Feeling Threat Or Safety?

Brain GPS 2Neuroception is the brain’s subconscious GPS.

It’s at the core of whether we perceive the events of life to be a threat or to be safe.

There are, for sure, real threats, but most of the time what we allow to be threatening is not, or not to the degree in which we respond. Our lives are much more filled with what creates a sense of safety if we allow it.

This means that we find what there is to be grateful for in our lives each day, and bring our focus and attention to what we enjoy in life.Gratitude30

We can be happier and we can experience being safer by managing negative emotions and negative conversations that are not necessary.

Most of the negativity we engage in isn’t necessary, changes nothing, and leaves us feeling threat at some level.

Check the tendency to complain, to gossip, to criticize, and to be too hard on yourself. Much of our negative life is unnecessary and useless.

CapableWe don’t need it and it doesn’t serve us. My experience is that the real negatives in people’s lives are things they are usually pretty good at managing. People are pretty capable and resourceful.

It is the unnecessary negatives, the wasted negative energy of trying to change things we can’t or worry about things that never happen, that are the negatives we need to learn to manage.

Put your focus and attention on what is good and beautiful, savor what you enjoy, do the things you love, and pay more and more attention to connecting to people you really enjoy, who make you laugh, who “hear you” and “get you,” and let them know how important they are to you.

©Dr. William K. Larkin

About the author

Dr. William K. Larkin
  • kathy poehnert

    I have found this to be so true. I love my extended family, but have, in recent years distanced myself somewhat from certain people and events because of the drama and victim energy that drains me. I had the opportunity to attend a family celebration this week-end, and had some concern before going. I found, though, that while I noticed the negativity, I did not react to it, and instead, just enjoyed the moments of fun and reconnection with people I had not seen in quite a while. Every time I felt myself starting to “react”, I used some of the emotional gym exercises and felt much happier!!

  • MissTowner

    It’s kind of crazy how much energy and attention we give to all things that are negative in our lives. When we turn those molehills into mountains, we lose sight of all the beauty and greatness that not only resides in us, but that which is all around us. Once we shift our focus to all that is good, our gratitude barometer raises and we start to notice just how wonderful life is. Combine that with our personal strengths and we start to see how we fit and add to the bigger picture.

  • kkhm

    I want to shout from the rooftops the explanation and description of neuroception. I think our world is full of people whose brains, through no fault of their own, developed a neuroception of threat rather than safety. And I can say from personal experience, this can have a big effect on one’s life. In some cases, it can have extreme consequences, leading to alcoholism, addiction, and all sorts of unhealthy behaviors. I want to shout this out for everyone to know for two reasons: 1) so we can lessen our judgment on those who make choices or do things that are destructive and 2) so that those destructive people who can’t get their lives together no matter how hard they try, time and time again, can grant some slack for themselves, remove their self-judgement, and begin to have compassion for themselves. If only we could hand out brain scans as quickly and easily as punishments, detentions, and jail sentences. If only we could recognize that oftentimes what we are dealing with isn’t people who don’t try, don’t care, or don’t listen. Rather, we live in a world with people whose brains are not all created or developed equal. A neuroception of threat often leads people to do things and live life much differently than those whose attachment was secure and neuroception is secure. Fear makes you act in strange ways.

    Personally, I struggled with severe anxiety and moderate OCD (emphasis on the O) from my early childhood to my mid twenties. I was blessed to have been led to seek help at the age of 20, and my journey has been one of an upward trend toward a reducing of symptoms and a life of well-being and wellness. There have been many pieces (some more effective than others and a few not effective at all) on the way: various therapies and a couple therapists, a few different medications, some alternative healing, prayers and tears, many, many books, self-education about the brain, positive thinking, tools from many new thoughts leaders, a gratitude practice, a yoga practice and an on and off meditation practice and now the Emotional Gym in combination with strengths work and an immersion in education in neuroplasticity.

    I would say before this class I was 70-80% of the way to being completely free from the conditions that once haunted me. This class has provided me the last big boost I needed to feeling almost a complete sense of freedom! It has also provided me with a new found feeling of being fully capable of really taking control of my life and being proactive in stead of reactive in order to envision and create the life I want. I suspect, had I had the teaching of this class earlier on in my life, that I would have made even faster and even easier progress.

    I always knew my brain was the cause of much of my challenges. I imagined my amygdala to be way overdeveloped and in a constant state of rapid fire, but something about the awareness of neuroceptivity gave me an even deeper compassion and acceptance for myself. With this knowledge, there came a sense of relief.

    I believe these tools can help almost anyone–even some of the most challenged among us. If we can begin to consider the issue of neuroception with difficult children in schools and even better the mental health system we will change our present and future. There are prison systems that are probably full of people with a neuroception of threat. I think if we studied those brains, we would find so much understanding and as a society, begin to have so much more compassion and empathy and offer much more effective solutions. I want to reach the people struggling against the deeply ingrained pathways of their brain and reveal to them with confidence and hope, “There is an explanation for this: This is simply the way your brain has developed. But the good news is, your brain can change! And the even better news is, we can teach you how, and it’s much easier than you expect!”

  • alberts3

    We don’t really know why we perceive an event or person as threatening or as secure. Our neuroception GPS is always on, and because it’s unconscious, we don’t even know it’s operating. It tells us whether we should feel guarded or calm. When we sense a low-level threat, we immediately move away from pro-social behaviors. We find ourselves complaining, engaging in negative conversations, criticizing others, and even being down on ourselves.

    I know that I’ve gotten defensive before over comments someone has made. There are times when I’ve felt scared that someone would respond negatively to me about something I said or did. I’ve felt my heart beating faster when I look in the rear view mirror and see a CHP coming up behind me, whether I was speeding or not. More times than not, however, I don’t get defensive when someone makes a negative comment, and I don’t get worried about another’s response. (I still feel my heart when a CHP comes up behind me!) I didn’t understand before that all of those were examples of neuroception. I used to think that neuroception referred only to the extreme fear, like when you do feel the need to fight or flee or freeze. I now think it works in those subtle situations, and in every situation where we’re trying to make sense out of our experiences—which is all the time!

    Our nervous system is constantly in a meaning-making mode. We may as well develop some strategies that will increase the pro-social behaviors that help us feel so much better. The more we move away from our negative habits and our guarded ways, the better we’ll be able to create some positive alternatives. Our awareness will help change those learned and practiced, negative responses into ones that really do serve us.

    Dr. Larkin mentioned that finding things in our life to be grateful for is a very simple way and anyone can do it. By staying in a state of gratitude and appreciation, we’re building psychological capital so it will be even easier to find, and remain in, a state of positivity.

  • A Pyatt

    it’s not the event that should matter, it is how you handle the event that matters.
    Some events are seen as threats; whether it be unconscious or not; none the less, it is a reaction without our control. Having a reactive (negative) nature tends to follow when you are not in a positive position in your life, or when chaos reins. I have been there, I know that all too well. It is when we feel a threat that the negativity seems most likely to occur or thrive, because that is our ‘safe’ zone. It’s all we know, or all that we have been taught. However, after learning the science behind why a negative seems to begat more negative, why we search to ‘understand’ or make meaning of an event, or how staying positive works, I have to wonder why a negative ever came into play to being with. Being in a continuously sustained negative place just doesn’t seem to be a part of anything I want in my life now. And that is just fine with me.

  • kathy poehnert

    The concept of neuroception is very interesting to me- before I had a name for it, I had often wondered why I tended to see the world as a safe and loving place, and yet, so many of my friends and neighbors are always talking about “conspiracy theories” and “everyone is out to get you if you let them” etc. I was born in the fifties, was premature at birth, but know that my early needs for nourishment, touch, etc were met. Now that I know where this begins, it makes me really wonder what the early experiences were of these friends and neighbors!

    I am also curious to know if, due to the articulation of an awareness of so much threat in todays world (just happened upon CNN talking about being careful this Holiday week-end in public places, including beaches, due to terrorist threats…….) influences the early neuroception of todays babies, particularly in breast feeding babies, whose mothers may be hearing all this, and transferring that to the infant.

  • kathy poehnert

    I am also wondering how neuroception relates to that “gut” or intuitive kind of feeling of threat that we have always been told to pay attention to…because it is usually correct!

  • Beverly Harvey

    Since I have been using the Emotional Gym, I have been noticing less and less negativity within myself and it’s becoming easy to distance myself from those who are caught up in their drama and negativity. It doesn’t seem to have much impact on me anymore, especially when it’s not directed toward me. I just think to myself, “Oh my, there’s Donald being Donald again,” and then I just continue on my joyful way.

    I’ve also noticed recently that I’m replacing criticism of others and their circumstances with gratitude for who I am, what I am, what I have, and the strengths I have that enable me operate at the level I am. I’m amazed by this change in reaction/action as it’s just recently begun to occur. I’m just feeling really blessed.

    • Shelly

      I agree, Beverly! Frequent visits to the Emotional Gym have increased my resiliency!

  • Jo-Anne

    As I reflect on the concept of neuroception and how it shows up in my life, I find I am becoming more aware of my reactions, to people and also situations, based on whether I feel/felt safe or threatened at the time. For various reasons, my default used to be more slanted towards the threat end, but the Emotional Gym exercises are helping me to use those cues to turn negative emotions into positive ones. What I find interesting is that it was pretty easy with not much effort to be really want to “walk away” from negative emotion and drama in others. What I sometimes still struggle with is how hard I am on myself, placing unrealistic expectations and then not always meeting them. At those times, I find the pulsing is harder and takes longer to get back to a place of safety, or feeling good. But its getting better with practice. I realize now as well that I have often in the past not played to my strengths, and can fully appreciate now the importance of practicing calling on them on a daily basis as part of this work to stay in the UpSpiral. It’s all very inspiring and motivating to begin to see a future rich with possibilities.

    • Shelly

      I’m with you Jo-Anne. I’m much more aware of my reactions now that we’ve been studying this material. Looking forward to working out with you tonight! {smiles}

      • Jo-Anne

        It’s all very exciting! Thanks Shelly, I am enjoying working with you on our calls. I am grateful for you sharing your insights from your experience:)

        • Shelly


  • Shelly

    “It is the unnecessary negatives, the wasted negative energy of trying to change things we can’t or worry about things that never happen, that are the negatives we need to learn to manage” (Larkin, June 29, 2015). This quote really stood out in my brain as I read. We know that anxiety comes from an attempt to control an uncontrollable. The interesting thing about anxiety, to me anyway, is that it’s completely wasted energy. I’ve never heard of one person who felt better after worrying about something. If the outcome of a situation is like they wanted, they “feel better,” but until people make a choice to stop worrying, the anxiety never ends. Who wants to live that way?

  • Beth Montgomery

    I have always tried very hard not to get wrapped up in gossip. It is a downward spiral in itself and it never leads to anything good. If I do gossip it always leaves me feeling guilty. As we are learning to delelop daily plans I am thinking about how simple it is to make that a daily commitment – “today I will walk away from conversations that are not positive and do not serve my purpose”. This is even broader than just gossip, simply a commitment to walk away from negative conversations. That not is to say avoid discussions but keep the choice of words, blame and negativity at bay. I am going to start to w thork this into my daily plans.

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