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How Psychedelic Therapy Can Affect Our Social Conditioning

“How Psychedelic Therapy Can Affect Our Social Conditioning” explores the role of social environments and nurturing on belief systems and behaviors. Our hosts use real life examples to illustrate the common effects of social conditioning on an individual’s instincts and perceptions.

Nicholas and Jimmy define social conditioning and explain where it comes from, how it develops, and the ways in which it permeates our daily lives. They examine the difficulty of identifying limiting beliefs and discuss how social conditioning changes across generations and cultures.

How can psychedelic medicine be a useful tool for unearthing personal truths without self defense? How do therapeutic psychedelic experiences expand your awareness of subconscious biases? Does this expanded awareness translate into long term changes in wellbeing?

To close off, Nicholas and Jimmy share how mindfulness surrounding social conditioning can open the door for more authentic avenues of expression. How can this internal exploration influence and enhance your ability to think critically and creatively?

Episode 40 – How Psychedelic Therapy Can Affect Our Social Conditioning

Jimmy: Welcome to the Psychedelic Passage podcast. My name is Jimmy Nguyen, I’m joined here as always by my co-host, Nick Levich. Well, actually maybe there will be a world where we’ll have episodes separately, but-

Nick: So far.

Jimmy: -for now, we are a package deal. [laughs] And welcome to all of our listeners. This week we have a, I think topic or a phrase, that we have been using somewhat sporadically, intermittently, throughout our episodes. 

And we thought it would make sense to talk about this concept because it does have a lot of impact and influence not only in psychedelic experiences but in our lives. What we’ll be talking about today is the concept of social conditioning and how that applies not only to psychedelics but our worldview.

So, our goal today is to spend a little bit of time to talk through what social conditioning is, how it affects us, how it plays into our lives. And then, as always, we’ll try to get a little bit more tangible and actionable about what that means in the psychedelic realm. 

And so, Nick, maybe just start us off with, I guess, your version of social conditioning, and then let’s try to drill this down for folks. I see you smiling because I know that this is a heavy category. [laughs] 

Nick: Yeah, it’s an important one. And I’m actually going to start with just the generally accepted definition, like not my own, but rather a more formal definition to just set the stage.

Jimmy: Great.

Nick: This is directly from Wikipedia. Most of these online definitions are generally the same, but social conditioning is the sociological process of training individuals in a society to respond in a manner generally approved by society in general and peer groups within the society. And it’s so interesting to me that they use the word “training.”

Jimmy: Yeah. Yeah. [laughs]

Nick: As if we’re dogs or something. But I think what’s important around this episode is that we are all subjects of social conditioning. Whether we realize it or not is a whole other thing. But these societal, these social pressures exist. 

It’s the same dynamic that’s like you’ve got to go to college. And after college, you maybe are expected to get a graduate-level degree or maybe the expectation is that you get married in your late 20s and have children. 

There are all these little or not-so-little expectations that we have and sometimes they’re not made vocal, like they’re not explicit. It’s like this implicit pressure from friends, family members, or society at large.

Jimmy: Yeah, I think the other important thing is that social conditioning is not always direct and intentional. A lot of times these are the effects of living in a larger society and culture. And to give some tangible examples, you were saying the thing about going to college is a primary example of social conditioning here in America. 

And there are also regions and some parts of the US where going to college is not very common. Depending on the terrain or the place that you live in. So, let me help to break this down for folks. 

I think the easiest example that folks can understand is when you’re visiting a different place, whether it’s a different country, a different part of the United States, and you just notice that there are cultural differences. 

There are some places that call a can of Coke pop. There are some places that call it soda. There are some places, especially in the south, that call everything Coke. And then, they ask you what kind? You’re like, “Oh, I’ll have a Sprite.” These are just very simple examples.

And then, let me drill this down a little bit further. I like what you said about the training thing. I have two dear friends who recently had a baby, and one of their takeaways from their experience is that you have to teach and you have to show the baby how to exist in this society.

So, as we’re born, some might argue if it’s a total blank slate or not a blank slate but you start to absorb information and that information then helps you to navigate your environment. That is contextual on your family unit, that’s contextual upon your socioeconomic condition, that’s contextual upon the neighborhood or town or community you live in-

Which is then influenced by the city or state or region. So there’s kind of this cascading effect on a lot of different influences of social conditioning. And what happens is that we humans are pattern-recognizing beings. That’s what helped us to recognize patterns in seasons when predecessors of ours started agriculture and farming. 

That’s what allowed us to be hunter-gatherers and track and all these things. So, a lot of this is built into our DNA essentially. And how that works in modern society, I think you know, anybody who’s alive today and has grown up as a teenager here in America also understands this need for conformity right, as well. 

And so, what this starts to do is it starts to shape our patterns, our behaviors, our actions, but more so our thoughts and our beliefs. The other thing, before I end this part of my rant, is that it’s not always directly learned behaviors. It’s not always, let’s say, a parent or a teacher or a sibling or a friend going to you and being like,-

“Hey, this is how you should think and this is what you should believe and this is how you should operate.” A lot of this, I think, actually happens on a more subtle level. And I think it’s actually us as humans trying to recognize the environment, trying to recognize patterns, and trying to see what is socially acceptable or not.

I’ll give you an example. 30 years ago, if you were an entrepreneur, you were a loser. You were likely living in your parents’ basement, you were likely trying to get something going. And society, in America, did not really value entrepreneurship as much as they do today. 

I think back then, the main values were about stability and working maybe for an organization or something like that. Now, you’re an entrepreneur and it’s super exciting, it’s much more well revered. And then, for example, those folks are like, “Wow, you have this courage or this intelligence or this level of risk-taking to do whatever it is that you’re trying to do.”

Social conditioning also changes, I think, over generations and over decades. And it’s important– The reason why we bring this up is because anytime you’re dealing with social conditioning, you’re building some type of a template, like a template for how to be, how to exist, and what to believe. So, you can see how that can influence literally everything that you go through in life.

Examining Our Lives Through The Lens Of Social Conditioning

Nick: Right. I think one of the things that would be helpful is maybe just to give some examples of how this shows up. Like I’ll give some examples from my own personal life so that people can understand how this shows up.

I discovered, through my intentional psychedelic use, that I was raised in an environment where when I was a child, if I was sulking, I got attention from my mom. And that established a pattern that if I sulk, I get attention. 

Now is that a healthy way of getting attention? Probably not. In an intimate relationship, especially not. But that pattern was set up for me at a very young age. So, instead of vocalizing what I needed as far as if I was sick, if I needed some attention, some help, some food, whatever, instead of vocalizing what I needed, I would just sulk.

And that was the trigger to get what I needed. But if that awareness doesn’t exist, now I’m blindly following this pattern that was established through parental conditioning.

Jimmy: Mm-hmm. Let me ask you a question. That was happening in your family unit. Did you find that pattern of sulking also extended into other environments like school, work, you were also talking about personal relationships. Just kind of curious.

Nick: Yeah, I think it made its way into relationships.

Jimmy: Yeah, because I’m thinking if you’re sulking at work, [laughs] likely, probably a sign that you’re going to get fired soon or something like that.

Nick: Yeah, no, I don’t think it was as prevalent in work. But I do a lot of work with men outside of the psychedelic world and oftentimes our relationship with our mothers is replicated in our intimate relationships. If we don’t take the time and the effort to unwind some of that unconscious conditioning. So, that’s kind of how this all came to fruition for me.

But there’s so many examples of this. I’ll give you another one. I was conditioned non-explicitly, more on a subtle energetic level to essentially choose my career when I was in college based on what made the most money. 

I wasn’t conditioned to choose a career that I love or something that I’m interested in or passionate about or anything. It was like pick the career that makes the most money and that probably came from societal expectations to have a successful job and career. 

Probably some familial expectations. But the interesting thing is, my parents always told me, “You can do whatever you want. We don’t care.” But oftentimes, the words and the energies behind it don’t align. And I think for a lot of us, when we’re in our formative years, ages zero to seven, we’re picking up on these subtle energies, and we don’t need to have explicit words confirm it. We know.

Jimmy: Yeah. Two things come up for me when you say that. One is that only when you were aware of these patterns were you able to question it and name it and recognize it for what it was. So, that’s really interesting. 

And the other thing that comes up for me with the last part that you said is that it reminds me that every human goes through a social conditioning process. And so, sometimes there are, let’s say, prevailing forces, right?

So, you were in a situation where your family on the surface was like, “Do what you want. It’s totally fine.” But then, maybe society is valuing how much money you make, how lucrative your job is, and all of that. 

And then, I have to remind myself, “Oh, well, every single person in your family also has to deal with this force of social conditioning from society.” And so, there are other countries that value different things, other cultures that value different things. Like here in the United States, we really value individualism, and there are other countries that don’t. 

So, what makes me think about it is your parents might have been saying that, but then if they weren’t aware of social conditioning and what influences them–[crosstalk]

Nick: Or they didn’t give themselves the permission to do that themselves. So, they’re saying one thing, but the standards they hold themselves to are different. And I think we pick up on those incongruencies, especially when we’re younger.

Jimmy: Mm-hmm. I also think that sometimes these prevailing forces can align and sometimes they can be in great opposition. 

Like if you have, let’s say, your friend or a family member or something telling you to do what you love, let’s say as an example if you want to continue on this trend, but the society is like, “Well, it’s actually important for you to–” I don’t know, have a 401k. 

Or for a lot of my artist friends, our society really diminishes art unless you’re successful at it. And so, there’s plenty of actors, musicians, singers, art therapists. There’s plenty of folks out there who love what they do, it really fulfills them but the social conditioning actually tells them that they’re a failure.

Nick: Or that you can’t be successful as an artist which is why the starving artist is an archetype. And so, you can see how quickly these things can be confused for our own internal beliefs. And I think that’s the crux of this whole episode, is if we don’t recognize that it’s social conditioning, we kind of default to that conditioning being our belief. 

And the question is how do we step outside of the conditioning and perhaps separate out what’s ours versus what’s other people. I know for myself, we touched on this briefly during the spiritual emergence episode we recorded because social conditioning is kind of directly tied into that. 

But I had an ayahuasca experience that caused me to question everything. Like, who am I? What do I believe? Is this mine? Is this my family’s? Is this society’s? Where does all this sh*t come from?

Jimmy: Yeah.

Nick: But if we don’t take the time to segment some of that out to sort through it, it generally impacts everything we do, whether we realize it or not.

Jimmy: Yeah, it’s interesting what you said about that ayahuasca experience because questioning your beliefs and questioning just things in your life can either be a very liberating and freeing process or it can be a very destabilizing process. 

And I think the difference is that it depends on the tools and skills that you have to navigate that type of questioning. You can very easily see how, let’s say, questioning reality- the way that things are in our society- as a very tangible example. 

You can see how if there was not an intentional, thoughtful process of that, then that can derail really quickly to maybe you’re actually questioning reality which could impact your mental health or your ability to function at work or in your family or at school or whatnot. 

You can take the same thing about questioning reality and if you have the tools of understanding, some of the things that we’re talking about like social conditioning, identity work, beliefs and values, things like that,-

Then you can use that same catalyst of psychedelic medicine that can cause you to question in a much more impactful way to your life. So, that’s kind of the whole point and why we’re talking about this because we talk about psychedelics as this potential unlocking of a door. 

But it’s still us that has to walk through that door and figure out what that means and how it applies, and what that has to do with our lives. And so, the interesting thing about social conditioning is that most folks are just not even aware of it. And so, I think that we’ve established that probably about as best as we can in the short order of time. 

How to Rewrite Socially Conditioned Behaviors & Beliefs

Jimmy: And then, the question becomes, “Okay, if I’m aware and agree that social conditioning is a thing, what do I do about it now?” So, maybe we can move into that part of our conversation a little bit for folks.

The first piece of information, or I guess the first recommendation that I have, is that navigating and addressing your social conditioning is not solely a mental process. Like, it includes other parts.

There are things that people believe. They believe it so vehemently that they have this emotional and bodily reaction to things. And so, when I think folks are questioning what beliefs are theirs, it’s also helpful to think about, well, where did this belief come from?

Nick: That’s the linchpin for me.

Jimmy: I think that’s the biggest one. Where does it come from? Did it come from me? Did it come from society? Did it come from my family?

Nick: Did it come from direct experience?

Jimmy: I was just going to say.

Nick: Where did it come from? And I think what we slowly realize if we haven’t gone through this process, is that a lot of this isn’t ours.

Jimmy: Yeah, but we own it anyway. Even if it’s ours or not, if we don’t have this awareness and self-directed inquiry, then no matter what, whether it comes from us or not, we own it. It affects our lives. It influences our lives. They become our beliefs and our values and our worldviews. And so, you can see this is super tricky. [laughs]

Nick: Right? So, let’s give an example.

Jimmy: Yeah.

Nick: If I believe– and I battled with this myself, which is why this comes to mind, if I believe that I’m only worthy if I’m productive, you can see how that’s going to impact everything I do. 

Every choice is going to be in some way ruled by that underlying belief. And if that belief is not actually mine, it was something that I was trained to believe, it is, by definition, social conditioning.

Jimmy: Yeah. Then, it’s a whole uphill battle on rewriting and recorrecting that social conditioning. So, surprise, surprise, folks, the mere identifying and naming the social conditioning that affects your lives is barely scratching the surface.

I find that what’s the most helpful is this combination of self-directed inquiry, this discovery on the origins and sources of the social conditioning, and then– that’s an ongoing process, of course. And then, as you go through that, you kind of have to test it in the field of life a little bit.

You have to go out there and now that it’s in your awareness, your mind will now start to look for the patterns. This is where the pattern-recognizing stuff can be in our favor.

And then when those instances of social conditioning come up, that’s when you’re like, “Ah, here it is again. Here’s this instance where it’s showing up in my life. Oh, oh, oh. Okay.” And then I can address and work on this in real time. 

And in those conscious choices, A, you’re going to mess up a whole bunch of times because this is patterning, it’s ingrained in us. You’re going to default to these things without an active effort to swim upstream and rewrite some of this stuff. 

Then, you got to map it out for your body, your mind, and your spirit to know that if you, let’s say, challenge those core beliefs that the world isn’t going to end and that you’re not going to implode somehow.

And so, it’s these little micro tests almost, these little experiments in the field of life, as I’m calling it, to see what resonates with you and what’s right and what sits well with you if you try to challenge some of these social conditioning aspects. 

From there you’re going to start to be able to categorize. You’re like, “Oh, I actually do believe in this thing. Maybe it was taught to me through society, but I actually do believe it.” 

And there are some other things where you’re like “Oh, this is really not aligned with my being and what I believe and how to be in relationships, in how we show up at work, how we show up for ourselves.” Literally, everything that we do.

Nick: I mean, what you’re describing to me is this process of discovering our own personal truth. And so, what I see often happens around this social conditioning piece is we are blindly living someone else’s truth. 

I say someone else as if it’s a person, but it could be societies, it could be parents, it could be whatever. And this why so many people end up unhappy and have a midlife crisis is because they’ve done everything that was expected of them. 

Societally, parentally, familiarly, professionally, all these different lenses, they’ve done what was expected of them, but never actually considered what they wanted for themselves.

Jimmy: Yeah, there’s a dissonance there.

Nick: And that’s a challenging place to be to the point where we have a term for it, like midlife crisis. Like when you wake up one day and go, “What the hell have I been doing with my life? Have I been blindly following this path? Or is this actually my dream? What am I doing?”

Jimmy: And I’ll tell you, there’s a huge population of folks who come to psychedelic medicine with exactly that query or that kind of juncture in their lives and it’s funny that it’s midlife because we’ve seen this with folks in their 20s all the way up to their 80s. 

There are some clients that I’ve had who, I love them to death, they’re in their 80s and even then, they’re like, “All of the things that I had been working towards, I thought I would be here now feeling this type of way or having this emotional outcome and I don’t.” 

I say that to highlight what you’re talking about and then also just to highlight the redemptive factor of this, is that there’s always the possibility to realign. 

Nick: It’s never too late.

Jimmy: Exactly. Yeah, something that a friend of mine said, I’ve been chewing on this for a little bit, they said that fulfillment means that you are heading in the direction of the life that you want, very simply. 

And when you’re talking about this dissonance thing, A, I think it’s probably jumbled up for a lot of folks what type of life they want. And then, B, are the things that you’re doing actually getting there? For some folks, maybe it’s not about fulfillment. 

Maybe for some folks, their main driver is success and recognition from society. Which is totally fine, that’s totally okay. We’re not talking about what’s worthy and not worthy. We’re talking about what’s right for you. Or for some folks, it’s just about being in the moment and enjoying experiences as they come.

What I’m also defining here is that it only matters– your values and what you believe in and your ethics and all that, it only matters if it’s helping you get towards the life that you want. 

And that’s where psychedelics can be this really interesting tool for this to allow you to create some connections within your mind and your being and your spirit. To allow you to temporarily step outside of your perspective.

Nick: That’s the key for me. You transcend your conditioning.

Jimmy: Even if for a couple of hours, that’s a lot more than most people [laughs] go through life experiencing as far as sidestepping.

Nick: Yeah, it’s like you get an opportunity to view your life, your beliefs, your relationship to the external world through an unbiased lens that has not been traumatized, that is not subject to the defense mechanisms, the walls, the coping. You get to look at this in a very objective way.

Jimmy: Yeah. Now, here’s the caveat, is that if you temporarily suspend your social conditioning and your default perspective, it’s temporary. So, the psychedelic experience will fade and it will end and you will come back and guess what will be there?

Nick: All the same stuff.

Jimmy: All the social conditioning, all of the beliefs, all of the things that were told are norms. It’s this normalizing factor. Like, “This is normal.” It’s normal in society for men to behave a certain way. It’s normal in society for women to behave– It’s like this thing infiltrates literally every aspect of our lives. That’s why Nick and I are so passionately talking about this. 

But it’s really important because for many folks who have these significant, meaningful, maybe profound, maybe life-changing experiences, and then they go back into their regular lives after the experience is over and they’re like, “I lost it.” 

They’re like, “I kind of can’t get that perspective shift back.” “I’m now a fish back in the water and I can’t see the water around me,” type thing. And so, this is why real, honest and deep, and meaningful integration is so important because rewriting patterns takes a lot of effort.

Nick: It’s a process.

Jimmy: [laughs] And a lot of work and a lot of time and a lot of going back to the drawing board and a lot of failures and then trying it again and then figuring out what works for you. 

So, this is also another somewhat redemptive comment from me is that if folks out there, whether you had a psychedelic-induced experience or if you are just going through a juncture or a crisis or a turning point in your life regardless of where it’s coming from, just know that there’s a possibility to rewrite these patterns. 

There is, and maybe we’re not going to be able to get to all of them in our lives but if you have the capability to change something very small in your life, then you also have the capability to change something very large.

Nick: The other thing that’s worth noting here is when you start to adjust one of these, your whole experience of reality changes very quickly. If I go from only viewing my active productive hours as being worthy, and I’m not worthy if I’m not actively being productive, and then I adopt that, revise that belief to say,-

“Okay, well, now I’m worthy if I’m present. If I’m present, I’m worthy,” that’s going to change the way I feel about myself in almost every moment.

Jimmy: Yeah, you say this thing all the time where it’s all connected in a fabric. You pull one part of the string and then the whole thing kind of pulls with it. You say it in a much more eloquent way than what I just said. 

But using your example, just knowing you, if I may share, that once you started challenging this productivity as worthiness thing, then you started to build more space in your life for other things. And it’s the best example by the art right behind you. For folks who are watching the video portion of this, which we upload to YouTube, Nick started doing art and creating art, and now– 

Nick: After telling myself that I wasn’t creative, wasn’t an artist, didn’t have that ability, and that was another conditioned piece due to past experiences.

Jimmy: Exactly. Now, look at how amazing the gift of art is in your life. You have this other avenue of expression. I know that you and your partner do art together as a bonding exercise. I know that being creative also has now influenced your productivity. 

Because now that you’re sitting and processing things in a different way and having this creative outlet, so many times you and I have tinkered on an issue or a problem or a thing or an aspect, and then it’s actually us being in a creative mode to then come back and be like, “Ah, I got an inspiration. I actually think that this is the thing that needs to happen.”

Nick: Totally.

Jimmy: And so, I think that’s a really wonderful, I think, anecdotal report for folks to conceptualize this because I know we’re talking about a very lofty– [crosstalk]

Nick: It’s a little bit of a dense topic.

Jimmy: Yeah. It’s just hard to wrap your whole mind of being around. And so, we’re just trying to give some tangible examples in our own lives that may help here. As we wrap up this episode, anything that you feel needs to be brought forth here that would be helpful for our listeners as we talk about social conditioning and psychedelics?

Psychedelics: A Tool To Embody Your Own Personal Truth 

Nick: If you feel like there’s something off, that to me is a good prompt to look at some of this. Like, okay, what are the fundamental beliefs around worthiness that I have? What are the fundamental beliefs about happiness that I have? 

What belief am I holding that’s preventing me from living the life that I want and where did it come from? Because to your point, it’s kind of this multi-stage process of we’ve got to identify what it is that we’re holding. That’s the awareness piece. 

Then, it’s the contemplation to go where did this originate from? And then, the final piece is how do I want to rewrite this? What do I want to change this to, so that it’s true to me?

And the cool part about this process is we can all have our own unique truth in this process. You can hold the belief, whatever you want, frankly and I can hold a directly opposing one and as long as they’re true to our experience of life, that’s really all that matters.

I think where we got really turned around is trying to conform. I don’t think all of us want the same life and yet we measure ourselves up to people who are living lives that we don’t actually want.

Jimmy: Yeah. The best example is the conversation we were having about discipline the other week where you are just a much more scheduled, regimented, and structured person and I’m a person that just lets it fly, like it just free flows. 

I know that when I tried to bring more structure into my life– of course, structure is important, folks. I’m not saying structure is not important, but when I tried to force it and when I told myself that the free-flowing, to follow your intuition, just kind of let it fly in the moment,-

I said that wasn’t the way to do it and then I had this huge, huge dissonance within myself which then affected my productivity, it affected my sleep, it affected my mental health, it affected literally everything. And the last thing I guess I want to share-

Nick: But that’s a conflict, right? That’s a conflict between what you wanted and what was expected or what you thought is–

Jimmy: What was internally right for me versus what I thought it should be like because society said so.

Nick: Exactly.

Jimmy: And society loves this grind, work to the bone, commit everything to work. That’s just the American society that we live in. And as you were talking, I guess the last thing that I want to share is that this process cuts both ways. 

It is not just about challenging and visiting the social conditioning that doesn’t align with you. I think on the other side, it’s also about affirming the values and beliefs that do really align with you. 

And so just know that everything is on the table as far as this social conditioning, self-inquiry thing. It’s not just about self-improvement and cleaning up our flaws and so on and so forth. So, I hope that this was of help.

Nick: The last thing that I want to say before we wrap is just that this process can be done with or without psychedelics.

Jimmy: Sure. Yeah.

Nick: In fact, I suggest people start this process in prep before they get into an altered state. Because when you start the inquiry and the self-awareness now, by the time you get to the journey, you’ve already started this unearthing, this excavation process that you often talk about.

And to be clear, the reason that this relates to psychedelics for anyone that may be just jumping in now is because psychedelics essentially provide a tool to which we can transcend that conditioning or rather look objectively at some of these beliefs and patterns that we’re holding.

Jimmy: Yeah, that’s the whole name of the game for preparation. The more that you can do this on your own in real life, not influenced by substances and medicines, then the more that those skills and tools become available to you when you are ready to take something to the medicine. So, I think really well said. So, thanks for that, Nick.

Well, that brings us to the end of this week’s episode. Thanks for following along with us on that pretty heady topic but I hope that it brought a level of– or maybe I just hope that it inspires you to ask some questions, I think, for yourself. 

And so, you can download episodes of the Psychedelic Passage podcast anywhere that you get podcasts. Apple Podcast, Amazon, Spotify, IHeartRadio. If you like the show, please rate, review. Send us a message. We love hearing from our community. And we look forward to seeing you next week.

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