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When Your Subconscious Mind Acts Like A Scared Parent

When your subconscious mind acts like a scared parent, interrupting your life or resisting your efforts to implement change, with its hyper-reactive protective instincts, more than anything, its greatest need is, first, assuring words from you, then, follow up actions that emphatically say you now take full responsibility for the care of yourself and life.

Like a scared parent, your subconscious won’t let go of its protective role without assurance, in word and deed, that you can survive on your own. How will you take charge of your life and its direction, however, when a “parent” compulsively takes over in crisis?

What does it mean to have an overprotective subconscious?

It likely means you have, inadvertently, trained your subconscious mind to rescue you. Somehow, it has come to believe that:

  • You cannot handle events that trigger uncomfortable emotions inside you.
  • Your survival, thus, is in danger whenever you experience emotional discomfort, such as hurt, shame or disappointment—all of which are a form of fear.
  • You “need” it to alert you, by activating your body’s survival response, to defend yourself with automatic protective strategies.

In other words, it holds certain limiting beliefs in memory that lead to the conclusion that you absolutely need help you avoid feeling emotional pain.

Why is your subconscious acting like a scared parent?

Basically, it’s scared because it believes your physical survival is still at stake in situations that trigger painful emotions, when in reality it is not (hopefully)!

In charge of habit formation, the subconscious keeps a special pool of data in cellular memory, an accrued record of memories from birth. It places particular weight on early neural patterns that were formed in the first three to five years of life, a period when you were particularly vulnerable — emotionally.

This was a time when fears of rejection or abandonment were actual threats to your physical survival. As babies do not survive without love, your physical survival at this time depended on feeling safe by feeling loved.

The subconscious turns to this accrued data as a reliable source of information that helps it ensure your survival.

Each time it activates one of your defense strategies, such as an angry outbursts, blame, procrastination, etc., your body releases hormones that lower your anxiety to some degree. These quick-fix strategies release the love-and-safety hormone Oxytocin into the blood stream.

As a result, your subconscious mind concludes that this strategy “still works.” Defensiveness, however, causes problems in relationships.

The truth is that, as an adult, you can handle feeling your fears and anxieties, in fact, in order to effectively handle them, you must be willing to fully feel them, understand them as action signals, and so on.

So, how do you take your life back from an overprotective “parent”?

Your subconscious will let go of its “protector” role once assured, in word and deed, of your determined plan to take charge. Know that, it is not only open to being influenced by you, it’s been waiting for you to take conscious charge ever since you’ve had the cognitive abilities to do so–as an adult. That’s the master plan, the blueprint.

The outer attention of your subconscious mind is focused by your intention. By owning the power of your inner and outer choices, you make this a conscious process — and achieve a laser focus.

It starts and ends with how you communicate with your subconscious mind. It’s about how you relate, and a healthy new relationship needs a new mindset, an inner affirming communication—a new way of talking, thinking and believing about yourself and the possibilities for your life. Here are four relationship building communications your subconscious needs to hear:

  • First, you make an honest assessment inside. Are you really ready to do whatever is necessary to stretch out of these old comfortable places in your mind? Or, do you just want to blame or complain, which by the way, gets you a quick fix release of Oxytocin?
  • Second, once ready, you want to formulate and deliver a clear, concise and to the point message, which begins by letting the “parent” know you appreciate their well meaning intentions, nevertheless, that this is not helping and rather hindering you, and that you now have come to a firm decision to take the reins of your life, and are informing them of your plan to do so.
  • Third, you want the “parent” to know that you still want their support, however, a different kind of support. From now on, what you need is for them to believe in you, to trust you, to have confidence in you, to trust your abilities to do your own thinking, and — the big one — to respect your right to mistakes and learn from them!
  • Fourth, let the “parent” know that you understand it will not be easy for them, yet, because you know they love and want the best for you, you know they will be there to support you to succeed in making these changes.

The next step? Keep your word. The process above will involve revising your beliefs, replacing limiting beliefs with life enriching ones, and doing so, knowing that:

Your thoughts are powerful energy that shape and direct the chemical reactions in every cell in your body. A change in behavior necessitates a core change in beliefs, and the behavior in turn reinforces the belief.

But, that’s a subject for a future post!


Pert, Candace B (2003). Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine. NY: Scribner.

When Your Subconscious Mind Acts Like A Scared Parent

Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Relationship consultant, author, licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Athena Staik motivates clients to break free of anxiety, emotion reactivity, and other addictive patterns, to awaken wholehearted relating to self and other. She is currently in private practice in Northern VA, and writing her book, What a Narcissist Means When He Says 'I Love You'": Breaking Free of Addictive Love in Couple Relationships. To contact Dr. Staik for information, an appointment or workshop, visit, or visit on her two Facebook fan pages DrAthenaStaik and DrStaik

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APA Reference
Staik, A. (2011). When Your Subconscious Mind Acts Like A Scared Parent. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 25 Jul 2011
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