The most dangerous form of human interaction is shame.
If some of your past experiences involve feeling shame, it's quite possible that you do not have conscious awareness of where those feelings come from.
This is because shame is tied to a neurological response of submission.
It is the most 'life-threatening’ physiological state we can be in. It’s the last resort of your nervous system to escape death. But it’s the most dangerous because it is tied to submission to a ‘predator’.
(I’ll be explaining the neuro-socio-biology of this in the March 18th post).
I call this the shame-submission response.
Because the shame-submission response is so closely tied to life-threat, your sensory receptors and various neural circuits will have ‘triggers’ associated with it.
Any stimuli that are similar or related to a shame-response in the past will therefore be:
- High priority: your threat-detection system will be on the lookout for signals that could trigger this response
- Unconscious: the circuitry related to being consciously aware of things would take too long to process. To avoid this, your brain-body uses an unconscious ‘reception’ of signals that lead to automatic responses without needing systems involved in higher level analysis. This is called ‘neuroception’*.
*neuroception is a term coined by Stephen Porges. It refers to 'the process through which the nervous system evaluates risk without requiring awareness (Stephen Porges. The Polyvagal Theory: the Transformative Power of Feeling Safe)
For example, a person may unconsciously be constantly detecting movement of frowning or smiling facial muscles.
Why? Because in that person’s experiences, this was high priority data for assessing if a violent outburst was about to happen or if things were safe to ask to have a need met.
As you interact with other people, your neuroceptive system detects associations between stimuli happening now and shame-submission responses from your past.
Because socio-biological signals are deeply tied to our ability to survive, you may ‘sense’ that your existence is being threatened by another person - even though that life-threat is not actually there.
This can affect a person’s behavior because the hyper-focus on signals related to their past (such as facial gestures) may make that person hyper-vigilant in their interactions - even when that level of vigilance is not needed.
That vigilance will then change the signals they are projecting to the other person, which can block feelings of safety and connection.
To ‘protect’ the person from being triggered into the shame-submission response, the brain-body vehicle may resort to the attack/escape system. (sympathetic nervous system), which is a less life-threatening level of the nervous system.
The analogy would be like a small dog snarling and baring its teeth or barking even when someone is far away - as its way of not letting that threat get anywhere close to triggering a submission response
The human version of this kind of attack/defense is to attempt to subdue the ‘threat’ by shaming them into submission.
It’s a neural mechanism of survival.
We need to understand this idea so that we can see how our own avoidance of deeper emotional pain and the shame-submission response is making us project, attack and shame others.
Shaming others is a neurochemically-toxic, brain-circuitry degrading, primitive defense tactic.
It has always been a part of human society because it is a remnant of the mammalian dominance-submission strategy.
But here’s a very important layer to add:
The most dangerous thing we can do to the evolution of human society is to shame others for what they say.
Why is this dangerous? Because:
It means we are using our voice as a weapon for shame.
From an evolutionary, neurological, anatomical, perspective - it was never designed for that.
***The human voice and its ability to express is an evolutionary adaptation for avoiding the need to use our resource-intensive, attack-defend systems. ***
This topic is so important for us to get.
This doesn't mean we agree or condone. But there are ways to use our voice that allows for dialogue to continue. Shame is a mechanism that triggers so many survival tactics that it blocks the flow of communication.
When humans sense that the communication energy flows are being blocked, more primitive mechanisms are very likely to rise in activity. This sequence is based on a biological adaptation of the human nervous system (more on March 18th).
We, as a species, are exhausted.
We are exhausted because we are not using the evolved neural resources we have access to - in the way they were designed.
This is leading us to be in our attack-defend system way too often.
Attack-defend resources are meant to be used in short, infrequent bursts.
Overusing them can lead to depletion of energy and resources for cognitively more complex things such as creativity, future-thinking and innovation.
When we shame others, we are degrading our neural resources. .
When someone shames us, they are triggering us to go backwards in our evolution into primitive responses.
In order to get around this, we need to understand why we are shaming someone else in the first place.
It’s a defense that has been learned and it’s driven by our past (individually and collectively).
By using our complex intelligence to explore patterns and the purpose of things, we open ourselves to more highly evolved mechanisms for social adaptation.
Freedom of expression is one of the most powerful mechanisms to do that.
Expressing ourselves freely and without fear is our tool for advancing as a human civilization and society.
Expressing ourselves using our voices and hands* is a socially advanced innovation that moves information from inside of us into frequencies and vibrations that others can witness and then respond to.
*voice helps us create auditory signals, hands help us create graphical representations through writing, gestures, art, etc.
Human expression (through voice and hands) is the most creative and powerful tool on this planet (and possibly beyond).
It’s the foundation for both empathy and evolution.
Human hands and voices are tools to help us avoid needing weapons.
We are mis-using them in ways that downgrade us as a species back into primitive realms.
I have all the neuro-physiological explanations to back this up and I’m excited to continue sharing them.
This is my way of using my voice and hands to type and speak in ways to open channels of communication for deeper understanding of the HUMAN experience.
More to come on March 18th specifically for this.
Next week, in Episode 6, we’ll look at how mis-attunement and inappropriate responses in social interactions affects our brain activity and self-regulating circuitry.
Episode 6 will add to the picture of the origins of shame.
Critical Reflection questions:
Are you using your voice and hands (this includes digitally) to help others access their highest level of circuitry?
Or are you using them to degrade their nervous system into the shame-submission response?
Are you using your voice and hands to gather others into devolving into a collective shaming of other ‘sub-groups’? If so, what is your experience with the shame-submission response that may be leading you to project this onto others? Can you feel compassion for yourself as you understand this?
If you feel that someone is shaming you, a question you can ask yourself is “what has been their experience with shame that is leading them to project it onto you as a way of avoiding their own pain?”