others found by groups wanting to reinterpret their own fear response, “Forget Everything And Relax, or Face Everything And Rejoice.” Many people laugh after they are startled, as a natural response for this need to release, as well as the want to be joyous. At other times an individual might cry as a release, particularly if the threat has passed, and a person needs to express the grief imagined at possible loss and pain from that threat. Then there are others who might react in rage, turning the situation into a fight, or feeling the need to protect the threatened environment.
The external environment will also influence the reaction. In the video of the baby responding to his mother blowing her nose, we don’t see how the mother is influencing the baby’s reaction. One can surmise that she is most likely influencing that joyous reaction, as many of us might do when we see a baby startled, by smiling and encouraging the baby that all is well, no threat present. When a child falls and sees a parent running to the child in their own fear response, or wearing a worried expression on their faces, they influence that child’s reaction to the situation. If the child is not hurt, and is simply looking around to learn if the situation is one where he should laugh or cry as his release, all evidence is quickly collected from inside and out, and then an emotional reaction engages.
We have many choices in our reactions to the unknown, unexpected, and unannounced. Even if previous life habits and influences have created patterns in our reactions, they can be reconditioned over time and practice to produce a different reaction. Like the individual who studies the martial arts, training over and over again to condition a different response to being attacked, or encountering the unexpected. We can learn to recondition our reactions as well, and start anew with newly developed reactions.
To learn more about these options, the study of Alba Emoting can provide you with tools for raising your awareness of responses and reactions, and then provide you with tools to respond anew. Also – an excellent book to read about the subject of emotions and the many choices we have in our lives for writing your own new script of actions and reactions is Emotional Awareness: A Conversation Between The Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman, PH.D.