Our In-Built Security Guard
During earlier periods of our evolution our brains were significantly different from today. The larger outer
hemispheres did not exist along with all of the capabilities associated with these such as rational thinking, planning,
self-awareness etc. Instead we had a much smaller primitive instinctive brain whose sole responsibility was to
keep us alive. Essentially this primitive brain acted like a security guard by focussing our senses on potential
threats in what was a relatively threatening environment in those early days.
When one or more of our senses picked up something potentially threatening or dangerous the security guard
would immediately raise an alarm and focus our entire attention on reacting quickly enough to survive. We
would not have stopped to think about what to do, we would have simply acted in a purely instinctive way.
This security guard then has had a vital role to play in keeping us alive as a species and without it, we would not
have survived. Today, we still have this part of the brain but we call it the emotional brain, and we call the alarm it
triggers, the fight-or-flight mechanism. It still has that same important role to perform although in
the world of today, the definition of threat has become much more complex. However although our perception of
threat has changed, the message from the Security guard is still clear. Get out of here, quickly! We recognise this
as emotional distress.
Emotional distress in our current society is treated within a medical model where a diagnosis is performed,
a label attached and medication most usually prescribed. We use terms such as depression, anxiety, panic
-attacks to label these conditions, where in reality the distress is simply a perfectly normal human reaction to something
in life which the individual feels threatened by.
Consider a simple example where you accidentally lift a hot plate. Apart from the physical pain, you are
probably angry or perhaps feel stupid and there is clearly some emotional distress associated with the act. This
emotional content is strong and when the memory of this accident is recorded, the emotional arousal will
simply help you to remember not to repeat this action. You donít become anxious or panicky, you choose
to be more careful in a calm and rational way.
In a more extreme example perhaps involving abuse, suicide, car crashes, where the risk as assessed
by the security guard is much greater, then these memories are stored in a different place in the brain and
the emotional content is much stronger. Should an event in the current environment them trigger these
memories the security guard will immediately fire the fight-or-flight signal which commands us to take
immediate action and this action may be quite irrational. We may burst into tears, or run away, we rage, despair,
become depressed. We act in ways that those around us cannot understand because they are irrational
acts intentionally instigated by the security guard with only one purpose, to get us away from the threat!
If this threat in our current environment persists, and our security guard keeps firing the fight-or-flight alarm,
we will continue to act irrationally and slowly withdraw in order to protect ourselves. We stop enjoying life, we withdraw
socially, we push even our best friends away from us and if the condition prevails we will eventually
only feel safe in our bed with the covers pulled up over our head.
Not only is the security guard doing his job, but he is doing it too well. Retraining is required and this is quickly
achieved using a variety of Human Givens techniques.