“SELF PROTECTION” – strategies using emotions but with potential problems.

Threats to life has been in existence since life began. Evolution has been busy trying to protect us. We have the immune system for example to protect us from the microbes ; we throw up if we ingest toxin or spoiled food and there are numerous other mechanism for self-protection. I find it fascinating how evolution has evolved ways to protect us from threats posed by others and that’s what todays posting is about. It is particularly interesting to see how our emotions has been designed by evolution to be part of the overall self-protection system.

Our brain is capable of many emotions and ways of thinking. Further, we have developed ways of knowing what the others true feelings and intentions are towards us, and then we can avoid them or engage in submissive and appeasing behaviour if they seems more powerful than us. Take the emotion anxiety ,we have a pretty good idea that when we feel anxious we are facing things that could harm us and we may feel added desire to run away from or avoid them; this makes anxiety a fundamental self-protection strategy.We are not born with any specific fears but we have the ability to learn how fearful to be in a given situation from our life experiences and our sensitivity; so everyone will experience the same situation with different intensity of anxiety. Some may experience it in excess, others not enough and some will experience it proportionately for that situation. Those with the mismatch of anxiety and the situation will have difficulty avoiding harm.

Anger is another key self-protection emotion. It gets activated when our path to something we want gets blocked. The anger generated can be powerful because we have an incentive / resource – seeking system within us which is programmed so that if there is a reward to be had ( especially if it to satisfy our basic need and not just our wants) we are strongly motivated to acquiring it and anything that come in our way is not looked upon as kindly. Frustration and frustrated anger makes us put more effort into a task to try and force things trough.

Another form of anger  related to frustration is called retaliatory anger; this gets activated when our resources, status and social position is threatened. For example if our work is criticized, or if someone takes advantage of us, or behave unfairly, or cheats us, we will feel anger and want to retaliate. We want the other person to do as we want, maybe demand apology or a submission or make them suffer too. All this will make us feel safe;, imagine if we lived in a world where anyone could challenge us, cheat us without any fear of retaliation. We are unlikely to feel safe under those conditions. Unlike the protective strategy of anxiety where we run away and avoid the unpleasant situation, here we want to be engaged more to over come the obstacle or get the better of the other person. But we have to be cautious and not lose control , because our modern mind can easily be inspired by retaliatory anger and cause terrible suffering in the world.

Another of the major defensive emotion is disgust, which is intended to help us detect and stay away from noxious substances. We spit out bitter-tasting stuff with disgust because it is a good guide to possible toxic substances.But we can also feel disgust for range of things including the behaviour of ourselves and others. We may feel contempt for ourselves or others in judging the behaviour in question. Paul Gilbert writes ….” Researchers think that it is often when the emotions of disgust and contempt are blended with fear and anger that we become capable of terrible thing. When we see our enemies as both dangerous and contemptible or as ‘ infecting our ways of life or contaminating our values’, this sets in motion the defensive strategies of detect, protect, avoid , subjugate and eradicate. These strategies are very useful when focused on dealing with diseases and genuine contaminants, but aimed at other humans, they can lead to atrocities and genocide. When we feel disgust at aspects of ourselves, we may also wish to get rid of,purge or otherwise eradicate aspect of ourselves. So disgust is an archetypal process – originally evolved as a basic self-protection strategy  – but it can now lead us into serious trouble.”

“The emotion of disgust comes into play when we think in terms of goodness and badness and wanting to ‘purify’, get rid of ‘ and ‘destroy’, and has been used in both religious and non religious ways to attack and annihilate people seen as ‘defilers’. Hitler regarded the Jews as an ‘infection’, and once people use this archetype to view others, we’re into ‘search/remove/destroy’ territory where our compassion brain systems are turned off”.


The Compassionate Mind. By Paul Gilbert

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1 Comment

  1. Thank-you dr.Chana i hope evryone reads your blog gets the same help i do get, it,s a good way to star my day.


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