We all like to think that the way we perceive reality is accurate. We all like to believe that we are good at interpreting our own motivations and the motives of others. We all like to think we are perceiving and processing incoming information well and making wise decisions with that information.
But neuroscience is showing us that our perceptions and interpretations of reality are not so accurate after all, especially when we encounter information that triggers deep emotional reactions that we may or may not be aware we are having. If you look at the state of our world, you would have to agree we have some perceptual and emotional issues to deal with.
The reality is, due to the way the brain develops, we are all walking around, more often than we would like to think, being controlled by the sad, angry 5-year old in our brain. When we encounter things that trigger our strong emotions, that 5-year old hijacks the adult, logical part of the brain and most of us remain unaware of this takeover.
When things happen that remind our emotional brains of things that occurred when we were young, our perceptions are filtered through old hurts that are literally programmed into our limbic or emotional system. So, in these emotionally evocative situations, we often don’t really accurately perceive what is happening in our world, especially in our relationships. Then the limbic system interprets the meanings of those skewed perceptions based upon survival instincts. Its goal is to protect us from getting hurt as we did in the past, to protect us from feeling shame, and to protect us from feeling fear. So, it turns on the self-protective fight, flight or flee response faster than you can even begin to have a conscious thought.
These habitual brain responses are the cause for much misunderstanding in the world. This is why people think they are being disrespected and mistreated even when they’re not. And this is why people are walking around disrespecting and mistreating people as a means of self-defense! It’s a big 5-year old misperception palooza going on and we need to wake up, get conscious, get honest, and do something about it!
These ingrained brain habits are very, very common, unless you have done a lot of work on mastering your thoughts and becoming conscious. This problem is more severe in those who experienced childhood trauma, but it happens pretty regularly to those who had “normal” upbringings as well.
Here is a typical example of how these perceptual habits play out:
Eve: Adam, would you please remember to take out the trash today?
Adam: Mumbles to himself but refuses to answer Eve. Then “forgets” to take out the trash.
What is going on inside Adam? He is being driven by his 5-year old who, as an adult is still responding to a relational pattern he perceived as a child. He felt like he was often criticized by his mother and in trouble. So, the limbic, emotional part of Adam’s brain created a holographic memory of sorts that now overshadows or generalizes to most interactions he has, especially with his wife and others who rely upon him to get things done. In other words, he unknowingly sees and reacts to the world as if everything is his mother and he is still 5 years old.
So, what do we do about these patterns that have been programmed into our emotional brains?
The first step is practicing awareness by simply noticing when the voice in your head is talking, narrating, having imaginary conversations, or making up meanings. After practicing just noticing this voice for a while, you will find that the thoughts stop for a moment. First practice on the everyday mundane thoughts you notice. The emotionally charged thoughts that get you into conflict require a bit more experience at disidentifying with that 5-year old voice, at becoming a detached observer of the voice.
So, while you are in your car, taking a shower, anytime you are alone, just start noticing what that voice in your head is saying. Don’t try to change it or argue with it. Just notice. Your growing awareness and detachment from that voice can do wonders in helping you start to unhook from your past programming.
The next steps are designed to help you discover the old emotional patterns that have kept you stuck in conflict with yourself and others, and with seemingly self-sabotaging patterns.
If you are interested in learning more about how you can be free of that old programming, without having to re-live your past and go through years of therapy, you can contact us at NeuroSource for a free consult.
Lee Ann Foster, MS