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A Mini-Lesson in Effective Communication by Danielle Rachlin, CNSF

Times are tense. Where is all this social tension truly coming from at a deep level? Your fight/flight/freeze center can be activated by survival threats and modern stressors, but did you know the same response can also be triggered by perceived social injustices? That’s because at a biological level, we legitimately, and rightfully, perceive social threats as survival threats.  

David Rock, Director of the NeuroLeadership Institute, coined the acronym that encompasses the social threats that can trigger our fight/flight/freeze response. It’s called The SCARF Model. These are the major or minor social injustices that can genuinely register as a survival threat to the brain. 

The SCARF Model: A Brain-Based Acronym for Social Triggers 

STATUS: Where you stand among others depending on the environment.

  • Different environmental expectations: Parent at home but employee at work.
  • Example: Your child talks back to you, being cheated on, getting cut off in traffic.

CERTAINTY: Your predictions and expectations are met.

  • The brain wants to know its predictions are being met (good or bad) because Predictable = Familiar = Safety.
  • To the brain, familiarity feels more like safety than actual safety does.
  • Example: Someone is late picking you up, major life changes, agreed-upon responsibilities aren’t done.

AUTONOMY: The perception that you have the ability to make your own decisions.

  • You are in control of yourself.
  • Example: Child doesn’t want to go to bed yet, disabled/elderly/disadvantaged individual lashes out at help.

RELATEDNESS: How you perceive yourself as relating socially to others in your community.

  • The perception of trust and place in the group.
  • Example: The opposing feelings of when your joke gets a big laugh vs. your joke results in an awkward silence.

FAIRNESS: The perception that there is no injustice to you or your worldview.

  • What you feel you’ve earned or deserve is satisfied. Your worldview is validated by external action.
  • Example: You didn’t get the payment you were promised for your work, not being given a chance or opportunity.

How This Applies to Effective Communication

Multiple components may be triggered at once from the same situation. Consider each letter of the SCARF Model with an example of political tension. Does it suddenly make sense why there is such an intense threat reaction in political disagreements? Or in spats with loved ones? Or in any disagreement for that matter?

Apply the SCARF Model to situations you are a part of or that you’ve witnessed. Consider how knowing this model before or during a tense situation could help us know how to validate and address the core issues of the problem. Or how to purposefully and effectively communicate with these potential landmines in mind.

Maybe understanding why someone is reacting the way they are (including ourselves) could bring us closer to compassion.

To learn more about communicating effectively, join Danielle Rachlin, CNSF for Neurosculpting® for Effective Communication on Sun, Sept 15th (Online Available).


Danielle Rachlin, CNSF

Danielle Rachlin, CNSF received her Neurosculpting® Facilitator Certification in the original round of NSI graduates in 2013. Since then, she has taken an academic approach to teaching and has brought Neurosculpting® into the world of college campuses with her recurring quarter-long series at Colorado Mesa University. Danielle has also produced an educational ghostwriting collection in her position in Communications and Marketing for the Neurosculpting® Institute during the completion of her Master’s degree in Public Administration for Environmental Policy, Management, and Law.

Danielle is passionate about introducing these concepts to people that do not necessarily already know they are interested in the subject and in making the information accessible to all kinds of people. She is motivated to spread the content of Neurosculpting® as widely as she can because she wants everyone to understand the natural processes of their brain so personal development is not an uphill battle. She has been meditating since childhood and was originally drawn deeply to Neurosculpting® due to its solid and digestible foundation in science.

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