You have come off the phone from a conversation with a friend and your internal voice is raging at you. “You did it again! Why? Why? Why? I thought you said you wouldn’t do that again.” You feel angry with yourself, disappointed, maybe, or even ashamed. You had promised yourself you would never EVER behave like that again. But you’ve just done it, yet again.
What is happening to you? Why can’t you react how you would like to in these situations? You have been over and over again and again and it seems so simple, but in the heat of the moment, it’s impossible. You react without thinking and before you know it has acted or said something that you wanted to avoid. The above scenario is the result of the subconscious trying to protect us. The majority of our behaviour is controlled by the subconscious. It is automatic. When you first learn to drive, you have to consciously think about all the mechanics of driving -changing gears, steering, controlling the speed. All your attention is focused on driving. But eventually, with repetition, it becomes automatic, and you are also able to focus on other things such as having a conversation whilst driving. When you get into a different car and the indicator is on the right side of the steering wheel instead of the left, it takes a few goes at getting it wrong, and correcting yourself, to change the “indicator on the left” file to “indicator on the right”. This scenario is not emotionally charged and so is easy to update. It is the emotionally charged behaviours which are challenging to change.
The subconscious and conscious brains.
The brain is made up of the subconscious and the conscious. The subconscious brain makes up 90%, is on the right side. It is creative and its role is to protect us. It is the emotional brain. The conscious brain is the remaining 10%. It is on the left side of the brain and is involved in thinking, and working things out. It is the logical part of the brain.
When we are born, our subconscious is up and running but it is empty. Until about the age of 7yrs, the subconscious is uploading all our experiences, so that we know how to operate in the big wide world. So, we take on board how our mother deals with spiders, how our father deals with a confrontation with the neighbour, how they react to going to the dentist, and how our mother greets a friend in the park. All these files are stored in the subconscious. Some of these will have emotions attached to them. If a spider is thrown at you in jest as a child aged 5, and your reaction is ridiculed by bystanders, the emotion of embarrassment may be attached to this file. Your subconscious doesn’t like that emotion, so you develop a phobia of spiders because spiders are linked with embarrassment. The subconscious can be compared to buying a new computer and before you can use it all the relevant files need to be installed on it with each file having a different function.
We have all heard the expression “push someone’s buttons”. Someone does or says something to another person and it sparks, usually, a negative reaction. So, what is happening here? Let us take the example of the spider. A friend teases you by pointing out a spider, knowing how you will react. This causes sudden panic because the sight of the spider immediately links it to the initial incident when we were 5 yrs old. We just can’t help it.
The subconscious is protecting us from being embarrassed again, despite our thinking very logically about spiders when we are calm and relaxed. The above example is a very obvious file in the subconscious. But we have millions of files, controlling many different behaviours and situations, some of them often subtle. For example, you notice that you always feel uneasy in the company of men with facial hair. You can’t put your finger on why, and thinking rationally about it, there is no reason to feel like this. But, maybe, when you were at Primary School the head teacher had facial hair, and as a young child, you were scared of him. This has been logged in the subconscious as “men with facial hair are scary”. You may not remember that you felt scared, but your subconscious does!
Addicted to Food.
Food is necessary for survival and so makes up an important part of our lives. For this reason, many different emotions may become attached to food when we are children. A child falls over and just won’t stop crying so the mother gives her chocolate to quieten her. Later in life, if someone has knocked this adult at work, or a friend has let her down at the last minute, she finds herself reaching for the chocolate. When life becomes more challenging, she finds herself reaching for the chocolate even more. The chocolate seems to hit the spot, but she doesn’t know why, and even though she thinks about it logically, things don’t seem to change. This again is the subconscious at work. As a child, the subconscious attached a feeling of, perhaps, being comforted by chocolate.
Can these files be changed?
Yes, they can. We are always keen to talk about negative events that have happened to us. We do talk about positive experiences, but negative events have more impact and last longer. Negative emotions are much more powerful than positive ones. As a result, negative events can wipe out years of positive files in one go – a bit like your computer getting a virus and destroying the files. Years of enjoying flying can be wiped out with one traumatic flight, which involved going through a thunderstorm, turbulence, thunder, lightning and petrified passengers. This one incident could, in the right circumstances, be enough to produce a fear of flying. Reversing this file back to feeling safe with flying through actively takes very much longer. What tends to happen is that fear is so great that the subconscious forces you to avoid any more flights because that is safer. Dr Andrea Haas