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At the root of our “being,” just below consciousness and mostly hidden from us, pre-spoken emotions and urges guide our behaviors. As individuals we share many if not most of these, though where we fall on any one scale may be different from one to another.

You may have one glass of wine and be content, but your brother’s seven are not nearly enough.

You may be happy to sit quietly with a book while your sister must go out to a movie to allay a slight anxiety at not being “with people.” Or you may stay home because of a slight anxiety of being out in a crowd.

You may be still married after decades to your high school sweetheart, while a brother’s series of broken relationships paint a picture of him, not his partners.

The emotions and responses to these situations, some learned and some epigenetically triggered, lie on wiring that evolved over the millennia to promote the success of various strands of our DNA. But evolution is complicated, and responses harmful to the individual may be beneficial to the family, the band, the tribe, or society over time.

Addictions do not create something new. They operate on mechanisms that evolved to guide our behavior: dopamine and endorphin splashes in our brain that once required discovery of a full berry bush, or the sharing of spoils of the hunt, or the grooming of a mate or family member, can now be triggered by the point of a needle, flick of flame to nicotine or crack, the flicker of a screen filled with Facebook.

Our responses are not completely our “own.” They precede thought and word, lie at deeper levels of behavior where we are marionettes, our strings the promise of reward. We alter this only when we are quiet, aware, detached, intentional.

About Erik Dolson

Erik Dolson is a writer living in Oregon
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