Why do we treat the environment with such callous disregard? It seems like we are daring Mother Nature to slap us back and teach us a lesson — this is just now starting to happen. The answer to why we treat the environment poorly parallels how we care for ourselves. It lies in the adverse experiences of our upbringing, both in our family and with the types of messages we receive from society. All of these inputs ultimately disconnect us from who we really are.
Disconnecting from who we really are which leads to why we treat the environment poorly
Here is what we know on a scientific, neurobiological level: There are two impulses deep inside of us that go in opposing directions: 1) our need for nurturing and abiding connection 2) our need to individuate and become our own unique person. This is important: when we are very young and cannot fend for ourselves, our number one priority is to stay connected with our caregivers. Connection is quite literally a matter of life or death. We’ll do just about anything to stay in connection. If in our early years we are presented with a situation where our caregivers are neglectful or demonstrate outright abuse, we will absolve our abusers of wrongdoing and turn ourselves into the bad one just so we can maintain our life-giving connection.
Psychologists call this splitting
At some level blaming and shaming ourselves is the price most of us pay to survive. This is the reason we have a pandemic of shame in Western culture. Once these habits are learned they are very difficult (but not impossible) to change. The hardest habits to kick are those learned at a preverbal age. Let me say again, for those people who want to change badly enough, the methodologies exist to alter even preverbal patterns. When we perform the life saving act of “splitting” we are in fact disconnecting from our true nature, and this splits us off from our connection with Mother Nature, which is why we treat the environment poorly.
Splitting goes a long way toward explaining what is known as “the human condition,” a subject that has been pondered by humans for centuries. Finally, here in the West we are seeing some real advances of understanding in this area, and none too soon. We need to change the way we treat ourselves, and the planet. Trauma-informed eco education and behavior change programs are essential to this effort. The roots of early adverse or traumatic experiences reside deep within us as adults, hidden from our conscious minds. On the surface our trauma might appear as a reactive habit pattern that’s difficult to change. It’s hard to change “issues” when you don’t know the extent of the problem, can’t see how deep the root goes. See my Blog on Trusting Gut Instincts.
Trauma-informed environmental programs
Jane Middelton Moz, talks about the importance of trauma-informed schools and care-giving systems. Why? It’s about effectiveness. When teachers and caregivers don’t understand where acting-out behavior comes from, it’s much harder to deal with. It’s also about compassion. When teachers and caregivers realize the pain that is underneath these behaviors, it’s much easier to respond with the type of compassion that spurs people to look deep inside so they will change their own behavior.
Jane is the Director of the Middelton Moz Institute in Vermont and Washington, is well known worldwide for her work in healing multi-generational grief and trauma in individuals and families, and has more books and credentials than I can comfortably ask people to read in this Blog. You can view her article on trauma-informed schools and care-giving systems here.
In addition to trauma-informed schools and care-giving systems we need to have trauma-informed eco education and behavior change programs. This will be the next level of wisdom on why we treat the environment poorly, and how we can make these programs more effective and cost efficient.
Agency for Earth is dedicated to making environmental programs a neuroscience and trauma-informed space. Check out our next educational workshop or give us a call to schedule a speaking event, group seminar or to help you plan your next eco-education or behavior change project.