I am far from an expert on psychology. However I think I’ve learned a few things which may be of some help. I think the basics are important enough that we should all be taught about this subject. As I understand it, psychology is essentially the exploration into the reason we do what we do.
(A word before I begin: thoughts and feelings aren’t two completely separate things. They are two aspects of one thing. We feel certain ways because of what we believe to be true.)
We all have certain psychological needs. These may not be as obvious as our physical needs. A lack of certain physical needs such as food can kill us. While we may not experience physical death if we don’t have our psychological needs met, we can experience a type of death in our spirit. Our brains have complex ways they attempt to meet these needs and to avoid the sense of death that their lack brings.
I believe our deepest psychological need is relational. We need to know and be known. We need to love and be loved. We need to feel significant. In a word, we need intimacy. In an ideal world, everyone would be healthy and relate to others in a healthy, uplifting, and encouraging manner. However, this is not the reality we live in.
Our deepest beliefs are not the propositions we consciously hold to. Rather, our deepest beliefs are those born out of experience. (I like to refer to these as convictions; sometimes referred to as heart knowledge.) These deep beliefs in many cases are not even conscious. They are just the way we believe the world is.
Due to the brokenness in the world, we have all been wounded to one degree or another. Because of this, most all of us have some degree of fear of not being loved and instead being rejected. Often I’d say we aren’t even consciously aware of this. However, our subconscious mind affects us in many ways due to the fear it perceives. Our brain will do all kinds of crazy things in order to avoid rejection and to try and feel loved.
Some of the convictions we hold are negative beliefs about ourselves. The basic idea is that a “wound” tells us there is something wrong with us which will cause others to reject us and not love us. As we go through life, certain things will “trigger” or touch on sensitive, wounded spots in our psyche. When something triggers a wound, this leads to some combination of anxiety, fear, pain, anger, abandonment, etc.
These emotions can also be subconscious. One thing I’ve found is that my mind can subconsciously keep me from doing something because of a conviction that to do so would cause these negative emotions. In this way I am unconsciously acting on an unfelt fear.
Emotionally healthy people have managed to build a conviction that they are and will be loved as they are, imperfections and all. In this case, they have a low fear of rejection so their brains do not lead them to much crazy behavior as a result of this fear. The rest of us however have greater degrees of fear.
Our subconscious generally responds to a wound in one of or a mix of two different ways: compensation or avoidance.
Examples are helpful. A person’s boss points out an error in an employee’s work. (Let’s call this employee Jon.) This unconsciously triggers a wound. Though Jon hasn’t recalled this in years, a teacher criticized him for asking a dumb question in the second grade. Though not conscious, this gave him the understanding that he wasn’t as smart as most people. Jon fears his boss’s criticism means that he may get fired or not promoted (rejected / not loved) because of being dumb. This causes Jon stress and anxiety. Jon may react by trying to prove his intelligence. He may try to use big words, brag about solving a problem, or decide to get another degree in order to prove himself. Or Jon may (unconsciously) avoid any challenging projects which he fears might expose his perceived lack of intelligence.
In either case, these things stress us. Our brains don’t like these negative emotions and try to protect us from them. But the avoidance can lead to lack of connection which causes negative stress. We feel lonely, stressed, disconnected, unloved, etc. In these cases, we are driven to try to medicate with entertainment, busyness, achievement, shopping, food, alcohol, sex, etc.
There are some videos going around right now (such as this one) which suggest that addictions aren’t physical so much as we’ve been taught. Rather, they are about bonding, or in other words, psychology. We have the need to bond or have intimacy with others. If we don’t have good experience of interpersonal connection, our brains will drive us to attach to something which covers up the painful emotions.
Let me try to review. We need good, healthy relationship in which we are loved as we are despite our flaws. We may hold subconscious beliefs that people won’t love us for whatever reason. This may cause our brains to do strange things in attempt to protect us. But these things often actually distance us from people. When we don’t have the healthy relationships we need, we experience negative stress and emotions. We then try to do things to avoid and cover up the pain. These often further disconnect us from people.
Ideally we can recognize “medicating” behavior as a symptom of a deeper problem. Since the underlying issues are often subconscious, our odd external behavior may initially be the only sign that something is out of place. We can then try to examine what emotions are behind the behavior, recognize the trigger, and then attempt to determine the underlying conviction and/or wound. At this point, the conviction can be examined and work made to change it and/or steps can be taken to heal the wound.
This process isn’t easy. In many cases it greatly helps to have assistance in understanding yourself. This is the idea behind counseling or therapy.
(As I understand it, technically speaking, counseling is when some one gives advice on a certain topic, such as a school counselor advising you about what classes to take. On the other hand, therapy is specifically about the process of understanding and improving your psyche and behavior. Many people can offer some sort of counsel; a pastor can offer some spiritual guidance for instance. But therapy requires a set of knowledge and skills which require a certified, license professional. It may be confusing however, because many professionals and professional designations use the term “counseling” or “counselor”. Therapists work in the area of psychology, but do so in the area of application. A psychologist, in contrast, is generally one who studies the area of behavioral science, a.k.a. psychology. Further more, a psychiatrists is a medical physician specializing in the area of mental health. Rather than provide therapy, psychiatrists are the ones who prescribe medication as needed.)