Automatic Response Patterns In The Brain: What They Are And How They Affect Us
Updated: Jan 28
Auto responders, or automatic responses in the brain are put there in one of several ways. Either they are put into place by repetition, (ie. habitual thoughts or actions) or, auto responses come from belief systems. (ie. repetitive thoughts specifically surrounding the validity of a thought, thoughts surrounding right and wrong, good and bad, acceptable vs unacceptable etc.) And typically our repetitive habits are also a result of our beliefs. Very few habitual actions result from a place other than a deep subconscious belief.
Our beliefs impact our lives drastically, and whether we believe a thought or action is good or bad has a great impact on our automatic responses in any given situation.
Automatic responses, or subconscious decisions that are not brought into conscious thought BEFORE being acted upon or judged; are the driving force behind most of our thoughts and actions as humans.
For example, if we have a belief that expressing any form of outward anger towards anyone else is wrong, bad, hurtful, or harmful in some other way; when we feel anger rising up inside of us, our first gut response, (or auto response pattern) may be to walk away from such a situation BEFORE anger is allowed to be expressed outwardly.
And so, without consciously ever even deciding to walk away, we may find ourselves walking out of an office staff meeting without eve realizing why we are doing it.
That behavior of walking out of the room is a result of a BELIEF that expressing anger is bad, so because expressing anger is no longer an option based on the belief we have in place, a behavior that the brain feels IS a more viable option (such as walking out of the room) will be employed.
Or perhaps you have the belief system that if you REALLY love someone, you should NEVER walk out on them. Period. End of story. If this is the belief you have, without ever having likely made a conscious decision to make the choice to stay, you are likely to find yourself remaining in an argument no matter how bad it gets. You may never even have the thought “I have to stay, I can’t leave just because I’m angry”, but even without that conscious thought you will still find yourself being compelled to stay, as if by a magical force.
These responses are called “auto responders” in the brain. These auto responders can be difficult to change, especially if you don’t even know they are there deciding things in the background of our lives on a second to second basis without us even realizing they are there.
Every belief we choose, no matter whether it is a big belief such as whether there is a God or not; or whether it is a small belief such as “all leaves die in the winter, but that’s not sad because they come back in the spring:” both big and small beliefs, of which every human has tens of thousands, all come with their own set of pre-programmed, or “automatic” response patterns. And when we choose a belief, no matter how small, we ALWAYS also by default choose an automatic response pattern to go along with that belief.
If you believe guns and loud noises are dangerous, (or at least potentially very dangerous,) you WILL have a physical fear response in your body if someone sitting next to you suddenly pulls out a gun and fires it unexpectedly.
But, if for example you had the belief that guns cannot hurt you, they only shoot marshmallows, and you had been taught all your life and experienced that the loud sound of gunfire was ALWAYS the signal of a huge celebration and loads of fun...
If THAT was your belief around guns, you would NOT have the same physical fear response in your body, and as a result your psyche would not have the same fear response as someone who believed guns to be dangerous.
Now if you were actually harmed by the gun, not merely just startled, you would have a fear response regardless of the beliefs you held. But simply believing that something is associated with danger and violence, vs. something being a celebratory item, can change the entire physiological response of the body.
So, when we wish to change our physical or mental response to something it is almost always entirely pointless to try and do so without first examining what beliefs are activating those particular automatic responses that we wish to re-write or change.
You cannot stop feeling afraid of something that you BELIEVE is likely to hurt/harm you in some way. Human brains are wired against being able to do so for our own protection and preservation. Not allowing our being to easily act against our own deep beliefs is how the body and psyche both protect themselves from harm. If the mind believes something is dangerous, harmful, immoral, etc. the body and/or emotions will have a “negative” or unpleasant response to try to deter us from an experience or act that goes agains our belief.
Our minds are designed to remember what works and doesn’t work for us, what is safe and unsafe, and how to best navigate life in a manner that will harm us the least. If we kept all these thoughts in the conscious realm, our minds would be constantly overloaded with facts, and trying to sort through choices like “is if safe to touch a hot burner?” and other mundane safety concerns. So, in an effort to streamline the process, the subconscious mind takes over many of these "safety concerns", and turns them into “reflexes” so to speak, instead of conscious thought. We automatically recoil from the touch of a hot burner, or the sound of a gun firing unexpectedly. We don’t have to think “wow that’s a gun shot, I should react in fear!” we simply JUMP and our body releases fight or flight chemicals before our conscious mind can even determine what happened.
And all of those subconscious responses are pre-programmed based on our individual beliefs. So, rather than constantly trying to fight a pre-programmed response; kind of like a video game character that is locked into the responses programmed into the game, we must instead change the coding of the “game” itself, (ie. our beliefs) so the story, and thus the resulting automatic behaviors will also be removed/changed.
Changing our beliefs can be a daunting task for sure, as we have countless thousands of beliefs that govern our moment to moment behaviors without us even realizing. However, taking the time to truly look at each and every underlying belief that results in the automatic behaviors (triggers, reactions, etc.) that we exhibit every moment in our every day lives, is something so unbelievably valuable, and so worth our undivided attention.
Attacking our responses and reactions… trying to “control anger” or “learn more patience” or “have a better attitude” becomes laughable at best, and utterly wasted energy and efforts at it's worst, when we understand that every response or reaction that isn’t 100% on purpose IS coming from our beliefs. And let’s face it, very few of us INTEND to react angrily to our children, or in a petty way with our Husband. Most of the time it “just comes out”. And THAT, is our perfect little alarm system. When a response isn’t coming from a conscious intentional place, we can be SURE it is coming from an underlying belief system.
And underlying belief systems can be changed.
We just have to become aware of them, and do the work it takes to put new belief structures in place. It’s a hard process sometimes, but it’s a heck of a lot easier than fighting the current trying to change outward patterns without changing the beliefs that are powering them.