Humans are utterly fascinating creatures in that their beings are comprised of multiple, independent elements that relate to each other in different ways. Getting a better understanding of your own inner workings is beneficial for many reasons, so let’s now delve deeper into the fascinating concept of how your elements pull rank on each other.
The Two Alphas
The subconscious part of your mind and your soul are the two alpha elements of your system. Your subconscious micromanages your conscious, and it plays the role of a protective guardian over your body. If you think of your subconscious as a dominating mother figure, then your conscious and body are like the obedient kids who depend on her for guidance and protection. Your soul is like the dad who no longer lives at home because he and mom had a falling out. But dad is still very much in the picture, and unlike the kids, dad doesn’t let mom push him around.
Your soul and subconscious see each other as both partners and competitors. They must cooperate with each other to keep your entire system in balance, but they are also very invested in pursuing their own interests.
Your soul and subconscious have different priorities, which often results in conflict. Your subconscious is extremely protective in nature. The safety of your body is a top priority for your subconscious, as is protecting its fragile counterpart: your conscious. Well aware of how critical its function is in keeping your body and mind running smoothly, your subconscious is also very guarded about its own well-being. It is a fierce defender of its own resources and boundaries, and will go to great lengths to protect itself from overload. Understanding the strong personality and determined nature of the subconscious is very important for counselors. By the time a client comes to a counselor for help, their subconscious is already stressed out and on its guard. How the counselor approaches the subconscious will have a big impact on whether or not the subconscious will be receptive to any therapeutic efforts.
Now while the subconscious is focused on keeping the ship afloat and on course in the day to day, your soul is looking at the bigger picture. When people say things like, “I just want to be remembered,” or “I want to leave my mark on this world,” that’s their souls talking. Your soul needs to feel like you matter–that you are more than just one forgettable blip in human history. This need for you to have a significance that will somehow reach beyond this life exists regardless of whether or not you subscribe to a particular religion. Feeling significant, worthy, and respectable are core soul needs that every human has. Feeling safe, nurtured, normal, and socially accepted are some of the core needs of your subconscious. At first glance, it seems like all of these needs should be able to be met at the same time. But here is where the different value systems of your subconscious and soul end up creating some unexpected problems.
What does it mean to be “respectable”? Your soul wants you to be morally respectable. Your subconscious wants you to be socially respected. Sometimes both of these agendas can be accomplished at the same time, but sometimes they can’t.
Your subconscious considers safety to be a top concern. It’s desire for you to be socially respected is really motivated by a desire for you to be safe. Safety is an entirely different issue than morality.
Suppose a teenage boy named Jack lives in a neighborhood that is dominated by a street gang. The gang is constantly doing very shady, immoral activities. When Jack’s subconscious and soul analyze this situation, they draw very different conclusions about what the boy ought to do. His soul is against the idea of Jack joining in any gang activity, because it finds committing crimes morally offensive. But Jack’s subconscious is extremely concerned with Jack’s safety and it feels that joining a gang will give Jack much needed protection in his volatile neighborhood. Jack’s soul and subconscious fight intensely over this issue, with both sides looking for circumstantial evidence to back up the rightness of their positions. When the kid across the street gets arrested for crime related activities, Jack’s soul says, “See?! His life is ruined because he has committed a crime! Now he’ll have to live with a felony record his whole life! Where is the self-respect in that? It’s not worth it!”
But when another boy gets shot and killed by the powerful gang that rules over Jack’s neighborhood, his subconscious says, “See?! You’re wrong! It’s too dangerous for us to hold a neutral position in this war zone! We have to pick a side, and obviously joining the gang is the smart move to make because they control this area. If we get in with them, we will be much safer than we are now!”
As his soul and subconscious continue to argue fiercely with each other, Jack’s overall stress level remains very high. He has seen the way the members of the local gang treat each other, and it isn’t very nice. There are frequent fights, and it seems the leader of the gang keeps his boys in line with physical beatings. Jack’s body wants to remain physically safe and really doesn’t like the idea of getting punched and kicked. But Jack’s body relies on his subconscious to care for it, and Jack’s subconscious is insisting that some minor injuries are worth enduring if it will keep Jack from getting shot. Meanwhile, the Jack’s conscious is listening to his subconscious and soul constantly arguing with each other night and day and that makes his conscious feel very upset. The conscious is rather delicate, and its ability to concentrate is easily impaired when it senses friction between other elements. All of the warring between his soul and subconscious is making it hard for Jack to concentrate in school, and his grades are starting to drop. He’s constantly feeling anxious and stressed.
Like the conscious, the body is also very sensitive to fighting between the soul and subconscious. Jack is having trouble relaxing and digesting his food. His insides always feel like they are clenching nervously.
Now when the subconscious gets really fed up with what the soul is doing and feels that the soul’s agenda is putting the whole system in too much danger, the subconscious will take advantage of its powerful influence over the body and conscious to override the soul and get its own way. One day at school Jack sees the leader of the gang standing nearby. As if it has been suddenly taken over by an autopilot, Jack’s body walks over to the leader and says he’d like to join the gang. Jack’s soul is adamantly protesting what’s happening, and his body is extremely anxious about what kinds of initiation rituals it will have to endure, yet Jack feels like he’s no longer in control of what he’s doing. It’s like he’s become a robot that is being driven by an internal force he can’t stop.
Addicts often experience the kind of automaton experiences that I just described. For example, there are many kinds of psychological traumas that can result in your subconscious latching onto porn as a stress relieving activity, (see Deviant Porn & Your Subconscious: Understanding the Appeal.) Trauma driven porn addictions often result in an intense mental attraction to very dark and disturbing porn images–not the “vanilla” style where it’s just a male and female being overly theatrical in their mutual pleasure of getting it on. Deviant porn addictions are usually quite shocking and appalling to the soul, because they grossly violate the soul’s moral code. You don’t have to be religious for your soul to find it immoral to watch images of adults getting sexual with kids or animals. Remember that all souls have a moral code–definitions of right and wrong that they pick up through their experiences in this world.
Understanding how strong the subconscious is and what its priorities are will help you make sense out of moments when you feel as though some force greater than you suddenly takes you over and makes you do what you don’t want to do. When your hand automatically reaches for that mouse and clicks play on some shockingly dark porn video even though you feel another part of you screaming “No! Stop! I don’t want to be this guy!”, that is a case in which your subconscious is taking over control of your body, and forcing it to submit to its agenda.
Imagine a kid whose two parents are each yelling at him to do opposite things. “Do the dishes right now!” “No, forget the dishes! I want you to clean your room first!” As long as mom and dad appear to be evenly matched to each other, the boy stands there anxious and frozen, afraid to side with either parent because he really wants to please both. But then suppose mom grabs a bat and screams, “I said do the dishes–NOW!!!” Now that mom is armed with a weapon, she clearly outranks unarmed dad, so the boy scrambles to obey mom.
The scenario I just described depicts the quandary your body gets in when your soul and subconscious start bombarding it with opposing commands. The subconscious shouts, “I want porn! I want alcohol! I want drugs–do it NOW!” But at the same time, the soul shouts, “Don’t you dare! Those are all immoral activities and you know it! Watching porn is a sin! Getting drunk and high are despicable things! You know what a violent monster you become when you drink! Do you want to lose your wife and kids?! Do you want to get fired from your job like some loser?! Don’t even think about doing those things!” And yet in cases of severe, unprocessed trauma when the subconscious feels desperate to get some stress relief, your subconscious can suddenly arm itself by giving your body a terrifying ultimatum. “I swear if you don’t do what I say I will withhold resources from you and turn your existence into a living hell!” As soon as the subconscious ups the game like this, the body immediately capitulates. Your hand seems to move on its own to fire up that porn video, grab that bottle of alcohol, or toss back those potent pills. Sure, you can hear your soul screaming its protests in the background, but in that moment, you truly feel as if you do not have any choice.
Recognizing when a subconscious takeover is happening is critical to treating addictions effectively. Many addiction treatment programs do not acknowledge the reality and needs of the subconscious, let alone its ability to completely override the will of the soul. Religion based addiction recovery programs usually focus on trying to guilt the body into siding with the soul at all times. This is completely unrealistic advice and often leads to addicts feeling significantly worse as they continue to experience subconscious takeovers.
The key to treating addictions effectively is to first correctly diagnose which alpha element is pushing for the behavior. Usually it is a very stressed out subconscious. Once the right element is identified, the next step is to figure out how that element feels the addictive substance is helping it. Trauma driven porn addictions have nothing to do with lust or perversion. They are strategic efforts relieve stress, and often that stress relief has become critical to the subconscious feeling like it has any hope of keeping the whole system online and functioning in the day to day. In these cases, the top priority needs to be lowering the subconscious’ stress levels. Instead of shaming the subconscious about the methods it’s using to manage its stress (which is only going to make it feel more agitated), therapy should start with getting the soul to stop bullying the subconscious and instead develop compassion for the subconscious’ struggles. This doesn’t mean chucking your moral code out the window. Instead, there are ways to help the soul see that there is room to maintain a moral code and be merciful and kind towards its suffering companion. As the soul learns to have sympathy for the subconscious’ problems, the soul shifts into a supportive role with the subconscious instead of siding against it. Having your two alpha elements start acting like friends instead of enemies will have a very positive impact on the entire system: lowering stress levels, and freeing up resources for the subconscious to try other therapy methods.
While subconscious takeovers are more common, soul takeovers are just as real. In the case of the latter, the body and conscious end up feeling coerced into aligning with the will of the soul. A classic example here is shame driven self-harming addictions. Since your body’s top two priorities are staying safe and feeling good, why on earth would it intentionally inflict serious injury on itself? Why would a man intentionally drive himself into a state of emotional starvation by refusing to let himself indulge in any kind of friendship or romance?
People who feel they have committed “unpardonable sins” are well positioned to experience a soul takeover. A soul’s current set of beliefs determine what the soul considers to be “unpardonable.” When a person who already feels terribly ashamed of something they’ve done is also actively involved in a religious community which is constantly amplifying their shame and pressuring them to prove the sincerity of their repentance through self-harming behaviors, the soul can easily become desperate to bring its own stress levels down. In such cases, a person can suddenly experience the same kind of robotic mindset that is experienced during subconscious takeovers. The body suddenly seems to move of its own accord, no longer waiting for conscious prompts. And while part of you is frantically protesting what you’re doing to yourself, a greater internal force is causing you to continue.
Both subconscious and soul takeovers tend to happen in short bursts, and afterwards there is usually great distress and exhaustion experienced as the person feels they regain a normal sense of control over their beings.
Properly diagnosing a soul takeover is the first critical step in stopping self-harming behavior. Soul takeovers have to be handled differently than subconscious takeovers. The two alpha elements have different sets of beliefs and different agendas. When the soul is the one feeling overwhelmed with stress, the specific beliefs causing that distress need to be identified. The soul then needs help in identifying better tools for lowering its stress.
Because mainstream psychology doesn’t acknowledge the existence of the soul, many counselors are not equipped to handle the soul as the separate entity that it is. Trying to stop self-harming by pointing out the toll it’s taking on the person’s body is like trying to pressure the body to align with the subconscious against the soul. The body and subconscious already disagree with what the soul is demanding, but the soul is so riled that it is effectively intimidating all of the other elements into submitting to its agenda. In these cases, the soul needs to be worked with directly, and it needs to be approached in a gentle and respectful manner. Its beliefs need to be revised, but only in a way that enables it to keep its priorities intact. You can’t just say, “There is no such thing as an unpardonable sin” or “Don’t you think you’ve punished yourself enough?” Both the soul and subconscious are very logical entities, and they need convincing logical arguments to be presented before they will feel comfortable revising their beliefs.
Respecting the Alphas
To effectively deal with any kind of crisis in your system, you must respect the two alpha elements. Trying to resolve a problem by only working with the body or the conscious won’t work, because these two elements are constantly submitting to their alphas. A hallucinating, scattered, or obsessing conscious is acting the way that it is as a response to what it senses the subconscious and soul doing. A body that is sliding down into ever worsening health is also being negatively affected by trouble among the alphas. Trying to manage surface symptoms with prescribed medications and mind focusing techniques are fine as far as they go, but these kinds of temporary patch jobs won’t last long. Root causes must be addressed, and that means listening to what the soul and subconscious have to say. Each alpha element has a very strong will and a set of personal priorities which it is very committed to. By treating these elements with the respect that they deserve, and recognizing the differences between them, many wonderful things can be accomplished.
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