“Best safety lies in fear.” (Hamlet, Act 1, Sc. 3) — William Shakespeare, English dramatist and poet
“So,” said Sue, peering over my cubical. “Can you help me move on Saturday?”
“Sure,” I replied. “But I thought Sophia was helping you with the move.”
“Sophia.” Susan rolled her eyes and shook her head. “She’s no friend of mine.”
Sophia was good at making friends. She just wasn’t so good at keeping them. Sophia’s relationships followed a predictable course: meet new people, spend time with them, go out and have fun together, start to notice little idiosyncrasies, criticize, talk and gossip about them behind their back, fight, dissolve the friendship and start the process over again.
Establishing and then sabotaging friendships is only one example of an aspect of the subconscious mind that most people are unaware of — an aspect I refer to as our fail-safe system. To understand how this aspect of the mind works, we must first peer into the greater mind. We each possess a conscious (or volitional) and subconscious (or unconscious) mind. The conscious mind functions while we are awake, while the subconscious mind functions every minute of every hour we are alive. The conscious mind allows us to try new things, whether they be a new hairstyle, outfit or skydiving. This aspect of the conscious mind enjoys the thrill of the game. The fail-safe system is an aspect of the unconscious mind and prefers the familiar. In fact, it is the job of this powerful system to keep us safe based upon what we perceive as a threat. What we consciously and unconsciously perceive as a threat can be vastly different.
If, for example, we have a deep-seated belief that it’s dangerous to get close emotionally to someone because they will eventually leave, hurt or disappoint us, we may unconsciously perceive friendship as a threat.
Once a relationship has reached a tipping point, the unconscious mind will intervene on our behalf to remove the threat. We may also unconsciously seek out people who would — upon more careful examination — be undesirable as friends. This could be founded upon a belief that we are unworthy of close and healthy friendships; thus we choose relationships that are destined to fail and, in doing so, reinforce the unconscious belief.
Friendship is only one example. If we believe ourselves unworthy of success, then success will elude us. Success can be defined in many ways: financial abundance, a rewarding career or even a happy marriage.
Our fail-safe system saves us from all these perceived dangers.
If we bring awareness to our life experience, we can begin to see this process at work in the form of repetitive cycles of behaviour. Lack of awareness around this simple concept likely accounts for much of our failure in personal development and self-esteem building.
Again, the key word here is “unconscious.” We may be able to intellectually understand that making new friends or experiencing success are good things and consciously put a great deal of effort into building and maintaining each only to find our efforts short-lived or lukewarm at best. This can be immensely frustrating and we may falsely conclude that we are somehow flawed or inferior and this conclusion further erodes our self-esteem.
It may sound as though we are helpless to alter this aspect of our mind — somehow controlled by the powerful and invisible force. This, however, is untrue.
We often allow it to be our master, but the unconscious mind is designed to be our servant. Though it does appear to have an autopilot function it was never designed to be left on that setting for years on end.
What’s the key to unlocking this powerful aspect of our own mind? The first step is awareness — to wake up — to shut off the autopilot and grip the controls with both hands.
We can’t cease or control what we have no awareness or understanding of. Stop and take a serious look at your life. This can be immensely challenging as it requires you to remove any filters through which you perceive your life experience and to take responsibility for every aspect of your life.
Often hidden within repetitive cycles is a belief that your fail-safe system has latched onto and activated. You may be shocked to discover the common denominator is you.
Your unconscious mind has tremendous power. Some studies have suggested that while the conscious mind can process about 2000 bits of information per second the unconscious mind can process about four billion. You’re not going to change your fail-safe system with positive thinking or affirmations — a least, not with them alone. You’re going to have to prune the roots.
If Sophia were to look at her relationships with friends, family and significant others, she might see the same pattern playing itself out time and again.
Intellectually and consciously, Sophia may want friends and enjoy the company of others.
However, as her relationships evolve and she finds herself growing closer to people, her powerful fail-safe system engages. Much like an indulgent parent, the system will allow the individual only so much latitude before initiating an intervention and withdrawing her from danger.
“I never thought much of the courage of a lion tamer,” wrote the great British playwright, George Bernard Shaw. “Inside the cage he is at least safe from people.”
Perhaps if we could see that many of our issues are the result of a tremendous effort on the part of our unconscious mind to keep us safe, we might choose to reassess what we consider as safe and what we judge to be dangerous.
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca