Adaptation means survival
As we go through life, our minds, emotions and bodies are modified and shaped by our experiences, habits and environments. We are adaptable beings who generally will do whatever it takes to survive and fulfill our needs as best we can.
Your body is shaped by adaptation to circumstance
Just like a plant’s body will grow towards the light*, so too will the human body develop in such a way that it can maximize its chances of survival -both physical and emotional- depending on the environment that we find our self in. Of course, this shaping is constrained by our genetic make-up to a significant extent. However, it is easy to see how a child who grows up in the city will develop differently than a child who must hunt for food.
The basic needs of safety, connection and dignity
This is also true for the way our mental and sensory processes are shaped: how and to what we pay attention in our social and internal world is based on our need to fulfill the basic needs of safety, connection and dignity in the context of a specific cultural and familial/communal environment. In other words: how we perceive and process the world and our place in it will be different if we grow up in a rural, communal, religious and fundamentalist village than when we grow up in a multi-cultural, individualist, materialist, metropolitan area. The resources available and skill-sets required to fulfill our basic needs will be different in each place.
Creating neural pathways
The need to attune to our environment will strengthen certain neural connections in our brains preferentially over others. In the jungle it is more important to have an acute sense of hearing and the ability to differentiate precisely between different rustling sounds so as to be able to detect the approach of a large predator, in comparison to a big city dweller who has to rely more on visual processing to detect dangers from cars and other humans. In this way our brain is shaped to optimize functioning in a particular environment. While these adaptations are crucial, it is important to realize that when we move from one, cultural, emotional or physical environment to another, those adaptations might not serve us so well anymore.
Our body and way of moving tell our story
Our story is reflected in numerous physical, emotional, and mental adaptations. Often, we can recognize part of someone’s story by observing the way they hold and move their body. When a child feels unsafe in the parental home, she may develop a cowering way of holding the body, appear nervous and hyper-vigilant with quick movements, or alternatively a tendency to remain immobile. As social beings, other people will almost always pick up on the message of un-safety surrounding this child. Depending on the onlooker’s own history they may feel inclined to protective behavior or alternatively have a desire to ignore or get away from the child, among multiple other possibilities.
From helpful to dysfunctional
Whatever adaptations we develop, they are generally the best option under the circumstance and with the tools that we have available, to make the best of the situation. As we or our circumstances change, our adaptation may prove dysfunctional in the new situation. One reason for this dysfunction is that other people will still see and respond to the physical expression of those old adaptations; hyper-vigilance or cowering behavior is generally not conducive to healthy relationships and therefore generally a major impediment to success in one’s personal and professional life.
Strength or weakness
Hyper-vigilance and other adaptations can be a source of strength or weakness depending on our present circumstances; when you are a spy or a soldier in a hostile environment your hyper-vigilance becomes an asset. When attempting to build trusting relationships with friends and family, maybe not so much
To be successful in our personal and professional life, it is imperative that we have some level of choice regarding our behaviors, depending on what the circumstances require, instead of being lived by old programming. An important part of that success is the ability to have our body and movement-patterns reflect those new internal ways of being, so that other people can read accurately what is true in the moment and not just see a remnant of our old way of being. With awareness and practice we can learn to make appropriate use of our strengths, develop new ones and overcome our blind spots and weaknesses.
This is just who I am…. maybe not!
The way we are shaped by our personal history is what is normal and natural to us. We experience our mental and physical shaping as “just who we are”, instead of who we have become. It is often extremely helpful, if not crucial, to have a coach to help us see what we cannot see by our self, about our self. More often than not, when I point out a physical behavior to my clients, they will tell me that they never knew that they did that. It is important to have a coach who can help you -without judgment- interpret and put in context the behaviors and shapes that you have developed and guide you to change them where needed and to re-purpose where useful, to reach your goals in life.
Change your body, change your story
I have not yet met a person who hasn’t developed shapes and behaviors that do not serve them well in their current life and therefore present an impediment to reach at least some of their life goals… including me. I have found expressive somatics coaching one of the most powerful methods to change the trajectory of one’s life in the positive direction of one’s choosing. I urge you to try it.
As always, I’m looking forward to your comments.
*I’d like to give credit to Amanda Blake for teaching me this beautiful metaphor. Amanda is one of my teachers and heroes in the field of somatic coaching. I strongly recommend her book “Your Body is your Brain”. You can get it here: https://amzn.to/2ED2kKf
As a token of appreciation for my readers, I would like to extend you the offer of a free 30-minute coaching conversation. Email me at RaymondFerrier@SpiralsSRQ.com to schedule a session by phone.