Toxic Conditioning

Elisa A. Escalante/ LCSW/ 8-8-2022

It’s no secret that us humans are being conditioned toward lifestyles that may appeal to the masses, especially the rich people up top, that love to keep us productive so that we may help them get richer. There are other reasons too, especially on smaller scales. Parents want to condition their children so that they behave well enough in the household and in society as to not get hurt, hurt others, or make the ‘parent lose their minds’ over time. Individuals may condition their intimate partner to constantly ‘meet their needs’ and fill their voids. Managers and supervisors must condition the employees to get the job done well and in a timely manner. Overall, the purpose of conditioning humans is to make sure specific needs/ wants/ desires get met. Whether it is for profit needs, for productivity needs, or for emotional fulfillment needs. Why am I writing about this? Sometimes, conditioning can become toxic. Conditioning can lead people toward paths that are not only not good for them, but dangerous for their mental health and livelihood. Let’s look at some of the most common social conditionings in the U.S. and why they may be destructive for the average person’s mental health.

“Happily Ever After”

        First, it’s important for people to accept the fact that ALL EMOTIONS ARE FLEETING. There is no such thing as feeling any emotion permanently and forever. (At least not in our organic human organism world; maybe in an afterlife one can hope) Not only are emotions fleeting, but we have a wide range of emotions that serve us in specific ways. That being said, why are we trying to sell this myth of happily ever after? Perhaps adults believe that if we sell this to children, they will dream and aspire for that life and gain a sense of purpose through that ‘journey’ toward what they believe achieves happiness. The classic phrase: “The pursuit of happiness” is a more accurate statement. We can pursue joy but we cannot live in it forever. In mental health sessions, I see where this conditioning is harmful to individuals. When people express ‘I’m still not happy, I’ve tried everything”, or “This is not what I thought it would be” (because they thought they would feel happy always) what they are saying is that they are unhappy because their real life does not match the ‘life they dreamt up in their mind’ based on the expectations they were fed, and then hoped for. It’s also fed to us in fairy tales regarding marriage, the Ups and downs are never portrayed, just a sense of happiness forever, and then… the end. (Disney can’t show us the rest of the story because they even know it’s B.S.)

“The American Dream”

           I’m no historian, so I will just discuss my take on ‘The American Dream’, which continues to get questioned to this very day. The American dream is the concept of achieving that ‘cookie cutter’ happy home that we have seen in some popular fictional TV shows. This includes a nice stable income with a job you enjoy, a descent looking/ sized house/ a happy family etc. It’s sold not only as the ideal lifestyle, but one that most everyone should aspire to or else there is something inherently wrong with how they think as well as what drives them. Now, many are choosing different types of dreams, and different ways to make a living. There are still some people that stigmatize those that do not fit that “American Dream” image. There are many that will inner criticize themselves for not getting the “American Dream” by a certain age. Or getting it, only for it to slip away years to decades later. (Shame plagues those that lost their jobs, marriages, and/ or homes) The American Dream does not offer a whole lot of flexibility, especially in a recession! It requires a very clear-cut path that many are not suited for, nor does everyone want this. Let’s cut this out and expand our worldviews.

“You can do anything you set your mind to”

        Can I jump off a cliff and fly with just my human body alone?  Absolutely not! (Again, not in this organic biological world anyways) We, humans, can’t cancel out gravity. We cannot slow down our human biological clocks. (time) We cannot control everything, or do everything, we cannot be everywhere, and we cannot manifest something into reality. What we can do, is create goals/ objectives and plans. We can be future oriented, we can have purpose, we can hope, dream, and aspire to. Some of will accomplish meaningful things, and some of us will accomplish quite extraordinary things, but none of us can do ‘anything’ we set our mind to. Also, what if your mind was set to accomplish something that is impossible for you?  What if it puts you into a world of self-sabotage? It’s quite sad to see some people exhaust their energy into a realm that is not giving back to them, while neglecting their strengths and how they can achieve in more practical ways, that put less toll on them mentally/ physically. If someone finds themselves putting their all into achieving something, but they get nothing back except heart ache and depression, it may be time to ‘set your mind to’ a healthier path.

“Find that Dream Job!”

         Finding ‘The Dream Job’ mentally set’s us up to not appreciate the job we have now. Jobs aren’t about dreams. They are about earning income that can provide stability, and sometimes, they aid us by providing us a sense of purpose. Over the course of our lives, hopefully, jobs are like building blocks where we can build upon our skills to gain better overall skills. As our job performance and wisdom improve overtime, hopefully we get closer and closer to a job we do love. A lot of this also requires us to go through the growing pains of jobs we hate. We have to also learn what is ‘not for us’ by trying it out and seeing that it, in fact, ‘is not for us’. I’ve seen some clients and/ or friends alike ‘hold out’ for that dream job, just to suffer while broke and stubbornly not want to ‘accept anything less’. We waste both time and emotional energy if we get stuck into a pattern like that. This phrase should really be: “Journey through work to find a job you like/ tolerate because it helps you build meaning while, also keeping you funded and secure during your off hours too”. I guess that reality sounds a lot less extravagant than “Find your dream job” …oops!

“If they love you, they will ___________”

         We’ve all heard lines like this, and often, they set us up to sabotage a perfectly healthy and/ or meaningful relationship. Some expectations are healthy and reasonable, and some are truly irrational and/ or up for interpretation. “If they really loved me, they would take care of me” (financially and/ or emotionally) “If they love me, they will put up with my bad side too” (Even when/ if the ‘bad’ side is abusive….?) “If they love me, they will want me around them, and want to be around me all the time” and all the other unhealthy things we may convince ourselves of.

      Love is felt, more than it can be verbalized. What I mean, is that every human interprets love differently, feels love differently, and shows love differently. Someone else’s definition of love cannot and should not be your template. EVER. PERIOD. In therapy, when someone wants me to help them “WILL” another person into loving them, it’s a BIG red flag and will lead to a difficult time of supportive confrontation toward my client. When someone decides to determine that their abuse is their abuser’s version of ‘love’ toward them, that’s also heartbreaking.

     Love is a feeling and a chemical connection. Attaching expectations and rules to feelings/ chemicals is bound to create some let down. We cannot put emotions in a box.

Published by functionallymentall

Social Worker, Writer, USAF Veteran

One thought on “Toxic Conditioning

  1. Amen well said. I fell into all of those mentioned above. I’m living life a little differently now. Still learning things but most importantly I’m learning about me. I love this blog. Please keep it going.

    Liked by 1 person

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