Our brain learns through our experiences to promote pleasure and avoid pain. For example, we learn to avoid the hot stove after we experience the pain, smell the burning skin, and see the blister. This experience is reinforced for us by having daily painful reminders as the burn heals. Conversely, our minds crave the pleasure that comes from activities such as eating a great meal, sex, doing a physical activity, or feeling or giving love.
To this day I can remember vividly falling off my bike as a child and landing on my face on the pavement. This experience left a scar on my face and an imprint on my brain.
We also have emotional scars that are even more powerful. I remember an experience when I was trying to learn how to water-ski and I wasn't as successful as some of my brothers or cousins. I couldn’t get up out of the water very well and I struggled. I was also constantly compared to them. I think my family members were trying to motivate me through competition or sibling rivalry. However, I translated these comparisons into feeling unworthy, inadequate, and unlovable. As a result, I avoided learning to water-ski until I was much older so I would not have to face the pain of my own feelings of inadequacy.
All of us have these moments.
With this in mind, it is helpful to remember that our brain is primarily concerned with preserving us and the species. Otherwise, mankind would not have been here as long as it has. We are largely thriving as a species because we have a strong propagating and preserving instinct. We also have a large "thinking" brain that sets us apart from all other species and allows us to make real choices. This part of our brain allows us to make choices that can even contradict the preserving and propagating part of our brain.
The "old" or as some people like to call it the "reptilian" brain is largely set on automatic and we have little control over it. This part of our brain is the area of the brain stem that is responsible for regulating our heart and respiratory rate without any conscious effort on our part. It is also the part of the brain that we would sometimes like to shut off but it is important to know that we cannot. The impulses that come from this part of the brain will always be there. These impulses may be able to be modulated or overridden to a certain degree but they cannot be totally removed. Nor should they be as our life depends upon it.
Any addict will probably tell you that they would probably love to shut their brains down in an attempt to heal their addiction. The sex addict would like to remove their sexual impulses, the food addict would like to shut down their appetite, the alcoholic would like to shut off their opioid receptors, and the list could go on and on. We are all addicts in our own little ways. It is just that some addictions are more socially acceptable than others. One of the more off-the-wall addictions that I have encountered is the one recorded by a popular addiction expert Dr. Gabor Mate in his book "In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts" who admitted he was addicted to the purchasing of classic music CDs.
It is key to remember that for most of us the fear, anxiety, depression, and addictive behaviors we experience in life come as a result of our brain trying to preserve us. It is pain based. It is an attempt to respond to deep and searing physical or emotional experiences from our past and present. They are attempts by the brain to prevent us from taking an action that could result in suffering or even more powerfully in the case of addiction promote activities that are certain to bring pleasure and cover over pain at least temporarily. The problem is that these solutions tend to run out of steam.
In my experience, people that try to avoid life "stressors" because of a desire to feel completely safe often tend to be either depressed or anxious. This is because there is no safety or security in life. There is virtually no activity in life that is 100 % safe or secure all of the time. Eventually, the list of safe activities that are tolerable for avoiders dwindles down and down until, for some, they cannot leave the house or even their bed. The bed becomes the last safe zone. Thus, some people that avoid things tend to become more and more reclusive over time.
The same happens for addicts. The addictive activity tends to be less effective over time at masking the pain that is underneath and more and more of the activity is required. That is why for an addict it doesn't matter how much of something they have. They could have 15 million dollars or 150 million dollars of discretionary spending. They could have sex or be watching pornography and then 30 minutes later be desiring more. It doesn't matter.
Both of these activities bring painful consequences for the person and acting on these impulses and thoughts bring diminishing returns over time. They also impair our ability to magnify our true potential and to help others because as we grow personally our competency and ability to serve others also grows.
So how do we begin the road to overcoming fear or addiction?
The first thing to realize is that you are a unique and special person worthy of feeling loved and capable of changing your patterns of behavior. You can definitely be successful as you work on confronting your fears and addictions.
One potential starting point in beginning the process to overcoming your fears or addictions is to find the source of the pain that these behaviors are attempting to mask. Some people may say that they behave in a certain way because they are masking the pain of a divorce, death of a close family member, loss of childhood, having an abusive father, or a mother who didn't care. On a more surface level these may be some of reasons but they are not the deepest reasons.
According to Gary Zukav, the deeper reasons that are important to uncover include "feeling inadequate to be in the world, a pain of feeling ugly inside, a pain of wanting to belong and not belonging, a pain of needing to love and feeling that you are not capable of loving, the pain of needing to be loved and knowing that you are unlovable. It is the pain of feeling defective, inherently flawed, broken and not worth repairing. It's not wanting others to see as you really are inside yourself because they wouldn't want to have anything to do with you if they did."
Gary Zukav goes on to say that this pain is the "pain of powerlessness" and "that everybody has it...Every frightened part of your personality strives to cover that pain of powerlessness. So when you become angry, for example, and when you shout or when you withdraw emotionally you are attempting to mask from yourself the pain of powerlessness, the pain of the world not being the way you want it to be, and what the frightened parts of your personality need the world to be in order to feel safe and valuable."
I have personally found it very powerful to write in a journal all the things that tend to get me anxious, depressed, fearful and any addictive tendencies that I may have. I would urge you to do the same. I would then ask yourself why you experience these emotions and try to get as deep as you can. You can follow this exercise with asking yourself if these fears are well founded or exaggerated? Are they empowering or immobilizing in the present? If they are immobilizing then they are holding you back.
Finally, I know that there is hope for everyone to greatly benefit from this process and there is support out there if you need it. Please consult with your physician for additional support before engaging in this activity or feel free to call if you have any questions or would like to schedule a consultation.
Stay tuned for more articles to come in the following months on this subject.
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