Natural Instincts: Why we override them and how to fix it.
They say that when our alarm goes off on a cold dark morning, so that we can get to work on time, we override 43 separate natural instincts. FOURTY THREE!! Yet many of us do this daily and really without a second thought (other than we’d rather not!)
As a hypnotherapist I often try to help people get back in touch with their bodies and start to work with their instincts. Find their instincts or even understand their instincts. I am slowly realising there is a huge difference between saying we’re following instincts and following instincts. Personally engulfed in the parenting world right now, I claim to be part of the natural parenting community. The ethos of natural parenting is almost as simple as following instincts. Except we are all reading, reading and reading to make sure we are following our instincts. Putting a baby to sleep alone is not following instincts, no other mammal does this. Laying a baby in a pram is not instinctual, cave men didn’t have prams you see! So many of our natural instincts have been well and truly lost. Replaced by instincts derived from what our society dictates.
If we can override those 43 separate instincts and get to work on time daily, with not much difficulty. What else are we doing that is not really what our body & brain want us to be doing?
Unconscious and Conscious Mind
It is thought that our brain has an unconscious and a conscious. The conscious being a very small part. Whilst the unconscious, some may say, is split into three. The personal unconscious; built on our personal experiences, memories that are not active and habits learnt early in life. The social unconscious; built upon beliefs, often relevant to society or culture. Taken on from significant authoritative figures such as parents, teachers, doctors etc. And the biological unconscious, our instincts. Our instinct to breathe – something we’ve never been taught or had to think about. Or the instinct for a baby to cry when put down, a very important survival instinct.
There are the beliefs of many authoritative figures in psychology. Carl Jung said that our unconscious comprises archetypes, “ancient or archaic images that derive from the collective unconscious” and the personal unconscious. Containing all that was once conscious but has been forgotten or suppressed. He felt that the collective unconscious was a part of the mind we are all born with. Very much like instincts but separate from the instincts which he viewed as “an unconscious physical impulse toward actions and the archetype as the psychic counterpart”. Freud believed in The Ego, Superego and ID (instincts & drive).
Freud said that the Ego was present in both the conscious and subconscious mind but acted as a mediator between the ID, superego and real life. The Ego prevents, if you like, the instinctual part of the brain from acting in a way that would be antisocial. The Superego, according to Freud, develops when we take on ideas and beliefs from those around us, parents and society. It develops after the ego, appearing at about five years of age. (The Ego being developed around the ages of zero – three). The Superego is also working in the conscious and unconscious. Finally the ID, present at birth, is what rules children entirely and is there to fulfil our most basic urges which are generally a basic need for survival.
Science tells us that instinct in every animal is, brought about by survival. David Barash’s, question (to understand possible evolutionary roots of any behaviour) “Why is sugar sweet?” allows us to peruse this idea. It is thought that we feel an attraction to sugar because of its content in ripe fruit. Fruit is most nutritious when ripe and when ripe it is brimming with sugars. Our ancestors ate fruit for survival. Those who ate the most fruit would be the strongest and most attractive. Therefore most likely to have babies. Those with the taste for ripe fruit would have had a greater chance of survival, pass on the gene as they reproduced and continue the cycle. Of course today we have refined sugars. Our instinct is to eat sweet things but we choose the cake and sweets. Society and culture confuse our instincts, or maybe they just confuse us. We still try to follow instincts but get it wrong.
The Prefrontal Cortex
This is more understandable when thinking about the prefrontal cortex in your brain. The part that regulates your behaviour yet develops last and is not fully developed until the age of 25. It’s development is therefore directly related to your life experiences. Beliefs of those around you, how you get treated, what society dictates etc. This part of your brain regulates behaviour and therefore any natural instincts. As this part of your brain develops while you grow it is not surprising that young people feel so confused and occasionally act in ways that are so detrimental. With anything in life we can ask ourselves “How might behaving in that way have increased the chances of survival and reproduction for our ancestors?” if it wouldn’t have you can probably assume its a learned reaction rather than a natural instinct.
Nature of Nurture?
Whichever you look at (and please bear in mind there are many more opinions out there), it seems that there is an agreement we are born with certain instincts but in the early years other parts of our brain adapt and develop. The instinctual part stays the same as it was at birth but the other part/s change according to your life experiences. Life experiences may help you to work alongside your survival instincts or against. If you are constantly fighting for survival as a baby, science says that the development of your prefrontal cortex is impaired.
Freud or Jung say that we suppress emotions that affect us later on. If you know only foods that contain refined sugars, when your brain craves sugar you will turn to these as they are all you know. Instead of the real instinct which is towards natural sugars. Of course the affect can actually be more serious. If, for example, a baby is left to cry she will go quite. This is logical, initially the natural instinct of survival when left alone is to cry, alerting the parents to the danger. Naturally the parents return to retrieve the baby ensuring its safety. If there is no response to the crying the baby will fall silent – again a survival tool. Noise attracts predators. If this pattern is regularly repeated the baby learns that no matter how much effort it puts in there is no effect and results in learned helplessness.
Learned helplessness can cause amongst other problems, depression and physical health problems in adulthood due to beliefs surrounding lack of control and power to change. With the help of hypnotherapy one can find that control and power to change. Beginning to understand the body, mind and natural instincts. There are many other aspects of our personality that may cause confusion in adulthood simply because there is a conflict in the brain between the natural instinct and the beliefs we have taken on from society. This is why I say on my website that some people come to see me because they simply do not feel right. Not only can you work out why you don’t feel right but you can find the power to move forwards so that you CAN feel right and actually quite good.