At times our natural strengths and self-regulating abilities that support us in everyday life may be inhibited by negative automatic thoughts and overactive self-preservation responses, blocking us from achieving our goals.
When that happens, we may be concerned about the way we react, perhaps thinking we are ‘going crazy’, whilst in fact it is often our automatic self-preservation mechanism that is creating problems for us, working overtime ‘to protect us.’
Our automatic undesirable thoughts and reactions often stem from powerful emotional experiences in situations of past crisis, life transitions or trauma when we learnt to perceive our negative emotions and situations at that time as signs of danger. When this happens our reactions to self-perceived danger replay themselves automatically over and over again.
Perhaps we could explore an example of social anxiety where this sort of self-preservation mechanism is evident. People who once experienced emotionally intensive negative feelings in a group situation, could feel so uncomfortable that they had to leave. If their discomfort and negative emotions were powerful enough at that time, their self-preservation instinct would be likely to associate these emotions and the situation (ie group of people) as the signs of danger. The escape which was their initial reaction will be most likely interpreted as the correct response to this type of situation in the future. This is because it worked well during that first experience ‘saving’ the person from the perceived danger and ending his or her emotional discomfort. From then on, this escape / avoidance pattern will automatically replay itself in group situations whenever strong fear is experienced.
Similar patterns of over vigilance by our automatic self-preservation system can also be observed in relation to depression, insomnia, chronic pain and habits, such as smoking or overeating.
Deeply entrenched, automatic self-preservation patterns are likely to continue, regardless how many times the person experiencing them tries to convince him or herself that there is no real danger. These patterns are likely to replay themselves over and over again unless addressed directly at our automatic level at which they operate. For example, by engaging in professional counselling sessions supported by clinical hypnotherapy. 5 to 8 sessions are usually required to regulate our over vigilant self defence system and replace unhelpful reactions with ones that are more conductive to our wellbeing.