In certain situations, and/or with certain people, we may
become blocked, we "have our back to the wall" - dumbfounded,
unable to handle the situation in a good way.
The inner state one ends up in may be dominated by a strong emotion, where one reacts on what is happening by feeling
offended, criticized, taken by surprise, upset, frightened, or
some other negative emotion like these.
In an inner state like this, one usually re-acts, instead of
reflecting and then acting. The reaction is mostly automatic,
which reduces one's freedom of action to one option:
one's conditioned reaction pattern.
This conditioned way of reacting can take various forms for different persons:
becoming paralyzed and not being able to say anything, withdrawing and displaying
emotional distance, reacting with anger and with crushing replies, crying, anxiety, etc.
This inner programming is in most cases not possible to change through mental
insights, or by promising oneself to react in a better way next time. Conditioned
subconscious reaction patterns are examples of automatic behavior and automatic
Automatic action patterns are basically positive functions.
Without these life would be extremely energy-consuming. If you have
a driver's license you probably remember your high level of tension
when learning to drive a car - parking in tight spots, observing all
road signs, being aware of meeting traffic...
And by now you have most probably at times experienced driving from
A to B, and when locking your car suddenly realizing that you haven't
the foggiest idea how you came here - your subconscious mind drove
car, and it is furthermore a good driver, always stops at red
lights, keeps proper distance to other cars, follows speed limits,
We are seldom aware of this type of automated behavior, and we
do not need to alter these automated patterns of action, as they
constitute positive and useful functions. They are always stable, and
are not prone to change when exposed to external or internal factors,
which of course is good:
once having learnt to ride a bicycle, you will always remember how to
do it, even after long periods of not doing it.
But, when automatic and subconscious patterns of action have negative outcomes,
we benefit from altering them. The problem is although that these patterns are
automatic, and they are therefore very difficult to change through conscious mental
processes and insights.
Following picture illustrates the psychological mechanisms for the negative automatic
pattern, and the text below the picture describes each step in this mechanism:
THE BLOCKING VORTEX
"The experience of threat" comes from something specific in the situation which
typically activates the Blocking Vortex. This "experience" has not yet reached the
conscious mind. Rather, an external or an internal image trigs, via a neurological
direct connection, those parts of the brain having the specific function to get us to
react instantaneously to threats: amygdala and hippocampus, in the rearmost part
of the brain, just above the spinal chord.
Phase 1: Through a subconsciously learned programming a conditioned reflex now
with a physiological body state as the first result. This can be a tension in the
shoulders or in the stomach region, it can be an quick inhale and holding the
breath, it can be a contraction of the surface blood vessels in the skin, or some-
thing similar. This happens rapidly and takes between 0,01 and 0,1 seconds, and the cognitive functions of the brain's frontal lobes have not even started to work.
No conscious thoughts or emotions have at this stage been registered.
Phase 2: After another 1 to 2 seconds the cognitive functions start to become active,
now interpret the physiological state. Note: the interpretation is not done of
happening externally, it is based entirely on the physiological body state.
As the interpretation is made of a conditioned reflex of the body, in most cases an over-interpretation is now made, or a completely erroneous one.
Phase 3: After 5 to 10 seconds cognitive processing, the brain now activates the body
it acts. Through both learned behavior and genetic inheritance, this enactment is
based on the so called "protective mechanisms": flee, freeze or attack. Most
act instinctively in one or more of these ways. The purpose of the
enactment is to avert
the threat, and is therefore called "The Avoidance Behavior".
The Avoidance Behavior, which almost always is the result of a subconscious
interpretation, is also characterized by being a conditioned reflex, and can be either
destructive (compulsory aggression) or self-destructive/self-limiting.
As the cause of the Avoidance Behavior is not consciously recognized, it leads to that
the "experience of the threat" increases.
Which in it's turn leads to that the physiological reaction increases, which in it's turn
leads to that the excessive or erroneous interpretation increases, which ... etc, etc
in an emotional vortex spinning quicker and quicker, which soon, in seconds, leads
to an emotionally stuck state. This can be of different kinds, for example panic
disorder, phobia, social phobia, traumatic flashback, compulsory aggression, speech
blockage and stuttering, etc. The most common outcome of the Blocking Vortex is
although becoming paralyzed and dumbfounded.
Stopping the Blocking Vortex
It is possible to learn how to interrupt this self-amplifying inner process. Using
cognitive methods, for example CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), one can learn
to interpret situations in a more realistic way, so that the Phase 2 part of the Blocking
Vortex is improved.
With Behavioral Therapy one can change Phase 3, learning better ways of acting
These methods are although not very efficient, and require in most cases considerable
investment in time and effort. But, it is possible to interrupt the Blocking Vortex already
at Phase 1, which implies changing the basic conditioned reflex. This can be done
through a re-programming of the subconscious "script" controlling the re-active
This is a both faster and more efficient method - once having re-programmed the
basic conditioned reflex, one will never activate the Blocking Vortex again, no matter
how a situation develops.
Watch a short YouTube video (click here to the right), or watch the video below, about the Blocking Vortex.
It contains the text above together with a slide show, where
each step in
The Blocking Vortex is illustrated graphically.
(Psychosynthesis Therapist Lars Gimstedt, 13 minutes.)
When you have gone through Get Unstuck you can buy the continuation course _____________________________HANDLE CRITICISM.
This e-course is about learning how to take criticism from others in a constructive way,
and also about learning how to give negative feed-back in a way that does not cause
emotional blocking in others.
As Handle Crtiticism builds on Get Unstuck, it can be purchased at
the end of the e-course Get Unstuck only.