When we live in our nature (aka the natural), we live the way we are born – with our survival instincts and emotions in charge. These life preservers allow us to survive. They also limit our freedom to live life fully. However, we have the freedom to choose where we want to live and how happy we want to be. We can choose to live life in the natural or to go beyond that and live life in the super-natural. To make this decision, we must know what it’s really like to live in both places. This post, How Happy Are We When We Live in Our Nature? describes what it’s like physically, psychologically, and relationally when we continue to live how we are born.
Our survival instincts and emotions originate when we originate making them a powerful part of who we are. These emotional life preservers include fear, anger, and contempt. Shame and guilt come after we are born. They are especially important for the survival of our species but don’t develop until we realize the concepts of right and wrong. Our primal instincts correlate with the laws of nature, which are survival of the fittest and might makes right. Post #17 explains these laws and how we naturally follow them.
Our natural emotions are always at the ready protecting us from danger, harm, and death. But, when we overuse them they cause danger, harm, and death. In excess, these life preservers cause us to kill, steal, covet, cheat (commit adultery), lie, persecute, be slothful, and worship material goods and status. They set us up to be superior to others, dishonor those who were here before us, and ignore the goodness of our Creator.
Even though our species depends on these instincts, they function under the auspices of, “Every man for himself.” We are, by nature, self-oriented and selfish.
Natural Emotions are Directly Connected to Vital Functions
Our emotional instincts initiate as soon as there is life. Therefore, they are directly connected to our life sources – our vital functions. They arise in the same area of the brain where our heart rate, breathing, digestion, alertness, and wakefulness are regulated. This makes our natural emotions have a direct effect on our vital functions and our vital functions directly affect our natural emotions. When we feel afraid, angry, contempt, shame, and guilt our heart rate, breathing, digestion, alertness, and wakefulness are affected. If we experience issues with our heart, breathing, digestion, attentiveness, or sleeping, we become afraid, angry, irritable, guilty, and sometimes ashamed.
Natural Emotions Affect us Physically, Psychologically, and Relationally
This interdependent system between mind and body affects us physically, psychologically, and relationally. Let’s take a closer look at these effects starting with physical symptoms of excessive fear, anger, contempt, shame, and guilt:
As soon as we are alerted to danger, certain hormones get released that prepare our bodies to fight off the offender or take flight from the threat. If we are overcome with fear and don’t know what to do, our minds shut off and our bodies become paralyzed. In other words, we freeze. Many of us went into freeze mode as kids, covering up our heads to hide from the monsters in our rooms.
In order to fight or flight, we need more blood flow to our extremities. Therefore, our heart rate increases to push more blood to our extremities. This increases our blood pressure. Our breathing becomes rapid to increase the oxygen in our bloodstream. We sweat to regulate our body temperature. Digestion stops since blood flow is directed to more functional sites. Muscles tighten. We become more acute in our alertness and wakefulness (pupils dilate) and our immune response goes down so we don’t feel any pain.
If we live in chronic fear (like people with anxiety), we can end up with high blood pressure, digestive issues, excessive sweating, sensitivity to sound and light that induce migraines, muscle aches and pain, headaches, and a weakened immune system that makes us more susceptible to viruses, infections, and diseases.
The feeling of anger causes a surge of blood flow into the frontal lobe of the brain. Have you ever seen someone who was really mad get red from the neck up, like a human thermometer? Not only does the surge of blood cause a skin tone change, but it causes veins in the neck to expand. This causes an increase in blood pressure. Anger also causes breathing to be more rapid. When we are angry, we posture ourselves for the attack so our muscles become tense.
People who live angry tend to have high blood pressure and frequent body aches and pains. They’re inclined to develop weakened hearts and are more prone to coronary artery disease.
Anger can be turned inward or outward. Anger turned outward is demonstrated by physical and/or verbal assaults. Because of social norms, women usually turn their anger inward. This results in passive-aggressive behaviors such as sarcasm or sulkiness. The results of these negative behaviors can be pain, digestive issues, and illnesses.
Contempt is a combination of disdain, anger, and disgust. When something is disgusting, we know it’s not good for our health, so we want to rid ourselves of it. We express our disgust by saying things like, “That makes me sick,” “It made me gag,” or “I felt like I needed a shower….” People who hold onto contempt keep trying to rid themselves of something that is not good for them. Therefore, they are more inclined to have colds, coughs, aches, pains, and lowered immune systems.
According to Brené Brown, Ph.D. LMSW, an expert in shame, vulnerability, and empathy, shame is defined as, “An intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”
Internalizing the sense of being unlovable and unacceptable leads to fear and self-contempt. The disgust we have for ourselves when we feel shame can lead to issues with the pancreas and duodenum since the body wants to rid itself of what is disgusting (ourselves). People who are filled with shame frequently experience nausea, lethargy, digestive issues, inflammation, and infection.
Guilt differs from shame in that guilt focuses on the feelings of others and shame focuses on our own feelings. We feel guilty when we know we’ve done something wrong that affects others. Guilt is determined by our conscience. According to Brené Brown, guilt is, “holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.”
Guilt is helpful because it keeps us in right moral standing. But, carrying too much guilt is like walking around with a giant boulder strapped to your back. It weighs you down. Excessive guilt causes back and shoulder aches, insomnia, stomach pain, muscle tension, and headaches.
Living in our nature prolongs the production and use of stress hormones. Overdosing on these natural chemicals causes physical and psychological issues. It can lead to chronic pain, migraines, fatigue, respiratory issues, heart problems, obesity, diabetes, infertility, ED, and IBS. These issues have a direct effect on one’s mood and relationships.
Psychological Effects of Living in Our Nature
The stress hormones produced by living in our nature cause mood issues such as anxiety, panic episodes, depression, and irritability. In turn, anxiety and depression cause additional issues. Depression causes fatigue, weight gain, weight loss, loss of appetite, and irritability. Anxiety can lead to panic episodes that produce physical trembling, elevated heart rate, sweating, dizziness, and sensations of shortness of breath, smothering, or choking.
Living in our nature also causes issues of low self-esteem, lack of confidence, poor social judgment, isolation, paranoia, suspicion, lack of empathy, memory loss, poor recall, and poor concentration.
Effects of Our Natural Emotions on Relationships
Survival emotions are not mutually exclusive. They are linked. Each emotion has pieces of the others in it and each one leads to another. This compounds our physical and psychological effects which directly impact relationships. While the effects can start with one person, they are like a contagion that quickly spreads to others. In addition, the functionality of relationships can provoke a higher level of survival emotions.
The physical and psychological implications of living in the natural have a direct impact on relationships. Here is what living in nature looks like in relationships.
Fight, Flight, Freeze
The fight, flight, and freeze modes of fear translate into human behaviors of aggression, avoidance, and denial.
Fight mode/aggressive behaviors include:
- Violent assaults
- Volatile outbursts
- Use of sarcasm
These behaviors make a person threatening and unapproachable. No one wants to be around someone like this.
Flight mode/avoidance includes:
- Ignoring or not acknowledging someone, like not answering or returning a phone call, not speaking to someone.
- Changing the subject when someone is talking to you.
- Stonewalling– this is a blocking maneuver done more by men. They avoid talking about an issue that’s important to their wife or girlfriend.
- A lack of commitment or loyalty in relationships. This applies to many cohabiting couples, especially those who have children together. Children don’t learn commitment and are not shown loyalty in these relationships. It sets them up to continue living in the natural.
People who avoid create communication issues. Avoiders might be viewed as being snobby, stuck-up, weak, weird, or unfriendly.
Freeze mode/denial includes:
- Disconfirming – Is when someone talks over you and denies you the opportunity to talk, denies your importance, or denies you what you need or know. Examples: if you told someone you were thirsty and the person replied, “No you’re not. You just had a drink.” If you told someone in authority about something that happened to you and the person said you were wrong and it didn’t happen.
- Lying – We all know lying is wrong, bad, disrespectful, sinful, unethical, and immoral but it is easy to do. Whether we lie to ourselves or someone else, the outcome is never good. We lie by saying something that is not true or it by omission of information.
People who live in fear think of themselves first and foremost. They lack empathy, respect, and kindness for others. Their self-oriented attitude causes them to take things personally. This makes them easily offended. They are poor listeners since they are on constant alert. They are too busy anticipating what might happen to really hear what is being said to them.
Fearful folks tend to look at the dark side. They expect the worst and are wishful believers for the best. These “Negative Nellies” have a negative outlook on life. When you’re with these folks, you tend to counterbalance their negativity by being even more positive. This futile task becomes exhausting.
We know how it feels to be angry and how it feels when other people are angry. Angry people control others through dominance. Scaring people into doing what you want them to do destroys trust and love and all the goodness that goes with them. While angry people control others, they can lose control of themselves and create dangerous situations. We try to avoid angry people or work hard at trying to prevent them from being angry.
Shame Filled People
People who live filled with shame constantly work to protect themselves. They either fight to fend off potential attackers or flight and freeze by trying to shrink away from the crowd, isolate, or be invisible.
Shameful people fight to prove they are good enough. They feel so rotten on the inside (self-contempt), they try to cover it up by hiding behind a facade. They can:
- Make themselves look perfect with makeup or cosmetic surgery
- Alter their appearance with facial tattoos and piercings
- Inflate themselves by bragging, boasting, or being a know-it-all
- Dominate others by judging and criticizing or with aggressive behaviors
- Pretend to be super happy all of the time
- Be overly kind and generous towards people
People who are filled with shame and live in the natural may insulate themselves from the world with extra layers of fat and become overweight. Some may simply isolate themselves and become antisocial.
*Remember, this does not mean everyone who has tattoos, piercings, wears makeup, is happy, kind, and generous is filled with shame.
Live in Guilt, Drown in Responsibility
Guilt serves a good purpose in that it keeps us in check so we don’t commit harmful acts. However, to live in guilt is to be flooded with duty and responsibility. People who live guilty in the natural are overly responsible. They feel responsible for things out of their control, for other people, and other people’s actions. This sense of extreme duty and responsibility makes them control freaks, but in a nice way – by being people pleasers.
Guilty people must constantly atone for their transgressions and the transgressions of others. So, they over apologize. “I’m sorry” is a recurring expression for them. It becomes annoying to others and exhausting for the one bearing the guilt, especially when the guilty party apologizes for something he didn’t do or cause. “I’m sorry” turns into sorrow which turns into grief. It’s a miserable experience for everyone.
Use Our Natural Emotions on Others and We Need to Feel Them
When we live in our nature we experience our natural emotions more than any other emotions. We practice them with others, use them with ourselves, and we feel them. They are the emotions we have most. Since we can only give what we have, even if we intend to give someone love or joy, we will give them what we have. For instance, my mom was riddled with guilt. One day when I was a little girl, she held up her well-worn underwear and said, “See, this is what I wear so you can have nice clothes.” She was trying to tell me how much she loved me through her sacrifice of having nicer clothers. I didn’t get that. I felt guilty.
After we’ve lived in our nature for so long, we associate living with how we feel. So, we set ourselves up to keep feeling fear, anger, contempt, shame, and guilt. As long as we feel them, we know we’re alive.
Even though we know happiness exists and we want it, our natural emotions are easy and powerful. Unless we know what it’s really like to be happy, can accept the goodness of happiness, and learn how to be happy, we’ll stay where we are most familiar and our emotions keep us safe — in our nature.
What Scripture Says About Our Nature
The Apostle Paul tells us about our nature. “The sinful nature of man craves and wants to do evil (something that brings about sorrow, trouble, and destruction.) But it is not evil for ourselves we want this. It is evil for others and the opposite of love for others.” (Note: this demonstrates the laws of nature).
Paul describes in Galatians 5: 19-21 the effects of living in our nature. He says, “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”
Depravity of Living In Our Nature
When we live in our nature, we ignore God, seek our own desires, and follow the rules we make as we go. This lack of discipline and disrespect for God leads us to negative behaviors, internal suffering, discord, and strife. Paul tells us this in Romans.
Romans 1:26-27 goes on to explain the depravity of living in our nature: “…they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. …Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserve.”
Romans 1:29-32: “Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful.”
Paul goes on to say how living in our nature requires no discipline so people invent new ways of sinning and are disobedient to authority. “They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.”
Who Lives Here?
Who are the characters that reside in their nature and what are their roles? My next posts describe the residents of nature and the way they function, and what it’s like to live in happiness. Stay posted!
How happy are we when we live in our own nature?: