We all have that one humiliating experience. I remember mine was in seventh grade, when a friend pulled down my pants in front of an entire class, which included a girl I had a crush on. I stood there acting like a tough guy because I thought my Batman underwear was still on.
The laughter was far louder than I expected, and when I glanced down… my ding dong was the one eying the class. That scarred me worse than my childhood fear of the Joker living under my bed. “Let’s put a smile on that face!”
That moment was traumatizing. Every moment I spoke in front of a class or to an attractive girl after that day was accompanied by a fear of being laughed at, and my left leg shaking uncontrollably. If you’d like to imagine how bad it is, imagine a pit bull aggressively humping a leg…and now take away the dog.
It sucked. It took fourteen years of working on my own operating system, while purposefully surrounding myself around people that made me feel secure, in order to overcome my social anxieties.
There isn’t one of us who doesn’t have a dramatic personal story to share. We also have experiences that are thrown in the dungeon of our subconscious, making us unaware of exactly what codes our behavior.
Our subconscious mind runs our life, and is conditioned from our interpretation of our previous experiences. For centuries, philosophers have recognized that it is not the objective world that influences us; it is how we represent and interpret the world within our mind.
Unfortunately, psychologists have also uncovered that our interpretations are formed quickly and unconsciously. When something happens to us, our brains kick into gear to make sense of why it happened. Sometimes it happens so rapidly that we don’t even know that we are interpreting, rather than observing the world.
Making Sense of the World
The mind is always trying to make sense of the world around you. It began from the first moment that you opened your eyes, and is going strong as you read this article. The mind is always trying to make sense of the world around you in order to understand that cause and effect relationship.
When you think about why you’re single or why you’re still a virgin, your mind fabricates a story to help you cope with that loneliness. Your mind tells you that maybe you haven’t found someone that meets what you are looking for. Or maybe you believe you’re too much of a loser.
Our interpretations are rooted in personal narratives about ourselves, and these narratives aren’t always so positive.
You’d never talk to other people in the same way you talk to yourself. – Unknown
From human to animal, every brain takes the present and combines it with past experiences in order to anticipate the next event. It’s easier to avoid a lion if once we figure out out that a roar (cause) indicates the presence of one who would eat them (effect).
Such is the basis for learning. It’s the basis for making sense of the world. It’s the basis for survival.
Making sense of our social world is far more complex, 1 but it still involves the same basic problem of cause and effect relationships. Your mind is constantly wondering how the verbal and nonverbal signals from other people reveal what is happening.
How do we know what will happen next? Knowing whom to trust and whom to be wary of is essential in negotiating one’s way through the human world of social interactions.
The Defective Child
Our brain is heavily vulnerable to the environment and our personal relationships – even more so in our childhood. Our survival mechanisms at birth are focused on attachment with other humans. Our primary need when we are born is not to eat, but rather to foster a relationship with our caretaker to feed us until we are capable of feeding ourselves.
Our self-views are often embedded in years of family dynamics, personal relationships, and cultural forces. When we are connected with a caretaker in our youth who is responsive, the brain develops towards close, differentiated relationships, which encourages growth.
When early relationships are abusive or unresponsive, or if the environment is stressful, the brain shapes itself in order to protect the person from future destructive relationships. It shies away from harm by encouraging or codependency. This is why some people’s defensive mechanisms include having loose boundaries.
These bad experiences can come in many different forms; our mother neglecting us, our father leaving the family, or our long-term girlfriend in college cheats on us. Any of these situations can form an inner picture of what’s happened to us, becoming the framework by which we determine who we are, what we do, and how worthwhile we are. 2
These unfortunate experiences intertwine with cultural narratives that shame us from expressing our sexual desires, asserting our needs, and being bold enough to take risks. With shame, people can have a buried belief of the self as destructive. They can feel unworthy of connection or the good life. They view themselves as “damaged goods,” and the narrator in their head reflects this.
Our experiences instantly become part of the lens through which we view our entire past, present, and future. Like any lens, they shape and distort what we see. This lens is not like a pair of spectacles that we can conveniently set on the dresser next to our bed. It’s more like a pair of contacts that are forever superglued to our eyes.
Once we learn to read, we never again see letters as mere inky squiggles. 3 The narrator in our head may form limiting beliefs that keep us tied down to the life we have, and prevents us from the life of epic relationships that we deserve.
Read how our beliefs affect our reality – Beliefs: Innocent Until Proven Guilty
- Dubar, Robin. 1993. Coevolution of Neocortical Size, Group Size, and Language in Humans. Journal of Human Evolution 20:469-93 ↩
- Miller, J., & Stiver, I. (1997). The healing connection: How women form relationships in therapy and in life. Boston: Beacon Press. ↩
- Book: Stumbling On Happiness by Daniel Gilbert (2007) ↩