Reality Check: The Fight That Never Happens

Does the tension and stress in your life contribute to your physical health? Likely so. Is there anything that you can do about it? That’s the big question, isn’t it?  

In “Take Charge of Your Life,” Dr. Wm. Glasser discusses the link between what he refers to as the “old brain” and the “new brain.” He describes the old brain as a basic controller that sends signals to our physiology. The old brain ensures that we keep breathing, the heart keeps beating, and our eyes keep blinking.

The old brain does what it’s told. Who gives the orders? The “new brain.”

This new brain, essentially our consciousness, has needs. In choice theory terms, they are needs for love & belonging, power, freedom, fun, and survival. Our new brain is constantly urging us to try to satisfy those needs. If our needs go chronically unsatisfied, we get the sense that we are not in effective control of our lives.

For example, let’s say that you perceive that your boss treats you disrespectfully; thus your need for power and recognition is not being satisfied. In an effort to satisfy that need, one behaviour you could choose is to imagine need-fulfilling scenarios, such as, “The next time he speaks to me like that, I’ll punch him!”

Of course, the “new brain” part of you—the part that wants you to keep your job—knows that you are not going to punch the boss. Even though the fight is a fantasy, however, the new brain still signals, “Fight! Fight!”

The old brain can’t tell whether the impending fight is real or imaginary. It’s simply detected that there’s a fight afoot, and it starts getting you ready. Muscles tense; heart beats faster; you’re on alert!

It’s no big deal if dissatisfaction puts you occasionally in a tense state, whether that’s readiness for a fight or heightened alertness to some other potential event. However, what if you live in a state of chronic dissatisfaction?

In Dr. Glasser’s opinion, “…the old brain, in some automatic way, senses that this unrelenting state of physical tension —the body’s constant readiness for a fight that never happens—is dangerous to good health.”

Believing that other people are in control of your life and that there is nothing you can do about it can lead to chronic dissatisfaction. That’s not only unpleasant; it’s also unhealthy.

What to do? How might one take charge of one’s life?

If you live with ever-present stress, consider your basic needs. Which one is most lacking satisfaction? Then, try choosing actions to help you satisfy that need. However, acting on a fantasy of punching the boss won’t help you gain more long-term effective control of your life!

You might reduce dissatisfaction in this case by taking active control of your money, thus decreasing your feeling of dependence on your boss. Or choose activities that help you feel worthy of recognition, whether inside or outside of work.

Each of us is responsible for our behaviour. Fantasies may seem uncontrollable, but the actions we take are up to us.

Can chronic dissatisfaction be reduced by the actions you choose? Let me know

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