Were you ever made fun of as a kid? Did your boss ever directly criticize you in front of the entire team? Did no one “like” one of your Facebook postings? You may laugh at the last one, yet the lack of Facebook “likes” is a very real new social threat to some people, especially teenagers.
These are a few examples of social threats. If you are on social media right now, social threats and accusations are everywhere. Our “always on” electronic world has dramatically affected our way of communicating – and not always for the better. It is as if we are constantly being bombarded by stimuli to which we can react – or to which we can choose our responses.
Your body’s sensations and miraculous mechanisms are designed to be constantly aware of threats to help keep you safe. Physical threats are obvious, but threats to your self-esteem and social well-being can also trigger a drama-filled response. Even if the threat is “minor” – such as a news article that you disagree with, or an email you don’t understand – you may still experience an intense reactive response if you are not paying attention to your sensations in the moment.
In the 1960’s Abraham Maslow developed his famous “hierarchy of needs.” His pyramid showed that the most fundamental human need is for physical survival and security.
Since Maslow’s research, many new social psychology studies have shown that our brains interact with social needs using the same neural networks as for basic physical survival. Human beings have a basic need to feel safe with others and connected to those around them. Being in positive and socially related relationships is fundamental to living an empowered life.
In some ways, social threats can be even more devastating than physical threats. Social threats may also last longer than physical pain. If you break your arm, over time the actual memory of that pain dissolves, while a social pain of being embarrassed or shamed or threatened can stay with you for a very long while.
Could it be that our essential need to be in valued relationship with others is on equal footing with physical survival? We’re not suggesting that physical security and safety aren’t important. They are. But social threats may be just as important – and real.
You don’t expect someone with a broken arm to just “get over it,” nor should you expect someone, or yourself, who is feeling threatened socially to just get over it.
How you respond to social threats is the key learning. By reacting and defending and lashing out, you will most likely slip into the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) ™ and react as a Victim, Persecutor or Rescuer, whether you do so outwardly toward others, or just in your own mind toward yourself.
By pausing and observing yourself in the moment, you are more apt to evaluate a threat in a more balanced way, whether it is physical or social. By observing and pausing, you can regulate your body’s reaction, come back to the present moment and then choose your response in a more empowered way.
Social threats are everywhere these days, so there’s plenty of opportunity to learn and grow from them as Challengers calling us to conscious attention. The increase of the quality of your attention in the moment will help you shift from the reactive areas of your mind toward a more stabilizing presence.