Often Aggressive? Is Your Sensorimotor System Primed To Deal With Threat?

sensorimotor system

Are You Easily Provoked Into Angry And Aggressive Behavior?

After my mother threw me out of her house when I was thirteen years old and I was reluctantly taken in by my father and step-mother (which I have written about elsewhere in this site, so I won’t repeat the details), I was quickly labelled by my unwilling new custodians as ‘morose’ and ‘hostile ‘ (amongst other less than complimentary descriptors); whilst perhaps less than helpful, I am forced to confess that these two adjectives had not been applied to me wholly inaccurately.

Whilst I see now that my ‘moroseness’ and ‘hostility’ were directly symptomatic of my experiences during my early life (I have also written about this elsewhere), this basic inference was emphatically not drawn by my father and new wife. To them I was just a ‘bad’ child, possibly even ‘evil’ (my step-mother was intensely, pathologically religious and, soon after I moved in I recall, as vividly as if it were happening now, her shouting at me in some utterly indecipherable way and in no language I had ever heard before ; she was, in fact, speaking in what she believed, or pretended to believe and wanted me to believe, were ‘tongues’).

But back to my hostility, or, more accurately, to a consideration of individuals in general who are more than averagely  prone to hostile / aggressive / angry behavior.

If we, in our early lives, were habitually threatened and made to feel unsafe  by our parents / primary caregivers then, over time, our sensorimotor system may have become ‘primed for threat’ (this is the case because it would have been evolutionary adaptive for our distant ancestors).  In other words, it may have become highly sensitive and driven into overdrive in response to the smallest, perceived provocation.

This, in turn, means that as adults, when we perceive a threat that in any way reminds us (usually on an unconscious level) of our frightening childhood experiences (even though we are, objectively speaking, in no danger in the present)  our sensorimotor system is liable to become automatically activated (e.g. discharge of the sympathetic nervous system, increased adrenalin production, increased heart-rate, tensed muscles etc, all of which, in turn, stimulate emotional arousal) in such a way that we become, whether we like it or not, disproportionately and inappropriately aggressive.

Such behavior is automatic and beyond conscious control because when such reminders of past dangers occur (often called ‘flashbacks’), cognitive processing is inhibited (i.e. our rational thinking processes essentially ‘shut down’) and we become devoid of the reasoning capacity necessary to realize that we are, at the present time, in fact, safe.

Instead of realizing we are safe, we automatically become hyperaroused and experience strong impulses to lash out verbally or even physically). This can be regarded, as far as our unconscious motivation is concerned) asdefensive aggression‘ ; we are overtaken by a desperate need to ensure we are not hurt again in the way we were hurt as children (I stress again that  we often will not be consciously aware that this is the driving force behind our overly aggressive and hostile reactions).

For survivors of childhood trauma, such automatic responses can cause myriad problems including frequent, destructive, impulsive behavior. This can lead to individual to feel profoundly ashamed and to see him/herself as seriously, psychologically flawed, unstable and often incapable of rational reflection, unaware of the underlying problem : how his/her sensorimotor system has been, due to early-life trauma, conditioned (now maladaptively) to operate.

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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