How Stress Turns Us Into Someone Else: Your Stressed Self vs Your Best Self

How Stress Turns Us Into Someone Else Your Stressed Self

Bottom Line

Humans evolved to react to stress in ways that helped our ancestors survive and, ultimately, reproduce. So there is something quite adaptive about how we respond to stress. On the flip side, our evolved stress responses literally change our behaviors in important ways, with our often-difficult stressed selves at times bearing little resemblance to our authentic selves (more typical of who we are when our bodies are in a state of homeostasis).

John Montgomery’s (2010) model of how we can use evolutionary principles to understand how stress changes people’s very essence is powerfully rooted in basic biological principles and it has dramatic implications for how to get along in the modern world that surrounds us. Want to understand how to live less stressful and more authentic lives? An evolutionary understanding can help.

*Dedication and Backstory

One day in about 2013, a humble middle-aged man walked into my office during office hours and he introduced himself as John Montgomery. He said he was a fan of my work on applying evolution to behavior and was interested in collaborating with me on research. I quickly found out that he had a PhD in neuroscience from Cal Tech and, simply, was about as bright as anyone I’d ever met. I gladly welcomed him to join our research team.

One day, he gave me a copy of a book he’d written titled, simply, The Answer Model. As most people who know me well know, I often don’t have time to read books beyond whatever I’ve got to read for my classes and research. But I accepted the book and thanked him.

That night I read the book and could not put it down. I was pleasantly surprised by how well the book summarized basic principles of evolutionary psychology. I also loved how simple and readable the book was. But what was most powerful to me was the description of the model of mental health that I describe (as best I can) in this blog post. Wow! I thought. It is such a powerful integration of biological ideas that bear on human behavior. And it makes so much sense!

Humans evolved, like any organisms did, to move toward homeostasis. And when we find ourselves out of balance, quite literally, we become stressed. And nearly all psychological and emotional issues that we can think of follow from this simple, elegant, and evolutionarily informed model.

John eventually teamed up with clinical psychologist Todd Ritchey to offer a form of therapy based on the ideas that follow from this model. Quite powerful, in fact. Many people have benefited from this work.

John was a joy to work with over the years as a collaborator and friend. You can only imagine how my heart sunk when I found out that he’d passed away in spring of 2019. He was way too young to die and had so much more to offer the world.

John was also a Psychology Today blogger, and you can find his posts, mostly related to the model that I present in this post, here, at The Embodied Mind.

This post is dedicated to my friend Dr. John Montgomery, who was, very quietly and humbly, a true trailblazer in the field of evolutionary clinical psychology.

1. American Psychological Association. (2018, November 1). Stress effects on the body.
2. Geher, G. & Wedberg, N. (2020). Positive Evolutionary Psychology: Darwin’s Guide to Living a Richer Life. New York: Oxford University Press.
3. Gray, P., & Bjorklund, D. (2018). Psychology. New York: Worth.
4. Montgomery, J. (2010). The Answer Model: A New Path to Healing. TAM Books.
5. Shrand, J. (2015). Do you really get me? New York: Hazeldon.
6. Srivastava, K. (2009). Urbanization and mental health, Industrial Psychiatry Journal, 18, 75-76.

Written by: Glenn Geher
Originally appeared on: Psychology Today
Republished with permission.
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How Stress Turns Us Into Someone Else: Your Stressed Self vs Your Best Self
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Glenn Geher

Glenn Geher, Ph.D. is a professor of psychology at the State University of New York at New Paltz where he has been awarded SUNY Chancellor Awards for Excellence for both Teaching and Research. In addition to teaching various courses and directing the New Paltz Evolutionary Psychology Lab, Glenn serves as founding director of the campus’s Evolutionary Studies (EvoS) program. He is also credited as the founder of the NorthEastern Evolutionary Psychology Society (NEEPS). Glenn has published several books including Evolutionary Psychology 101, Mating Intelligence Unleashed: The Role of the Mind in Sex, Dating, and Love, Straightforward Statistics, and Own Your Psychology Major! In Darwin’s Subterranean World: Evolution, Mind, and Mating Intelligence, Glenn addresses various topics related to the human condition.View Author posts