BY DR. ATHENA STAIK, PH.D.
March 16, 2003
Ever feel like a child in certain situations that tend to upset or trigger your defenses? It may be your subconscious mind at work, inviting you to heal "unfinished business" in childhood.
As an outcome of events that were anxiety-provoking in early childhood, for your protection, the subconscious mind formed emotionally charged pockets of cellular memory, necessary to protect you at a time in life when emotionaly vulnerability poses a threat to physical survival.
Emotional pain is scary for a child. This is a time when physical survival literally depends on surviving the particular emotional vulnerablities of early childhood.
Infants and small children do not survive without love and attention. To be fed, kept harm and cared for physically is not enough. Physical survival depends on the "love and safety" hormone, Oxytocin, being released into the bloodstream of the infant;, which occurs when the infant's needs for love and human touch are met by another human being, more often the mother.
Since then, every time a trigger shows up that is rooted in certain early experiences, such as a raised voice or look of disappointment, for example, your brain activates the same protective neural pathways, and subconsciously transports you in varying degree to relive the experience.
Notably, the subconscious mind always operates in the present moment; it has no concept of past or future. This feature of the subconscious may sound odd; however, it provides an ever present option to heal painful or traumatic memories, stored in cellular memory, when they surface in present moments.
Even if you were raised in an overall loving family environment, however, childhod is inherently wounding. It is impossible to not experience pain as a child--or an adult for that matter.
In fact growth without pain is not possible.
Your subconscious mind has a record of these reactive neural patterns, and since they are proven "reliable" in lowering your stress level, your subconscious zealously keeps them in place, thinking your defensive coping strategies are what still keeps you alive!
It thinks you continue to need this protection for the following reasons:
- To lower your anxiety—and to estore relative calm!
For your survival, the body seeks familiar and positive feeling states, and avoids what produces unpleasant feeling states. Positive feeling states activate hormones that have healthful effects on the body, whereas “feeling bad” ones produce chemicals that have a detrimental effect. Even though these reactive patterns cause problems, the subconscious mind is misguided into thinking you "need" these to help you survive, as they lower your anxiety and restore “feeling good” feelings in familiar ways. Habits are not easy to break.
- To restore your 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 is not hardwired to do original thinking, it completely depends on your conscious wise-self mind to discern between the “feel goods” that can be harmful, i.e., anger outbursts, avoiding fears, drugs, junk food, and reactivity; and “feel bads” that are fact life enriching, i.e., studying for an exam, public speaking, or facing the discomfort of processing emotionally charged past memories.
- To remind you to stay on track toward growth and healing!
Emotional pain is part of life. It also serves a higher purpose. It is a vital teacher and guide, alerting us to pay attention to what works or doesn't work—and also prompting us to thrive. 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.
There’s more good news. Human beings are resilient!
If you are alive today, with most of your faculties intact, you survived infancy and early childhood. You have all you need to face challenges, past traumas, inside, to heal yourself, and create a happy, vibrant life.