Instinctual Survival Zone

Love cross-wired with Fear

A brief introduction and overview

Toward the end of Einstein’s life, a group of leading scientists decided to gather a forum to pick the great one’s amazing brain. However, since they could not agree on the query, they decided to ask Einstein what he felt to be the most important question. Einstein replied with, “Is the universe friendly?” The baseline for virtually every human is the desire to feel safe. The impulse to protect and survive is a biological imperative hardwired in the most ancient portion of every person’s nervous system. And it is this survival impulse that inevitably becomes cross-wired with our higher dreams and vision, our desire to thrive and particularly, our capacity to love and be loved.

The Gosling Effect: Imprinting for Survival

Konrad Lorenz shared a Nobel Prize in 1973 for demonstrating that newly hatched geese exposed to a moving object making reasonably goose-like sounds will begin to follow it, just as they would follow their mother. This is called imprinting. The gosling’s biological imperative to imprint on its mother’s particular movement and sound is brilliant because this highly specific coding would sort out its own mother from other geese in the flock. To its detriment however, a gosling imprinted to a moving box or quacking person will try to follow this object for the rest of its life. In fact, when the gosling reaches sexual maturity, it will make the imprinted object—rather than a member of its own species—the goal of its sexual drive.

Your Instinctual Survival Zone: Just Like Geese

Well…we don’t hatch. We do, however, bond ever so loyally to what is moving in our field, during our formative stages of life. To grasp what is actually “moving” we must shift our framework from a “static, mechanical, clockwork” worldview to a “dynamic, quantum process” worldview. We must realize that imprinting involves the coding of an open living system (the new body) by a finely tuned symphony of waveform and frequency, a sea of sensorial input in which the fetus, then infant, is immersed. Broadly speaking, our bodies are “coded” according to the initial conditions broadcast via our gestation and birth process.

These conditions include, to a great degree, our mother’s personal and interpersonal emotional dynamics, interacting with our new being’s own predisposed habits for processing. The upside is that, in an ideal world, we inherently bond to our mother foremost, our clan and then tribe. We are emotionally tied and ‘feel familiar and safe” within the immediate environment into which we are placed, preserving and perpetuating the bonds which insure the nurturance and cooperation vital for the good and survival of all. The downside, as evidenced in real time life, is that inner and outer relationship dynamics that are less than wholly functional and loving, are tenaciously held in place for decades, even generations by the force of nature’s impetus for survival.

Like the gosling, we will “follow” this field of experience for the rest of our life. We call this complex field of attraction (read: Chaos theory/strange attractor) your Instinctual Survival Zone. Unlike the gosling, however, we possess the capacity to influence and shift our coding…if we choose.

Cross-Wired for Fear

Our client, whom we’ll call Ed, was 49 years old and completely overwrought watching his years slip by and finding himself, still, without a significant long-term relationship. Ed is an intelligent and attractive man, kind-hearted and yet his longest relationship could be measured in only months. Ed has visited therapy for years, read all of the requisite books, sorted out who’s from Mars and who’s from Venus and, in fact, has no problem meeting women. He describes, though, the recurring tight feeling in the pit of his stomach when his relationships would enter the initial stages of physical and emotional intimacy. He loved the warmth and feeling of connection and at the same time, would feel what he describes as “an uncontrollable urge to bolt”.

During our session, Ed confirmed my suspicion that he had in fact started his life in an incubator, having been born 3 months premature. One result is that Ed’s Instinctual Survival Zone mandated that he maintain relative physical isolation with little touch in order to survive. This explains why his body responded with immense fear and generated so much stress whenever he approached intimacy–on any level. Very simply, his body’s intelligence was dissuading him from what his body perceived as a dangerous circumstance–despite Ed wanting otherwise! This is what I call cross-wiring, when a core desire or need is short-circuited by the body’s adapted instinctual code for survival. Cross-wiring makes that which should feel good and life affirming to instead create fear and aversion. Cross-wiring also led Ed to feel the most powerful urges of attraction (love, in his eyes) for the few women that actually avoided intimacy with him. Ed found these relationships the most painful and difficult to reconcile.

Once Ed opened his awareness to his Instinctual Survival Zone coding, his perception of this fearful reactivity to intimacy began to shift. As he learned to bring loving presence and awareness to what were once unnoticed and marginalized sensations, Ed was able to begin shifting his relationship with himself, expanding his capacity to be present with physical and emotional contact. In conjunction with a variety of interdisciplinary skills and processes, Ed was able to relax and enjoy deeper bouts of intimacy leading him into his longest and most fulfilling relationship ever.

Reading a person’s Instinctual Survival Zone may not begin with such an obvious clue as incubation at birth. Reading the zone often requires that you exit your analytic mind and enter the dynamical “mind” of the body, a more right brain function. Along with the physical process of your birth, dynamics most strongly at play in the Instinctual Survival Zone are those having to do with the flow of emotional interactions–how secure your mother felt with herself–how she interacted emotionally within herself, your father and vice versa. There is a spectacular consistency in anecdotal evidence indicating the high degree to which we replicate our parents’ interpersonal dynamics. When you consider these dynamics as part of a person’s bonding process, the power of attraction to particular people and circumstances [read: experiences] makes even greater sense, as well as the degree of difficulty in effecting certain changes.

It’s Not What You Think

There are few grey zones in the body’s world. Either it’s safe or it’s not. What the body believes to be safe may not agree with what you think or want. Just ask Ed. Your Instinctual Survival Zone dictates one’s relationship with money and success, how willing one is to be seen and heard in pursuit of a dream and, furthermore, how much pleasure one allows before reverting to an instinctual need to experience pain or stress (this one is quite common–ask yourself, “How much stress is too little before I need to refresh?”).

I will pointedly say here that we are virtually helpless to change these patterns for the long term until we wake up to, and meet, the source of the body’s fear in love. This love is a psychobiological event that is quite literally measurable in its effect at a cellular level.

The Instinctual Survival Zone asks that we reorient our perspective to a deeper level of process dynamic. The ramifications are profound in not only how we assess circumstances and conditions, but in revising and refining our approach to facilitating integration and/or healing for ourselves and for others. It implies that our body’s intelligence is somewhat fundamentalist, and highly conditional. However, the body also remains amenable to upgrade its coding though conscious awareness and actions. It can be guided, via heart-centered willingness, to forge new neural pathways away from its instinctual survival fears and reactivity and into radically new territory of embodied love and choice.

Copyright 2006 © Instinctual Survival Zone by Jitendra Darling; All rights reserved.
May be copied with accompanying copyright credits without permission.

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