Alpha, Beta, and Theta Instincts All Have Huge Impacts on Our Behavior and Our Lives
October 23, 2019
Many people have an appreciation of the huge impact that Alpha instincts have on our communities and our lives.
The InterGroup books describe those instincts in several places.
People who have their Alpha instincts activated tend to act in Alpha ways — tending to be territorial, antagonistic toward other alphas and other groups, and to have expectations about how they are personally treated in their own Alpha settings that include being followed, respected, heard, and obeyed.
Alpha instincts can sometimes be addictive due to the neurochemical rewards that are often triggered by alpha status — and it can be extremely difficult for Alpha leaders in almost any setting to give up Alpha status and to retire or voluntarily transfer power.
Alpha leaders for wolf packs, lion prides, horse herds, and various categories of chimpanzee and ape groupings and families tend to be willing to fight to the death either to maintain Alpha status or to gain Alpha status.
Many of our inter group conflicts in various settings exist because the Alpha leaders of groups in those settings gain support and power from their group by having the group in a state of conflict and those Alpha leaders are sometimes willing to go to great extremes to make sure the conflict exists and is perceived by their group.
Many people have written about and shared observations and insights about all of those Alpha behaviors and their impact on our group behaviors.
What most people do not write about when looking at our hierarchies and their impact on our lives are the almost equally powerful instincts we have to be both Beta and Theta in our group settings — and how those instincts also drive both group behavior and inter group behavior.
We instinctively build hierarchies in almost every setting. When we do that, we generally do more than just define who is alpha in each setting. We also almost always create hierarchies that include all of the other people in the setting.
Relative status is important to people.
We are each very aware of our relative status in many of our settings — and we expect our relative status to be recognized by both the people above us and below us in our hierarchy.
Captains in the army are very happy to salute majors and colonels and generals — and captains expect to be saluted by lieutenants, sergeants, corporals, and private soldiers in their unit and are very unhappy when they do not receive that salute.
People in all of those settings aspire to move up the chain of command, and often feel pain and anger when being demoted in any definitive way.
Generals and senior officers who are demoted to other levels take those demotions with great negative energy that reaches into the core of who they are in powerful and painful ways.
People with sergeant stripes generally hate to lose them.
Some recent research has shown us that a major cause of stress for people in our country today happens when people feel they have lost relative status in their work or their community. Our instincts use stress to guide and influence our behaviors. Stress is often a sign that an instinctive need is not being met.
Mothers who are not with their young children can sometimes feel serious instinctive stress even when the children are fine and well simply because our instincts for mothers at those points in time can call for the Mothers to want to be with their children.
Losing hierarchical status also triggers stress, anger, unhappiness, and even some types of personal humiliation.
We tend to love our relative status. We will often work hard to protect and maintain and not lose our relative status.
That can present a problem in inter group situations because our standard model in a setting is to have someone being Alpha and to have some other people being Beta at the highest levels, and to also have multiple other people with various levels of Theta status in direct relationship with the Alpha and Beta people in a setting.
Our personal relative status in a setting is often tied directly to the Alpha who exists for that setting.
Political situations tend to be particularly good examples of relative status groupings.
Political leaders achieve a level of Alpha status. They often have their staff and a team of people who support them in their job — and each of the staff members has the relative power level benefit that comes from being part of the Alpha team.
Mayors and Governors and Presidents have cabinets and deputies.
The deputy mayor position can be extremely powerful in any setting — and that level of power can be very rewarding at several levels for the person who gets to be deputy mayor.
The problem and challenge for the people in the Beta and Theta jobs in any setting in that situation is that their status is entirely dependent and it is not based on them in any direct way. So when a Mayor leaves office, the Deputy Mayor goes immediately from having great power to having no power at all, because new Mayors almost always pick their own teams for their own hierarchy and name a different deputy mayor.
The old deputy goes from being treated very differentially by the people in that setting to being quickly irrelevant and even treated negatively in various ways very quickly by other people in the group if the old deputy had not been good at being powerful without being negative, themselves.
It can be painful to have status and power disappear.
That set of issues is relevant to inter group Peace, because we need to understand that particular dynamic for our inter group interaction thinking for each of our settings.
When we do inter group alignment approaches and strategies, we need to deal with the Alpha issues for each setting, and then we also need to react to the Beta and Theta consequences as well in order to both minimize resistance to alignment and to minimize damage to the people in those positions.
History of various settings is sometimes shaped and influenced by that package of hierarchical factors.
Kings and other national leaders have been known to have been persuaded to stay in power in some settings well past their own personal desired retirement time by the people in their kingdom or country whose hierarchical positions, and power will often be naturally eliminated by a new president or new king.
Corporate CEOs have often fallen prey to that same dynamic and patterns in a number of settings. New CEOs almost always reorganize organizations after taking over, and the people in Beta and Theta positions for the prior CEO often lose positions, power, and status in the process. So those Beta and Theta people in that setting generally are not encouraging the old CEO to leave what they call– “prematurely.”
The pyramid, below, shows eight sets of instinctive behaviors that we need to deal with and either overcome or steer in good ways to achieve Peace in a setting. Alpha instincts always need to be addressed in each setting.
The slowest decision to be made in many corporate mergers is to resolve the issue of who will end up as the final CEO when the merger is completed. Fighting about that particular decision and role sometimes delays mergers and agreements for years.
So the top rung on the pyramid of instinct paradigms we need to address to create internal Peace in any setting are the instincts that relate to Alpha status for the setting.
The very bottom of this pyramid of instinct paradigms is group good will and inclusion. Those can be extremely positive instinctive behaviors.
We need to create a sense of Us for every setting where we want to achieve and maintain Peace. Building a sense of Us at some relevant level is a major asset for Peace, because we have some very positive sets of instinctive behaviors that a activated and possible when that sense of Us exists.
The bottom sets of instinct paradigms on this pyramid reflect those possible behaviors.
We actually have very civilized and positive sets of instincts that cause us to want to have good will extended to other people and to be inclusive when we perceive and believe that other people are Us.
Those sets of beliefs and values make us feel good and satisfied both individually and collectively when they are activated. We like being inclusive to people who we include in our sense of Us and it feels good when being inclusive to those people is successful and creates an internally aligned setting.
We instinctively want to create a sense of Us in every setting that allows our basic inclusion thoughts, emotions and behaviors to be activated.
The next level up the instinct paradigm pyramid is Emotional Support.
Emotional support is wonderful and it can be activated in an instinctive way to other people in our setting.
Again — we have lovely instincts that cause us to want to provide emotional support and other kinds of support to people in our settings who we perceive to be Us. Being aligned with our instincts feels very right to us — and we get both pleasure and joy from giving emotional support to people who we want to emotionally support.
The next level up the instinct paradigm pyramid is enlightened values and behaviors.
That is a particularly positive set of instinctive reactions.
We can use our intellect to help us live beneficial and enlightened lives.
We can be idealistic and we can be enlightened in very well-conceived, intellectually grounded and positive ways when we believe that we are supporting Us in our setting and when we want to feel good about what we are doing for and with our Us.
Creativity can flourish in the interest of doing the right thing for the people we care about.
We invent wonderful values when we are activating those most positive sets of instincts — and can invent enlightened concepts like democracy, fairness, honesty, and justice when those mind sets are triggered by our sense of Us and then applied to the communities and nation that we live in as an Us as our expectations for behavior and our shared commitment to one another.
It can be wonderful to be Us.
It can also be very difficult to be Us when that alignment becomes a barrier to doing positive things with other people.
The level on the pyramid right over enlightened thinking is a major barrier we face in many settings relative to activating any of the positive bottom three levels on the pyramid.
Loyalty is important for that process.
Loyalty to Us is a key and positive instinctive behavior.
Loyalty can be very good — and it can also create significant and sometimes insurmountable barriers to both inter personal and inter group interactions.
We Hate Traitors
We have extremely strong instincts to hate traitors and to never be a traitor.
We have very strong loyalty instincts and we can have a very hard time being inclusive when we believe that being inclusive makes us a traitor to our own group and our own people.
We execute traitors, stone traitors, and expel and banish traitors from our settings.
To create inter group Peace in our communities and settings, we need to understand the power of those loyalty instincts, and we need to convince ourselves that that inclusion and the inter personal and inter group interaction that we are doing in that setting actually benefits our own most core group and does not damage our own most core group.
A behavior is not disloyal to our group if our group benefits from that behavior.
That is an extremely important point to understand.
We need to support our Us in any setting — and one of the ways we can do that that has a high likelihood of succeeding is to expand our sense of who is Us in that setting.
We can do explicit things to expand our sense of who is Us.
We have significant flexibility relative to defining Us categories for ourselves. We can apply those positive Us instincts to a larger group if we feel and believe that the larger group is legitimately a category of Us and deserves to trigger those related instincts and beliefs.
To do that well, we need to create a larger group identity for each setting that keeps those traitor instincts from being activated in that setting.
We will never give up on our core sense of who our basic Us is, but we have the ability to support our basic Us by creating a functional level of Us in each setting that lets us feel that we are absolutely not being a traitor when we interact with the other people in that larger group.
We need to build that larger sense of at least situational Us consciously for each setting for best impact.
We need to figure out the levels and definition of Us that can allow us to do all of those enlightened things to happen for that setting — and we need to have our Alpha and Beta and Theta leaders all either supporting the process and definition or not opposing it.
We actually have six triggers that we can use to create that extended sense of Us in any setting. Those triggers are shown on the pyramid below.
They can work alone or in alignment with one another.
The InterGroup books explain those six triggers and help to teach us all how to apply them to most group and inter group settings.
The pyramid borrows several pieces gratefully and shamelessly from Abraham Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs, but it is its own paradigm and its own thought process.
Those six alignment triggers also have strong instinctive roots — with our survival instincts teeing up the bottom trigger on the pyramid.
The bottom level on that alignment trigger pyramid is Danger.
We have very strong survival instincts — and we will come together to form a functional Us in almost any setting if our sense of danger is activated and if it steers us in that direction.
We will also come together to resist a common enemy, to do team things that make sense to do, to create a sense of community, to achieve material or social gain, and to be loyal to either a mission or a leader.
To create inter group Peace in any setting, we need to use one or more of the alignment triggers to create a sense of Us — and then we need to deal with the eight key instinct paradigms to build interactions that will meet our needs and give us inter group Peace, safety and a positive personal and group future.
The alpha instincts on the first chart are critically important. We need to either seek leaders who want us to be at Peace or we need to convert leaders in our settings and groups from war to Peace by telling them as the people in their groups what we want them to do to create Peace for our setting.
That can be difficult — and it can also sometimes be very easy, if the leaders believe that they will still be leaders with Peace in place and if they are supported by us for their skills in that positive space rather than for their warrior behaviors.
We need a Peace movement for America.
Dealing with the factors and instinctive paradigms outlined on the pyramid need to be part of the Peace movement at important levels for Us to succeed.
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This post was written by Institute for InterGroup Understanding