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#6 - What does our nervous system have to do with all this?

Unfortunately, toxic behaviour triggers unhealthy consequences in us - not only physically, but also in our interactions and behaviour with each other. Don't underestimate what these challenging situations do to your system - it drains your energy, requires a lot more effort, it doesn't nourish, support and push you, but rather leads you into stress, tension and exhaustion. It's a bit like a brake pad and an energy drain.

But what exactly does our nervous system have to do with it?

Toxic behaviour does something to us. Old injuries, childhood wounds and fears are often triggered so that our old survival mechanisms come to the fore.

The whole thing is controlled by our autonomic nervous system, which automatically controls our bodily functions. It consists of two different branches:

1. sympathetic nervous system

This is where the body's fight or flight mode is activated. It initiates the regulation of the bodily functions responsible for this so that we are ready for both and inhibits other functions that would consume too much energy at this moment, which must be available for the stress reaction.

2. parasympathetic nervous system

This opponent brings the body back to a state of rest and relaxation. Alertness is reduced and the switched-off functions are reactivated.

This system as a whole protects us and enables us to recover after danger.

Prolonged stress reactions, on the other hand, can lead to long-term health problems.

Regular contact with people who engage in toxic behaviour unfortunately promotes our chronic state of stress and damages us. In particular, this type of stress also severely impairs our brain activity. We have the feeling that we no longer have access to our knowledge, our mind and our logic, which further increases our insecurity.

The four typical reaction patterns

If we get into stressful situations, our survival mode kicks in immediately because our system cannot tell whether it is our colleague or a sabre-toothed tiger. This puts us on high alert, which is sometimes inappropriate for the situation, but always warns us and alerts us.

Our reaction modes comprise the following four patterns:

1.       Freeze

When we "freeze" or "solidify", we are no longer able to act or think. We don't know what we could or should do, but fall into a state of rigidity in which we are unable to think.

2.       Flight

In threatening situations, this impulse to flee leads us to withdraw and seek safety in order to escape the situation. This mode manifests itself in panic or anxiety attacks, workaholism, micromanagement, control and hyperactivity. Perfectionism is designed to control the fear of failure, leading directly to self-exploitation.

3.       Fight

The impulse here leads to actionism and defence - verbally or physically. This can manifest itself in increased aggression, outbursts of anger, self-centredness and aggression.

4.       Fawn

This reaction amounts to submission, i.e. appeasing the situation, flattering the other person in order to avoid the conflict and escape from the situation unscathed. This is an attempt to win the favour of the attacker and defuse the situation by pleasing the other person. This mode leads to self-denial, adaptation to the environment, overprotection and the inability to set boundaries. Yes-men and co-dependents are often trapped in this mode.

Finally, when the stress becomes too great and the maximum overload is reached, the nervous system shuts down. The system blocks because there is no longer an effective state of recovery. We have "run hot", so to speak...

Our nervous system is only in balance when we are in a safe environment, our alertness can be reduced and we feel safe. It is important to restore this state every now and then, to ask ourselves: Are we still safe? How am I feeling right now? What do I feel? Am I acting freely and light-heartedly or am I already back in one of the reaction patterns and gritting my teeth, hunching my shoulders and feeling totally restless and nervous?

Methods and tools for self-regulation

If we now find ourselves in a toxic situation, our reaction patterns have been activated and are happily showing themselves - what can we do to get out of it or, ideally, not get into it in the first place?

Here are a few ideas on how we can learn to regulate ourselves better:

1. mindfulness and awareness

Becoming aware of when we fall into which behaviour patterns and what it feels like to be stressed is a great first step. More mindfulness gives us the opportunity and breathing space to react differently. Meditation or breathing techniques in particular can help us to focus on ourselves and the here and now.

2. emotion regulation

If we recognise our emotions and know what they feel like, where they come from and when they appear, it helps us to accept them.

Accepting, allowing, feeling through and letting go are often techniques for becoming master of our emotions. In the beginning, we tend to reflect on the situation, but later it becomes possible in the situation itself and gives us different options for action to choose from. We can react in a different way.

3. stress management

There are various techniques for this - e.g. yoga, QiGong, nervous system exercises. A walk in nature, sport of all kinds and colours and leisure time with like-minded people, nice contemporaries and friends.

4. self-care

In difficult times, it is essential to take good care of ourselves and this doesn't just mean healthy food, a warm bath, enough sleep or a wonderful hike, but also setting boundaries, sensing who or what we need at the moment, who is good for us, taking breaks, and so on. This is all part of self-care.

5. transformation

Working with our negative beliefs and thought patterns, the conviction of what we really think of life, is crucial to recognising what imprints we have and then changing them, getting a positive view of things and slowly developing towards ourselves.

6. social support

We can and should also seek support from friends, family, colleagues or associations in order to stabilise ourselves, share our experiences and feelings, exchange ideas and get to know new perspectives.

7. professional help

It always sounds so wild, but at the end of the day it's all about bringing an expert on board for the individual topic so that we don't want to realise our own development alone with non-existent skills. Let's allow ourselves help and support where we still have development potential.

These are all ways in which we can behave more appropriately in challenging situations because we know ourselves well and can assess ourselves better. If we can really feel what the rising emotions are doing to us and we already know the automated process, we can regulate ourselves much better. In everyday life, in the situation itself.

Because then it is much easier to choose the people we want in our lives, because they have become clearer and are no longer thought through, but sensed.

As we can see, toxic behaviour is certainly very stressful, challenging and unpleasant overall, but in the end we can gain a lot of valuable experience for ourselves and our self-regulation, develop ourselves further and ultimately emerge from these situations stronger. As a result, we can then stand by others and support them in similar situations with our experiences. Of course, I am not talking about the "severe" cases here, such as narcissism or profound traumatic experiences. In these cases, professional help is certainly essential in order to leave the respective situations in a healthy and self-protective manner, if possible without suffering major damage.

This is where you become more aware of yourself, your own history and the possible reasons behind your own behaviour. Overall, you will become more sensitive to your surroundings, more likely to select between people who are good for you and those who make you feel uncomfortable and thus become clearer about yourself.

Get support to give you confidence in dealing with such personalities!

There is always a solution! Trust yourself!


Coaching offers ideal support here to either take the first steps in conflict management and analysing one's own reaction structures or to directly implement new skills that enable and empower all those involved to learn to deal well and confidently with corresponding situations in relationships. Another option is to act as a mediator or observer and outline a neutral picture of the prevailing relationship patterns in the department or company and use this to provide insights and recommendations for action to the decision-makers.

Trusting that the best possible solution will be allowed to develop and be implemented.


Coaching can provide you with targeted support in overcoming upcoming challenges at every stage - internally in the team or as a leader in the company. Let's work out together how I can provide you in your individual situation with optimal support and customised assistance.

Contact me to take your next steps

Nicole Dildei Coaching

+49 157 58 267 427

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