Conditioned & Unconditioined Reflexes or Responses

As humans we are all conditioned by our parental and cultural influences. Even our education is a form of conditioning. See  Programmed

But at times human or animal programming is put in place either by forced training or by suggestion using our fears, hopes etc. Fear of death, of not caring for loved ones, is massively used in advertising and political propaganda. Often we see such things as natural feelings. So what is the difference between unconditioned and conditioned programming?

It is difficult to decide, but our basic unconditioned urges are the urge to survive, to eat, sleep, find a sexual partner and have intercourse, to care and be cared for, to defend our selves and family, self assertion,  also growth is an instinctive urge. But each of these is open to so much pressure from pain, from emotions, from social pressure, from child hood trauma, by the images we are presented about getting rich, getting power, getting sex, avoiding danger, that it is a very difficult area to really understand.

Although we are used to thinking of animals showing conditioned reflexes, as  with Pavlovian training, we seldom realise what a large part they play in human life. This is obvious in the problems we would face in going against social conditioning. When we move against an implicit social conditioning, we feel the pressure or pain of that – whether it is sexual, clothing, or whatever it is. If we go against such conditioning we may discover the underlying feelings and forces that have created the conditioning in the first place. Dreams often reveal to us what our conditioning is, and how it was imprinted.

Human beings in general are still largely moved by the old reptilian and mammalian urges, pushed into war, conflict and murder, territorialism and old mating patterns in ways that are far from rational – these are unconditioned responses. Most of us are urged to action by factors that are still completely or largely unconscious, arising as they do from levels of our being we know little of.

Because we have moved far away from being natural animals and have existed as humans for ages, we cannot and should not try to rid ourselves of our human programming. What we can do is to attempt to become more whole by integrating our animal selves we still carry in us, and attempt to remain in contact with our core self. See Touching Your Core;  Brain Levels and Dreams

Sometimes it might be we have problems about living, and suffer the civilised ills of neurosis, depression, sexual or eating problems or identity difficulties. See the link at the end of this feature.

Two examples of this follow.

Example: When I left my first wife and was living with my present wife, we shared a lovely country cottage in a small hamlet. Although beautiful, the few months I lived there were an emotional hell because I was away from my children, and because of the pain of the divorce. My second wife and I then moved to be nearer my children. We had left some beehives at the previous cottage however, and so six months later we started driving back to collect them. On the way I started experiencing severe stomach pains. The suddenness of this, and the fact I couldn’t think of any physical cause for the pain made me investigate my feelings. As soon as I did this it was obvious that a part of my nature which was usually unconscious, was just like my dog, responding in a conditioned reflexive way. The cottage was a place of torment – why were we going back? More to the point, how could it stop me going back? How could it deter me from facing that pain again? As soon as I explained that we were not staying there and the painful situations no longer existed the pain went and never came back.

An important point here that needs to be emphasised is that the unconscious is not a mechanical thing but is a part of our own living mind and consciousness, and is responsive. As shown by the example above our instincts, the animal we are and meet in dream and in the unconscious can respond by being talked to – just as a animal does that trusts us. So when you suffer panic attacks and sudden unexplained pains you can talk to your animal/instincts and it can often help.

As an example of this, some years ago I was taking a large and friendly Alsatian dog belonging to a friend for a walk. We had been playing with a stick and the dog, Sultan, was still carrying the stick in his mouth. Suddenly Sultan saw a black Labrador dog in a nearby truck. He immediately went into a frenzy of rage. I had him held tightly on a lead, so he couldn’t attack the dog, but the stick in his mouth was shredded.

This would again seem like an irrational response if we didn’t know that Sultan had been attacked by a black Labrador when he was a pup. Mike’s response was just the same as Sultan’s. We need to remember that we are all animals, and we still carry the ‘R’ brain. We can however, mitigate such responses by understanding their origins and releasing or reprogramming the conditioned response.

A man exploring his dream world wrote:

Here I experienced what I suppose are the sort of nightmare images along with feelings of fear. A nightmare scenario. But as I meet them I recognise that they are simple and see them as projections of images arising from fears that we frighten ourselves with. There is a mechanism in us to project such images to keep us away from whatever may have been the source. This is exactly a Pavlovian conditioned reflex. The original experience produced pain or fear. The original experience also had some physical characteristics in terms of objects, places, and perhaps people. Any of those characteristics when met again can trigger a Pavlovian response. Psychologically the response is to say in huge letters, “Keep Away”. This is a natural and instinctive way of helping us to survive. Unfortunately it means that many people constantly avoid the source of their original conditioning and so cannot reprogram it.

The conditioning not only keeps one away from the people, places, and situations that were the original cause, but it also keeps one out of one’s own resources. And such conditioning stands in the way of former relationships, former self-expression and creativity.

So as I look at this nightmare scenario – these nightmare images – I recognise them for what they are and pass through them, seeing, as it were, the projectors that produce the images. I can see that the images project from some of my most profound childhood terrors. They can cause an eruption of all those old feelings about such things as my torture, abandonment, sex. And I look into these images to see what lies behind the outer form, and I see clearly my childhood fears that I am gradually meeting and integrating.

Now I have reached a point where I am trying to summarise where all this leaves me or leads me.

Well, it leaves me with a multitude of other questions.  I laugh here because this is such a Me trick, to end with more questions than I began with.  But let me see if I can summarise.  What have I learned?

Well, it all goes on, and on, and on.  There is never a final end to anything.  I laugh because that is the reality that we live in.  That is a part of the plan.  You think you have reached your goal and that the journey has ended, and it hasn’t.  A whole new area opens up – hopefully to your delight.  A door opens, a door closes, another antagonist comes into the arena.  Dear God, it is never ending.

So dealing with the habits that arise from conditioned reflexes is largely recognising what they are, and in doing so go through the awful images guarding them. See Life’s Little Secrets

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