I’ve heard many times people talk about the fight/flight/freeze response

and how it comes from the days when we had to protect ourselves from sabertooth tigers.

When we were being physically attacked we needed to defend or protect ourselves, and so these responses became wired in.

They share that these outdated responses cause us to make a whole variety of choices that actually aren’t in our best interest… to play small, not go after our dreams, and live less meaningful lives than we could be living. They point out that there aren’t sabertooth tigers anymore. The threat that existed no longer exists, but our nervous systems are still operating on a millennia-outdated fear response.

I always interpret this logic as implicitly saying “Hey, how silly that we still think there are sabertooth tigers around, huh? Just realize that you’re actually safe and go live your best life!”

The ostensible goal is to help us realize that we are capable of doing and creating what we want.

Sure. Valid. I’m in support of that end goal.

But here’s what none of them ever talk about: What’s just as – if not more – terrifying to the human psyche is the feeling of disconnection. The fear that we will become ostracized from our communities is hard wired into our nervous systems.

These days it’s not being attacked that we’re most afraid of.

It’s being cast out.

A newborn child cannot care for themself. They require love and attention from the people around them or they will die. Developing minds and psyches cannot develop on their own. They require love and attention or they will feel like they are dying.

This disconnection = death response cannot be understated. It is hard wired into our nervous systems over millions upon millions of years. It is what makes us mammals. It is what makes us human.

No matter how good a job our parents did there are places where we didn’t get the love and attention we needed growing up. These unmet needs – this fear of death – becomes frozen into our nervous system, and when we are considering making that leap or taking that bold action it reactivates and we choke up, self-sabotage, etc.

These frozen needs for love and attention cannot be “logicked” away.

They must be “loved away”. It is essential to the developing nervous system that it learns love, belonging, and safety. It is in this patterning (or oftentimes re-patterning) that we develop the resilience to take chances, make leaps, and break social molds to follow our dreams.

This work can often only be done in supportive communal settings. Spaces where we are unconditionally loved and accepted for our own unique, messy, and sometimes seemingly unlovable thoughts, feelings, and expressions are crucial. I believe that we cannot fully learn to love ourselves without learning that we are lovable from the people around us.

Because it’s not the sabertooth tiger we most fear. It’s being left out in the cold with no support system to catch us when we fall.

Photo: Stephen Flynn Photography from the Brotherhood Community Men’s Leadership Intensive