The brain is like a horse and a rider. Yes, the two operate as a team but they are separate and distinct from one another. The rider represents the conscious mind; the horse, the unconscious. The rider thinks he’s in charge, but it’s the horse with the final say. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. The horse is bigger, stronger, faster, and more “wild” than the rider. Worse, they don’t always agree on which direction to go. When presented with identical input, the horse and rider may come to very different conclusions.
Thought suppression is a perfect example. While the rider brain understands perfectly that “Do not touch the stove. It’s hot,” means “Do not touch the stove. It’s hot,” the horse brain doesn’t hear the word “not.” It disappears. So, when the toddler reaches out to touch the hot stove, our rider brain thinks, “What just happened? He did exactly what I told him not to do!”
This is why people often make irrational, illogical decisions – The rider brain doesn’t fully develop until about age 25. The horse brain remains a bucking bronco until the rider becomes powerful enough to tame it. Some people never quite seem to get a handle on their impulses, and even the most skilled rider is sometimes at the mercy of a worked-up horse.
So what do you do if you find yourself a victim of the failure of suppression? What if your rider brain says “Do not expect bad things to happen,” but your horse brain doesn’t hear the word “not”?