I want to now engage a very closely related subject to the ‘self-aware’ conscious fear. This is because the most limiting fears of all are the sub-conscious ones.
Most of my professional work has been in creating programs where people are provided the circumstances and are placed in an environment so that can experience, engage and overcome an irrational fear Yet, is it an “irrational fear” to be concerned and afraid of being killed or severely wounded in an actual military combat situation? No, it is not; in combat this is a rational fear.
But the larger and much more important question is ‘does that fear truly serve me’?
The answer is that it absolutely does not serve us if that fear dominates our actions and responses in combat. The fear itself may be quite rational, but we must learn to control and even use that fear rather than the other way around.
Much of our behavior occurs and originates from a non self-aware level of the mind. I will give you a very concrete example of this, one that you may have actually experienced yourself.
Have you ever taught someone to drive a car, your kid perhaps? You are thus sitting in the passenger seat of the car and of course there is no brake pedal on that side of the car. Your self-aware mind knows that too. But guess what? Your non self-aware mind does not know this.
Consequently when you perceive that the car is not stopping quickly enough for the upcoming stop sign your foot involuntarily begins stomping repeatedly and furiously and automatically on the non-existent brake pedal on the passenger side of the car!
Now obviously this action and motor response of stomping on the non-existent brake pedal is not originating or being ‘decided upon’ in your self-aware mind at all.
This motor response (stomping the ‘brake pedal’) is your involuntary reaction to seeing that you or another car might run the stop sign. Running a stop sign could be deadly so your body automatically discharges a bit of adrenaline into your blood stream. This occurs under the evolutionary developed “fight or flight’ mechanism.
But how did this stomping at the brake pedal response get programmed into you on a non self-aware level the first place? This is a mechanism that is a very key thing to understand. The action of your foot stomping on the brake pedal was created by your previous driving experience which elicited an adrenal discharge..
In the past you almost crashed or did crash, or you ran a stop sign or a red light or someone else did and when that occurred your body was flushed with adrenaline. As a result almost instantly there was created an ‘adrenal memory’ and an associated motor response.
Also, ‘incidental environmental triggers’ were established associated with this incident. These triggers were recorded into your sub-conscious mind. That motor response of hitting the brake from that point on in time now no longer requires the intervention of your conscious self-aware mind anymore. It happens automatically. Your foot reflexively hits the brake (whether there is a brake pedal there or not) when the threat of a ‘crash’ is ‘perceived’. And that is true whether the perception of the potential crash is real or not.
There are two extraordinarily significant things that are very illuminating to fully understand here about how the mind works. The first is that this biochemistry is the underlying mechanism for all forms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
The second thing is to realize that the ‘perceived danger’ does not have to actually exist to create or to elicit the adrenal dump or the associated motor response; it only has to be ‘perceived’ to exist by the ‘body’ physiologically and not even necessarily perceived by the self-aware mind.
The advantages of a combat training methodology based on these realities should be self-evident. But a therapeutic program for treating PTSD can also be realized by an appreciation of these biochemical phenomena.
I have been able establish more than one such therapy and also other effective training programs that turned on this ‘special way’ that neural nets are created when they are formed under adrenal stress. I have been successfully applying them for over twenty years now. It thus isn’t theory to me anymore; it is a practical tool that I use habitually and I will even say sometimes to a remarkable and positive effect.
But in a military training context for the most part the training methodology is almost forced to be ‘drill and repetition’ to take the self-aware mind out of the ‘action’ decision loop. This is because thousands have to be trained quickly. But the far more time efficient and effective training method is ‘adrenal stress conditioning through scenario-based training’. But this training methodology can only be employed with precision and its full and tremendously powerful effect with numerically smaller groups of persons.
Here is another example of how the adrenal release effects memory which once again you should be able to relate to through your own experience
When I am addressing a group on this subject. I will ask the audience “Who remembers where they were and exactly what they were doing when they heard the news that JFK was assassinated?”
Since some people were not yet born when JFK was assassinated I also ask ” Who can remember exactly where they were and in detail what they were doing when the heard the news that the Space Shuttle Challenger had exploded and crashed into the sea?”
Most every had is raised in the affirmative to one or both of these questions. But when I ask what they were doing twenty minutes earlier than that on that same day, very, very few have any recollection of what they were doing then with any detail at all.
Then picking a few people out of the audience I will ask them to explain in detail where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news of either tragedy. The amount of detail they recall is surprising to everyone there.
These people will recall things totally irrelevant to the historical event too. Some examples might be ‘The Talking Heads were on the radio’ or ‘I had just opened a Diet Coke and I remember holding it my hand and when it plopped out of the machine and I felt it and it was not as cold as I liked’.
They remember a great deal of vibrant detail at the moment of hearing the traumatic news story even though it occurred so many years ago, even nearly 50 years ago in regard to the JFK assassination.
The reason is that their hearing the tragic news created an adrenal memory for them. Adrenal memories are stored differently than non-adrenal memories and they are more detailed and more persistent memories too.
Adrenal memories are also closer to the organ in the brain called the amygdala. This is the ‘frog brain’ or “primitive, non ‘self-aware brain”. And that ‘reptile brain’ is ‘hard wired’ to your motor control centers. That is precisely why you can hit that brake so extraordinarily fast in a driving emergency! And this is also why ‘your foot’ tries to hit that pedal in such a ‘perceived emergency’ whether that brake pedal is actually there or not.
Memories created under the adrenal release are more permanent and have greater and a more detailed ‘mind’s eyes’ fidelity upon recall than any memory created under a non-adrenal state. When the people heard of either of these disasters, JFK’s assassination or the crash of the Space Shuttle, a mild adrenal release was affected and so the news they heard became an adrenal memory for them.
However, observe that the people also recall in detail the environmental or ‘incidental’ factors about them when they heard that adrenal electing news. These things might be, the smell of the air, the heat or cold or humidity, some sounds, or whatever was playing on the radio etc, when they heard this tragic news.
Once again we see all the elements of PTSD here. There is thus an environmental trigger for a PTSD episode too and it might be; ‘the smell of the air, the heat or cold or humidity, some sounds, or whatever was playing on the radio’. Any of the things that were present in the environment when the traumatic episode occurred (and released the adrenal complex) can later become the triggers for the PTSD episode.
Understand that the ‘adrenal trigger’ may not always reach the self-aware mind too. So the veteran that goes into that Butterfly Pavilion may suddenly feel sick and nauseous and yet have no idea as to why. He may almost involuntarily leave that environment at once and then once outside he begins to feel better. The PTSD incident may go thus go unexamined and remain as not being understood as being PTSD.
The survival value that this special biochemistry has provided us through our evolutionary development is reasonably obvious. Nature or Evolution is not directed toward any individual’s survival, let alone any individual’s mental well-being either. Nature is only works towards the survival of the species as a whole. PTSD episodes are not theoretical things to me personally either.
Human biochemistry underwrites a good deal of our behaviors and particularly the ones that we are not fully self-aware of. But this is also a case of where somehow the “Sum of the parts are Greater than the Whole” too. In the next article we will take a look at what is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of all of this biochemistry.
And that is the very same subject that the majority of all the world’s literature, music and art in any form has had as its subject and theme for centuries. And ‘cross culturally’ globally too. That’s subject is the arena of ‘love and romance’. And as some of you surely know, that arena can be a battlefield too.
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