BY DR. ATHENA STAIK
Why is reactivity frequent in intimate communications?
One reason has to do with cultural conditioning. Certain beliefs that form the basis of child rearing, for example, the belief that obedience to other (parents) is a measure of self worth, deserved love, and so on, literally jam our brain’s processing network--with elevated fear. Core fears of rejection, inadequacy, abandonment, the big ones.
In effect, the beliefs passed down to us, unless healed, continue to scare our brains into activating our survival response in adulthood.
A low level of fear or anxiety is not the problem. In fact, a healthy low level of stress can boost performance; for example, when you prepare to take an exam or speak in public.
Elevated levels of fear, however, flood the brain’s communication network. Also known as the “fight or flee” response, when fear-inducing beliefs activate it, literally, the part of the brain that runs the autonomic functions of the body, the subconscious, puts your higher thinking areas of the brain on hold.
The problem is that once these early neural patterns in childhood get reinforced, these reactive behaviors form intense pockets of memory. Because they helped you survive, your body's survival system regards them as proven and reliable ways to ensure your survival, thus, they are not easily changed or healed.
Whereas the brain operates optimally in “learning mode,” the brain’s survival system has the power to overrule or to hijack the body’s regular processing, and can shift into “protective mode” at any time. The human brain is always in one of these two modes. Emotion is the deciding factor on whether the brain operates in either a “learning mode or in a “protective mode,” in which case, learning processes get shut down to prepare the body for survival.
By design, the brain tends to handle any information (i.e., behaviors, feelings, thoughts, etc.) recording in fear-based memories as gospel truth, and imprints these in the cells of the body as highly-charged pockets of memory. They are highly charged because the subconscious mind, diligently, keeps a special record of your “triggers,” what you personally believe are “threats,” what to do to “survive,” etc.
If these are now distortions of truth, such as the belief that a rejection means you are not a worthwhile person, oh well, it doesn’t matter to this part of the brain. It does no thinking of its own, and for this is completely dependent on the higher thinking brain, or your wise-self. The problem is that fear puts a barrier between the sensory system and the part of your brain capable of conscious thought and awareness.
So, what can you do to stop fear from controlling your brain in intimate communications?
- Identify limiting beliefs and the fear-inducing thoughts they produce, and replace them with life enriching ones. This disallows fear from blocking or severely limiting the amazing capacities of your brain, such as reflective thinking, creative imagination, informed choice making, and so on.
- Become aware of toxic thinking patterns and their impact on your emotions and body physiology. This builds your understanding and gives you a reason, the passion and the energy you need to replace them. You are in a better position to consciously choose how you respond when you understand “why.”
- Practice acceptance and empathic compassion for yourself. Allow your understanding to build your compassion and complete acceptance for yourself as a human being.
This does not mean you do not own and take responsibility for your actions. Rather that, as a human being, you are more likely to successfully replace limiting beliefs with life enriching ones, when you consciously love yourself, that is, you consciously respect yourself, so that you treat yourself and life with compassion—unconditionally.
You are not your emotions or your thoughts, you are the creator and chooser. You have the power to disallow survival fears from unnecessarily activating your body's survival system.