Recognising the Psychological Effects of Conditioning: Working with Feelings and Emotions to Release Inner pain and Unearth the Real Self
Many of us grew up in environments where we were taught to behave and feel in a certain way. If we dared protest, we were punished in unpleasant ways, thus cementing our acceptance and conformity to our programming which I will refer to as ‘mental conditioning’.
Punishment could be in the form of shaming, yelling, beating, belittling and even deprivation of love or basic necessities like food and daily care. For our own survival we learnt to conform as we did not have the emotional and physical maturity and means to take care of ourselves. However, the unpleasant feelings and emotions we experienced as a result of this conditioning did not go away. They were stored deep inside our tissues, in the mind-body, and obscured from view. The result was the birth of the ‘pain body’ according to Eckhart Tolle.
What is mental conditioning?
Mental conditioning is literally like a box or thought mould that we are fitted into and which, if we are not aware, unconsciously spend our lives conforming to. It often manifests as cultural norms, familial and societal expectations. For some people this is fine. They are satisfied with their lives of conformity. However, a significant few wake up to this conditioning and find it an unacceptable way to live their lives. They choose to break out of the mould and find their uniqueness and sense of purpose outside the societal mould. These are the people who society can sometimes regard as rebels and troublemakers. But are they? Or are they simply people with a deeper drive to fulfil their life purpose? Society does not accept non-conformity well. Non-conformists are usually shunned and ridiculed and often ‘shut out’ of opportunities as a form of reprisal for daring to be different.
Non-conformists often have deeper levels of courage and vulnerability necessary to unearth conditioning and root it out. They dare to demonstrate that there’s more to life than the boxes we are moulded into, with a limited view of the world and limited true knowledge of ourselves. “Think outside the box” is a common saying. What does it really mean? Dare to be free and risk being criticised and judged and called names for finding your path!
A significant side effect of mental conditioning is the risk of unfulfilled life potential. For some people, the sensing of their latent potential makes them mentally restless and increasingly agitated. Their soul is pushing them towards their destiny and the effort to align the outer self to the inner soul where that potential lies. Once the inner drive is ignited, it is impossible to suppress. The march towards the real self has to happen. The ego will rigorously resist and often there’ll be a crisis of confidence, belief and self-identity. They key, however, is to keep pushing through.
By potential, I’m referring to the strive to unearth and honour our innate gifts, our life purpose. That strive is an internal journey and requires clearing up years of conditioning in order to illuminate the calling. Often our life calling is not in alignment with what we believe we are and where society has pigeonholed us.
Releasing mental conditioning and finding our life purpose requires freeing the pain body, a product of conditioning.
What is the pain body?
In his book, The Power of Now, Tolle describes how the pain body comes about: “As long as you are unable to access the power of the now, every emotional pain that you experience leaves behind a residue of pain that lives on in you. It merges with the pain from the past, which was already there, and becomes lodged in your mind and body. This, of course, includes the pain you suffered as a child, caused by the unconsciousness of the world into which you were born.”
The pain body is a cumulation of unpleasant and unexpressed emotions from trauma that sit somewhere in our bodies. If left unchecked and unremoved, they create havoc in our lives. The pain body takes over our lives and becomes the control centre. In particular it takes over the mind and thoughts, thus affecting our perception of ourselves and the world and our role in it, our very sense of self and subsequently our behaviour. It becomes a habitual thought pattern.
We mistakenly associate who we are with the pain body. It is always there to keep us in check. Whenever we dare to venture out and explore our potential outside of our conditioning, the pain body ropes us back in with threats of doom and with unpleasant experiences. It sabotages, destroys, punishes, deprives, bullies and hurts. It revels in destroying you under the guise of protecting you. It is where impulsive behaviour and reactions come from. Over time, the pain body becomes a ‘mental virus’, again a term used by Tolle. It permeates all areas of your mind and psyche. The way you think, live and emote is all controlled by this virus.
The thought pattern and misguided associations driven by the pain body are often symptomatic of the depth of the mental blockages caused by conditioning and trauma. Releasing the ‘mental virus’ results in mind/body harmony and a healthy, well-functioning body.
How do we release inner pain from the past?
Dismantling the pain body requires shifting perception and perspective and acknowledging some fundamental life truths:
- The universe will always throw difficulties and challenges at us. That is part of life. When we change our perception to realise that the difficulties are tests and growth opportunities, we accept them and thus reduce our internal suffering. The harder the difficulty, the greater the learning opportunity. Not all difficulties will result in our triumph as we perceive it in the ego world, but the fact that we accepted the difficulty and did not run away and hide from it is a triumph in itself. We are never given difficulties we cannot manage. The universe does not make mistakes. It is us, in our fear and misguided perception who often create the mistakes and then project them onto the physical world. As the Buddha said, there will be suffering in life, but we do not have to linger in it. We can take steps to free ourselves from suffering by accepting what is.
- You reap what you sow. The more you become aware of and work on making your spiritual, inner world healthy, the more you’ll experience deeper peace and happiness. Fear abates. In the middle of what some would consider a major emotional storm, you’ll stay centred and peaceful. You trust the universe and know that the challenging time will pass, and you’ll come out stronger for the experience. It is during the difficult times that spiritual growth avails itself most profoundly.
We cannot live peacefully if our own fundamental truths are misaligned.
- The three points highlighted above indicate to me the importance of accepting our truth and trusting God and the universe. These fundamental truths ensure our foundation is solid and can withstand winds of change and uncertainty. This foundation is built by striking a balance between our physical and spiritual selves.
How do we overcome mental conditioning?
Meditation is imperative for spiritual growth, freeing up our mental space and releasing inner pain. Affirmations are key to changing conditioned beliefs. Subsequently, the continuing practice of both meditation and affirmations will foster lasting change. Self-awareness will grow and as it does, self-care, self-love and deep self-respect follow. When you experience this, your perspective broadens, and you awaken more of your life potential. You will no longer be concerned about the stigma of breaking out of the mould. With deeper levels of courage, you will clearly see and start releasing the unpleasant feelings and emotions you experienced and internalised due to mental conditioning. Once you are free from mental conditioning you will start to give yourself what you truly deserve and will attract only what is good in your life. You will also realise that, in the end, despite all the material and external exaltations, there will come a time when you only have your internal self to answer to, so building a good and supportive relationship with yourself is critical.
This quote from the great Muhammad Ali sums up the power of affirmations.
“It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”
– Muhammad Ali
May you arrive at the peaceful place where you let go of that which does not serve the best purpose in your life. May you always be calm, peaceful and healthy!