In our fast-paced, achievement-orientated society many people experience emotional distress and anxiety disorders. This happens in response to stressors when our natural self-regulating abilities suppressed by negative automatic thoughts and overactive self-preservation responses.
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 negative thoughts and reactions often stem from powerful emotional experiences in situations of past crisis, life transitions, or trauma. We have learned to associate these negative emotions. and situations as signs of danger. As the result, our reactions to self-perceived danger replay themselves automatically over and over again each time we experience similar emotions.
Perhaps we could explore an example of social anxiety where this sort of self-preservation mechanism is often evident. For example, let’s imagine a person who has once experienced intensive negative feelings in a group situation. And felt so uncomfortable that he or she quickly left the group. If their discomfort and negative emotions were powerful enough at that time. Their self-preservation instinct would be likely to associate these emotions and group situations with 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 this 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 experienced.
Similar patterns of over vigilance by our automatic self-preservation system can be observed not only in anxiety. But also 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 of how many times one may try to convince ourselves that there is no real danger. The pattern replay is likely to continue over and over again, triggering emotional distress and anxiety.
The best way to address automatic self-preservation patterns like this is at the automatic level at which they operate. For example, by engaging in professional counseling sessions supported by clinical hypnotherapy. 5 to 8 session usually required to regulate our vigilant self-defense system. And replace unhelpful reactions with ones that are more conducive to our emotional wellbeing.