Have you ever felt like walking away from a situation, giving up, or shutting down? Have you ever asked yourself why you feel like that or if it can be changed? If so, you need to understand the emotional mechanics that guide behavior. Specifically, you need to know how needs trigger emotions, how emotions influence behavior, and the need for safety.

Before explaining the mechanics, we need some background. Some schools of psychological thought say that you need to think positively and that your thoughts become actions, but this is not an accurate statement. We don’t have control over what we think, at least not initially. Most of the time, our thoughts are reactionary, so we can’t stop them from happening. We can control our actions if we learn how to react to our thoughts consciously.

To change our reactions, we need to understand the origins of our thoughts, specifically our emotional logic. In the simplest terms, emotions are thoughts and physical sensations occurring concurrently. Emotions help us to navigate the world. They can be influenced by past experiences, including an association with memories of danger. When emotions become intense, they can dominate our decision-making because they dull our other senses, including logical reasoning.

Next are needs. Needs are complicated. We know that needs have an impact on our biology, mental health, and development. Needs can also be interrelated, like safety and acceptance. We need to feel psychologically safe because it helps us predict that we will be accepted. We need to be accepted in society to survive, which is quite literal. If we weren't accepted, it would not be easy to find work. If we didn't work, how could we eat? Needs are nothing new; we can trace them to the evolutionary past, especially physical safety.

How do emotions and needs impact our behavior? When we feel that our security is in jeopardy, our emotions trigger. Whether we are actually in danger is not necessarily relevant. It is only a matter of our perception, which unconscious details and memory can intensify.  The intense emotions pressure us to protect ourselves, driving the desire to flee.

Leaving doesn't mean that we physically depart. It could mean that we shut down emotionally, not letting the situation impact us anymore. Perhaps we stop listening or find ways to distract ourselves. The desire to withdraw could even trigger preoccupying thoughts that divert our attention from the situation. The key idea is that there is some action of withdrawal caused by our concern for safety.

The first step to change is awareness, which started with understanding why we have the urge to withdraw and the impact of emotional mechanics and needs. The next step is learning how to observe these emotions rather than react to them, which is incredibly difficult and won't occur overnight. The good news is that you took the first step by reading this article.