How Do I Get Outta Here?! Stuck in Our Mental/Emotional Feedback Loops
Feb 7, 2019 | By: toni gordon
Part 1 - Thousands of Years of Bad Habit
Human beings have a terrible and ancient habit of collecting and storing negative emotional experiences. We do it from the time we are in our mother’s womb. To oversimplify a bit, our bodies are built to stash away emotional events that we can't quite understand or make peace with. The mind is wired to use that emotional debris to construct our perception of reality and to alert us to a threat. In fact, the mind often determines if something is a threat based on what was frightening as an infant or toddler, such as mom or dad leaving me alone in the cave to be eaten by bears. In simple terms, our brain is constantly making life decisions based on the experiences of a two-year-old.
Unfortunately, our adult minds are perpetually connected to possibly hundreds of unprocessed emotions that were imprinted as a child and uses those as our reference point for our present (and this discussion does not include the role of karma, topic for another day). For example, if a child experiences a growling dog with no adults around, that then becomes a future reference point; dogs signal danger and fear. We are perpetually responding to the majority of these fears without realizing it. They become reflexes.
We can begin to understand that we have a countless number of experiences creating our own unique framework for life and living. For you dogs are scary, for my neighbour dogs are cuddly and companionship. But which one is true? Unfortunately, the brain and sympathetic nervous system do not care about the truth. They only care about safety. They are dedicated to listening to the thousands of alarm bells that we create and expand upon over the years. It cares about keeping us alive, so it is solely dedicated to scoping out growling dogs and being sure to ignite a fight or flight response when we are exposed to even a picture of a dog. Add experiences such as ‘My brother is always stealing my toys.” to ‘My friends laughed at my new pants,” and our world view gradually begins taking shape, constructed with all sorts of emotional warning signs.
And so we move into our adulthood with a map already laid out about what to expect, not just from dogs, but from other human beings. For the vast majority, we are not aware that these alarm bells exist; they float in the background of our psyche, believing they are doing a great job steering our lives away from pain and disaster, creating nice, cosy limitations in which we can safely exist. Sometimes these are disguised as little alarm bells - like your heart beating just a little faster when you have to talk to a stranger - to big alarm bells - “If I get on that plane, we will all crash and die!” Or “How dare you think that way!” And we can have thousands of micro alarm bells going off all of the time. The mind leaps on them and tries to make sense of the feeling by applying some ‘rational’ thought. It tells us - “Don’t tell them that about yourself”, “don’t look them in the eye,” “don’t say too much,”, “be sure to smile,” “don’t smile too much,” “make sure they like you,” “be sure you wear that shirt,” “did I talk too loud?” “will they think I'm an idiot because I haven't read that book?” And more often than not there is no thought attached, but an automatic response such as anxiety, avoidance, irritation that just shows up uninvited, but is very committed. We are literally stuck in perpetual feedback loops where mind and emotional imprints are constantly talking to each other. Our unprocessed emotions scan for danger and signal an alarm, alarm and response validate the scanning for danger so we keep scanning. And around and around we go, perpetually linked to our past and rarely able to feel the present.
When we live in states of high stress, these alarm bells are even more likely to go off. They go off more frequently and they grow in intensity until everything then becomes anxiety provoking or enraging. Or it becomes too much and our mind/body just shuts down, otherwise known as depression. Either way, the feedback loops get etched more firmly, and now all we can do is go along for the ride, convinced by the mind and unprocessed emotions that everything that we are thinking and feeling is real.
But what if we begin to understand that it isn’t? What if we pause and really begin to comprehend that the majority of what we are experiencing is based on outdated information and our minds and nervous systems have hijacked our reality? How do we get out of these feedback loops? Well, of course, one good step would be connecting with a good therapist that can help you see these feedback loops, otherwise known as patterns, and assist in exploring ways of cooling them down, finding a way out, or distancing from them a bit. Another great step would be, you guessed it…..silence! Why silence? Because good silence brings you into the present moment, into Real Time, and disconnects you from feedback loops. And that, my friends, is where the magic happens.
More to come in Part 2 on the wonders of meditation, present moment and Real Time and how they can be used to heal our feedback loops.