Last time, we talked about how Patches’ instinct dictated his behaviors. Today, I wanted to share an instance of fight or flight response in my son’s Guinea Pig.
Patches was on my lap while I had my feet up in my recliner. He was pretty content, as his eyes were almost closed. My wife Leslie wanted to show me a Bible verse and came from behind us, flipping her Bible open. All of a sudden, Patches ran down to my feet very quickly without warning!
The only thing we could come up with as a reason for Patches’ response was that he thought the Bible opening sounded like a bird swooping down on him. (We hope he doesn’t have anything against the Bible!) Nevertheless, when the fight or flight response kicked in, he thought a bird was coming down to get him, even though he was resting in my lap.
The part of the brain controlling the fight or flight response, the limbic system, does not take into account time. When a traumatic memory is triggered, the limbic system activates the fight or flight response immediately as a self-protective mechanism. I thought of how Patches’ behaviors are mostly dictated by his survival instinct. In his estimation, at any time, a predator could be his demise. Therefore, he is constantly on alert, ready to scurry for his life!
When we have a traumatic event happen, we may be unable to connect the traumatic event to what is triggering the emotional response. We may not realize a trigger like a horn honking, a song playing or a phone ringing that would be occurring at the time of a traumatic event. In an effort to protect itself, our brain has disconnected the trigger to the event, so it doesn’t have to deal with the trauma. When the trigger occurs, our brain automatically causes the limbic system in our brain to activate a fight or flight response. If the trauma is severe enough, we may not even realize we are in the present time and place, thinking we are back in the time and place of the traumatic event.
Connecting the traumatic event to the trigger is how healing begins. This healing can be accomplished by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or EMDR, a treatment that uses the brain’s ability to heal itself to reduce trauma responses. We don’t have to live much of our life in fear of predators like it seems Patches does, even though I think he has a great home. His has to live by instinct, but we don’t have to!