Do you know that animals are given pills for managing their behavior? Yes, it’s true. In his book, Stolen Focus, Johann Hari discusses, “There are parrots on Xanax and Valium, there are many species from chickens to walruses being given antipsychotics, and there are cats on Prozac. In fact, nearly half of all zoos in the U.S. now admit to giving psychiatric drugs to their animals.” To be honest, I was shocked. Seriously?! Even our animals need drugs for mental health support. Why is that happening? I read further to try to answer my question. Consequently, I read an interview between Hari and Nicholas Dodman, one of the leading veterinary specialists. He was discussing why horses are medicated, he said, “These horses are suffering from ‘frustrated biological objectives.’ Horses want to roam and run and graze. When they can’t express their innate nature, their behavior and focus go awry, and they start to act out. He told him the pressure of having your biological objectives thwarted is such that it opens a Pandora’s box, where you’ll try to find any behavior that will alleviate this crushing psychological pressure or inability to do anything.”
Can anyone out there relate to the horses? Anyone frustrated or stressed? In a sense, when you can’t be your true self and the stress feels insurmountable, you find ways to relieve the pain even if it’s temporarily. For everyone the behavior or even substance can be different. It’s no wonder our cases of people with anxiety and depression are at their all-time high. In 2019-2020, 20.78% of adults were experiencing a mental illness. That is equivalent to over 50 million Americans.
This led to me to think… if animals are experiencing mental health issues and taking anti-depressants for not being able to express their innate nature, what about humans? What is our innate nature?
Essentially, we all have physical needs, but never stop to think about the “emotional” side. In the book, Healing Developmental Trauma authors, Dr. Laurence Heller and Dr. Aline LaPierre introduce the NeuroAffective Relational Model (NARM). “NARM recognizes five biological-based core needs that are essential to our physical and emotional well-being: the need for Connection, Attunement, Autonomy, Trust, and Love-sexuality.” Although these needs are separate in themselves, they intertwine. It’s like ingredients in a recipe; without all of them, you can’t make the cake.
Unfortunately, some of us did not get these needs met in the family system we grew up in for a number of reasons such as: addictions, trauma, and shame-based environments. As children we are super adaptable. We learn quickly the way in which we need to “act” to get love, or any type of need met. You learn to live in an adaptive way.
You are denied your true self. So you move farther and farther away from how you are wired, away from your core biological needs to more and more of someone that you are not.
In the book, The Drama of the Gifted Child, Alice Miller describes the false self, “This denial begins in the service of an absolutely essential adaptation during childhood and indicates a very early injury. There are many children who have not been free, right, from the beginning, to experience the very simplest feelings, such as discontent, anger, rage, pain, even hunger-and, of course, enjoyment of their own bodies. Depression consists of a denial of one’s own emotional reactions.”
Again, can anyone relate? We have learned to be who everyone else wants us to be. In fact, with social media, people tell us more often who we need to be, what we need to look like, sound like and even what we are allowed to say or not say. We also have learned that feeling bad isn’t okay, we should only expose our highlight real. There are more and more messages of being a “false self.” This leads to additional behaviors and workarounds to “numb out” or find different ways to distract and entertain ourselves.
Instead of doing our inner work to get back to our core biological needs, we search for more pleasure to stop the pain, like Dodman said, “We will try to find any behavior that will alleviate the crushing psychological pressure.” The problem is that those behaviors are not the solution, they keep you more and more stressed and miserable.
Ultimately, the solution isn’t changing our external circumstances without paying close attention to our internal needs. It is important to recognize our own core needs and how they are intertwined. It is essential to learn how to connect with them and express them in a way that is healthy and in line with our true selves. Taking a step back and really understanding why we feel a certain way can help us to move away from the “fake grazing” and start to live our lives in a way that is true and authentic. That is how we can truly be ourselves and support our mental wellbeing. It is a journey, but one that is worth it.
Hari, Stolen Focus, page 219
Heller and LaPierre, Healing Developmental Trauma, page 2-3
Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child, page 12