Why do I sometimes find myself secretly wishing for the snow to get even deeper, for the most feared electoral outcome, for anything that might actually increase chaos? Am I an evil, wicked person? I hope not and I don’t think so.
I believe these inappropriate inclinations arise from a former self: the child inside who cannot differentiate between excitement and consequential suffering. Naturally (and thankfully) I immediately correct myself and apply my adult wisdom to counteract such unbidden wishes.
You see I have a theory that we retain all the stages of personhood that we once had and through which we have developed. These old collections of neural networks may well be addressed infrequently, but my experience shows that these patterns, maps and webs still lie there, waiting on occasion to be called to action. [Neural pruning will change some of these maps during adolescence – ed]
So what occasions and situations can cause us to adopt out-dated behaviours, and is this a beneficial or harmful feature of our psyche?
My view is that it has both pros and cons. For a pro example, I found that I can play with my grandchildren much more effectively if I call up my child inside. If I “become” a child and act somewhat child-like, the interaction I can achieve is not only great for them but I can appreciate it so much more myself.
For very young children, pretty much everything is new and, whilst not understanding too much, the sense of wonderment can be truly thrilling. If this is done consciously and with good motivation, it can be very enjoyable. For example, try experiencing a thunderstorm while pretending you don’t know anything about the science. Something changes and somehow enhances the experience.
The downside of this human trait is that it provides and accounts for certain types of manipulation and undue influence. Our past states of being can be accessed by others, and we are vulnerable to this because these neural webs are generally not conscious. If you care to consider some of the characteristics of our former selves, it is possible to see how these patterns can be triggered and used for undesirable outcomes.
Babies are totally dependent and respond to being taken care of and loved, and need all decisions to be made for them. This need is fundamental, and, I believe, traces of this remain throughout life and are easily appealed to subconsciously. Any group or person that appears to offer focussed individual care and love may trigger these old, deep desires, which can bypass reason by stimulating [even deeper] emotion. Not having to decide anything for yourself completes that comfortable, cocooned feeling.
Toddlers constantly seek attention, and are not satisfied until they receive it. This desire for attention never truly leaves us, so anyone who provides intense and personal attention can vibrate that old web and bring the spider to feast on this highly desirable meal. We may call it flattery, but for many of us, it brings back that great old feeling of being at the centre of the world. We want it to last forever and may be persuaded to do very odd and extreme things to preserve it.
Recently a friend told me about a new gadget. You can talk to this thing and it will play any music you request, update and read your diary, answer your spoken questions and much more. I watched the video, which showed this futuristic-looking gadget functioning in an idealised setting, with an impressed child watching, and I felt that old childhood desire for novelty and great toys to play with returning to me in a very intense and convincing way. I had to get a grip and tell myself (my older self) that I would never actually make use of this gadget. The influence of the advertising nearly worked!
When I was a teenager, I was idealistic and hadn’t yet got a handle on what was important and indeed reasonably achievable in life. I was swimming in an ocean of possibilities, and great noble causes seemed very attractive and provoked fantasies of helping and changing the world for the better. I suspect that most adults retain this sublimated desire, although it progressively becomes tempered with the learned limitations of reality (or the onset of cynicism). But it still lurks below the surface, and when a group says that, by joining them, you can make a huge difference, and even save the planet, those old teenage aspirations may return, influencing the direction you take and the decisions you make.
In later years, the young adult inside can be aroused by promises of renewed sexual vigour and enthusiasm, which may be entirely inappropriate for the current situation and life stage. This drive is very powerful when relevant, so it lays down many patterns which are ripe for picking up on later in life. Once again there is an appeal to the remnants of former selfhood to re-trigger obsolete patterns, making us vulnerable to being sold “remedies” and treatments for conditions that simply follow a natural course.
I am sure there are many more illustrations and examples of our old selves being brought into play, for good or ill, useful or not, so I would say that simply being aware of this model will help to select what impulses and decisions are relevant to one’s current needs, situation and life stage. We can ask “Is it me now, or a former me that’s being engaged?”.
What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Do you have a story about listening to your younger self that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!