By Susanna Sweeney, MSC, MBACP, CHT
In this article I will explain how subconscious mind programming works.
You will learn why you should be aware of your mind and why not everything you think and feel is true, nor helpful for you.
You will find out how and why mind programming is put in place in childhood, how it can hold you back when you are an adult, and what you can do to overcome this trap so that you can change your life for the better in whichever way you wish.
The capacity for programming our subconscious minds in childhood is part of an evolutionary package deal for humans. On the upside this package deal is one of the features that has made humans the most adaptable and flexible species on the planet. There is a downside, too that I will discuss later.
This is how.
Our super computer- our brain- at birth, comes with only a certain amount of essential software that is permanently installed.
The fact that all of these pieces of 'software' have to be programmed by parents and the community around is a very clever evolutionary decision.
What it means is that no matter where on the planet the community lives, no matter how extreme or harsh their living conditions may be- and no matter how much their life style differs from other communities far away- they can program their children to be able to survive under the particular conditions that they are faced with.
This is one of the reasons why humans have been able to conquer the entire planet- compared to other species of mammals that are typically restricted to certain climate zones.
This subconscious mind programming is designed to be put in place very early in life.
Our brains are very impressionable at a young age for this very purpose. Small children will unconditionally believe their parents and caregivers- to them the adults are unquestionable authority figures who are always right. Everything they say, children will absorb without the filter of critical thinking. Like a sponge, young children soak up their conditioning and place it- straight into their subconscious minds.
The conscious mind, driven by the frontal neocortex, does not start developing until after the age of seven. It is only then that children start developing the ability to think logically. Now, of course, they may start to question some of the programs put in place.
Of course, in terms of our survival, some programs are more important to keep intact than others. Those programs that are essential to your very survival, you must never question. That's why programs are prioritized according to the amount of emotional charge they came with.
For example, fear based subconscious mind programming will be prioritized over any other programs that carry a comparatively lesser charge. If you are planning to take an action as an adult, and the plans activates fear based programming, you can be sure that will not execute your plan.
You might not even understand why because the decision will be made just below your level of conscious awareness. Your mind programs will always be there, and will actively make sure that you stay on the 'straight and narrow'.
Your subconscious mind does not evaluate whether a particular program is still required or not- most of them keep running uncensored.
Here is an example for how subconscious mind programming can hold you back in life. This is a story from my own life.
I faced a lot of internal obstacles before going into business, most of all anxiety and fear. I could see there was no actual reason why I should feel anxious. I tried to reason my way out of it, tried to calm my mind through auto suggestion. In this instance, even auto suggestions did not resolve the issue.
So, I went for a session of regression hypnosis because I wanted to get to the bottom of what was holding me back.
What emerged was a memory of me, age three. I was playing in my mother's office.
There were building works going on and one of the workers had left a glass door that was to be installed leaning against the wall. I eyed up the door and admired the shiny door knob. I thought I could incorporate the door into my play. This would be something completely novel I had never had the chance to do before- to play with a real door and arrange it the way I wanted it.
Next thing, I pulled on the door knob...and the glass door came crashing towards me, and that's where my conscious memory of the incident stops. From my mothers account I know that the pane of glass broke over my head, but miraculously only cut me at my knees. I still have three small scars from this incident.
These are the kinds of accidents that are part and parcel of childhood, I can hear you thinking. Where is the connection to feeling anxiety and fear as an adult? Good question.
I don't remember how the adults that were present in the office at the time responded to the accident. It is highly likely though that they were in nearly as much shock as I was, and that some fear based comments, or some blaming comments were made.
This would be quite a common response, as they may have been looking to lower their own feelings of guilt. Essentially, I had not been supervised at all for these few minutes and that was how the accident happened.
I am not judging them in any way, I am well aware how easily accidents can happen with young kids. I am just looking to illustrate the environment and the impact that those fear-based comments had on my three year old self. Whatever was said, I internalized at a very deep level.
They may have said things like:
"Oh, you must never play with..."
"Why did you..."
"I told you not to..."
At age three, the mind is wide open to programming and you will not question what the adults around you tell you. Plus, as far as I was concerned, being injured was proof enough that I had done something wrong. As well as being spoken to by the adults around, I was already blaming myself internally.
Overall, the learning that my three year old self derived was that trying anything new and unusual, anything that seems particularly attractive and novel- is dangerous. That I must stay well away from it and never harbor the notion that something like that could work for me.
This did not happen at a conscious level. At age three, your frontal neo cortex is not developed enough to perform complex reasoning. Instead, this conclusion was drawn below my conscious awareness and was anchored deeply in the subconscious mind straightaway. So much so, that all that was left of this memory was a superficial recall that I had had some kind of an accident at that age.
As an adult however, the emotional impact of the incident caused me to stay on a fear-based path, playing it safe, even though the impulse to try new and exciting things came back again and again. But, trying them, I would never get far. After a short while, fear would set in. I am talking about fear that was so strong that it made me back away from whatever it was I was trying. This held me back from living my full potential, for many years.
Well, there is a happy ending. After the life regression hypnosis the niggling feeling of fear finally left me, and I could carry on doing what I had to do in business.
But it just shows you how powerful subconscious mind programming can be. Even after many years of personal growth work I was not able to dismantle this piece of programming on my own- not without the help of hypnosis.
As a small side note for parents and those minding children in a different capacity, you may be asking yourselves at this stage what you could do differently in a situation like this for the sake of the child's emotional well being.
Here are a couple of ideas:
Here are some useful things to say:
However, back now to subconscious mind programming and how it impacts functioning to your full potential in adult life.
Most of the time, you won't even attempt to reason with your programming. You will simply accept it as a given. Why?
In adulthood, powerful censors or guard the entrance to the subconscious mind. These censors will make sure that you don't allow in anything that is not already sanctioned, that is an unfamiliar or new concept.
These censors work through keeping us stuck in survival-based emotions such as anger and fear. They also work through judgement, prejudice, denial and minimization to try and force us not reject anything new and unfamiliar- without even giving it the benefit of the doubt, without applying critical thinking to see if it really does pose a threat or if it could potentially benefit us.
These censors operate quickly and often completely unnoticed by you- just below your level of awareness.
You can see now that there is a price that we pay for this evolutionary advantage- while offering an advantage on the level of humans as a species, subconscious mind programming installed in childhood creates limitations in adulthood on the level of the evolution of the individual to become their best self.
Remember the analogy I used of your mind operating like a super computer. Any real computer will require regular updates of its operating system and other software. But you have just seen that nature has not catered for regular updates to take place, other than those updates that verify and further confirm the programs you are already running.
Do these old programs help you do well in life?
Do they help you adapt to what will make you happy and successful?
The answer is no.
The base line is drawn at survival- remember, the strongest and most enduring subconscious mind programming is that which your mind deems will help you survive. There is no provision made for examining what is working well for you and what is not.
There is a very simple answer to that. If there is something niggling you that you could have a better quality of life in any area, and you are not getting there by doing what you normally do, then your mind programming could use an update.
So how do you overcome subconscious mind programming that is holding you back?
When you are working with this at home practicing self help, you will have to start developing self awareness around the ways in which your mind tries to fool you.
You will have to start catching yourself every time you spot an old program running uncensored. You can then evaluate its usefulness in the present situation using critical thinking.
"My mind tells me to stay away from this person because they have a different skin color. I know when we were kids we were told to stay in our own community and that outsiders represented danger. But is that really useful for me right now? Maybe this person is nice to talk to. Maybe I could learn something from this person. I'll just try approach them and see. I can always withdraw again if I find I don't bond with them."
Basically, you will have to cultivate self awareness throughout your waking day and observe every single thing you feel, think, say and do and critically examine it. Not easy to do- but with practice it can be done.
Of course, once you start on this process of becoming self aware, you will have to prepare for a battle. Remember, your mind has been programmed with the intention of helping you survive. It will fight to the death to hold on to its old programming. You will have to be very strong and determined.
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