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Do you have automatic behaviours that make you ashamed or confused ?

Neuroception describes the body scanning our environment for cues of safety or danger. We are unlikely to be aware of it but it is happening constantly at a subconscious level. The next time you notice butterflies in your tummy or sweaty palms or your breath quickening this is likely to be your nervous system picking up cues of danger- nueroception. Most of these cues will have been learnt in childhood as infants we constantly scanned our environment for cues of safety and danger.




Children can become frightened when their attachment figures criticise them for making mistakes, push them to excel, indicate they are disappointed in them, or punish them if they are idle or fail. Children neurocept danger in these situations because at a primitive level, parental disapproval implicitly threatens them since they are dependent on their caregivers for survival, safety, and a sense of belonging. These dynamics cause a degree of emotional distress, but not always so severe as to result in an insecure attachment or in the strongly dysregulated arousal of traumatized children.

All children learn early on what is expected in relationships with their attachment figures, and they will instinctively adjust their inner needs and behavioural and bodily responses to parental demands and preferences. In a conversation about this in 2013, Steve Porges pointed out that parental expectations inevitably leave a young child with two (nonconscious) choices: One, to remain safe and win approval of attachment figures by meeting their expectations; or, two, to risk danger in the form of rejection, criticism, disappointment, or worse by failing to meet expectations. When possible, living up to expectations would be the best choice because doing so reduces the presence and frequency of the behavioural features in the attachment figure that cause children to instinctively neurocept danger. Survival, security, and social engagement are preserved when meeting parental expectations allowing the child to neurocept safety.

The bodily feelings generated by the neuroception of safety turn off defensive strategies and critical thoughts, and promote connections and feelings of compassion. When clients understand that neuroception is automatic and unconscious and can't be changed through cognition, their embarrassment and self-deprecation immediately lessens.


There are many exercises you can do to understand your triggers on a daily basis and understand when your state changes from calm and relaxed (feeling safe), to the fight or flight activation response or the dorsal shutdown response (feeling unsafe). See Deb Dana resources for these exercises.


(Information taken from Clinical applications of Polyvagal Theory- Porges/Dana)

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