Struggling with sexual addiction or facing life with a person who struggles with sexual addiction is traumatic. It can lead to the development of “Trauma Triggers” that complicate the healing process.
Our bodies respond to our environment in both conscious and unconscious ways.
When I cross the street, I consciously acknowledge the inherent danger of traffic. I make the choice to look both ways before I proceed. But sometimes, my perceptions operate at an unconsciously level to respond to danger that comes so quickly I do not have time to make a conscious response. When a small object — as small as a particle of dust — approaches my eye, I blink.
This unconscious reaction to the risk posed to my eyesight keeps me safe. I do not always have the time to make choices in response to every risk in my environment. The Autonomic Nervous System regulates these unconscious actions in one’s body. It is always at work.
It includes two branches: The Sympathetic Nervous System, and the Parasympathetic Nervous System. These networks of nerve cells serve as the communication link between one’s body and one’s brain.
When you are in danger, the sympathetic system lights a fire in your body to make you move with super-human strength and speed. In the flash of an eye, if your brain registers danger, your body goes into action. This empowers the fight-flight response.
The Parasympathetic Nervous System is the counter-balancing partner. Each system complements the other. Some call the Parasympathetic Nervous System the “rest and digest” response.
Trauma is stress overload. It is an unconscious, body response that is driven by the Sympathetic Nervous System.
Although most people never even think about the Autonomic Nervous System, it is the most active part of lived experience. It informs feelings, moods, and reactions people have to the world around them.
The brain manages our bodies by maintaining a state of equilibrium. Not too much of this. Not too much of that.
When an external threat appears (or even just appears to appear) the body experiences a surge of energy activated by the Sympathetic Nervous System. Once the danger passes, the Parasympathetic Nervous System kicks in to pull the body back to restore balance.
Danger is sometimes real and sometimes only perceived.
A horror movie, for example, plays on the Autonomic Nervous System. The thrill viewers experience watching the film is the wave of stress response generated by the sympathetic system as images and sounds on the screen stimulate the brain. It is not real danger, but the brain can’t tell the difference.
After the movie viewers feel a calming effect come over them. This release viewers experience is the relax response generated by the parasympathetic system as it brings the body back to a state of balance.
The management of real and perceived danger leads the brain to maintain a kind of vigilance. In a world that ebbs and flows with risk, the body remains in a state of readiness.
We experience this management of a potential dangerous world as “stress”. Mild stress includes such feeling as fear, anger, irritability, alertness, restlessness, breathlessness, increased heart-rates, and other physical signs of vigilance.
One person may be more aware of stress-states in the body, another less. With a little practice, anyone can learn to interpret the stress states of the body. Understanding how you experience stress can you help manage the ups and downs that come with the daily challenge of living.
Image by Quinn Dombrowski