Professional Christian Counseling
The Cause and Cure of Human Struggle
Values are Formed from Things we Dread or Delight In
Activation of the Left Amygdala Instituted Man’s Values System
As mentioned previously, the way that we developed a sin-nature has come from an activation of the injury detecting part of the amygdala that has made the human brain capable of distinguishing good from evil and harm from pleasure. We know from the Bible that the changes to cognition that occurred from eating the fruit, is what has led to the development of a sin-nature, but, how so? The dot that connects detecting goodness and badness with a sin-nature in humans is found in valuing.
Because mankind is now capable of distinguishing between pleasurable and unpleasant experiences, the human mind logs over time, a system of values that are subconsciously held there.
We put things that we have enjoyed―things that “we like”―into mental categories of those things we value. Having and gaining the things we like then becomes important to us. Likewise we put things that “we do not like” into categories of things we devalue. Because these memories are stored in the hippocampus and are designed to be controlled by the amygdala in fractions of a second, they become relatively subconscious motivations which often show up as reflexes, instincts, cravings or “gut reactions.” I often tell clients to be careful of what they dread or delight themselves in. Why? Because anything you dread, your left amygdala will try to push out of your life, which could include work and a spouse. Conversely, be careful what you delight yourself in. Why? Because anything that delights you will cause your right amygdala to try to bring more of that into your life. Sexual perversions and affairs may create strong positive feelings, but are not something to embrace. By example, your limbic system, comprised of right and left amygdala, routinely mixes up good vs. bad and gets it wrong. If we fail to engage our thinking the brain takes over and thinks for us. It does so in order to get or protect something we have learned to value. God designed us this way, giving us a bent toward self-preservation for the advancement of population. We subconsciously go after what we need to survive and protect ourselves from things that threaten our survival. Consequently we often do things without ever thinking about them.
Perhaps you have at some time in your life stared blankly inside of an open refrigerator or pantry. If so, were you looking for something to eat because you felt hungry? Or, were you looking there for some other reason unknown to you? If not knowing why you did something has ever happened to you, you were being motivated to satisfy something outside of your conscious awareness. If searching the refrigerator or pantry is something you have experienced, you were likely on a quest to satisfy your amygdala by finding something “yummy” to eat or drink. Perhaps you have driven home without knowing how you got there? Behaviors like these are times when the limbic system of the brain takes over causing us to go into “auto-pilot” mode. When our limbic system takes over, and begins thinking and deciding for us, it is generally trying to ameliorate some discomfort by attempting to gain something soothing or comforting for us or to remediate some threat―albeit automatically. Famed 19th century psychologist Sigmund Freud examined behaviors such as these not from a biological understanding of the limbic system working on our behalf, that discovery would not be made until the middle of the 20th century by a neuroscientist named Paul D. MacLean. Rather Freud (using his own values system), categorized self-protective, subconsciously motivated behaviors as defense mechanisms.
Unlike searching the refrigerator for something good, defense mechanisms are subconscious attempts to keep something aversive, or bad, out of your life. They show up as subconscious fears and anxieties, of which, phobias are a prime example. Often times these nonsensical thoughts, feelings and behaviors come from distortions of our values systems that have occurred due to some emotional injury that the hippocampus remembers but that we have long since consciously forgotten. The positive opposite can also happen. We can subconsciously behave to get or keep something we like. Eating is a prime example. We may subconsciously munch on something yummy simply because the amygdala tries to keep something good constantly flowing toward us. Sometimes referred to as emotional eating, we can snack and munch on delightful foods simply because we subconsciously value those tastes or because we value a full stomach providing a sense of security. Sometimes eating those things can reach addictive levels because we can’t seem to stop. The reason for that is because consumption is being controlled on a subconscious level and not consciously. This is why hypnosis can be effective in treating some addictions. Why? It is because the hypnotist becomes able to speak directly to the subconscious mind rather than through the less effective conscious mind. When being controlled by the subconscious (sympathetic nervous system), we often catch ourselves munching and say something like “Uggh…I have to stop eating those” because the conscious awareness of what we are actually doing to ourselves finally reaches our brain with the thought that we can get fat if we don’t stop. Of course, that is as long as we value, either being thin or devalue obesity, more than the yummy taste or feeling full.
In a practical example of values and associated distortions of those, let’s say you had choice between having an appendectomy versus eating a bowl of ice cream, most sane people would instantly choose the bowl of ice cream without thinking twice about it. That is because most of us value things that taste good and devalue things that bring us pain. But, should we? What if you knew that your bowl of ice cream would aggravate your appendicitis, and that not having the appendectomy could result in your death? If so, your choices might look very different. In order to choose the appendectomy you would have to change your devaluation of it. You would have to stop viewing it as bad and begin viewing it as good. In order to stop eating the ice cream (that we think is so good) we have to capture our subconsciously driven response to eat it, reverse our thinking and start viewing our consumption of it as bad. This of course is the premise behind Isaiah 5:20. “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (NASB).
In order for us to value something painful (like dieting from ice cream or exercise) we have to rearrange our values system by reprioritizing how we look at things and then base our decisions on what is best for our greater good rather than on personal comfort. The only way to do that is to assess the consequences of choices and intercept actions. This is the basis and crux of good counseling―helping people to see what they are subconsciously valuing and devaluing as well as the consequences of what their choices will be while helping them to value better alternatives. Good counseling must also include education because most people make life choices based on incomplete information (from not being omniscient) and by giving in to gut reactions of the limbic system, rather than from looking ahead to see consequences. Some mental health professionals have attempted to claim that counseling must be “value-free” whereby the client determines what is healthy versus unhealthy for them. Of course, based on the previous example, this thinking is absurd. Other professionals recognizing this truth have stated that counseling is “value-laden”. While even this statement falls short, it is clear that “values are everything” and that having the correct ones is what really determines health. Misplaced values cause humans to develop a sin-nature which is definitely something we are born with.
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 The Scientific Contributions of Paul D. MacLean (1913–2007), John D. Newman and James C. Harris, The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, Volume 197, Number 1, January 2009. Retrieved 05/18/2016 from: http://udn.nichd.nih.gov/pdf/MacLean%20tribute.pdf.
 Abnormal Psychology, 9th Ed., Gerald C. Davison, John M. Neale, Ann M. Kring, United States: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2004. (pp.28-29).
Values Formation Page
Mikel Kelly, MA, LMHC
The Vortex Model
Of Human Growth &
“Whether we call them challenges, crises, or conflicts, the trek to adulthood is difficult because the path is strewn with obstacles.” And, “Each life takes on a myriad of twists and turns.”
— Developmental Psychologists Robert
Kail & John Cavanaugh
Vortex Model of Development
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 Human Development: A Lifespan View, 2nd edition, Robert V. Kail & John C. Cavanaugh, 2000, United States, Wadsworth. (p. 18).