This article was written by Caroline Nettle.
The human mind is an amazing piece of equipment. It processes an astounding 400 billion bits of information every second. It is at the same time trying to regulate healing, breathing, moving, thinking, repairing, protection, prevention, temperature, food absorption, hormones, chemical reactions, and a whole host of other processes that enable us to stay alive in each moment.
Do we need to command the brain to perform the processes that run our lives? We do not. In fact, the human mind is hard wired to survive, and for the most part, the brain carries out its daily tasks without reference to us at all. It informs us when we are cold, hungry, or tired, and we usually respond to signals that it sends us- we put clothes on, eat, sleep, or whatever it is that our bodies need from us. If we choose not to listen to our bodies, we get sick, stressed, over-tired, and depressed, amongst other things.
With such an amazing machine functioning on our behalf, how is it that some people can seem to be miserable, unfulfilled and tired most of the time? The major factor is that we have 2,000 thoughts a day that we are conscious of, and yet we have 60,000 a day. This implies that a vast percentage of what we do moment to moment is unconscious, and therefore we have no control over it.
From the ages of 0-4, the human brain is like a sponge, literally soaking up absolutely everything that it can from its’ environment. This is a fabulous survival strategy, for at this age, we depend entirely on the adults around us to get our needs met. 0-4 is also the age that you learn trust and learn autonomy, that is, that you are a separate being from your parents or carers. If your childhood was one that was characterised by neglect or abuse or anger or sadness or life was fun and you were loved, it is at this age that the brain registers what “normal” is and then spends the rest of your life trying to recreate “normal”.
Even the most talented, kind, loving parents in the world cannot meet all their child’s needs. Indeed, learning that you cannot always have what you want is an important part of learning to share and to compromise- all qualities that make life a lot smoother if you master them young. If, however, you were not fed or cuddled when you cried, for whatever reason, there is a good chance that you will develop a belief system that your needs will not be met by others. There are many reasons why the parents could not attend to this babies needs- sickness, work, depression, too many other children, and so on. This is just one tiny example of a belief system that can be formulated as a baby.
So, if we continue this through the childhood and into adolescence- this youth (let’s make him a boy) is operating from the belief system that his needs will not be met by other people. It is highly possible that he has trust issues and finds it really challenging to let people in. Do you think he will be good at forming and maintaining healthy and loving relationships? Not if he is working from the premise that he is going to be let down by others.
The irony is that his unconscious mind is running the show, and helping him to seek out relationships with people who will not meet his needs. It does this because it is always trying to recreate what it knows to be “normal”. The unconscious mind does not like change, so it keeps looking for the same situation over and over.
A good example of this is the partners we choose. We say that we are going to do better next time, and then go and pick someone who seems to all intents and purposes completely different, and ends up being just the same. To outsiders, the woman who repeatedly chooses angry alcoholics is blind. To her, the next angry alcoholic is irresistible because he is what she is unconsciously looking for- someone who feels “normal” and safe, and therefore reassuring, even if safe is dangerous.
Do they know what they are doing? Are they conscious of why they choose these people? Absolutely not. Their compass is wired to those circumstances. What is your compass wired to? Are you surrounded by people who validate you, make you happy, put you first and love you no matter what? Or is your story one of being surrounded by people who are angry, who leave you, who are miserable, or critical, or victimise you? Look back through your important relationships and try to see if there is a theme. This could be where you need to start your inner work.
Your unconscious mind is trying to create “normal” for you at all times, and your conscious mind just processes what your unconscious mind chooses. This is why for some people, no matter how many times they repeat affirmations and think positive thoughts, nothing changes. For these people, deeper work is needed. Find a safe way of discovering which belief systems run your life, and work to change them to ones that actually can help you to live the life you want instead.
Joyous, happy and free is the birth rite of each human being, but unless the unconscious brain comes to know that the change is safe, it will never welcome the idea. Therefore, it needs gentle persuasion over time, and gradually it will start to see that “normal” can be a lot more fun that it has been to date.