How do you change nervous system patterns?

When an adolescent is navigating the emotional challenge of leaving the nest, they need to hear that their family will miss them, but manage without them; that they can leave but are always welcome; and that the family trusts them to live their life well, choose wisely, and make good decisions.

"You can go."

"We believe in you."

"We will miss you."

"We will cope without you."

"Let's stay in touch."


Adolescents need to hear their family believes in them and their abilities so they can launch from the nest and into the world.

Adults sometimes need to hear these things too, particularly at times of enormous change and big transitions. Particularly if they've grown up in a family which didn't value good boundaries and frequently questioned the child's ability to choose for themselves or didn't affirm the child's individuality by valuing 'difference' as positive.

If you’ve been told you are the family 'black sheep', and you feel sad that you don't know where you 'belong', your family is probably a tightly closed family system and resistant to change. This idea comes from systems theory, and can be applied to families, online groups and human nervous systems. The more 'closed' a system is, the more it resists change. Resistance tends to look like shutting down, closing off, and getting tighter.

So how might you approach a system that gets more tightly bound whenever you approach it?

You back off, and help it find safety in your presence. The same goes when working with the nervous system.

It's probably easier to think of how to do this if you were approaching an animal - e.g., a cat, dog or a horse. If the animal showed they were afraid when you approached, would you continue moving forward, doing the same thing? Or would you back off, slow down, and try a different approach?


When we want to change nervous system patterns of contraction, we have to do the same thing. We can't just force our way in and make the nervous system change. It takes safety, patience, gentleness, humour...non-judgement, non-attachment and grace to help a nervous system do something different and find a new way through an old problem. Much the same as what's required to see your family change their habituated responses to you when you (as the changemaker - aka troublemaker) show up...even if you don't mean to shake the tree...