The "Default Trap"
It just happens to happen that when we are exposed to difficult situations and repeatedly attempt to resolve them but are not skilled to do it, we operate the same way we have designed our computerized world to work: "default to original settings"! To prevent destruction, the system protects itself by resetting itself to its starting point.
From a relationship point of view, this would be the reactive action that we take, when we think and feel we don’t have an option: we default to survival mode and act according to what the system was preset to do: survive at all costs.
Each of us starts out in life with a "clear template" in the brain that stores the meaning of how we are cared for; the emotional experiences that shaped us (who and what nurtured us or didn’t) create the backdrop for all other future relational experiences.
Over time, if most of those experiences were healthy, loving and positive, we are able to relate to others from that same advantage point.
Our brains have an area solely designated to scan, detect and lead us to react to imminent real or perceived threats to our survival.
We were guided by this internal compass to preserve our species, and we still are.
When we experience or sense dangerous situations -perceived or real- often enough, and they are not accompanied by a -very much needed- corrective action, our sensors message us we are not safe, so of course, we react accordingly. We "default" to survival mode.
Some of those defense mechanisms are so entrenched within, that they become our downfall in intimate relationships. Without a corrective mechanism in place, we fall back to what we know kept us alive, even to our detriment.
The harder it is to stop and learn what affects us deeply, the more difficult to step back and understand our emotional place (longings, needs, hopes, hurts) in our marriage, to heal from within and to allow for new positive experiences to make their mark.
After a while, each argument, as distinct in content as it may be, carries a similar emotional response which I have affectionately dubbed: "the default response": a preset selected option that will always be followed when everything else fails and unless it is intentionally altered.
For example: always or almost always:
losing your temper when angry,
avoiding conflict at all costs,
giving others the silent treatment as punishment,
going into a depression when difficult times arise,
using sarcasm to diffuse intensity, etc.
The default response is the hidden weapon of the brain, which we have come to rely upon to overcome the perceived threat and come out alive.
"Defaulting" to a specific emotional response happens when one person in the couple feels helpless or hopeless as he/she needs to defend or protect something within, which somehow feels it continues to be violated. It also positions the person and the couple, in a very unique spot as the interaction between the partners becomes less and less evolved and more and more primitive.
This fascinating "defaulting" process has 2 distinct functions:
It appears to manage whatever uncomfortable feelings are arising within,
It signals you are taking care of your most primal job: to survive.
Managing your feelings and surviving sound like something important to do if you are, say, in jail. However, I doubt they have appeared in any marital vow’s lists…
Are you living in a primitive marriage?
If so, you are joining thousands of couples that have resorted and surrendered to this style of relating, feeling trapped; becoming helpless or hopeless, distant or enraged and secretly or blatantly blaming their unhappiness onto their spouse.
If couples allow for this "alarm"system to take over, they may live in a constant state of angst, waiting to pounce or take cover at any given time, also known as: a tug of war marriage.
Do you think you or your partner have developed a "default response"?
The great news is that as embedded as this survival system is, we have also been gifted with the capacity to counteract it.
We do need the desire to explore it, the love, patience and tolerance of our partner and a bit of time, to develop a corrective mechanism that will soothe our sense of constant threat.
So, if you’d like to explore your own emotional default response, here are 4 concrete actions you can take to get started!
This could be the beginning of an uncensored way to understand your own "original settings".
These 4 actions will help you explore whether you have developed a default response and how it manifests itself.
Ask yourself: "What is happening to me right now?
(Am I feeling numb, betrayed, judged? etc.)
Tune into your physical body and breathe deeply as you identify what it is telling you (is the pressure in your chest, your head, your stomach? etc.)
Identify your emotion (s) (sadness, fear, anger?)
4) Allow it.
Allow the feelings to set in. They are giving out important cues to what is affecting you deeply.
If you resist them, they will persist.
I truly hope you found this first step inspiring and helpful! I would love to hear your feedback, ideas and thoughts, as it is in the synergy that we challenge ourselves and grow.
(the use of "he", "she", "marriage","relationship", "partnership","spouse","husband" and/or "wife", has been used indiscriminately in this newsletter)