Theory of Mind
The mind is born with two responses to a threat: fight and flight, marshaled by the survival instinct in the primitive part of the brain. Fight and flight are meant to be temporary. In nature, the mind-body quickly returns to rest to heal, grow, and learn.
The experiences that we survive without harm are accepted by the mind-body – it is the unknown that is uncomfortable.
The early mind has two basic emotions: euphoria and fear. These emotions cause us to see experiences as “good” or “bad.” Both reactions have survival benefit: euphoria builds social bonding while fear guides our self-preservation. The newborn learns from their parents how to balance the two. This control comes from the thinking part of our brain, which learns to intervene in the activation of the fight/flight response.
Around eight years of age, as we venture out into the world alone, unknowns threaten to overwhelm us. To control the exposure of the mind-body to new experiences, the brain develops a barrier called the critical mind. Atop the barrier is the conscious mind that uses logic, reason, and analysis to test information. Below the barrier is the subconscious mind that adapts the body to meet the demands placed upon it. While our ego (or self) lives in the conscious mind, the subconscious does seven times as much work for us. When there is a conflict between our conscious goals and subconscious motivations, the subconscious generally wins.
Naturally the subconscious places survival above everything else. Given that much of the learning we do in school doesn’t apply to our home life, it sets up powerful barriers to prevent school from changing our behavior. In fact, it ignores everything we learn during the day until we fall asleep at night. During sleep, the subconscious sorts through the new experiences and knowledge and figures out which it is willing to accept as new knowns. Note that if we don’t get enough sleep, we lose a large portion of what we learn.
If accepted, the subconscious then goes carefully about deciding whether the new knowns require behavior changes, and whether it thinks that change is safe. This occurs in dreams. At the end of the night, the subconscious takes a last, cautious step: in the “venting” dreams just before waking, it advises the conscious mind “hey, we’re going to get rid of this old behavior/attitude – is that OK?” Examples might be: “Even though Mom’s cookies were great, we’re beginning to realize that sugar does not equal love.”
If the conscious mind disagrees, the subconscious will continue to work on the problem until a solution is found. During these episodes, our venting dreams will tend to repeat each morning.
The most important consequence of this process is that the conscious mind grows up faster than the subconscious. This is evident in adolescence as we prepare to leave the family home. The subconscious can become overwhelmed with all the changes, and simply decide to stay stuck with childhood behaviors and attitudes.
While adolescence is a universal experience, the same thing can happen at any time during our lives when changes come too fast. This is why an otherwise happy person is challenged by moving, changing jobs or having a child – all things that should be seen as opportunities.
In those situations, hypnotherapy facilitates a direct dialog between the conscious and subconscious, allowing us to replace outdated behaviors and grasp opportunities.