Or; why do we feel the need to hurt the other?

Or; What is the neurocognitive basis of why we transform someone that we were once intimate with in to someone who’s very existence appears to threaten our own existence?

Love is attachment. Fear is the learned response if our early attachments caused us to feel danger or a threat to our survival.

We are born with attachment as a primary action tendency that is essential for infant survival, yet when that first attachment causes us to fear for our life, we also learn, in deep, primitive, autonomously functioning parts of our brain associated with our primordial survival needs, to fear attachment and respond to attachment as if it threatens our survival. So both the phylogenetic instinct “to attach for survival” and the learned instinct “attachment is danger to survival” battle against each other for dominance with dichotomously opposed objectives. Both, ironically, working in the interest of our survival. The more intense the early fear experience, the more powerful will be the learned  “attachment is danger” instincts ability to overrule the phylogenetic instinct that says “attachment is safety”….

Hence the classic “Love/Hate” dichotomy of the Borderline symptom of; desperately seeking out love, yet then destroying, driving away, or running away from that love once that love triggers fears of emotional vulnerability to an intolerable level. The learned instinct starts off being overruled by the phylogenetic instinct, but the learned instinct is allowed to get more powerful as the state of threat that it perceives continues or is perceived to increase. Eventually, the learned instinct overrules the phylogenetic instinct and initiates “fight or flight” in response to the attachment (relationship). This manifests as conflicts in the relationship that serve to convince of the threat and either drive away the threat, or convince that running away from the threat is essential for survival. All this is motivated by non conscious processes, leaving the conscious processes seeking some narrative understanding of the behaviours. This, it seems, is also provided by non conscious processes taking control of the memory and imagination to make the memory of circumstances and experiences match and approve the behaviour, telling consciousness a story that the conscience can accept and that absolves guilt…..

The unfortunate effect of this unconscious process is that it will destroy any attempts at a meaningful relationship with anyone by transforming the perception of anyone that triggers these fears of emotional intimacy in to that of an enemy that needs to be destroyed…..

Furthermore, any attempt or form of further contact creates more fear and is reacted to as if it is a threat to survival. The rational frontal cortex is no longer in charge of perception and interpretation of the stimulus, this duty has switched to the amygdala and the amygdala filters everything based upon intrinsic memory of previous survival experiences. Nothing that triggers the memory of this fear is able to pass the amygdala and reach higher functioning brain areas.

A person may also feel a sense of control and empowerment from any pain or fear caused in the other, but, deep down, any wounds caused are also felt as destructive blows in our own soul. Once more, this feeling of empowerment is deeply rooted in our phylogenetic heritage. When we survive or evade danger our bodies become flooded with feel good chemicals. These chemicals create the feeling of empowerment. Essentially, this is the core attraction or addiction of sitting and watching scary films, reading scary novels or riding scary rides in a fun fair.

Phylogenetically speaking, we see this very same instinctual behaviour in many mammalian species; the coming together for intimacy with a brief respite in the instinct that others are a threat to us, yet after the intimacy has occurred, the sense of threat from the other is re-established and the intimacies are ended with displays of aggressiveness intended to drive away the other. One notable exception is the Bonobo, a close relative of the Chimpanzee who live on the opposite bank of the Congo River to Chimps. Although they can hardly be told apart by looking at them, their social interactions could hardly be more different. Chimps are often war like and aggressive creatures, but Bonobos social structures seem bound in gentle intimacies.

Any period of stress (fear), whatsoever, to the developing mind of the infant is perceived as a potential threat to survival. If that stress (fear) is associated, in anyway, with the emotional connection that the infant has with their primary caregiver(s) then the primitive parts of the mind associated with autonomous protective/defensive behaviours wires itself in such a way that any future emotional connection is perceived and reacted to, autonomously and unconsciously, as if it is a potential threat to survival. The level, type and duration of the stressful (fearful) experience that the infant experiences determines the level, type and intensity of the autonomous response when, potentially, the same environment is experienced in the subsequent adult’s life and the same defensive strategies/behaviours that were applied as an infant (shut down and withdraw, act out, scream, lash out, push others away and runaway and hide, etc.) will be applied in later adult life.

As an adult, we may try to make sense of this behaviour based upon our present environment and circumstance, but this behaviour is entirely rooted in our past experiences.

At first, we might experience these behaviours with confusion; “why am I trying to hurt him/her?”, “why do I keep running?”, etc. The brain doesn’t like confusion because confusion creates fear, so the brain then tries to look for associations that explain the confusing behaviour. It justifies the behaviour in a number of ways:

First, it looks for clues in the outside world; “this person or that experience caused me to react this way”.
Secondly, if it cannot find any obvious reason in the outside world it autonomously causes us to provoke a situation that then justifies the behaviour.
Thirdly, it alters memories of events to make them seem more threatening or hurtful which then enable the denial of the provocation.

Essentially, the emotion of what we call “LOVE” is, itself, triggering the autonomous fight or flight survival mode and all this is occuring at a deeply primitive, instinctual and non conscious level. The autonomous fight or flight survival mechanisms simply will not allow love to be experienced or fully realised because the early experience of attachment taught the primitive structures that evolved to protect us wired up in such a way that love/attachment is seen as a danger to survival. The “LOVE” is not experienced in awareness. Furthermore, the “LOVE” is not allowed in to conscious awareness because the primitive survival mechanisms perceive that if it was allowed in to conscious awareness, it would trigger our destruction. Rather we are driven in to attacking, hurting, wounding, driving away, fleeing from, or even destroying the misperceived source of this threat, perceived as having the potential to destroy us by our primitive survival mechanisms. The process of cognitive defence works on exactly the same principal as that of our immune system. Defensive strategies are initiated by autonomous processes in much the same way that our immune system might respond to a common cold; we neither consciously initiate our immune system, nor are we consciously aware of it as it mobilises defences to annihilate the virus that causes the common cold.