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“Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.”

In the amazing classic WWI movie, The African Queen, Humphrey Bogart portrays a coarse, drunkard boat captain, Charlie Allnut, who is hired by the straight-laced missionary woman, Rose, played by Katherine Hepburn, to escort her down the river in the African Congo. The two are very mismatched and Rose verbally objects to Charlie's drinking. Charlie awakens with a hangover after a night of indulging to find Rose pouring his bottles of gin into the river. He complains, "What ya being so mean for, Miss? A man takes a drop too much once in a while. It's only human nature."  Rose replies, "Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above."

Many of our behavioral responses can be considered "human nature." For example, it is natural for people to blame others for their pain and anger. It is also natural for us to react defensively when feeling attacked. It is normal and natural to take things and people for granted over time. And it is natural for people to overlook all the positive characteristics of another and hyper-focus on their irritating traits. It is very natural and seemingly automatic to respond emotionally when in conflict with another person. However, as am quick to point out frequently in my office, just because it's natural doesn't mean it's healthy.

When faced with any kind of conflict, part of our brain is activated that has evolved for the purpose self-protection. 

Fight or Flight

When was the last time your life was in serious danger? Most of my clients can't even remember when they've been faced with a true life or death situation. Living in the desert, I was once confronted suddenly by a rattlesnake and was grateful to have that system working for me. However, the fight or flight system developed to not be able to distinguish between a real or a perceived threat. The next day, a harmless lizard crossed my path and I jumped as if it were a rattler! The adaptive need to be overly cautious led this system to be sensitive to false alarms.    

So, when triggered, it doesn't matter whether there is a venomous snake at your heel or a harmless lizard. The system works in exactly the same way for each, releasing . The system cannot tell the difference between 

The Evolved (?) Brain

Take a look at this figure of the brain. Our emotional responses result from an activation of a subset of brain structures deep inside the brain, called the limbic system.  

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