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Anger, freeze response & Krav maga

I recently restarted my Krav Maga classes. Over the past few years, I have been in and out of Krav Maga many a times for various reasons, but have always been drawn back to it. After my class yesterday, despite the soreness and pain, I felt good and decided to pen down my thoughts about what I have felt and observed in the last couple of years. I see this practical self defense as a kind of somatic therapy which helps you get in touch with your healthy anger, and also allows you to step out of your freeze response, amongst many other things.

Getting in touch with your healthy anger

I help my clients cope with and heal their anxiety, trauma, pain and other emotional and physical issue on a daily basis. And what usually comes to the forefront is that most of us don’t really understand anger. Anger has been demonized for a long time. It’s only recently that people are discovering that anger is a very vital emotion and when not suppressed or disproportionately expressed, it can help us in many ways. And this is where Krav Maga comes in.

Karla Mclaren calls anger “the honourable sentry”. Healthy anger helps you take a stand for yourself without violating the boundary of others. It teaches you to respect your boundaries as well as that of others. “Anger arises to address challenges to your standpoint, your position, your interpersonal boundaries, or your self-image”. It helps “restore your sense of self and your interpersonal boundaries”

In a typical KM class when you are asked to practice with a sparring partner, by taking turns to be the defender and the attacker, you actually get a chance to get in touch with your healthy anger.

By defending yourself against the attacker, you get to protect your interpersonal boundaries and not let the attacker violate your boundaries. With specific set of natural reflexive techniques, you protect your personal space. When it’s your turn to be the attacker, your sparring partner defends himself/herself. This helps you develop a healthy respect for others’ interpersonal boundaries as well. So essentially you learn that you need to protect and restore your own boundaries and also make sure that you don’t transgress others’ boundaries.

The sparring sessions, power drills, aggression training etc allow your anger to flow freely through your body – while getting discharged in the specific reflexive action that is needed to protect yourself. The more you practice it in a safe simulated environment, the better you are able to channel your healthy anger to keep you safe when needed.

Freeze response

When there is any danger – real or imaginary – the body goes into the fight, flight or freeze mode. Freeze response is the feeling of being ‘scared stiff’.

Freeze response is also known as tonic immobility (Levine, 2010). This is the third reaction to threat called immobilization, or Tonic Immobility (TI). When you cannot escape threat, the freeze response or tonic immobility takes place wherein you do not feel the pain of the injury or in the case of the animals, the predator feels that the prey is dead. It is a coping mechanism to fool predators.

Now if we look at it in the Krav Maga realm, the defense postures help you complete the fight – flight response that the body automatically goes into when it is hyper aroused. You either run from the situation or you stay and fight. Either way you have tackled the threat successfully. fight-flightHowever, a freeze state can occur prior to the sympathetic hyperarousal, if you have concluded in that split second that you cannot overcome the threat. You go into the freeze state; the immobility stops you from running or fighting. Tonic immobility is a somatic dissociative response that protects against overwhelming threat that could result in death. If not discharged, this usually temporary response can also become persistent and chronic leading to trauma.

Animals shake off the freeze response by literally shaking their bodies. We as humans do not engage in this behavior and hence the freeze response gets stuck in our bodies. “The storage of those false responses or procedural memories is basically the structure of trauma.” (Dr. Scaer) [ Adding a clarification here: Humans ‘can’ shake off the trauma if they want to. For more information on shaking off freeze response, go to http://traumaprevention.com/ ]

When you keep practicing these techniques in mock scenarios, your body will gradually learn to come out of this paralyzing state of freeze, and you will be responding with fight or flight depending on what is needed in that situation. This will also help in responding to emotional threats without becoming numb or dissociating. If you’ve had trauma in the past, and have frozen in threatening situations, then those locked traumas will also get released in the form of minor tremors or shaking of the body. Certain stretching techniques that we do in the classes- when done for a longer period of time – can automatically result in shaking and trembling, which is simply the body releasing the stored autonomic and physical somatic energy.

Conclusion: Krav Maga lets you find the ‘gifts of anger’ and helps you come out of the frozen paralyzing response to emotional or physical threat.

Observe how you feel after the classes. Do you think they are helping you get in touch with your healthy anger or come out of the freeze state? Leave your comments below.

 

References

Karla Mclaren http://karlamclaren.com/understanding-and-befriending-anger/

Peter Levine, http://www.amazon.in/Unspoken-Voice-Releases-Restores-Goodness/dp/1556439431

Dr Scaer http://www.traumasoma.com/

Boundary Setting

Boundary setting is a skill and is needed in all relationships. I often come across people who are very compassionate, good at heart but fail miserably at setting a healthy boundary in relationships. They constantly help others, give away their personal time, let others encroach on their private space, aren’t able to say no, and most of the times end up resenting others in the long run.

Setting boundaries doesn’t mean not helping people or becoming selfish; it simply means that self-care is very important and if we don’t say no when needed, if we don’t stand up for ourselves when needed, we will let others violate our boundaries in small and big ways.

As much as you need to rebuild, reset and strengthen your boundaries and safeguard it from others, you also need to safeguard it from yourself! Interesting isn’t it? We can break our boundaries internally as well.  An extreme example would be suicide. Others would be self harm, lack of self-care, being excessively critical of ourselves, anger and self blame, addictive and mind numbing activities etc.
You can set boundaries with grace and compassion because when you do so, you show respect for yourself and others; you don’t transgress on others boundaries and neither do you let them transgress on your own.

Your voice is important

How many times have you suppressed your voice? How often do you suppress what you want to say?
How often do you clearly express yourself?

When I work with clients who have social anxiety, this is one topic that often comes up. Along with fear of judgment they fear that if they express, then there might be a conflict and in order to avoid conflict they don’t speak, ending up suppressing their feelings.

This is not just an issue for people with social anxiety but also for lot of people who stay silent to maintain peace in a situation. For example, if you have a spouse who is very critical, you might stay silent to avoid his/her criticism. Or if you have a very dominating boss, you will not voice your opinions openly in front of him/her. If you feel that any situation has a potential of escalating, you stay quiet and don’t express your opinions.

You don’t express fearing that it will lead to arguments and confrontation. In order to maintain peace, you put up with things that you would not usually put up with. You fear that if you speak then you will get into a confrontation which will lead to unpleasantness.

To maintain our peace of mind, we give up on our voices. To avoid unpleasantness and intense feelings, we give up on our voices!

This video will help you address this – How to find your voice again.
Your feelings are important, your voice is important and if you express with clear intent, you will feel more confident.

LINK TO THE VIDEO

Imago Match

According to Harville Hendrix, Imago is a “composite picture of the people who influenced you most strongly at an early age.” It could be your parents, siblings, nanny – anyone who influenced you at that age. Everything about these people is recorded in your brain and this data is not processed or interpreted – it is simply there; and this influences your choice of your potential partner. In fact, the most vivid impressions of the caretakers – what you remember most about your interactions with them – are the ones that were most hurting and wounding. Those negative experiences are deeply etched in your brain because they were a threat to your survival. Over time, ” these ..bits of information about our caretakers merged together to form a single image.” (Hendrix, 2008)

The truth about Attraction

  1.  Whether you are attracted to a person or not to a good extent depends on how closely they matched your imago, especially the negative and positive traits of your caregivers.
  2.  You are also attracted to someone who makes up for your ‘lost self‘ – the parts of yourself that you repressed. For example, if someone repeatedly told you that boys don’t cry and reprimanded you when cried, you repressed that part of yourself and instead resurrected a ‘false self’, an image of a ‘tough guy’ to the world. Lost self is “those parts of your being that you had to repress because of the demands of the society”
  3. Growing up your false self protected you from further hurts and wounding, and you carried this image of being a ‘tough guy’ into your adulthood.  However, your tough guy image at some point is also criticized and you are told that you are not affectionate. False self is “the facade that you erected in order to fill the void created by this repression and by lack of adequate nurturing”.
  4. This causes further wounding, and becomes a part of your disowned self where you start denying your negative traits. The disowned self is “the negative parts of your false self that met with disapproval and were therefore denied”.

So essentially we look for partners who match our imago and compensate for the repressed and disowned selves.

imago

What role does this play in the Couples’ Conflicts?

When our partner hurts us in a way that resembles what frustrated us about our parents in our childhood, our childhood wounds get triggered and we react in the same way as we did in our childhood.

For example, if you partner doesn’t talk to you after an argument for hours probably just to avoid re-triggering you, it might trigger your childhood wound – feeling abandoned. You will react by sulking or trying to get attention from your partner. In your childhood your caretaker might have behaved in the same way when you made a mistake by distancing you, and you reacted similarly by trying to please him/her to get their attention.

Imago Relationship Therapy: A brief Introduction

In the Imago therapy, these characteristics of your parents/primary caregivers are recognized and we find how our partners trigger our childhood wounds and our patterns of reacting to those triggers.

We also look at what we long for in the relationship, something that wasn’t given to us as a child.

Exercises in Imago Relationship Therapy

  1.  The potential of a relationship
  2. The childhood wounds that you experienced.
  3. Constructing the imago
  4. Childhood frustrations and how you reacted to them
  5. Parent- Child dialogues
  6. Positive and negative traits of your partners
  7. Imago dialogue – how to listen and talk with empathy
  8. Looking at the ways in which you drain energy away from your relationship – Closing the Exits
  9. Reromanticizing
  10. Surprise List – caring behaviors for your partner.
  11. Positive Flooding
  12. The behavior change request dialogue – learning about deepest needs
  13. The holding exercise – to deepen your connection and empathy
  14. Owning and eliminating your negativity
  15. Self integration – integrate aspects of your disowned and lost self.
  16. Visualization of love – amplify positive changes

Reference:

Hendrix, H. (2008) Getting the love you want. USA: St Martin’s Press.