When Clouded Instincts Mar Our Mental Health

Go with your gut. Trust your instincts. How many times in life have you done this and the results have been, well, disastrous?

I wish I could count mine on two hands. If I used hands, though, I’d need more like twenty for an accurate count. Probably more. That’s how life goes.

Most of the time, such choices went wrong because I trusted an instinctive norm rather than true instinct. See, instincts boil down to basic survival and species propagation. For the scientists in my audience, that may be slightly over-simplified, but that’s my definition for this post.

Many of us no longer live in a world where basic survival from one day to the next is our key purpose, though. That means our instincts get lost, or clouded with layers of beliefs about what’s “normal” to such an extent that it might just drive us insane.

I wish I were joking.

The Affect of Challenging Instinctive Norms

How many books did you need to read before you learned to speak? To walk? To grab those oh-so-tempting bits of food from the table when your parents fed you? My educated guess is 0.

What about climbing a tree?


Playing tag?

Nope. You learned from either experience, or another kid. And THEN you learned to read. Now as a writer, I’m a bookworm more than most. Have to be as part of the job. Yet we ALL read.

Check social media today? You’re reading.

Latest click-bait article? Yep, reading.

And when we read, we have our Instinctive Norms reinforced. Or we have them challenged and don’t realize it.

How do you know a norm has been challenged?

Whatever challenged it affects your mental health. In fact, allow me to challenge one of them right now.
Anxiety and depression CAN BE LEARNED.

A Culture of Anxious Depression

I know. If you’re a United States citizen, you know the deal. Mental disorders as chemical imbalances. This can certainly be true.

It’s not the ONLY explanation.

A good chunk of my anxiety and depression came from eating foods my body rejected on an immune level. The rest came as a direct result of consciously holding one belief and subconsciously holding a diametrically opposed belief. For example:

Conscious belief: I am a loved Child of Deity.

Unconscious belief: No one will love me unless I earn it through obvious success.

If that’s not a recipe for anxiety and perfectionist tendencies, I don’t know what is. I know I’m not the only one, too. What if someone’s belief looks like this?

Conscious belief: Respect is automatic unless you break my trust.

Unconscious belief: Anyone who wants my respect must earn it by agreeing with me.

I suspect that individual might see aggression in any disagreement. Maybe even hate. Who knows?
My point is we all hold Instinctive Norms in our subconscious that affect our actions and behaviors. Even more, they affect our mental health. Cognitive dissonance [definition link] is not just a fun pop psychology phrase. It’s a state of mind that can directly cause anxiety, depression, and probably a few others I’m missing.

After all, when your conscious and subconscious minds are at war, what else would you call it?
What do you think? Have you ever experienced this brand of anxiety or depression? Do you believe it possible? Let me hear your thoughts in the comments!

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