Survival is the most primal instinct that human beings are wired to seek out, regardless of the consequences or implications.
Our brain is designed to shut off all logic, emotion and rational thinking when we are faced with a threat to our survival – whether the threat is real or imagined.
It could be a physical threat, like what happens when you’re walking down a dark alley alone. Or it can be a threat you perceive in your mind, such as being rejected by a loved one.
Whether it’s physical or internal, imagined or real, the outcome is the same .. your body unconsciously falls back into a primal response that you literally cannot control.
Within moments your breath quickens and becomes shallow, your heart races, and your veins fill with a cocktail of hormones designed to put you on alert. Your body shuts down all of it’s non-essential systems like digestion and problem solving so that it can focus all of your resources on one thing — ensuring you survive the situation.
In the days of sabre tooth tigers and the ongoing threat of attack by nearby tribes, human beings evolved to recognize that belonging to a tribe was the greatest strategy possible to survive.
Being in the company of other human beings meant you would likely be able to survive and work together. Being alone meant you were almost certainly sentenced to suffering and death.
In the past, it was virtually impossible to survive on your own, and this deep recognition of the need to belong and be accepted in a tribe continues to be instinctively wired into every human being today.
Over thousands of years, human beings have evolved to become the dominant species on the planet. We’ve adapted and created technology that our ancestors could have never imagined. But one thing we have not adapted away from is the need to belong.
The unconscious need to be among other human beings and to feel the sense of belonging continues to be one of the most powerful driving forces within us. Connection, love and intimacy with other human beings remain foundational cravings that every normal person feels.
And this is where the problem begins for most of us.
We enter the world in a state of shock, having been forcibly moved out of a womb of perfect bliss and peace. We’re subjected to the harsh, cold air of the world and everything we know about life changes in an instant. We can’t fend for ourselves and our very existence and survival relies on other human beings.
Soon after being born, our instinctual desire to survive begins developing rules that work to ensure we will not die. As we move through the infant stage and being to realize that we are actually from our mother, we begin to develop rules and shortcuts that allow us to survive.
As we pass through the stage of being helpless and entirely reliant on others, we remain the centre of the universe — our universe — with every need taken care of for us. As we begin to gain the ability to crawl, to walk and to speak, the rules we learned to survive start breaking down, and don’t work any more.
It used to be that when you were hungry or scared, you simply made a loud noise and you were comforted and given what you needed. But now, as a young child in a grocery store, screaming because you’re afraid of something or because you’re hungry actually causes a different response in your parent.
Not only do you not get the reassurance of safety and love that you once did, your parent may react in anger to you, rejecting your need entirely and causing you to feel even more scared and confused. Alone.
At an unconscious level, your brain begins to realize that to receive the acceptance and love you are biologically wired to need, you must begin to respond in a way that ensures you get this acceptance. You start to adapt how you behave and what you say so that you can avoid the painful rejection of others.
You learn that in order to have your mother smile and look at you lovingly, you must behave in a certain way — even if it doesn’t feel natural to you. By acting in a way that pleases others, you are able to get the reaction and response that makes you feel accepted and loved.
You learn that acceptance and love are based on certain conditions being true.
So your unconscious brain works very hard to try and create those conditions in order to bring you the acceptance you so deeply need. Because again, in our brain wiring, acceptance is the equivalent of survival.
As you expand your experiences with other people beside your parents, you learn that everyone appears to operate in this world of conditional acceptance.
Your teacher smiles and reassures you when you act in a certain way, but takes away that acceptance when you don’t meet the unspoken conditions they’ve set.
You feel a sense of belonging and acceptance with your friends when you act in certain ways, but you are cast out and ridiculed when you violate certain rules and boundaries that are set by “the tribe”.
You quickly learn that gaining acceptance from others is much easier when you adapt and change to other people’s expectations and standards.
Avoiding the pain of rejection is much easier when you start acting, thinking and behaving in a certain way — even though it’s not authentic to who you really are.
And so, the die is cast.
Like software running on a computer, your brain has been installed with this fundamental operating system that runs in your unconscious. It begins to dominate your behaviour and decision making, influencing every major decision you’ll make in your life.
It all comes down to this question:
Will you choose to be authentic, or will you choose to be accepted?
And like most people, you’ll reach a point in your life when you step back for a moment, look up and think to yourself .. “HOW THE HELL DID I GET HERE?”
Welcome to being human.
Now you know how you got here.
The question is, what are you going to do about it?