By C. Scot Giles, D.Min., DNGH
Most people find themselves troubled by negative thoughts. One of the major missions of the human brain is to keep its owner safe. Therefore, evolution has shaped its responses toward that end.
Fear makes a creature cautious. Cautious creatures tend to survive. Creatures that are not cautious tend to become food for larger creatures. Therefore, living things that experience fear and other dark emotions readily tend to be those who grow into adults, reproduce and pass on the genes that encourage the experience of fear. Because of this, at this point in human evolution, a negative expectation is the default setting in the human brain.
Hypnotists call this the “the negative brain.” Animals tend to develop what are known as “species-specific defense reactions” when confronted with a particular threat in the moment, and this works well for them. However, human beings are capable of reacting to a perceived threat at other times. In short, we have an evolved skill in blowing fears out of proportion.
If you have ever gone to your doctor only to have the physician suggest that they had better run some tests, you have probably felt this phenomenon. You likely ran home, fired up a search engine and proceeded to do mental violence to yourself by pondering terrifying multiple worst-case outcomes.
In the brain, the neurological structures that are most involved in the expectation that something bad might happen are the two amygdalae, which are located behind the pituitary gland. Once stimulated, these structures release hormones that prepare the body to fight a threat, avoid a threat or to hide from a threat (the so-called fight/flight/freeze response.) They are powerful and stay active for a long time.
The result of all this is that negative thoughts and feelings are the easiest sort of feelings and thoughts to have and all of us fight against letting them run our lives. The thing to ‘get’ is that because our brain easily expects bad things to happen, it is actually distorting our perception of the world. We see things far more negatively than they actually are. We worry more about things than we realistically should. This is why motivational speaker “Zig” Ziglar broke the word “fear” into the acronym, False Evidence Appearing Real.
All of us struggle with our negative selves unless we have learned to practice some corrective discipline.
My professional hypnotism practice has a strong specialization in helping people who are living with cancer or other scary diagnoses. I always explain the negative brain evolution has given us and encourage clients “not to get out ahead of the data.” There are a 1001 bad things that might happen but most of them are not going to. However, unless one is very careful to keep the negative brain in check, it practically takes over.
When we spend a lot of time expecting bad things to happen, that expectation makes its way into our unconscious mind. The human unconscious mind is the greatest goal-achieving mechanism ever evolved. Once it accepts something as true, it will shape how you think and feel in an effort to achieve it.
On the positive side, if your unconscious mind expects good things to happen it will help you achieve them in many ways. It will boost your mood, resilience and creativity. Helpful intuitions may suddenly appear and other enhancing experiences may be found. This is perhaps part of the mechanism behind the popular Law of Attraction. To a real degree, you get what you expect and focus on.
On the negative side, if your fears have been indulged to the point where your unconscious mind has come to accept a negative expectation, all the powerful abilities of your own deeper mind will be enlisted in helping you fail. You will not see opportunities, energy will evaporate and you may find yourself paralyzed. This is why some people find trying to attract good things into their lives by controlling their thoughts very difficult; their unconscious mind interferes.
Hypnotists call this the “Critical Faculty.” It is the part of your mind that determines what gets into your unconscious mind and what is rejected. When you consult a hypnotist what you are paying the practitioner for is gaining control over exactly this process. Therapists do much the same in a different way, and most self-help methods also have this as a primary goal.
What disciplines might you have to keep your negative self under control? Certainly learning internal skills like hypnotism, mindfulness, yoga and similar things are excellent approaches. Another way is to become vigilant about what you focus on in an effort to keep a negative expectation from making its way into your unconscious mind. Positive distraction works well for this. Instead of ruminating on what might happen, get out in the sunshine, lose yourself in music or art, go running or walking or anything else that will occupy your consciousness so that negativity does not sink into the deeper process of your mind.
Remember, your negative self is driven by fear. However, you experience that fear because of an evolutionary trick. It’s probably not nearly as real as you believe.