Neurology of Self-Defense

Bringing in Needed Neurology

Connecting to how our brains process information during crisis allows us to create truly effective martial-selves.  We frequently hear the phrase "fight or flight," but this is not a full or accurate statement. You Defense curriculum specifically focuses on preparing students for attack situations; including what their brains, minds, and bodies will face as they fight for safety. The drills, discussions, and exercises of You Defense seek to place the student's "self" in full control of what's happening at every step!

The Beautiful Brain

When our brains process signals from our bodies, the information is sent in two directions, high and low.  The high direction is to our frontal lobe, or our conscious mind.  At this level we are aware of thoughts and make rational decisions.  Long before information gets to the frontal lobe, however, it will have been screened for threats by other parts of the brain. These parts, the lower areas, process information faster than our conscious mind is aware of.  These parts are connected directly to our viscera, or guts.  This mechanism allows our emotional processing - our gut feeling - to be infinitely faster and more reliable than our frontal lobe during a crisis.

(a non-neuroscientist butchering of the amazing work of Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk's work  in The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, Bessel Van der Kolk, Penguin Books, New York NY 2014)

Understanding the Traumatic Event

When our lower brains flag something as a possible safety threat an immediate series of actions are initiated that all occur before our rational mind is aware of what's happening

(from Trauma and Memory: Brain and body in a search for the living past, Peter, A Levine, PhD, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley CA 2015).

  • We pause, or our hearts "skip a beat" as we enter arrest/alert processing.
  • If the stimuli continue to worsen, we'll progress to stiffen and orient as we search for what is causing discomfort or danger.  
  • Once the cause of the worsening feeling is identified, we filter the stimuli to see if we need to assess it further.  
  • If so, we process if we should avoid, or approach what has captured our gut sensation.
  • If things continue to get worse, we attempt to fight through humanity's strongest & most unique weapon in the animal world; our complex social relationships.  We automatically seek to fight - or flee - together as groups.  
  • If our search for other humans to aid us fails or if we are alone, we may seek to fight or flee alone.  
  • If we are unable to fight or flee, we will freeze with high levels of fear and nervous energy to wait out the threat.
  • If the threat continues to escalate, we will fold, dissociate, or shut down as a final strategy of survival