Find Mediators Near You:

Fragility, Policing, and the Neurophysiology of Fear and Escalation

In the world that we currently live in, with the dominant paradigms we live within, our brains are very rarely explicitly invited into relationship.

I don’t mean relationship as in romantic connection, but relationship in terms of general sense of being in togetherness, wovenness, being part-of the natural world and all living beings.

Especially in North America and Western Europe, the cultural messages we receive tell us that we exist alone, that we are solely responsible for our own experience, that success means being able to function solo, as individuals.

These messages are deeply embedded in our parenting and family systems, in how we work and live and love, how we relate to other plant and animal beings, and how we relate (or don’t!) to other humans.

In neuroscience terms, this state of being is called left-hemipsheric dominance, where we experience the world from an instrumental orientation, where other living beings serve merely as functions for us, where others exist as objects.

When our brains are in left-hemispheric dominance we see other living bodies as objects, and we lose our capacity for seeing other people in their humanity and instead they become instruments, functions instead of complex beings with needs and feelings.

Our instrumental brain, without having the resonance and warmth and complexity of the integrated right hemisphere, sees other living things as disconnected from us, separate, as different or “other.”

We also do this separation and rejection of the “other” with parts of ourself. The parts we don’t like.

What I’ve learned, and what I teach in my work, is that we cannot actually heal and bring wholeness to ourselves using forceful, power-over strategies (policing ourselves, punishing ourselves, trying to eliminate the “toxic/other parts”.

Healing happens through integrating and tending to the needs underneath giving our full selves resonance, understanding, embracing, instead of policing and cutting off the parts we don’t like.

When be begin to think of ourselves as ecosystems of relationship, we can begin to assess the actual needs that are pointed to through our emotions (rage, grief, disgust, etc) instead of trying to get rid of them, avoid them, or turn away from their messages.

#BlackLivesMatter is Not about Politics, its about Dignity.

For those who are startled or confused by the revolutionary uprisings in the United States that are calling to #defundthepolice and #abolishthepolice, I invite you to consider the parallels between the work I teach about (un-learning the self-punishment and domination we enact on ourselves and others), and the calls to defund the police.

We will never build a world of thriving and life-serving ways of being by continuing to use strategies of dominance, punishment and power-over. 

The work I teach is about using resonance to actually feel into what our needs are, to greet ourselves with “of course!” instead of policing ourselves to get rid of certain feelings.

Similarly, when we look at the majority of the policing that occurs in this country, we can see that policing doesn’t actually address the root causes of distress.

  • Sending folks who are houseless to jail doesn’t actually help end homelessness
  • Arresting folks who steal in order to eat doesn’t address hunger and poverty.
  • Tasering or shooting folks experiencing mental health crisis and then jailing them doesn’t address the root causes of that distress.

Calls to #defund the police and #abolish police are not about a sudden removal of all law enforcement, but instead a gradual process of strategically reallocating resources, funding, and responsibility away from police and toward community-based models of safety, support, and prevention.

“Rather than strangers armed with guns, who very likely do not live in the neighborhoods they’re patrolling, we want to create space for more mental health service providers, social workers, victim/ survivor advocates, religious leaders, neighbors, healers, and friends– all of the people who really make up the fabric of a community– to look out for one another.”  – MPD 150

For those who are committed to ending systemic racism and systemic oppression of all kinds, we can begin to unpack what occurs in the bodies of those who call the police on Black folks, and begin to understand the complexities of the legacy of the construction of race.

I especially invite those of us who are white to join me in anti-racist work to help actively work against the systemic and oppressive waters we swim in.

Part of this inquiry includes: what is happening in the brain and bodies of we white people when encountering Black people in this country? What are the unconscious stories of Blackness, of fragility, of who needs controlling and who is in danger?

Fragility, Policing, and the Neurophysiology of Fear and Escalation

I just recorded a video with Leonie Smith, Co-Founder of People of Colour for Nonviolent Communication (POC4NVC) and Mika Maniwa, trauma educator, to unpack the interaction between Amy Cooper–a white woman who called the cops in Central Park NY on Memorial day) and Christian Cooper–a Black man who was  bird-watching and asked Amy to leash her dog, per the rules of the park).

Part of the indoctrination of systemic racism in the United States includes teaching white folks that we are fragile, in need of protection, and teaching that Black folks are dangerous and in need of controlling.

And so we could easily assume that Amy Cooper was afraid of the Black man she perceived to be threatening her and so called the cops.

But on closer inspection of this interaction, we can see that Amy is upset at being asked to leash her dog, and upset that Christian is filming her, and is unconsciously, unthinkingly leveraging her white position to make him stop filming her and go away. She doesn’t even seem to know she’s making a death threat by calling the police; she simply wants the white-centered power structure to take him away from her. 

Amy Cooper has no idea that she’s reaching into structural racism to get what she wants, and what she needs to stabilize her own nervous system. This is a danger for all of us who have any structural power (for example being white); we need to understand our positionality and the existing power structures in order to live non-violently.

In order to dismantle white supremacy and the policing of Black bodies through state-sanctioned violence, we need to look at the ways those with access to dominance employ strategies of controlling the external environment and other humans, instead of owning our own reactivity. I invite you to join Mika, Leonie and I in unpacking this interaction – watch the video here.

Dismantling White Supremacy – Internally and Systemically

I’m offering two upcoming offerings that seek to address the shadow work and self-inquiry that is necessary to dismantle white supremacism, within ourselves and systemically, I hope you’ll consider joining me:

(August 9th) Free Discussion with filmmakers of Lillian Smith: Breaking the Silence
(September) Death of Patriarchy Constellations Masterclass

Warmly, and with a longing for dignity for all life,



Sarah Peyton

Sarah Peyton, Certified Trainer of Nonviolent Communication and neuroscience educator, integrates brain science and the use of resonant language to heal personal and collective trauma with exquisite gentleness. Sarah is a sought-after expert who brings neuroscience expertise together with depth work, self-compassion, and the transformative potential of language. She works… MORE >

Featured Members

View all

Read these next


Michelle LeBaron: Mediaton as Interruption of Parties’ “Dance” – Video

Michelle LeBaron explains her work as interrupting people's dance within a conflict.

By Michelle LeBaron

Condo Conflict – Facing A Perfect Storm!

In the cogent, if not immortal, words of Billy Joel, “they started to fight when the money got tight. And they just didn’t count on the tears”. This is true...

By David D. Stein

The Mediator as Process Designer

JAMS ADR Blog by Chris PooleA mediator is a facilitator who has the skill to work around or overcome obstacles to settlement created by parties or their counsel. In particular,...

By Richard Chernick