From Negative Bias to Safety
Negative bias is our tendency to see threats. It is a survival mechanism. We are predisposed towards sensing that which might cause us harm. This is a deeply rooted part of our intelligence which has been responsible for our survival going back hundreds of thousands of years, if not longer. Every animal in the world has this kind of wiring. When a threat is sensed, the natural, and appropriate, reaction is ‘fight or flight.’
Fight or flight is a neurological and biochemical response to perceived threat or danger. In today’s world, a bully can be as harmful to the psyche as can a severe cut on the skin. And because bully’s are so common, many people live out their days in high alert. If we can fight, or flee, the potential harm, the neuro-bio-chemical components of that state are dissipated. If we cannot fight, or flee, we become traumatized and the neurobiochemical components do not get dissipated, which then contributes to the common symptoms of stress, tension, irritability and PTSD, such as hyper-sensitivity and hyper-reactivity.
Mild to moderate trauma is not uncommon in today’s harsh world. It’s hard to imagine a child growing up without some traumatic situations, if even mild to moderate. There are certainly many in the world, both as children and adults, who have severe, and chronic trauma. Even though there may not be any real immediate physical danger or threat, there can be, and often is, threats and dangers to our psychological sense of self, ie, our established beliefs, entrenched conclusions, imposed values, conflicting desires, learned biases and prejudices. In this age of easy access to all kinds of information, the threat to our established identity, if even outdated, is high, or at least perceived as such.
Having somewhat of a backlog of unprocessed fight or flight chemicals in the body from perceived psychological threats in the past, we are very prone to defensiveness, and perhaps offensiveness. You may have yourself experienced this when a cherished belief is challenged. You become defensive, offensive, scared. It is the hyper-sensitivity and hyper-reactivity which can make a diplomatic statement of constructive criticism appear to be a threat to our identity. It can make us respond to the normal kind of annoyances and irritations we all find in daily life to be a threat of harm. Annoyances and irritations do not constitute a threat of harm. And yet, if they are responded to as such, the blood stream is injected with those fight or flight chemicals from various glands in the body. We begin to live with fight or flight as our baseline, constantly on the lookout for possible harm.
The natural fight or flight response to threat or danger becomes distorted and skewed so that even little things which are not at all a real threat, become a potential harm. We go into the fight or flight response, generate the fight or flight chemicals which pour into the blood stream, and yet can not really fight or flee; so, we become even more traumatized, more hyper-sensitive and hyper-reactive. We become more defensive, and more offensive. It becomes as if everything is a potential threat to our sense of self. In it’s more exaggerated form, this could be considered paranoia. Paranoia can be a symptom of trauma. Paranoia is the organic fight or flight response active all the time, and exaggerated, like a balloon blown up to near it’s explosion, and remaining there, day in, day out. Our inherent negative bias towards potential harm, which served our survival well, becomes amplified, magnified and begins to serve our demise with increasing levels of anxieties, depressions, conflicts, and confusions.
The counter measure to this spiraling dysfunction is to begin accessing memories, and imaginations, of safety; to build up our consciousness of safety, to feel safe, in the mind and body. Right now, as you read this, it is very probable that you are safe. Even if tomorrow there is a stressful situation you must attend to, right now, you are safe. In memory, there may be times when you were unsafe. But, you are safe right now. The recognition of safety, the acknowledgment of no immediate threat or danger in the present reality, no harm either physically or psychologically, has it’s own biochemical soup that pours into the blood stream. When safe, we feel calm, comfortable, at ease. Meditation upon safety, what it feels like, is an important counter measure to trauma and the negative bias.
When we feel safe, we are more capable of assessing genuine threat. We are less defensive, and less offensive. We are more receptive and more flexible. We can think more clearly and respond to situations more intelligently. The word safe comes the Latin solvus and French sauf and translates to uninjured and protected, respectively. The very root of the Latin word, sol translates as ‘whole, well kept.’ To be safe is to be whole and well kept. Right now, right this moment, you are whole and well kept. If you are anxious or depressed, it is not because of a threat or a valid sense of danger. There is no immanent harm. It is because your psychological processes are manufacturing fabricated scenarios from the past or about the future which are delusions of danger and threat, and you are accepting them as real, activating the fight or flight chemicals, if even mildly. So, discontinue that by introducing the reality of the present moment. You are here. You are safe. Don’t just affirm it in your mind. Feel it in your body.
If you would like to read a bit more about this topic, visit our blog post A Key To Healing Trauma.