What Does It Mean to Live on Automatic?

Surprise discovery that we are less rational than we think we are.

Posted Sep 11, 2018

In our relationships we live on emotional automatic pilot most of the time. We go through our days emotionally responding to and approaching others without thinking about what we are doing before we do it. As a result we may speak to our children in a tone of voice or with words that make us cringe and that we vow not to repeat. But we do. We may respond emotionally and verbally to spouses in a way that denigrates them or us and allows spouses to continue being abusive to us or us to them. We may have told ourselves we wouldn’t let this happen again but find ourselves responding automatically in the same old manner. It is as if we are programmed to respond and act reflexively where our closest others are concerned. We fail to introduce our critical evaluative thinking skills. Instead, we respond in these situations with emotional knee-jerk reactions and may regret what we said or did or the emotions we displayed or had. The result is relationship conflict.

Mohamed Hassan/Pixabay
Source: Mohamed Hassan/Pixabay

Why is living on automatic pilot of any importance to us? One reason is it creates many recurring problems in our relationships. We find interpersonal conflict widespread throughout the world. These problems show themselves in many ways. Divorce rates are high at almost 50 percent. Parents frequently worry about their children’s emotional well-being and whether their children are depressed or abusing substances. Many children and teens are depressed––2.1 percent of prepubertal children (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and 12.8 percent of adolescents (National Institute of Mental Health). Adolescents who abuse substances comprise 8-10 percent of teenagers over age 12 (National Institute on Drug Abuse).

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 5.4 percent of people worldwide abuse substances. In the United States one in 10 people has a substance abuse problem. Opiate and alcohol abuse are widespread, scarring parent-child and other family relationships, and killing many people.

Dating is problematic both for young singles and for those returning to dating again following divorce or death of a spouse. Online Dating Magazine notes more than 2500 online dating sites serve more than 49 million people trying to find mates.

Suicide rates are at 13.42 per 100,000 people (American Foundation for Suicide prevention). These rates have climbed 28 percent in the last 17 years. Forty-two percent of people completing suicide experienced relationship problems just prior to their suicides (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

In this blog I will explore with you the numerous ways we live emotionally on automatic pilot, what we have learned about why we do this and suggest ways we might escape or mitigate automatic emotional living and improve our relationships The aim is to provide some insightful “ah-ha” moments or “maybe that applies to me; let me think about it” moments. Feel free to respond and give any feedback you wish as we go along. I hope you enjoy the exploration.