Dr. Athena Staik
March 16, 2003
Ever feel like a child when triggered in a “discussion” with a loved one? It’s your subconscious mind again!
When you get triggered, i unless you’ve done some conscious work inside, it automatically activates the same protective neural patterns that your brain recorded first in early childhood. Once a familiar trigger gets activated, such as a raised voice or a look of disappointment, memory sends your mind and body back in time, where the activated survival state originated. (It’s not unlike a PTSD response, though less intense.)
Why would your subconscious mind do this?
- To lower your anxiety—and to estore relative calm!
For your survival, you seek what produces positive feeling states in you, and avoid what produces unpleasant feeling states. These “fight or flee” behaviors help you to lower anxiety and restore “feeling good” feelings. Positive feeling states activate hormones that have healthful effects on the body, whereas “feeling bad” ones produce chemicals that have a detrimental effect.
- To restore a sense of safety!
In survival mode, the body automatically reaches for what is comfortable and familiar to restore calm. Thus, once a behavior “works” to produce a “feel good” response, the mind of your body “bookmarks” it, similar to hitting the “like” button on Facebook. Unfortunately, since the subconscious has no capacity to produce original thoughts, it is completely dependent on your conscious wise-self mind to discern between “feel goods” that are destructive, i.e., drugs, junk food, and “feel bads” that are life enriching, i.e., studying for an exam or making a presentation despite fear of public speaking.
- To access record of “how to survive” stored in memory!
Your brain has bookmarked the times when you got scared as a child in family contexts, and has given these entries top billing to make it easy for your brain’s search engines to find them. The brain keeps a special record of behaviors that “worked” in similar situations to help you survive. According to this report, “parent” and “child” behaviors are associated with mixed feelings, to be sure, even painful ones can be associated with sense of comfort and familiarity.
Your childhood was perfect, you say? That’s wonderful. Even an “optimal” childhood, however, is inherently wounding. It is just as impossible to not have endured pain as a child, as it is not to experience it as an adult. If you are human, and you are (since you are reading this…), you experienced scary moments in childhood. If either of your parents were ever upset or anxious, your brain activated your survival response. These events conditioned you with certain protective neural behavior patterns.
Emotional pain is particularly scary for a child. This is a time when, literally, physical survival depends upon emotional survival. Literally, infants and small children do not survive without the basic nutrients of love.
Emotional pain is part of life. The good news is that it is much more than part of life. It is a vital teacher and guide, alerting us to pay attention, or signaling to us what works and what doesn’t work to help us survive—and also thrive. There’s more good news. Human beings are resilient! If you are alive with most of your faculties intact, regardless of your childhood experiences, you have all you need, inside, to create and to live a vibrant life.
The question is do you know how to calm your inner state of being when you get triggered? Each moment can be an opportunity to start anew…to consciously experience and respond to one another, in different ways. Rather than react defensively, for example, you can choose to consciously treat one another with dignity.
That’s right, even in moments when you feel unlovable or unloving, you always have a choice to connect to own inner capacity to activate a love connection. Expressing gratitude works. Feeling curious too.