GHOST PATTERNS – ANXIETY, FIXATION & SURVIVAL
Is your brain haunting you?
I don’t mean in the Ghostbuster kind of way.
But if you find that old thought patterns seem to pop up even after you have resolved them with thought work, you’re not imagining things.
We assume that when we build our self-confidence at work, emails from a boss will no longer spark that little pang in our gut and the cascading flurry of “I’m terrible at my job and am going to be fired” thoughts.
Or that when we decouple our sense of security from a partner’s texting habits, one inscrutable message from them will not send our brain spinning into “we’re breaking up and everything is terrible!” territory.
We may even believe that any residual anxiety or fear that comes up around relationships or thought patterns we’ve coached ourselves on is a sign that we aren’t as far along as we thought we were.
But these sparks of anxiety are just ghosts from our brain’s primitive drive to keep us safe.
Our primitive brain evolved to keep us alive long enough to reproduce.
It doesn’t care about our comfort, satisfaction, or fulfillment.
It evolved to scan for threats to our survival, and fixate on them.
When we can’t seem to stop worrying about something that’s stressing us out, it’s because our brain sees that thing as a threat and is trying to keep the threat in our vision until we figure out how to resolve or neutralize it.
The thing is, our brains aren’t great at actually identifying threats.
Brains are inclined to view “being chased by a tiger” in the same realm as “getting side eye from coworker” because back when they were evolving, rejection from peers literally meant potential expulsion from the community, which meant likely death.
This is why, before you learned to coach yourself, you may have viewed seemingly minor experiences like “friend didn’t laugh at my joke” or “crush was active on Facebook but still hasn’t responded to my text” with more anxiety and fear than the situations seemed to warrant.
This is especially prevalent in romantic relationships, where we often replay the way that we formed attachments to our parents or caregivers as infants.
Even though as an adult you don’t rely on your parents, boss, or partner for your literal survival, your brain still sees potential rejection, displeasure, or a disruption in the consistency of attention and care as a primal threat to your survival.
So, what does it want to do?
Neutralize the threat.
And even when you coach yourself so that you no longer see a boss’s disapproval as a threat to your worth as a human, or a weird remark from a partner as confirmation that you are unlovable, your brain will STILL want to continue the behavior of scanning for threats and neutralizing them.
Your brain simply has a habit of thinking “this is a threat” and focusing your attention until you neutralize the threat.
It thinks it’s keeping you safe.
So don’t be surprised if your brain wants to freak out over a comment your boss makes.
No matter how much work you’ve put into genuinely believing that you are a badass employee, your brain may still run wild.
It means nothing about your progress.
It’s just your brain doing its thing.
It’s misdiagnosing their comment as a “problem” and then trying to focus your attention on it, in order to keep you safe.
The next time this happens, get curious about what your brain might be identifying as a “threat.”
Then, remind yourself: “This email / text / person / disagreement has nothing to do with my survival. My survival is not at risk here.”
Talking in survival terms is something your primitive brain will understand.
It may feel like your brain is haunting you, but it’s just trying to protect you.
Think of it as a friendly, misguided ghost – floating around, trying to scare off potential threats, and spooking you in the process.
Even if the anxious episodes continue, reminding yourself that you are safe and that your brain is just playing out an old habit that’s no longer helpful will bring you perspective and relief.