THE BLOG

He's Biting, But What's Eating Luis Suarez?

01/07/2014 15:13 BST | Updated 30/08/2014 10:59 BST

It seems crazy that a man in his position and with so much at stake, can so simply break the rules instilled into us all at nursery school to 'be nice and don't bite people'.

So what is going on?

Clearly Suarez knows that this is not acceptable behaviour, that he will be sanctioned each time he's found guilty of biting: after all it has happened enough times now and he has had to play the price on a number of occasions; so it cannot be put down to a lack of awareness that it will breach the rules of play and cause him severe consequences... and yet he continues to do it.

The most likely explanation also provides a useful route to the solution; in the excitement and pressurised situation of competitive sports at this level it would appear that he is activating one of our most primitive reflexes, the flight and fight or stress response.

This response which is present in all of us is thought to have been designed to allow us to deal with sudden danger: at the first sign of a threat our body jumps into extreme arousal. It heightens our awareness of all external sensations so we can be ready to spot danger coming at us from any direction. It enhances our muscular strength using powerful hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol which directly change our bodies' physiology, shifting our blood sugar levels, blood pressure and heart rate. But it's not the change in blood sugar levels that makes Suarez hungry enough to bite, the stress response also alters which parts of our brain come on line to make decisions, and specifically the parts that are switched on during the stress response are the ones involved in primitive simplistic thinking. Instead of complicated conversations like 'is it morally and socially acceptable?', or 'what might be the long term consequences to my career?', this part of the brain is much more dedicated to simple choices like 'run or fight?'.

That is not to excuse his behaviour in anyway, it's not acceptable: but the fact that it is so abhorrent to the majority of us shows us that he must be operating from some 'other than normal level' of functioning. It also points to the core of issue, which is switching on this stress response isn't abnormal, it is useful for spurts of energy, however it becomes a problem when we don't manage it properly or can't switch off. And this inability to manage this response is behind so many of the common problems people face from the mild blurting out something we didn't mean when irritated, through to road rage, addictive disorders, bar fights, domestic conflict and violence, and beyond. Long-term arousal of the stress response also causes massive problems, affecting our immune, hormonal and cardio vascular systems.

So what's the solution?

It's quite simple really, after all we all, along with thousands of his fellow top sportsmen have opportunities to 'lose it' most days, but we don't. He just needs someone with enough skills to convince him he's not powerless to control it, to learn how to use the stress response for spurts of speed, to develop an awareness of when he's straying onto the 'dark side' and get some decent tools to switch it off when he senses that inappropriate physical aggression. Then he will see his career and prestige..... soar.

Phil Parker is a PhD researcher in Health Psychology, an osteopath, a world-renowned NLP coach, the originator the Lightning Process and the author of 4 books.

Follow Phil Parker on facebook: www.facebook.com/philparker.author