For hundreds of years, we have believed that maturity meant that we no longer were subject to unpleasant feelings and the key to our success was in our ability to use our rational brain while ignoring and controlling our emotions. We now know that our ability to self‐ actualize lies in our ability to experience and use our emotions in combination with our rational brains. Humans have three brains, not just one. All three brains are connected to each other through neural pathways and they communicate with each other in a computer like fashion. Each of the brains has its own purpose, function, and intelligence. The three brains are the reptilian brain (instinctual), the limbic brain (emotional) and the neocortical brain (rational).
In the Striving Styles System, the emotional and instinctual brains, with their neural connections, are called the Self‐Protective System. This System ensures our survival as human beings, has hardwired neural pathways, and develops first. The rational brain, which
has limited neural pathways to the emotional and instinctual Brains at birth, develops last. These three brains with their connections are called the Self‐Actualizing System.
The three brains are designed to work with each other. When the brain develops along its
desired trajectory, we build strong pathways between our rational, emotional and instinctual brains. This Self‐Actualizing System regulates instinctual brain impulses, which allows us to set goals, imagine what is possible, delay gratification, manage negative impulses and make decisions in the interest of self‐ care. It allows us to continue maturing and develop the capacity to use our whole brains, to become flexible and resilient, able to manage our lives, adapt to change, and become who we are meant to be.
However, if childhood stressors interfere with the establishing of neural pathways between these three brains, we stay living from our Self‐Protective System. The rational brain can’t stay on course with its own development. Instead, it has to keep in check impulsive reflex reactions that keep popping up. It adopts a policing role instead of a planning, visioning and deciding role. This leads to exercising control over emotions and instincts rather than assimilating them into an integrated approach to self‐management.
The SP System is wired to protect us from real or perceived threats to our survival and is activated by fear and other associated emotions. Threats may be external or internal, real or imagined. The system’s reactions are automatic in nature and give rise to
freezing, withdrawal, avoidance, or flight reactions without any attempt to understand or question; the only goal is to survive. Because this brain system does not learn from mistakes, it keeps doing the same things without understanding
why. Not surprisingly, the behaviors prompted by our SP Systems are often mystifyingly self‐destructive.