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Understanding the Nervous System: How Unmet Needs and Triggers Shape Our Behavior

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The nervous system is an intricate network of nerves and cells that transmit signals between different parts of the body. Responsible for controlling various bodily functions, the nervous system plays a crucial role in our daily lives. Let’s explore the connection between the nervous system and unmet needs, as well as how triggers can shape our behavior. By understanding these connections, we can gain a better understanding of why we act the way we do when we are parenting (and in life) and how to improve our emotional well-being.

The Nervous System Explained

Primary Components

The nervous system is divided into two main parts: the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system. The CNS comprises the brain and spinal cord, while the peripheral system consists of nerves that extend from the CNS to the rest of the body. These systems work together to influence everything from our thoughts and emotions to our physical movements and basic functions like sex and digestion.

Functions of the Nervous System

The nervous system serves many functions in the body, including:

  1. Sensory input: Collecting information from the environment through our senses, such as sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell.

  2. Integration: Analyzing and interpreting sensory information to form appropriate responses.

  3. Motor output: Executing the necessary responses, such as contracting muscles or producing hormones.

Unmet Needs and the Nervous System

How Unmet Needs Trigger the Nervous System

When our basic needs, such as safety, connection, love, and belonging, are not met, our nervous system reacts by activating various defense mechanisms. These reactions are not just rooted in old triggers as mentioned in my previous email/post, but also in the nervous system's response to the threat of a need not being met in the present moment. In other words, our nervous system is not only influenced by past experiences, but also by our current circumstances and environment. It’s important to understand that when we have “grungy” feelings like I mentioned in the previous email, that there is some kind of unmet need underneath this feeling…

The Connection to Anxiety and Stress

Unmet needs can lead to feelings of anxiety and stress, as our mind-body system is constantly scanning the environment for potential threats. This heightened state of alertness can cause a range of physical and emotional symptoms, such as increased heart rate, muscle tension, and difficulty concentrating.

The Role of Triggers in Shaping Behavior

The Impact of Triggers on the Nervous System

Triggers are external or internal cues that remind us of past experiences, often leading to a reaction in our nervous system. These reactions can be emotional, such as feelings of fear or anger, or physiological, such as increased heart rate or muscle tension. Triggers can be anything from a specific sound, smell, or sight to a particular situation or person. It can be what we hear others say, how they look at us, or how they touch/don’t touch us. And in the parenting world, triggers can come from things like how our kids act, behave, talk, scream, shout and the whole gamut.

How Triggers Affect Behavior

When triggers activate the nervous system, they often lead to automatic behavioral responses. For example, a person who has experienced trauma may react defensively when encountering a situation that reminds them of their past experiences. These automatic reactions can be disruptive and challenging to manage, as they are rooted in deeply ingrained neural pathways.

Parenting and the Nervous System

The Importance of Meeting Children's Needs

In order to foster healthy emotional development in children, it is essential for parents to meet their children's basic needs. This includes providing a safe and nurturing environment, offering love and support, offering connection opportunities daily amidst busy and chaotic lifestyles, and promoting a sense of belonging. When children feel secure and their needs are met, their nervous system is more likely to function optimally, allowing for positive social engagement and emotional regulation over time and with maturity. And that’s the intention: to raise emotionally secure, confident, resilient kids who grow into with emotionally mature adults who can navigate all that life throws at them.

The Impact of Unmet Needs on Children's Behavior

When a child has the experience of a need not being, such as a desired food item at dinner, they may whine, scream, shout, or refuse to eat. AKA we may be met with a range of behavioral issues, including aggression, withdrawal, and difficulty with emotional regulation. These behaviors are often a result of the child's nervous system reacting to the perceived threat of unmet needs. By understanding the connection between unmet needs and the nervous system, parents can better support their children in overcoming these challenges and developing healthy emotional skills. And, when we are triggered as parents, we need to remember that underneath the trigger are feelings and unmet needs that require tending and nurturance.

Faulty Neuroception and Its Effects on Behavior

What is Faulty Neuroception?

Faulty Neuroception (P.S. I don’t like the word ‘faulty’ but it seems to be norm in the science arena) occurs when an individual's nervous system inaccurately detects threats in their environment, leading to inappropriate or exaggerated responses. This can result in the activation of defense mechanisms even in safe or neutral situations.

Consequences for Children

Children with faulty Neuroception may struggle with emotional regulation, as they perceive danger even when no real threat is present. This can manifest in disruptive or challenging behaviors, which may be misinterpreted as a lack of discipline or poor parenting. In reality, these children need support for their nervous system and addressing the underlying causes of their faulty Neuroception.

Strategies for Managing Unmet Needs and Triggers

Identifying Triggers

The first step in managing unmet needs and triggers is to identify the specific cues that activate the nervous system. By recognizing these triggers, individuals can better understand their reactions and develop strategies to cope with them. This includes as mentioned in a recent email I sent out to my subscribers, finding the ROOT trigger from the past when we respond to our children’s behaviors (like when our child criticizes the food we cooked and the root was how much we were criticized by our parent(s) during childhood).

Calming the Nervous System

Practices such as deep breathing, mindfulness, and progressive muscle relaxation can help to calm the nervous system and reduce the impact of triggers on behavior. These techniques can be particularly helpful for children struggling with emotional regulation and disruptive behaviors. In simple words, things that stimulate the vagus nerve will support nervous system regulation.


The nervous system plays a critical role in shaping our behavior and emotional well-being. By understanding the connections between unmet needs, triggers, hidden subconscious beliefs, default patterns (ingrained neural pathways and conditioning) and the nervous system, we can better support ourselves and others in managing these challenges and fostering psycho-social-emotional health. Addressing unmet needs, identifying triggers, and developing strategies to support the nervous system are essential steps in promoting positive emotional development and overall well-being. (P.S. Emotions are involved in everything! You cannot separate yourself from emotions – even feeling confident is an emotion, so remember that emotions are the business of life!)

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