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Primal Wiring, Survival and the Need to Be Loved

Why we strive for acceptance.

In one of my workshops, Conscious Communication: Seven Essential Tools for Conscious and Effective Communication, I go on a bit about how our inability to say either "No" or "Yes"-without-conditions, is rooted in the need for acceptance, or avoiding rejection. It turns out that the motivation for this need runs, in large measure, much deeper than we might expect. It is a survival mechanism wired into our primal core and, in part, drives our need for community and striving for connection.

The social imperatives of our Stone Age brethren were fairly simple -- food, water, shelter, sex. These elements were fundamental to both personal survival and the perpetuation of the species. The meta-imperative? - don't get killed. So, what might be the best way not to get killed? The most obvious answer would appear to be belonging to a group -- live in a group, sleep in a group, travel in a group, hunt in a group - stay alive.

Our modern need for community and striving for connection runs in a straight line right back to this survival strategy. If we are part of "the group" -- if we are loved and not rejected -- we will survive. This premise holds even if that "group" to which we want to be connected is a single individual. If we are left out or feel rejected by "the group", then we will not survive. No wonder we work so hard to stay "in" at both the group and the individual level.

From here, it also stands to reason that one of the reasons social and emotional rejection of any sort is so dreadfully painful for us is that it taps a hardwired response linking directly to the avoidance of our imminent, or at least potential, demise. The phrase, "I can't live without you." from this perspective might be taken quite literally, at least as a perception.

Because there are no longer saber toothed tigers to fear or cave bears to battle, the pressures of survival have become more psychosocially bound. Where we were once confronted by physical threats, these have transformed themselves into social and emotional threats. The wiring for avoiding the physical threat, however, is what remains in place and largely drives our reaction to being "left out", "pushed out" or not accepted, both by the group and by our individual love interests.

Going back to the rather pervasive inability to clearly communicate the boundaries associated with saying "Yes" or "No", this primal wiring tends to influence our attempts to accommodate the people to whom we are in relationship - no matter whether that relationship is professional, personal, social or sexual - in order that we may "stay alive". Learning that this is a false premise goes a long way toward creating more authentic relationships and avoiding those which play out as co-dependent.

In the post Co-dependence, Control and Witness Consciousness, we considered the notion of agency. That is the misguided belief that we can, through our actions, control the outcomes of a situation or shape and influence another person's behavior. The survival strategy that we are talking about here, because it is no longer a viable one, is, in large measure, responsible for our laboring at the sufferance of this false premise.

From this perspective, considering the idea that we are motivated to keep relationships intact - whether in a healthy or unhealthy manner -- in order to survive would appear fairly reasonable. Obviously, this is not a conscious effort, but it does explain to some degree the motivation for both agency in co-dependent relationships and, more importantly, why it is that we work so hard to be loved, avoid rejection or the potential for rejection and to just stay connected in general.

© 2009 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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