BY DR. ATHENA STAIK
Have you ever wanted to break a habit, and found it seemingly impossible? Ever hoped to start a new healthy behavior, yet didn’t follow through – repeatedly? If so, you know the stuck feeling.
Despite good intentions, if seems a part of you, in certain areas of your life, opposes your wish to stop an unwanted behavior or to implement a new one.
Similarly, in your couple relationship, you or your partner may resist change, even when it is for the better!
It would take so much pressure off your couple relationship, wouldn’t it, if you (and your partner) could easily say things, such as, “I’m sorry, I was wrong to …” ( i.e., for your part, in an upset)? So, what makes it so difficult to do even the simple things that came easily at the start of your relationship? Why do you resist one another now?
Whenever what you do is not what you want to do, most likely you’re experiencing incongruence between the goals of your “conscious” and “subconscious” mind. How can your mind have opposing goals? Simply put, parts of your brain perform different jobs.
Think of your mind as having two main parts, the conscious and the subconscious. Your conscious mind is the part that helps you plan, choose, reflect, dream, execute plans, and so on. In contrast, your subconscious mind is in charge of your emotions, and hardwired emotional drives to survive and thrive.
This means, on the one hand, the subconscious is in charge of the “fight or flight” response. This drive is the instinct for survival. It is also in charge of your higher hard-wired instincts to love, meaningfully connect, self-actualize in life, making meaningfully contributions.
When the conscious and subconscious parts of your mind work together cooperatively, your brain works optimally, as it is designed to do. In cases where the two are in conflict, however, the subconscious mind most always has its way. Why? Because its primary directive is to ensure your survival. (After all, to survive is a prerequisite to thrive, right?)
Since the subconscious, on its own, makes no distinction between a physical and an emotional threat, it reacts to your not feeling valued by something someone said in the same way as it would facing a tiger in the jungle.
But, you may say, that’s ridiculous! You “know” this is not a threat to your survival! Though true, logic does not shape your behaviors when you're survival system gets triggered.
The subconscious functions like the operating system on your computer. It knows how to operate the systems, however, it depends on getting commands from you to operate. completely depends on your conscious mind to input applications that it will dutifully run. If one of your belief systems is limiting, this can automatically activate your body’s “fight or flee” response.
In other words, when your survival response is activated, it high-jacks your thinking brain. Regardless that you may “know” the person who said something hurtful is someone who cares, in that moment, the emotion of "fear" is elevated with the release of cortisol in your bloodstream. Your mind and body are prepared to fight or run away from a tiger in the jungle.
It may not make sense to your conscious mind, however, emotions decide your behaviors, and not logic. Emotions inform your choices, firing neural patterns that determine what actions, or whether you take action. (After centuries of minimizing the effect of emotions, since the "emotional intelligence" studies in 1990s, the field of psychology increasingly recognized the executive role emotions play in shaping behaviors.).
This is why emotional mastery, or the learned ability to master your inner world of emotions is essential to your personal happiness and to the success of your relationship. You may find some habits easier to break as well.