At a time when our ancestors shared the planet with woolly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers, no one wanted to get left behind. Group inclusion was necessary for survival. Today, our greatest predatory threat is our own species, both physically and socially.
Regardless of this threat shift, the need for acceptance—and the fear that we won't be accepted—remain powerful influences on our thoughts and feelings. In fact, this in large measure fuels the existential anxiety that has become the hallmark of a generation, driving everything from people-pleasing to co-dependence to over-sharing on social media.
In other words, while our brains have evolved, that part of it that believes we must ensure we are included in our tribe, no matter the cost, is alive and well. It’s commonly referred to as our lizard brain.
The lizard brain is a physical location at the base of the brain. It’s called the amygdala, and it’s related to, among other things, our survival instinct, our fight or flight instinct. It tells us we need to slow our roll and not get too far out ahead of our pack. Because without our pack to protect us, our very lives are in danger.
This part of the brain causes much of our people-pleasing tendencies. It prods us to do what everyone else is doing so we don’t alienate anyone. It encourages us to hold back and not outshine others lest we are rejected.
So you can see why so many of us constantly fight our fear of what others think of us. It’s only human.
But, there is good news. We don’t need to just throw up our hands and give up, fated to always bow to and fight those in charge. We can change our brain’s pathways, making the lizard brain less prominent in our lives, decisions, and actions.
Neuroscientists have discovered that our brains are malleable. Neuroplasticity is the official term for our ability to form new connections and neural pathways in our brains by changing our reactions to daily events.
First, by noticing what people, words, and situations trigger our lizard brain. What makes you feel unworthy? What makes you respond to going along with the crowd even when you don’t want to?
Next, become aware of your emotional response to the trigger. But instead of judging the emotion (I shouldn’t feel this way. I should be grateful I have this job…) just notice it with curiosity.
This is simple, but not easy to do, so be gentle with yourself. Keep practicing, and you’ll be amazed at the shift that occurs in your life.