Why we need to feel safe AND vulnerable at the same time

I was asked this question recently by someone who is a member of a nudist colony:

 

Yes,  you read that correctly..

 

“What is the neurobiological reasons people enjoy social nudism?
What is its social impact?”

 

Many of you know that I LOVE getting asked new questions,
so I was very excited to explore this topic and see how it relates to neurobiology.

 

This may seem like an unrelated to the science of mindset
and empathy, but similarly to those topics,

 

the deepest root of this question is about
a sense of safety and vulnerability:

 

the two most critical ingredients every human needs to grow and evolve
(and have access to the brain architecture
needed for self-awareness,
so that we can shift our mindsets and behaviors).

 

(FYI:  please feel free to ask me ANYTHING and I will LOVE giving neurobiological background to whatever topic you come up with!   I am in the planning phases of a podcast, so we could cover your questions there!)
………………………………………………………………………………….
Here’s my answer to the question about nudism:

 

​​​​

A sense of safety is our absolute most primitive, foundational state
that must occur before any other brain activity can really happen.

Safety is a relative term, though: it’s based on each individual’s experiences.

When we feel safe, our most evolved system of interaction comes online
– it’s called the ‘social engagement system’.
It’s actually a cranial nerve that allows us to
express our voice (vocalization),
use facial gestures and
tense our middle ear muscles in order to hear a human voice.
We use this system to let others know two things:
our internal state, and our intentions.

This is called the Polyvagal theory –
it was discovered and coined by one of the most brilliant minds I admire: Stephen Porges.

When we feel safe, our most evolved brain architecture
is also accessible for us to be ‘conscious’
of what is happening, and create what we call
‘explicit memories’.

 

This is very different than what happens
when we don’t feel safe.

When we don’t feel safe, for example, with another person,
we attempt to first use our social engagement system –
we will use words and facial gestures to create safety.
If this doesn’t work, our next, lesser evolved system
comes online – our ‘mobilization’ system,
aka fight or flight.
If we have experiences trying to use either of these systems
and they aren’t successful in creating safety,
our most ancient system is then recruited,
– the fold or freeze system,
which is embodied by the ‘shame posture’…
Our folding over, heads bowed, in submission.
This is a system that we do everything to avoid being in
because it is almost like a resignation to whatever the threat is.
(The shame, or fold/freeze posture in mammals can often be fatal
because the heart actually stops, or the predator gets us).

​​​​​​​

That was a long way to say –
that we do everything possible to avoid shame.

And one way to do that is to seek to feel
vulnerable and safe
at the same time.

If there is one area that we are born loving
and then learning to feel shame about,
it is our bodies

– and in particular our nudity and sexuality.
(Much of this due to the societal influences,
including the dominance of religious doctrine over the millennia).

One way we can ‘create safety’ with each other
is to attempt to use our social engagement systems
during situations where our more ancient systems would normally come online.

So – ‘play’ is our way of using our mobilization (fight/flight)
but with vocalization and facial gestures.

We can play a sport or game, or other adrenaline-inducing activities:
adrenaline rises, blood flow to our skeletal muscles increases,
but we know we are ‘safe’ to use that system with those other humans.
(p.s. – All mammals engage in play – rough housing, chasing, etc.)

​​​​​​​

And so – the nudist situation would lead me to hypothesize
that it is a way of ‘creating safety’

using the social engagement system (talking, eye contact, facial gestures)
in a situation that would normally induce feelings of shame.

This gives us a sense of control over our nervous system –
which is incredibly empowering
because our nervous system can often be influenced by
unconscious triggers.

The more we make those unconscious triggers conscious,
the more power we have over our life experiences.

​​​​​​Now… This does NOT mean I am promoting
social nudity in your workplace or classroom..

BUT what I will propose is the idea that you find some way
to allow for vulnerability and safety at the same time.

This could take the form of you – as a leader
– talking about feeling nervous or embarrassed,
about how you have no idea what you are doing sometimes.
Things like improv,
spoken word,
creating some type of art
(which can be using words or objects)
That lead your staff to feel ‘like a beginner’,
Like they have no idea what they’re doing..
But they’re doing it in a space that welcomes
Their vulnerability of being a novice or expert
And that expresses feelings
– whether they are sad, nervous, joyful, raging, embarrassed, hopeful.

Find some way to allow for the people you are leading
to shed layers of what they think is the ‘approved of’ version of them.

And model what it looks like to really be who you are
– embrace your weirdnesses,
those things that don’t seem to fit with anyone else.

 

What a RARE thing to feel…
And yet we all need to feel it,
the more the better:
Safe AND Vulnerable
… AT THE SAME TIME.
Now, let me hear from you:
How are you, or could you introduce periods of time in your organization for staff to feel both safe and vulnerable at the same time?

If you’re a teacher, how could you do this for your students?

I would love to get some great discussions happening
– you are all joining from many different countries all over the world,
so it would be wonderful to hear all of your perspectives!

Post your comments and questions!

​​​​​​​
Neuroscience for new mindsets

Get free new tools every month on how to use neuroscience to spark emotionallly intelligent innovation.

We respect your privacy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *