Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Understanding Our Own Minds
Due to the nature of our early life we all have unconsciously programmed and conditioned behaviors and reactions that helped us survive our earlier years, but left us with a lot of trouble understanding ourselves once we mature! During our formative stages we learned methods to avoid pain and survive, emotionally, physically, and socially. The methods we learned were based on our natural temperment and how others in our environment reacted to the way we expressed ourselves. Their reactions usually taught us we were insufficient or not enough of what was required, or that our natural expressiveness was excessive or too much for them. We learned what was acceptable and not acceptable to others, and to suppress, hide and deny aspects of ourselves which were disapproved of. When we felt the need to control the reactions of others the basic choices we saw to take charge of the situation were to anticipate and accommodate, defy and rebel, or stonewall and withdraw. These survival strategies became seamlessly integrated into our identity and their origin forgotten. Unfortunately, the underlying belief that most of us took away from our early conditioning is that our real, true selves are inadequate and unworthy. This fear remains lurking in our unconscious, getting triggered by situations that stress or threaten the positive or negative social identity we have created to mask or calm this fear.
Our social identity is comprised of roles such as the "spoiled girl" the "successful businessman" the "creative artist" or the "funny fat guy." When the identities we use to cover our feelings of insufficiency are questioned, we are thrown into survival mode and our early programming and conditioning takes over. Some examples: even when you are trained and relatively competent at a job do you get the feeling that you are a fraud and your expertise is not real? Have you felt like someone questioning you at all invalidates and insults you? This is that early conditioning and fear of underlying inadequacy getting triggered.
It is easy to get triggered because we also tend to overly value, idealize and identify with whatever aspects of our social personality we are using to cover our fear of inadequacy and unworthiness. The more able we are to understand how our minds work, the more curious we become and the less threatened we feel when one of our roles and social identities is questioned or challenged.
The next time you feel yourself getting triggered, try naming and staying with the feeling (without overly identifying with it) and ask yourself what it is you fear. If you can name the feeling, the thoughts that feed it and observe it, you can make a more informed choice of behavior. When you get stressed or threatened, notice whether and when you automatically anticipate and accommodate, defy and rebel, or stonewall and withdraw. Get the feelings, accompanying thoughts and fear out where you can see them, and you'll be amazed what you learn about your own mind!