The Design of Nature: Biological Dream
Before we are born, our DNA contains specific instructions about how our bodies and brains are formed. In particular our brain structure is very interesting. Our brain structure is designed to develop in and live in a particular environment. It is as though we are all born with an appointment for a particular kind of community. I call this the Biological Dream. I will cover this material in detail in other chapters, but I’ll summarize it here.
- Safety: At the base of our brains is a structure called the reptilian brain. It is designed for survival, is prepared for emergencies, and desires safety. Safety is best defined as relaxed muscles, lower blood pressure, and an abundance of Playing, Mating, Nurturing and Creative Work behaviors. Safety is an absence of Fleeing, Freezing, Submitting, and Fighting behaviors. The human brain is designed for safety. Not optional. Thus we expect and seek safe communities. This is hardwired.
- Reliable Membership: In the middle of our brain, and evolutionarily the second major structure, is the mammalian brain. While it has many functions, one is very critical for this discussion. Mammals are herd animals, live in packs, need communities of their kind to survive. Separation from the home community will trigger fear of death, and thus trigger the lower Reptilian Brain’s survival drive. The impulse for staying together, coming together, for attaching and forming secure attachment bonds, for living together forever comes from this part of the brain. No wonder humans join up so much. Our brains are not designed to live alone. Thus we seek reliable communities. Not optional. This is hardwired.
- Diversity: The upper part of our brains, the cortical structures, is so complex and so variable that the differences between ways of seeing the world become a major issue with a small child. They sense that everyone sees everything differently. This awareness can be a source of fear. Thus children need and seek comfort for their sense of being different from all others. This situation leads to seeking safe, reliable relationships, where differences are completely acceptable. This is hardwired.
- Autonomy: Again, the upper part of our brains mediates between the world of experiences and the world of actions. Humans do not react. Humans observe, process those observations, and then choose actions. Human actions are determined within the individual, and are not externally determined. (See Wm Glasser’s wonderful book on Choice Theory). We never do what we are told. We do what we choose, when we are “told”. We are not designed for obedience. We are naturally self-determining. This leads us to seek a community that encourages our self-choosing. This is hardwired.
- Purpose: This is a bit more difficult explain, partly because it leads into the spiritual. I’ll say it in two ways. Every human has potential. Maslow spoke of Self-Actualization. Frankl spoke of Meaning. The way I see it, all humans are born geniuses – at something. No two are identical nor carry identical genius. When we act out our genius, two things happen: we feel an abiding sense of purpose or meaning, and we are very productive toward our community. This potential, this purpose, is “our reason for being alive.” It takes a supportive community to help us grow the seed of genius to maturity. The drive toward this genius leads us to seek a community that cares about nurturing our wholeness and which needs our gifts. This situation is hardwired.
These 5 needs have a priority built into them. First comes Safety. Without that nothing works. Next Reliable Membership. Without these we cannot get into deep conversation and to connecting our different selves to each other in an intimate relationship – i.e. Diversity and Autonomy. And finally, from a sense of safe, reliable, diverse autonomy emerges Purpose – the full growth of integrity in relationship to others.
Summary: Deeply buried in our structures, before we learn anything, are needs for safety, reliable community, diversity, autonomy, and purpose. We do not have to be taught to have these needs anymore than we need to be taught to eat. When we fall-in-love the expectation of fulfillment of these needs becomes fully active. We think we are about to get it all.
THE TRADITIONAL FAMILY
Children grow up experiencing many relationships in all their details. I call these the traditional or homestyle relationships. This learning and experience is all about how their parents relate to them, how they relate to their parents and each other, how parents relate to each other, how parents relate to others outside of their home. Some kids come out of childhood wanting a marriage just like mom’s and dad’s. Some don’t. But all are familiar with the ins and outs of those relationships.
The scale of the desire to be out of their parent’s home can be seen by comparing the Biological Dream, the needs and expectations of the brains the children carry, with the experiences of the home style relationship.
Most parents are interested in controlling their children and each other. Thus they do not create a safe (reptilian brain safe) home, rather they use threat of unsafety and fear as a way of achieving that control. Children “obey” because it is not safe to appear to do otherwise.
- Safety is broken almost constantly as children learn to submit and hide and flee and fight as a way of surviving at home.
- Reliable Memberhship is again sacrificed into the parent’s need for control. Children are sent their room if they don’t obey. “My way or the highway” does not sound like reliable membership. Fear of being abandoned is common.
- Diversity is directly challenged as parents tell their children what to think as part of their instruction. Parents define children, correct their differences and punish disagreement.
- Autonomy is also directly avoided as parents prime need for control leads to need for obedience from beings that are only capable of choosing to “appear” obedient.
- Purpose is almost completely ignored as parents try to “guide” their children into career choices that tend to fit the needs of the parents.
Thus the TRADITIONAL or homestyle relationship does not match the biological dream. Parents, and I believe most parents are doing their very best, often do an incredibly poor job. No one helps or teaches or guides them. And children are not taught to understand their own needs. The Biological Dream is a deep physical reality with almost no awareness.
Falling – in – love
As people approach that romantic process (become available, wait for romance, bond) they bring both their Biological Dreams and their experiences of their TRADITIONAL FAMILY with them. Since Romantic Love is such a dream process, look at how active the Biological Dream is. I dream we will be safe and relaxed together. We will leave the madding crowd and make a safe haven. (BD#1). I dream we will always be one till death do us part. (BD#2). I dream that you will really understand me. Our’s will be a relationship of intimacy and buddies. (BD#3) I dream that we will never order each other around. We will just want the same things. (BD#4) I dream that you will care about who I really am and I will care about who you really are. We will help each other reach the stars. (BD#5). These experiences are pretty universal because we all have hardwired the same impulses.
Of course the effect of the PEA driven mating arousal is a significant factor, but so is the Biological Dream.
The big difference between these two pre-romantic impulses is that the Homestyle Relationship is full of skills, while the Biological Dream has none. A skill is a behavior that when you do it first is hard, when you do it for the 50th time it is easier, when you do it for the 500th time it is automatic. The training of the Homestyle Relationship is full of these skills.
For example, the habit to get angry when you don’t get your way is learned at home. The tendency when ordered to cower, submit and resent comes from there. Hundreds of skills are taught during those childhood years. When you join in a relationship you bring these now-automatic skills.
However, unless you were raised by people to whom the Biological Dream is a reality, you probably have no skills of how to deal with safety, reliable membership, autonomy, diversity or purpose. Yet that is a powerful dream.
This imbalance in training is a great source of trouble. The main source of trouble during the power struggle is that when things aren’t going right members of a couple use the Home Style skills to try to obtain the Biological Dream. But the home style skills earn you distance, dismay, hatred and solitude. Still they are all you know.
Clearly the solution to this problem is to go to school.