I like what Rose Eveleth says about being open-minded in her NPR article from May 3, 2021. After discussing how our brain can develop implicit biases based on our upbringing and environment and then discussing how being curious can expand our worldview, she says we should take a deep breath and try to stay calm when we are fighting feelings of defensiveness and annoyance.
But how do we receive cues from others that might lead us to feel defensive and annoyed? And how do we stay calm when our bodies are telling us that something about a person or situation is just not right?
My tenure as the Section Chief of the FBI’s Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force (FTTTF) was still in its early stages when I was asked to attend a meeting at the US Secretary of State headquarters. When I arrived at the conference room, there were about 30 people sitting around a number of tables arranged in a big square.
The topic dealt with a counterterrorism issue and it was obvious from the outset that some of the people in the room were not happy with the FBI. As I scanned the room, even before the meeting officially began, I could tell who was going to be our biggest obstacle. As the meeting progressed my instincts were correct.
While you might call it a vibe, I can now tell you that what I was experiencing from the person was a cue of danger. Maybe not physical danger, but certainly a cue that warned me of potentially emotional dangers.
Situations like the one I described were, for me, few and far between. While an element of danger is always present in a law enforcement profession, I did not live life in a state of stress or emotional hyperarousal because I was unsure of what was coming next.
While being on the lookout for constant danger is normal for people who have had severe childhood trauma and adverse childhood experiences, we all move through a continuum of determining whether the cues we are receiving from others are cues of danger or cues of safety.
Understanding how our bodies react to cues of danger and safety is the science supporting The Polyvagal Theory.
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Photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash