Our Organizing Principles

The Conscious and Unconscious Beliefs That Cause Us to Act as We Do

The patterns of behavior we form in early childhood are generally triggered by our reactions to how we are received by parents, siblings, and others close to us. Take for an example a child who spills her milk and experiences her dad’s response of getting furious, versus that same child if Dad responded by saying, “Don’t worry, it’s easy to clean up” and reassured her of his love for her. Each of the father’s possible reactions and the child’s reaction to his reaction can start a lifelong pattern of behavior.

In the case of the father’s reacting angrily to the spilled milk, depending on the child’s self-image and whether her relationship with her father up to that point has been largely positive or negative, she may react by 1) being a little upset and soon getting over it or 2) deciding that she will be super-careful never to “be clumsy” again so that she won’t give him a reason to be angry with her or 3) deciding, consciously or unconsciously, to do other things that will provoke her father’s anger so that he will at least pay some kind of attention to her.

As time goes on, these kinds of themes get more sophisticated and the resulting patterns become deeply ingrained. Eventually these patterns, which are rooted in our complexes, turn into the filters that the machinery uses to review every event we encounter. For good or for bad, the way these filters process what happens to us triggers our subsequent responses.

These filters are our mind’s beliefs about the world and our particular place in it, and they also determine what we believe we should expect from it. I call these beliefs our Organizing Principles. They are the guidelines that determine our actions and thus become the basis of our manual for what our standard operating procedures should be. When we’re on automatic pilot, our Organizing Principles generally set the tone for how we react to each event.

I have a friend who just can’t share his food. When we went to the movies as teenagers, if his date took some of his popcorn or a sip of his drink he wouldn’t touch it again. I have another friend who lives his life with the Organizing Principle “If I have a dollar, I’ll give my friends 50 cents!” It’s “I don’t share” versus “Half of whatever I have is yours.” Imagine how these opposite Organizing Principles that govern sharing seep into other attitudes about possessions and impact their lives without their necessarily realizing it.

Another example: A classroom teacher asks for volunteers to answer a question. A correct answer may lead to praise, while an incorrect answer may lead to humiliation. The meaning that a child’s machinery may infer from the teacher’s and class’s response can develop into a lifelong pattern of thinking, “I’m smart” or “I’m stupid,” and the birth of Organizing Principles such as “Always stand out” or “Never stand out” and “Volunteering is good” or “Volunteering is bad.”

Until we become aware of what our Organizing Principles are and make conscious choices about them, the machinery’s constant filtering of current experiences utilizing these past-based Organizing Principles determines the course of our lives. This is the reason I believe that most of the time we hear what we expect to hear and see what we expect to see—because our Organizing Principles—our beliefs based on our interpretations of past experiences, inextricably tied to our complexes—predispose us to do so.

To show you how our Organizing Principles work, I’ll describe some of the ones I’ve discovered in myself. They all stem from my machinery’s number one goal: survival!

Please note: I’m aware of these Organizing Principles and strive not to be run by them, and still they constantly seep back into my actions. Despite my having become aware of my Organizing Principles, they are silently waiting in the wings, ready to kidnap my actions as soon as my machinery thinks it smells danger. Then my machinery will stay in control until I become aware of what is happening and make the conscious effort to be in the present.

These are some of the Organizing Principles in my programming:

  1. The world isn’t safe; don’t trust.
  2. Painful feelings are dangerous.
  3. I must stay in control to be safe.
  4. No one will take care of my needs but me.
  5. Hang in there. I can make things happen.
  6. Avoid rejection and abandonment: Don’t risk losing the love attachment bond.
  7. Relationships between parents and children take precedence over all other relationships.
  8. I’m not qualified to handle painful situations. That takes a real adult, and in my inner world I’m still a vulnerable kid.
  9. If they (anyone close to me) loved me, they would never put me in a terrible position.
  10. Eventually, loving others will turn out.
  11. I’m a good guy and I never hurt anyone unjustly.

All of my Organizing Principles are inextricably tied to my set ways of presenting myself, and many of my characters grew out of them. Many of my Organizing Principles are related to the question of whether I can trust other people to meet my needs or whether I need to be solely responsible for meeting them myself. Organizing Principle #9 is related to an old mistaken belief of mine, that people who really love me should take care of me the way I think I deserve to be taken care of without my having to ask, and if they do anything that causes me emotional distress it means they don’t really love me.

Excerpted from My Mind Is Not Always My Friend by Steven J. Fogel (Peppertree Press), pp. 85–88.
© Steven J. Fogel