Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Our Characters' Instincts

'Instinct' is this week's topic for the Facebook GBE2 group (Group Blogging Experience).  When the topic was first suggested, my mind was totally blank.  I had absolutely no idea what I could write.

Since then, I've already read some excellent posts on the subject - our writing 'instinct', the dangers of ignoring the 'warning bell', a mother's instincts, a teacher's instincts - and many more.

I started to think how one person's instincts can be different from another's.  Our personal 'warning bell' about whether or not something is right is individual to each and every one of us.

From there, my thoughts rambled on (as they do!) about whether we unconsciously confer our own kind of instincts to our characters, or whether they develop their own, which might or might not be the same as ours. 

Put another way, how many of what we call our "instincts" are actually a product of our own background, upbringing, environment and experiences?

My conclusion (I think!) is that the instincts of, for example, a person who has been brought up in a beautiful area of the country surrounded by a loving family can be poles apart from a person who has been brought up in abject poverty and subjected to abuse (of whatever kind).  That's an extreme case.  At a different level, an experienced detective's instincts can be very difference from a young nurse's instincts in their professional lives but possibly the same (or similar) in their personal lives.

Maybe this all shows my muddled thinking at the moment but I'll be very interested in your views - which might help me to clarify my own!   


  1. That's thought provoking! I think instincts are either natural (innate) or learned. The learned instincts are what come from your life experiences and education, etc. The innate, fight or flight type are just there. For me, my instincts, I am sure, come mostly from God. He tells me, if I just listen.

  2. Innate or learned is a good distinction, and I accept your beliefs about your instincts coming from God, Jo.

  3. Hi,

    Ha ha, gonna think some more about this before opening my gob!

    See you when my instincts tell me I've sorted one from t'other


  4. Always rely on gut instinct, Francine LOL!!

  5. I think we all have instincts. The more one practices, after a judicious amount of trial and error, one's instincts can be trusted.

  6. Good point, Ana. So our instincts are honed by our experiences?

  7. Good thinking. I think science has concluded that human beings have very few inborn instincts, so what we call instincts probably come from feelings we get based on forgotten experience and unconscious learning. We imbue our characters partly with our own "instincts" and partly with instincts we think someone like them should have. I had a lot of fun with this writing about werewolves.

  8. I do think--that what we learn--can become instinctual when learned well enough. When I worked with a TBI patient...instincts took over when he went into a grand mal seizure. I knew what to do almost without thinking---fear and worry left my mind til he recovered and then it would hit me like a ton of bricks, as he could have died or he could have gotten hurt. He didn't though because my instincts took over with caring for him.

    That said--something like Mother's instinct--you know--where you get those ill feelings when your babies (no matter how old they are) are hurt or in danger? Those are something you can't learn-they just are.

    Great post---with much to think about. Cheers, Jenn

  9. This could also all go back to the whole 'nature vs. nurture' debate. What really shapes us?

  10. I like it when your thought ramble on. ;O)

    I think you've hit on something important. Our life experiences definitely impact our 'default mode.' I think that for those who've suffered exceptional loss or trauma, especially, their alert status may be heightened, sometimes to the point of detriment. I believe that at our cores, we all have a steady sense, but there's no doubt that the simple process of living life will show itself in how we react to specific situations.

    Great job with this topic! :O)

  11. My opinion Paula: we are born with a pool of 'instincts' and some of us develop them in different directions, and I agree it is based on our own background and education. But somehow I believe that we all know instinctively that it's a bad idea to keep swimming towards the ocean when you are out of energy right? We must know when we should return!

  12. Wow, some really fascinating comments!

    Angela - interesting idea which made me wonder just what instincts a newborn baby actually has. Suckling is the only one I can think of.

    Jenn - agree that learning (and experience) can lead to many of our instinctive reactions.

    Debra - it's always facinating to ponder nature vs nurture, isn't it? My two grandsons are as different as chalk and cheese, and always have been, and yet they have been brought up in the same way. I'm sure we all know siblings like that.

    Word Nerd - I think a lot of our life experiences lead to the development of our instincts, but I also wonder if our genes have something to do with it too. Why, for example, am I scared of heights when I've never actually had any 'bad' experience with heights?

    Claudia - that's a great idea about the pool of instincts which then develop in different directions depending on our life experiences.

  13. Very interesting, Paula. Have no idea whether instincts are a product of nature or nurture, yet I do feel we are sometimes born with our own particular instincts. It's how we use them and hone them that maybe makes the difference. Sorry, it's the best I can do this morning!

  14. Interesting take on instincts and I believe you are right. Someone who has lived in near poverty all their life would experience some different instincts than say the one who was a millionaire. You never know though, put together, their primal instincts may pretty much be the same.


  15. Rosemary - that's a great conclusion, maybe we are all born with the same 'human' instincts, which are then shaped by our upbringing and experiences.

    Kathy - this follows on from Rosemary's comment, same primal instincts, but developed in different ways.

  16. I think you are absolutely correct--I am one of the people raised in abject poverty who survived abuse and I believe that had an effect on my instincts because instincts have to do with trust of a person or situation.

  17. Oh absolutely. That is what draws us to certain people too is how we've lived up until that moment; what is familiar and unfamiliar. Good post. No RFW for you this week then? :O)

  18. I can't remember who I was posting to, but that is similar to what I said there. We are born with our instincts but shape and hone them to suit our situations. Nice post, Paula :o)