How to Override Our Brain’s Responses to Someone Else’s Feelings
With Valentines Day rapidly approaching….
It is no secret that within relationships we are expected to support each other emotionally but what does this support mean? What if my loved one is having a bad day, how can I support them? What if I’m overwhelmed by what they say to me ? As energetic beings we all have the capacity to be influenced by whatever ‘mood’ or ‘emotion’ that may be occurring around us. The theory of ‘mirror neurons’ postulates that when one individual displays an intensified emotion such as anger, the same region of the brain, which is activated in the angry person, is also activated in the person in proximity to the anger. As relational beings we rely on one another to support each other through difficult and intense moments! But what if we end up absorbing these ‘negative’ emotions and we both become affected, then what’s the point?
One key to avoiding uncritically absorbing another persons is to ‘check in with yourself.’ In other words, being able to first slow down and understand what is happening within you. What might your inner voice be trying to communicate? To take it one step further once you remember to slow down then try to slow down even more. Strictly speaking, double down on the slow down. Imagine being in the film The Matrix and having the capacity to slow time and be an observer of these emotions as they go flying past you. Typically, you will feel some part of your body tensing up before or during the experience of these ‘unwanted’ emotions.
After you have ‘slowed down’ enough to recognize that your own energy has begun to change, you can label or identify what has just happened internally. Is it anger, frustration, sadness, disappointment, shock, jealousy, shame or a type of fear that you are feeling? Remember that there is a vast range of human emotions, unique shades and hues that only you may be able to approximate. Remember, no one is a mind reader, at least not proven to be by scientific methods thus far.
Once you have the emotion you are experiencing labeled the best you can then… ‘own it’ as being uniquely your own inner experience. State what you’re feeling out loud if it helps or maybe just to yourself internally but take responsibility for it being your own. Although, this emotion most likely occurred as a result of something you felt in proximity to your partner, it is still unique to you and only you can make the necessary adjustments. At this point you might decide you need space to cool off or maybe even a hug or walk is in order for both of you. It should be noted that physical contact, such as hugs, stimulate important chemicals which are released in the brain that help use to relax (GABA, serotonin and oxytocin). It is also shown that when we walk we are utilizing both hemispheres of the brain thus processing information differently.
Some of the aforementioned concepts are common for mindfulness practitioners who exercise ‘being in the moment.’ Although this article is most focused on supporting each other through our more difficult emotions, there are many opportunities to share our positive feelings as well. Just as negative energy positivity can usually be ‘sensed ‘ or felt without words. Excitement, humor, passion or even absurdity are hopefully more abundant within a relationship and can also be shared within the relationship. The point is to support and love our partners, but not take responsibility for another person’s emotions. We can become increasingly bonded by our empathy and compassion but expecting someone to not only contain, but change our own emotion can sometimes be unfair. Understanding healthy emotional boundaries is key.
I have often likened therapy to taking a walk with someone in the dark corridors of the mind as well as walking out into the sunlight at other times. Relationships are dense with moments in which we dwell within another person’s emotional energy. This experience can be sometimes tumultuous and also blissful. Once in awhile we share a calm and balanced place in which all the reasons we are close become clear and beautifully irrelevant. An unidentified person once said,
‘nobody has the ability to make me as weightless and carefree as you can.’
Article Written By NCC Therapist, Justin Olson, LMFT