Sunday, January 23, 2011

Working with Introjected Parental Voices

All of us, as children, development a "part" in our psyches that stands in for our most critical parent - these internalized "objects" (using the terminology of object relations psychology) are called introjects. They function much the same as inner critics in various forms of subpersonality work, or as "parent" parts in the subconscious mind.

These introjects take many forms - the critical parent (my father), the worrying parent (my mother), the shaming parent, or (among many other variations) - if you are lucky - the supportive parent.

Getting to know these inner voices that our not our own is an important piece in developing our unique identity as men, as adults. As long as we are acting out introjected "parental objects" we are not acting from our individual perspective. When act from these voices, we are often enacting unhealthy behaviors for our current relationships.

This article from Athena Staik, Ph.D at Neuroscience & Relationships looks at the scared or worrying parent part. Most of us have some variation of this.

Maybe every time you consider doing something risky you hear your mother's voice in the back of your head, "Be careful! Don't hurt yourself." And maybe you've generalized this voice to asking for what you need at work, or from your partner, of even to asking a woman (or man) out for a date.

Neuroscience and Relationships

When your subconscious mind acts like a scared parent, interrupting your life or resisting your efforts to implement change, with its hyper-reactive protective instincts, more than anything, its greatest need is, first, assuring words from you, then, follow up actions that emphatically say you now take full responsibility for the care of yourself and life.

Like a scared parent, your subconscious won’t let go of its protective role without assurance, in word and deed, that you can survive on your own. How will you take charge of your life and its direction, however, when a “parent” compulsively takes over in crisis?

What does it mean to have an overprotective subconscious?

It likely means you have, inadvertently, trained your subconscious mind to rescue you. Somehow, it has come to believe that:

  • You cannot handle events that trigger uncomfortable emotions inside you.
  • Your survival, thus, is in danger whenever you experience emotional discomfort, such as hurt, shame or disappointment—all of which are a form of fear.
  • You “need” it to alert you, by activating your body’s survival response, to defend yourself with automatic protective strategies.

In other words, it holds certain limiting beliefs in memory that lead to the conclusion that you absolutely need help you avoid feeling emotional pain.

Why is your subconscious acting like a scared parent?

Basically, it’s scared because it believes your physical survival is still at stake in situations that trigger painful emotions, when in reality it is not (hopefully)!

In charge of habit formation, the subconscious keeps of a special pool of data in cellular memory, an accrued record of memories from birth. It places particular weight on early neural patterns that were formed in the first three to five years of life, a period when you were particularly vulnerable — emotionally.

This was a time when fears of rejection or abandonment were actual threats to your physical survival. As babies do not survive without love, your physical survival at this time depended on feeling safe by feeling loved.

The subconscious turns to this accrued data as a reliable source of information that helps it ensure your survival.

Each time it activates one of your defense strategies, such as an angry outbursts, blame, procrastination, etc., your body releases hormones that lower your anxiety to some degree. These quick-fix strategies release the love-and-safety hormone Oxytocin into the blood stream.

As a result, your subconscious mind concludes that this strategy “still works.” Defensiveness, however, causes problems in relationships.

The truth is that, as an adult, you can handle feeling your fears and anxieties, in fact, in order to effectively handle them, you must be willing to fully feel them, understand them as action signals, and so on.

So, how do you take your life back from an overprotective “parent”?

Read the rest of the article to get the answers to that question.

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