In the previous lesson we introduced two behavioral systems: attachment and caregiving.

Today, we'll offer a brief explanation of the other two behavioral systems: threat and exploratory.

The threat system
This is a system that, through hard-wired and learned reactions of fear, makes us distance ourselves from things we perceive as dangerous, such as fire, violence, heights or separation from our attachment figures.

The threat system is also activated by shame – the feeling we experience when we have done something we think will be condemned by those around us. Being excluded from a group may seem less instantly threatening than an animal attack, but too early humans exclusion often meant death. When the threat system is triggered, we look for security (see the attachment system). The threat system can be activated by our own critical thoughts.

The exploratory system
This is the vital system that provides the energy and courage needed to explore the surrounding world with a feeling of security, openness, and curiosity. The exploratory system can’t be active at the same time as the threat system. In order to solve problems (explore solutions) we need to feel secure, not threatened.

Now you know something about all four behavioral systems - a relic of our evolution:  attachment, caregiving, threat, exploratory.

The next time you find yourself in a stressful situation, see if you can consciously influence yourself to activate your feelings of being safe and secure.

Do you tend to look for security in a certain person, place or song? Do you tend to do anything in particular? It could be talking to a friend, taking a shower or something completely different.

Some people need a whole checklist. This could for instance look like: “When my threat system is activated I will: 

  • Get something hearty to eat;

  • Take a nap;

  • Call a friend or my partner to tell them how I feel;

  • Watch an episode of a TV show.