Rising Above Our “Animal” Nature: Overcoming our Animal Instincts is Key to Move from Conflict to Collaboration


by Dr. Kathleen Quinn

I think we forget that as humans we are members of the animal kingdom. We need to remember this so we can better understand how and why relationships work. For example, like many animals, we spend most of our time in groups. We live in a form of family group, work in some form of group, and we depend on others to help provide us the things we need such as food, services, healthcare, education and spirituality. Most of us choose to be with others in what we call friendships and close intimate relationships.

All of this requires a fundamental understanding of how relationships work. Most of us understand how to get our needs met in relationships from when we were children. Essentially, we learned demanding, crying, whining, temper tantrums, overpowering or cajoling, manipulating, maneuvering, pleasing and placating. You get the idea – as children, we learned active or passive means to get what we wanted and get others to do what we wanted.

Part of the work I do requires me to consult with business and organizations to support employee development. Often, when I enter an organization, what becomes readily apparent is the balanced-living number of adults who are acting as if they are on a playground. It doesn’t take long to see the kinds of children they were and how they got their needs met. Fundamentally, all relationships are based on power and the ability to move others to achieve “my” outcomes. This is true in the animal kingdom, and it is equally true for us as human animals.

We would all like to believe that we should be able to collaboratively decide together what needs to be done and how we should accomplish whatever needs doing. However, we don’t do this because at an unconscious level we need to be in control and get what we want. The dissention between us and others can be traced to this struggle, this need for power and control. This is the basis for our emotional states and responses, our learned patterns of behavior, and how we work and live with each other.

If only we could all just choose to behave differently. It’s not that simple; it’s actually much more complex. What we need to do is reprogram our brains to perceive and choose differently. We must create new neural pathways in the brain, then these pathways must be made strong by willfully choosing to use them. You see, our actions flow from our perceptions, which are composed of our historical experiences or our stored memories of the emotions related to experience. This is why we are so unaware of what we are actually doing in the moment.

If we could bring ourselves to moment-by-moment awareness, we could begin to see what is happening and examine much more clearly how we feel and think about the things happening around us. This is the point all of us need to reach before we can begin to collectively negotiate with each other to make changes that meet all of our needs.

Until we learn to reach this level of moment-by-moment awareness, there will be conflict, bullying, abuse, dysfunctional relationships at work and at home, in our communities, etc. This is something we must learn. It is the path to building stronger families and marriages, better functioning workplaces, and stronger, more peaceful, efficient and collaborative communities.

Dr Kathleen QuinnDr. Kathleen Quinn is board-certified in Integrative Healthcare and holds a doctorate in Marriage and Family Psychotherapy, and master’s degrees in Women’s Health Nursing, and Guidance and Counseling. Dr. Quinn’s clinical practice is Discovery Integrative Healthcare & Psychotherapy Centers, where she offers a variety of treatment services and consults with clients’ physicians, as needed. For more information, visit www.drkathleenquinn. com, or call 210-727-9234.

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