I’ve heard it said that the underlying cause of all emotional problems is the fear of being unloveable. Based on my experience as a therapist, I’m not convinced that this is true of all the issues I’ve ever helped with, but I do believe that there is a lot of truth in the statement.
The primary driver of all behaviour is survival and therefore it follows that on some unconscious level even the most negative-seeming behaviour must have a positive intention, (i.e. the survival of the organism).
Every second of every day our five senses are bombarded with incoming information. On a conscious level there’s no way we can process it all. So the unconscious mind needs to filter it and decide which information we need to be consciously aware of. It does this by scanning through all our memories to find situations from the past that were similar to what we’re currently faced with. It then creates an emotion to force us to react in the way it deems most likely to be beneficial to our well-being, with survival as it’s number one priority.
This dates back to the days when we lived in small groups on the Savannah Plains of Africa and we haven’t evolved much biologically since those times. Back then our very survival depended on an instantaneous reaction to anything that could in any way have been perceived as a threat. We wouldn’t have lasted long if we stood around wondering whether the yellow crouching creature with the huge molars and swishing tail wanted to eat us. We needed to react fast and so at first sight of this possible predator, our unconscious minds would have triggered a fear response and released the chemicals necessary for the the flight/fight/freeze response to kick in.
And back in those times everyone was dependent on the protection and security of the tribe. No-one could have survived unless they were part of a group. Hunting and gathering, childrearing and physical safety were all a group endeavor. To lose your place in the tribe would almost certainly have led to your premature death.
So you can see how anything that was perceived as a threat to someones place in the tribe would have created anxiety and why we’re still such social creatures now, even though our immediate survival may not be so obviously dependent on our being part of a group.
And of course for babies and children this was even more true because they’re so completely dependent on the adults around them to keep them alive. As we all know child rearing is a time consuming and labour intensive process and so there needed to be an incentive for their parents to care for them. They needed to be loveable. This is why babies (and in fact the young of most animals, especially mammals) are just so cute and adorable.
But this in itself may not be enough and so children have an inbuilt drive to make their parents love them. It’s as if they instinctively know they need their parents love and acceptance in order to remain alive. So they quickly learn to adapt their behaviour to this purpose.
If, for whatever reason we’re made to feel unloved as a child we’re likely to carry the ensuing anxiety through into adulthood, resulting in insecurities, low self regard and limiting beliefs about our worthiness as people. It’s not difficult to see how the negative emotions that follow on from this could be behind many of the issues that are presented to therapy.
If someone believes deep down they are unloveable they will never feel happy no matter how well they’ve learnt to gain the approval of others. They go through life with an underlying fear of being found out and an unconscious fear that others will somehow see the real ‘unloveable’ person beneath the exterior they portray to the world. These are the people pleasers who are afraid to upset others and who go to extraordinary lengths to keep others happy at the expense of their own emotional well-being.
So what can be done in therapy to change these negative effects. Luckily quite a lot.
It’s never too late to have a happy childhood …
… or at least that’s what’s been said by many, including amongst others, author Tom Robbins.
Of course we know we can’t go back and actually change the past but it’s true nonetheless that we can change the emotional and psychological effects of the things that have happened to us.
Memories aren’t fixed. Although it might seem to us as if our memories are stored in our brains like a movie or a series of photographs, they actually change every time we bring them to mind.
This is a really good thing because it means we can use the techniques of Cognitive Hypnotherapy to reframe negative memories and thereby change the effects of past events to something more positive. This has a knock- on effect as the unconscious mind can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s imagined and so we can create the illusion of a past that doesn’t impact negatively on our present selves and future lives.