Did you know people on the other side of the world are patterning our minds.

Can we live without being influenced by our surrounding and be an island to ourselves where no outside influence can affect us? I don’t think so. If we believe that we cannot  BUT be influenced by our environment, our culture, our neighbours, our leaders, our religion, our family, our friends  by the media than doesn’t it make sense that we conduct ourselves in such a way that its beneficial to both our society and ourselves? ( or if you like ourselves and our society?).

In my previous posts I mentioned how by interaction with others we are patterning our mind to react or behave in a particular way. But our quality of interaction and the kind of relationship we have with each other is dependent on the kind of cultures and societies we live in. This means our cultures and social structures can activate and pattern our minds, too. In our fast paced , competitive society we are going to be interacting and stimulating different patterns in each of us than if we were in slower , more contented societies.

Does it not than follow that we have to think about ourselves radically differently than “island among ourselves.” It would be more accurate to think about ourselves as “mutually influencing beings” ? So on individual level, our irritation with each other will raise our stress and increase our vulnerability to range of health problems and to social discord, while our kindness to each other will lower our stress and impact positively on our well-being and increase our social safeness. At a societal level mental illness and criminality are born from complicated genetic, social mentality and cultural/ social interactions. At international level , the ways in which our societies operate, seek goods and services, secure trade agreements and enable international companies to extract huge profits from stock markets will greatly affect the lives and pattern the minds of people far away. Clearly we are all connected , even to those we have not met and are far away on the other side of the world.

So we have a choice of either encouraging selfish tribal behaviour in ourselves and try to be an ” island among ourselves” or we can choose a compassionate approach that’s more thoughtful of others.  Ideally, of course , we want to  blend our interest and interest of others. We will have to reflect and think carefully about our values and try to be the ‘best we can be’ but at the same time, not ruthlessly exploitative.



The Compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert.


Competing to be Attractive

Why is that we humans are not naturally predisposed to sharing basic necessities of life. Surely there are enough resources in our world for everyone to at least have their basic needs satisfied. Yet there are millions without the basic needs. How are we to make sense of this? If we look at most species on this planet they all compete for basic needs, for food, nest sites, sexual opportunities etc. I suppose the only way to avoid this competition would be ether to live in isolation or learn to live with others without harming or killing each when acquiring these basic needs. Living and evolving in isolation is more difficult. It is more likely that a group will solve a given problem rather than those living in isolation. There are benefits to living in groups, and for those to evolve, evolution had to come up with a way to remove the potential for constant fighting between the group members. In animals this is achieved by submissive behavior by the less powerful animals and for the dominant animals to accept this behavior as evidence that their rule is not challenged. This kind of behavior is called ” ranks of social deference” and it has allowed animals to live together without continual warfare.

In time the behavior in humans has evolved to allow greater close proximity and hopefully more cooperative behavior as well. So how do we humans avoid the constant warfare? I am not sure if we have exactly stopped the warfare, all we have done is to become subtler, instead of using out right aggression we are subtly competing with each other. Our behavior can be understood by  “social rank mentality”, which are a way of thinking about our social relationships and ourselves and a way for us to organize the distribution of resources.

We have come a long way from using aggression and physical threats to compete for goods. Instead we have become sophisticated and use our experience, knowledge, age, authority, tradition, power, talent and beauty to gain that competitive edge. We want to compete by being seen as talented, desirable and worthy: we want to impress. We like to be patted on the head; it makes us feel valued, wanted and safe. With regards to being cooperative, and sharing knowledge, we like recognition and the awareness that we’ve been helpful.

Although there might not be any aggressive intent here because we’re competing to be attractive to others, we can still display irritation, anger and even threats of or actual violence if we feel that the competition has been unfair or that our ‘position’, ‘status’ or ‘power’ is being threatened.

We humans are very social rank aware and motivated. We pay attention to out social position in our social hierarchy, we think about our relationship in terms of hierarchies and social comparisons – strong/ powerful v. weak/ powerless. Winner v. loser, superior v. inferior etc. We behave in ways appropriate to hierarchies: competing for status, trying to impress those in powerful positions, submitting, showing deference, subduing subordinates or competitors.

So this social mentality involves motives to win competitions and conflicts for resources and social position and to subdue competitors. The competitive social mentality will also orient us to think in terms of envy and of undermining other people, because this can advance our own interests. From the world trade talks to street gangs, maintaining one’s competitive advantage dominates thinking.

The drawback of competitive social mentality is that it also tends to turn off the patterns in our minds that facilitate caring. It also puts people who are anxious or depressed at a disadvantage because they believe themselves to be of low rank- inferior or inadequate. Narcissist on the other hand, is highly competitive, seek high rank, want to impress others and be seen as superior.


The Compassionate Mind  by Paul Gilbert


Related articles

How can a same act be both cruel and virtuous?

If we belong to or identify with a group, than we will regard that group to be the ‘in group’, anyone outside this group will be the ‘out group’  and therefore they become the ‘not us’ or ‘them’. This orientation will trigger our tribal behavior and we will become extraordinarily contemptuous of, cruel towards, and paranoid about ‘not us.’  Because we know that other groups can be hateful and as paranoid as we can be, we fear them; and so continue the cycle of hate and paranoia. In certain context, we may even attribute cruelty as a virtue. Around the time of 911 crisis for example we may remember certain cruel acts on both sides were not uncommonly reported in the media, depending on which group you were in, it was either interpreted as an act of cowardice or heroism; same cruel act but interpreted as a virtue by one group and cruelty by another. This kind of behavior has been a source of great suffering for thousands of years.

Why does this kind of behavior continue? One answer is that we derive our self-identity from the group to which we belong and adopt its values. The group then orients us to compare ourselves to others; and as we get comfortable with the idea of belonging and being accepted by our group, we seek to have our contribution valued, wanting validation that our existence matters to the group. A sense of belonging is important to feeling of well-being and feeling safe. It is the sense of belonging that keeps us in the mode of the ‘in group’ and noticing the differences in the ‘out group’. This is a tribal behavior and it is this that keeps us from being compassionate to other groups and will keeps the suffering to continue unless we change our tribal thinking.


The Compassionate Mind  by Paul Gilbert


Self-esteem or Narcissism?

Everyone is worried about not having a good self-esteem.  Parents worry about building self-esteem in their children. Parents themselves wonder if they have good self-esteem. We feel sorry for the people who don’t seem to show good self-esteem.  Some parents seems to think they have to praise their children for everything; ranging from just getting out of bed in the morning to just breathing. They encourage their children to say, “ I am special “ as though other are not.

Self-esteem is not an elixir of life that can be given or an entitlement but rather it is something one has to earn. I can’t see how a child is going to have good self-esteem by telling him “good job for getting up in the morning.” That should be a given that they have to get up.  The real self-esteem comes when the child is rewarded for some effort in trying to complete or fully engage or focus or absorb in some activity. The child will make the link between an activity that require effort, a parent acknowledging or validating that effort and the healthy self-esteem. The praise without the effort encourages narcissism not self-esteem. There are people in this world who have good self-esteem, which they do not deserve, they are likely to do harm.

Real self-esteem leads to compassion and false self-esteem leads to narcissism. Most would agree that we need more compassion and not more narcissism.



The Need For The Right Care Towards Balance in Life

Human infant is completely dependent and requires total care right from birth.  At birth the baby is a “pure potential”. What kind of individual the baby turns out will depend on what kind of caring is received in its early years. That will determine how he/ she will learn a language, how well he/she is going to be able to think, which value he/she will endorse and even if the infant live or die. So evolution has made sure that our human brains are highly sensitive to paying attention and responding in multiple ways to the behavior of others from the very early age. For example, if we are hungry or hurt we cry out and signal for our mother to provide care.  When our mother provide the care our brain then picks up the fact that ‘ care is being given’ and we’re safe, and we calm down. In particular, the facial expressions and voice tones of the mother have a powerful effect on a baby’s brain.

The baby and the mother have co-created a role. The interaction between a baby and the mother is constantly influencing their minds and physiologies – and even the baby’s expression of its genes. So in general when our care –seeking social mentality is operative, we feel a need for some kind of input from others; this would be different for different ages.

As adults, our needs change and we seek and respond to different types of care and to different signals that indicate we are cared for. So as adults we no longer respond to being ‘ picked up and winded like a baby; and rarely cry for our dinner. ‘ In adulthood we feel cared for when other people take an interest in us and wants to help us, listen to our needs and take them seriously, have friendly voice tone and are affectionate.  So being able to feel cared for and to be soothed by the caring behaviors of others, and knowing that there are others who care about us and our well-being, can be central to feeling of well-being.  Later in life we can take this caring approach to ourselves, and this is a first step towards self-compassion.

The down side, however, is that we remain dependent and under the influence of powerful others for many years and are therefore incredibly vulnerable to their neglect and abuse and the way they educate us. The very wiring up of our brains and the pattern of connections that is formed are affected by the quality of early care. This care -seeking social mentalities also opens us up to certain types of emotional experience, such as yearning for closeness, to feel cared for and protected.  When this social mentality is thwarted, we can experience feeling of aloneness, disconnection, being uncared for and abandoned. At the root of many depressions and anxieties is an inner experience of aloneness and separateness from source of care, protection, comfort and love.

We all deserve the the right care on our  journey of  life in the hope for balance.


The Compassionate Mind  by Paul Gilbert




I don’t see my daughter very often because she lives in Toronto and in September she will be moving to the USA for further schooling. But when I do see her, she seems to create a learning experience for me each time. I remember once I moved her to tears by depicting someone as ugly because of their particular physical feature. Without knowing I was linking the persons feature to ugliness. Since then I’ve been careful not to fall pray to this common illusion of linking some aspect of physical appearance to ugliness. We as a society do this all the time; obesity and baldness for example are quite often viewed as bad and therefore ugly.

What moved my daughter to tears was my blindness to destructiveness when I thought I was pursing the pleasant, the beautiful and the good. Just as Hitler believed that he was pursuing the “good” by  the creating a more perfect society with more perfect people and left millions suffering and dead. And he was a vegetarian because he hated cruelty to animals!

Indeed, that is the very nature of the problem, that in the name of seeking the best and the most beautiful, we became out of control. I don’t know of anyone who has become out of control by seeking “ugliness.” But surely, ugliness is just our conception; being overweight and being bald is just outward appearance; inside they could be the most beautiful people, we just have to look deeper.

Some cultures today believe that our Western society has become out of control in the name of pursuing the the “Good.” Indeed, they think our devouring, polluting and exploiting ways are evil. There may be element of truth in that but one has to be careful in making these kinds of sweeping judgement. There is also lot of good in the West.

The compassionate point is to focus on what is common to all of us: that we struggle with our own feelings and urges, that we can open our eyes and not be deluded by the false realities we are creating around us.


The Compassionate Mind  by Paul Gilbert



Jungian Archetypes – another way to understand ourselves.

Is appearances and current fashion important to you? Do you need social approval ? Are you open to being loved and cared for or do you feel anxious about losing the love of others and need constant reassurance; or do you avoid close relationships ? These and many other questions of our behaviour may be better understood in terms of Jungian archetypes.We have already discussed how evolution has shaped our mind , brain and behaviour. The archetypes are further refinements in trying to understand ourselves.

The idea of archetypes have been around since the time of antiquity, in the days of Plato; but Carl Gustav Jung used the term ‘archetype ‘ in a particular way. He suggested that our behaviour towards different themes in our lives is directed by  special systems in our mind, which organizes our motives, thinking, feelings and fantasies. He called them archetypes. They are like inner guides that orientate us towards certain things and motivate us in certain ways. They have evolved over time and helped us navigate through the basic tasks of life. These tasks include children becoming attached to parents and obtaining care, adults forming relationship with peers, becoming sexually interested and engaging in procreation, caring for off spring, growing old, seeking meaning, becoming wise and coming to terms with death.

Lets look at some examples. Mother archetype represents a caring figure and makes us respond to being cared for or mothered. The sexual archetypes, anima in the man and animus in the woman, gives us sense of the desire and behaviour towards the opposite sex. The persona influences our social orientation and tries to keep our reputation clean so that we will find acceptances socially. The shadow represents those aspects that exclude information from consciousness about our true intent or motives. the hero archetypes motivates us to take risk, excel in the eyes of others and propel ourselves forwards. It can be linked to social motives such as helping others or  to darker motives such as wanting power to control others.

Jung suggested that archetypes can over or under develop in us. For example people with over developed persona organize much of their behaviour around the need for social approval. They think only of current fashions and their appearances; often losing sense of their own individuality. A person with deflated Persona care not at all for what others think; they either become courageous changers of the world or anti-social.





Jung suggests that the way an archetype matures and functions is affected by both our personality (genes) and our experiences. For example, we can have a stunted mother archetype if our relationship with our mother didn’t work out; we would not have been inspired and guided towards love and comfort in the arms of our mother when we were infants. As adults, we might spend a lot of our life searching for mother or father figure who will love and protect us like a parent. Or we can completely shut down our need for care and love and not want anything to do with close caring.

Like all archetypes, hero archetype can also develop in different ways that could be either good or bad depending on your perspective . The point is the archetypes are just a ways of describing and thinking about different aspects of ourselves. Because the archetypes are evolved predispositions, they are shared with all human beings and , in this sense , are  our ‘collective consciousness‘. They are largely unconscious but we feel them in us when caring for others, our desire for sex, our desire for friends and to belong to groups or our desires to destroy our enemies.


The compassionate mind by Paul Gilbert


The Question: Who Am I ?

Most of us have asked the question who am I ? or  at the very least have asked some form of this question. The question usually occurs to us when we are in a pensive mood or maybe even a depressed mood. Sometimes we take time out to discover the ‘real self’ or ‘the real me.’ I am sorry to say there is no real self or real me, either physically or mentally. It is an illusionary concept at best. We don’t even have a single atom left in our bodies that we were born with, we are constantly changing and replenishing. Our sense of  ‘being’ comes from the patterns created in our physical brain. If for some reason part of the brain gets damaged then our sense of self will become very different.

In the previous posts I hinted that our brain and mind is the product of our evolution. We are not in full control of our mind. It is governed partly by the ancient strategies that have survival value and have been evolving since the beginning of time (or life); as well it is governed by our archetypes, desires, motives, fears , abilities and talents. Our mind has matured into a ‘complex entity’ , with rainbow of possibilities. It knows ‘we exist’, it can explore the nature of the universe, it is capable of great clarity , compassion, charity , love and kindness; but it has a dark side too, it is also capable of rage , violence and torture.

We are patterns of great complexity, a rainbow of many colours and the point of introspection is not so much as to find a particular colour but to find a way to blend all the colours and  stretch across the horizon like a beautiful rainbow. A family is not just children, mum , dad, uncles, aunts and grandparents but all of them delicately connected and integrated together. Similarly we can think of ourself not as a single self  but as a consciousness that is textured by a multi-faceted , multicoloured set of possibilities. The trick is to connect and integrate different ‘parts’ of ourself so we can love, be loved, be compassionate, be patient, without fear, be at peace and live with ease.

Next I will post some thoughts on Jungian archetypes and social mentalities; until then have a mindful life.


The Compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert



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