What is happening today in your personal relationships? Do you perceive that you can be yourself, stay relaxed and open in the safe, non-judgmental environment of your relationships? Do you feel supported to shine as your best and in your fullest potential? Or are you feeling stressed about unresolved issues swept under the carpet and things on your “TO DO” list to talk about some day? Feeling afraid what the other might think about you, if you really shared your feelings honestly? And this goes for friends, colleagues and family as well. Some of us see the quality of our relationships as a luxury of life, as something that happens when we are holidays or maybe on the weekends…or hopefully when….? But if you’re honest, how is your day to day relating really going?
Scientific research shows us that our relationships have a direct effect on our well-being, state of mind and our ability to function at our potential within our brain. When our relationships are flowing with love, gratitude and joy, our minds experience clarity, openness, greater perceptiveness, calmness and resilience to stress. The latest research today also shows us that when our relationships with others are stuck in stressful circles of miscommunication, resentment, fear, past hurts, lack of empathy or isolation, our nervous system goes into survival mode and shuts down its higher capacities of creativity, clear thinking, efficiency and overall state of well-being. This naturally shows us the importance of understanding our relations with ourselves and others as a matter of good health and quality of life. Our immune system is directly connected to our emotional centers of the brain and when we stop expressing our feelings because of mistrust, fear of judgment or miscommunication, it directly affects our state of wellness. Many people come to us surprised to see after untangling their relationship issues, how the other areas of their lives start flowing with clarity, abundance and many times, they have a new vision and meaning towards life. It seems that the brain makes a shift towards a new state of presence and clear perception once the anxiety of held stress in the nervous system is released.
We are fascinated to see how interlinked our minds are to each other. How through what is called “mirror neurons” we actually are designed to perceive each other from the inside like a kind of natural telepathy of sensations which connects us directly to one an other’s inner climate, state of well-being and state of stress. A good example of this can be seen in a herd of gazelles in the open plains of Africa; when a lion approaches, one of the Gazelles picks up the scent and freezes all its muscles, and instantly the whole herd picks up the contraction though the same mirror neurons, which inform them of the danger. This enables the herd to mobilize their flight-flight energy to escape to safety and survive another day. We humans have the same instinctive survival response in part of our brains to pick up any stress signals from one another, which activates our threat response of flight or flight. So, for example, when we have an argument with our partner or colleague at work and it is left unresolved with an emotional charge, these mirror neurons in our brains pick up the agitation in the other’s nervous system and registers it as a “threat” of loss of connection or disturbance which could be life threatening. This literally activates a high survival stress level in our own inner state. As long as the issue stays unresolved or not understood, these instinctive parts of the brain stay on high alert and accumulate a high level of stress throughout the system, which prevents other functioning within the brain to literally save the space to work well. This is why it is so hard to concentrate or focus when we go to work and have these issues going on at home because our brains are “stuck” in survival mode from the flood of emotions (threat) created in our activated relationship. In some cases, this high stress level can be activated for years, accumulating from many unhealthy relationship dynamics, which don’t make any logical sense in the present. It becomes difficult to understand why we sometimes react so strongly to things which appear to be “no big deal”. One can continue avoiding coming closer to people to try to not provoke these strong feelings (stored activation), which come up when they do come closer to people, leaving them in a state of inner isolation and loneliness. Both examples experience the fear of these strong, seemingly uncontrollable, reactions that are left unresolved or unreleased. We can even unconsciously provoke situations (conflicts) in order to try to “fix” or make right what we are holding from the past. When these attempts fail it tends to strengthen a state of helplessness and mistrust in the relational field or towards relationships in general.
So the intelligent person naturally asks: what can I do about this!? How can I make my brain and nervous system come out of this high activated stress, so I can return to my “real self” of feeling open, peaceful, clear, receptive, calm and loving? In our experience, this response requires some understanding and tools. One of these tools is what we call “repair”. When we can communicate what we are feeling and experiencing with the other sincerely, it helps to connect the higher frontal cerebral cortex to the instinctive brain which has a regulating and calming effect on the nervous system. We like the term from Dr. Dan Siegel, “Name it to tame it,” which indicates this process in the brain of expressing what we are feeling as a way of regulating ourselves and the relational field.
Here are some steps for repair to be explored:
The first step is to learn how to identify that you are triggered, reactive or defensive. Maybe you can start by just feeling a contraction or uneasiness in the body. Identify: “Something in me is triggered or activated and is taking my centeredness away.”
The second step is what we call self-responsibility…to recognize that if you triggered, it has something to do with you, not only with the other. Having this attitude, “If I want something to really shift outside, I first need to see what my part or contribution in the situation is. What is my behavior when I am triggered (protections)?” To be open and curious are essential aspects for self reflection, since most of our triggers in relationships involve our history and upbringing.
The third step is to validate and feel the vulnerability which lies underneath our protections. By asking questions such as, “What is the delicate part in me which got touched to make me feel so protective, or reactive? What is the vulnerability that I am protecting? Examples might be, not feeling good enough, misunderstood, not seen, fear of being left…etc…
The fourth step is to move towards repair: When we can bring an authentic vulnerability discovered through our inner investigation of what was under our triggered protections and behaviors and share from this vulnerable space without blaming the other, we open a field of empathy, compassion and repair. This supports us to get in contact with our basic needs, which are very personal and intimate.
So many of our clients report the positive effects of being able to “self-regulate” their nervous system when they are able to use these tools to repair miscommunications with their partners, friends and family. This brings a deeper understanding as to why they were triggered in the first place and how to “discharge” them when activated, which naturally removes them from this flight-flight survival mode into a state of well-being, lovingness, compassion and forgiveness. When we can return to a state of empathy with each other and feel how a contraction held deep within can suddenly take a deep breath and release maybe years of held stress from relational issues, it really brings a sense of hope that we can have the level of intimacy we really long for. Then we feel the confidence to really open up our hearts and we can even allow disagreements that don’t get stuck in isolation, shutting down and moodiness because there is a bridge of connection available to repair. What a relief to be able to move through our issues which surface when we are in relationships with others and not get stuck in them On the contrary, when we can move through them, we gain resiliency, self knowledge and the confidence to love even more and can take more risks and show ourselves sincerely to our friends, lovers and people we care about.
We wish this to be a great inspiration for us all to move though the challenges we all face in relationships. It is exciting for us to see the level of healing possible today through the latest research and understandings of modern day science mixed with the wisdom of mindfulness meditations and how we can literally rewire our brains though love and connection! What a joy….what a freedom!
Talib & Shubhaa Fisher