You may have seen it in others or perhaps experienced it yourself. Someone starts off with great intentions towards change and self-improvement only to become discouraged and give up. Today's lesson explains why that might happen and how to work through emotional walls when they arise. Being properly informed, empowers us to keep going and experience healing, peace, and growth.
Earlier, I shared a personal story about struggling with feelings that I wasn't loveable or worthy of love and belonging. I found the root of those feelings to be an event when I was 6 years old, where I blamed myself for things that really weren't my fault. However, just knowing the truth wasn't enough to change a lifetime of habits and beliefs. I was like a recovering addict who wanted to keep going back to what was familiar. It seems so strange to want to go back, but there is a feeling of safety in familiarity. The unknown can be scary, and my mind kept telling me that what I had always believed things like I wasn't good enough, and wasn't loveable. Those things were true, and these new ideas that I was good enough and I had just misunderstood things when I was a kid were lies. I hit an emotional wall, I couldn't move forward, and I didn't want to move forward into that scary unknown filled with lies like "I was good enough," yeah right, that's obviously a lie. I wanted to go back to what was familiar. Why does our mind do that?
To understand why we hit emotional walls, it's helpful to understand a little about the normal function of the brain. There is a network of neurons located in the brain stem called the Reticular Activating System (or RAS) which is the gateway into the brain. All of the sensory information that we encounter first enters through the RAS, which determines where to send it. The Reticular Activating System acts as a filter, so we don't become overwhelmed by an overload of information.
The job of the RAS is very important because it is estimated that the human brain takes in 11 million bits of information every second, but on average we're only consciously aware of 40 bits of information. So when I say that the RAS filters information, I'm not talking about filtering out a little bit of information, I'm talking about a major filtering process. It is the job of the RAS to decide what is important and what can be safely ignored. When the RAS is deficient, such as in cases of autism, ADD, and ADHD, too much information is allowed into the conscious mind, and it causes a sensory overload and a difficulty in concentration and ability to focus. So the job of the RAS is very important to our safety, comfort, and functionality.
However, the next question is, or should be, how does the RAS decide which information is important? It makes those decisions based on automatic programming that you and I created without even being aware of it. It is done on a subconscious level and is largely determined by what we focus on. If we spend a lot of time focusing on a particular thing, then the automatic subconscious programming of the RAS assumes that information must be important.
That's why when you're trying to buy a new car and have been researching a particular make and model, all of the sudden you start to notice that car everywhere. The truth is that the cars were there all along, but the RAS considered that information to be something that was safe to ignore. However, now that you're focusing on it, the RAS figures that it must be important, so it points them out for you.
The automatic subconscious programming of the RAS causes some problems when we're dealing with mental and emotional issues such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. A person who is struggling with depression is often focused on thoughts like: my life is miserable; people would be better off without me; there is no hope, etc. A person who is struggling with feelings of low self-esteem often has circulating thoughts like: I'm not good enough, nobody likes me, I'm a failure, etc. Because these are the predominant thought patterns, the RAS uses this as the basis for determining what is important.
This means that anything that doesn't support those negative feelings is filtered out and the only information that enters the conscious are those things that support the depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, failure mentality, etc. This strengthens and builds on the problem by continually adding "evidence" that the feelings of depression or low self-esteem are valid, and the situation becomes progressively worse.
The job of our subconscious is to keep us safe. And without knowing it or being aware of it, we chose the parameters of what safety looks like. It looks familiar. It looks like what we already know and feel comfortable with.
That means that, if we say or do something that is contrary to the current subconscious programming of what is familiar, the brain considers this a dangerous threat and sends out a warning that in order to be safe, you need to go back.
When that warning hits, it feels like running into an impenetrable wall, and people naturally give up. When I was going through this process, I hit that wall immediately, and I wanted to give up on day one. It's difficult to adequately describe, but it literally felt like I was going to die. I felt all the emotional and physiological symptoms as if my life was being threatened, and my subconscious warned me that the only safe option was to go back. It was awful. Indescribably awful.
Fortunately, I had been warned that this would happen, so I knew what to do. To get through that wall, I used one of the tools from an emotional first aid kit. I'll be explaining what an emotional first aid kit is and how to use it in the next lesson.
In closing, I'd like to share a quote by writer Elber Hubbard. He says, "There is no failure except in no longer trying."