Not too sure if this is the way to ask a question about this article: Safety and The Lizard: The Essay. In any case, here is my question, as I feel challenged by this concept.
At the end of your article, you give a quick fix: to confuse that lizard. I think I understand the goal of this: to make one feel safe with your partner, so your Lizard won’t react so much in a panic mode as the chances are it’s reacting passionately to the 95% history part of that person. If you find yourself with a partner with whom you have not felt safe for many reasons such as being lied to or manipulated over and over by that partner (yes, I do understand that this partner may lie because he does not feel safe himself to tell the truth), isn't it kind of dangerous to confuse your own lizard should you be in a relationship with a partner who chooses to be manipulative? That partner may do a lot of these caring behaviors so your lizard do get confused and then does not become aware when there is danger/unsafe situation? Isn’t it training your lizard to not go in panic mode when it should?
I probably did not understand the concept fully. Please explain. Thank you.
Darn glad you are engaging with this topic. Let's see if I can clarify. The way I see it, the Lizard is all about survival, even when survival is not at stake. The Lizard's reactions (Flee, Freeze, Submit, Fight) are frequently crude, panicky, frenzied, and often not the best "thing to do." I like the idea that we want to set aside "Reaction" and become more "Reflective" about how to solve a situation.
I think the Lizard gives us crude and immediate clues in a situation it thinks is dangerous and which may be. I think one should never ignore one's Lizard. But I prefer to a) hear its warning and b) choose a wise way of dealing with the situation I am facing.
When I speak of "fooling" the Lizard, I am referring to getting a bit of reflective time – time to come up with a healthy and long-term solution to the situation.
I once worked with a member of the U.S. Special Forces who had been trained to kill extremely quickly. His Lizard was on edge most of the time and his hands were quite lethal. He told me that "My first reaction, the one that comes on me in the first 4 seconds, usually involves quite a bit of destruction." We talked about inserting a bit of pause into his reactions, settling his Lizard down.
I think the goal is to train your cortex into taking care of your Lizard, rather than letting your Lizard rule your cortex.
I think when you find your partner is telling lies, or you think they are manipulating you, that should "never" be ignored. Get to work on it, but the wise response is probably not Fleeing, Freezing, Submitting or Fighting. Go to work on fixing the problem.
Dear Minou, Your thoughts were so great that I thought I would make an article out of them. Here is your comment back to me and I will add, in color, my thoughts. I start with what you wrote.
OK. I like that “But I prefer to a) hear its warning and b) choose a wise way of dealing with the situation I am facing.” The way I understand this is instead of fleeing, freezing, submitting or fighting, is to train the Lizard to take more time in assessing if I am in life-death situation or not, time to think things through, when my life is not in danger, because I would know if it was.
(Lizard sees things according to its simple view of the world. It’s designed to be simple, direct and immediate. It can easily misunderstand a situation. I think my goal is to get my Lizard to trust my cortex’s competence at keeping it safe. I want it to say, “Well, that looks really scary, but I trust you will take care of me.” Thus I am focusing on the needed education and re-education of your/my cortex.)
Am I on the right path to understand your idea? I completely agree with you that one should never ignore his-her Lizard, it is what kept us alive since the evolution. My problem is to recognize and trust myself enough to know that 1) I will be ok 2) I will recognize that my boundaries have been crossed and 3) I will know what to do about it to fix it. (Yup. Get on with the learnings. ASAP.) My reflex reaction for the 3) above is to leave the relationship. (Sure. That’s simply your Lizard wanting to flee. Bless it.) That is a very strong reaction in me. However, even when I have left relationships, I sure find someone to give me the opportunity to deal with the same problem all over again.
(Yup. Lizard doesn’t understand that or expect it. It is the Imago stuff. Lizard wants a familiar and trainable partner. Familiar means they bring up the same kinds of bad stuff. Trainable means Hope.)
When I think of this: “to train your cortex into taking care of your Lizard, rather than letting your Lizard rule your cortex”, I see a huge amount of work to retrain myself, my reactions, to whatever I find violates my boundaries, which I must say are very weak. (Good for you. I have two, perhaps useful, thoughts. First is that I believe the learning you are facing is finite and not endless. It’s a lot, but not really awful. The easiest way to learn it is in childhood watching your caretakers demonstrate it. If you were blessed with skilled parents, well, it would have been easy to learn. I wasn’t so blessed, and you weren’t or you would not be having the trouble you have. My second thought arises from the first. The more trouble you have suggests the less your caretakers knew about it, about raising children, about living well with each other. They may have stumbled around a lot, and still be stumbling around. My parents, doing their best, did a fairly poor job of teaching me these relationship skills I need. So eventually, I had to become an expert at things which they didn’t even know existed. Well, learn and move on and perhaps you can become helpful to them, one day.)
I love your writing about boundaries, which has always been an issue for me. (Will continue to be an issue, until you learn enough. Twas for me.) I am used to let people cross my boundaries (Untrained, didn’t know what else to do.) and do nothing about it at the moment, (Lizard was Freezing or Submitting, and keeping you alive!) to keep silent about it, then to just flee (Lizards sure knows how to run!) or completely swept things under the carpet and let resentment built. (Lizard sure knows hot to Submit and then build resentment.) I think I must have shut down a part of me that was telling me to keep safe, instead, I ignored it. (Hey, this was survival time! Lizard can do this “shutting down thing” easily. Take a look at my paper on the Testicle Principle.) I think I know where it comes from. (Lizard often learns by watching others surviving. “If it works for them (Mom, Dad, Brother, Sister, Uncle, etc. it may work for me.”) I have a lot of work ahead of me. Yes, I have to work on fixing that lie-manipulation problem, without getting stuck into strong old patterns. (Solve the problem of dealing with a person who lies or who tries to manipulate without getting distracted or waylaid by olde Lizardie reactivity. Wise old feller, which he is!) What a challenge! A great positive one! (Go 4 It!)
From Minou on Oct 30
I was thinking of your response last night and reflected on it a lot. I woke up this morning with what I thought was the answer. As I was driving to work, I thought to myself that I have been in a very bad relationship 20 years ago, in which there was lots of abuse (physical, verbal, financial, emotional, and more) from my boyfriend at the time toward me. Whenever I see my present partner doing or saying or reacting to me in ways that consciously or unconsciously reminds me of him, panics sets in, and I want to flee, fight, submit or freeze and most of the time the 4 of them one after the other in different order. My Lizard works full strength in those occasions and won’t calm down, of course! So is my partner’s Lizard as it keeps seeing his past relationship which for him was filled with abuse for 20 years. We both know that we must stop looking at each other and compare us to our ex-partners. Then I thought that maybe I am not looking far enough in time. Sure I was in a very bad relationship, and so was he, but even knowing that does not change a thing. We end up fighting passionately until one of us gives up. Then we talk and think we know where it comes from.
At that very moment, a big truck almost hit me (it is quite a ride to work sometimes) and I almost got into an accident because of this careless driver. My quick driving skills reflex avoided to be killed by that truck. Then, I became furious at the driver, and I could feel my heart pounding very hard and I could have gotten out of the car and yelled at the driver, and perhaps punch and kick his truck. He seemed to not even have noticed anything at all, which doubled my anger. Then I thought, “Why do I get so angry? Sure I could have been killed but I am safe now. Relaxe, relaxe, relaxe! Was it my Lizard that saw the real danger and helped me out? I sure can learn to trust it knows.” Then I thought that perhaps everything do not come from my youth, since I was not driving until my early 20s. So my thinking reverted back to my ex-boyfriend of 20 years ago, it had to come from there. I was confused.
Then it hit me just like the truck almost hit me. I remembered my mom in the car when I was a little kid. Good thing my dad was the driver in the family, always calm even in dangerous situation. But my mom, she always became angry at the other drivers, cursing them and wanting to get out of the car to fight with them. A very protective mama bear I always thought. Here I am, I had learned over and over to react with anger in those situations. It hurts me, my chest feels tight, I stop breathing, get all tense, and I have taught my son for years how to drive with anger.
I am grateful to that driver this morning for getting in my way, he woke me up. I am looking deeper into my childhood, at how I learned to partner with such unhealthy ways. My parents fought all my childhood, and sometimes left one another overnight. There were also lots of lies and other kind of hurt all my childhood and teenage years. It was so painful to us kids, that I promised myself I would never have my children go through such ordeal. My parents stumbled a lot and for a very long time, but they did stay married for 44 years until my dad passed away. I have excellent driving skills, and I can train myself to have excellent relationship skills. I now see it as you say it, a finite and not endless learning. It is quite encouraging to look at it this way.
Go 4 it! and please drive carefully. Al