By Adam M Cauler, MA, NCC, LPCC
Electrons, Chemistry, Proximity, Magnetism, Electricity, Physics…and Relationships…
You may be wondering what is the correlation between all of these terms, and if so, you would be right to do so. You see, these terms describe connections amongst naturally occurring phenomenon and are surprisingly insightful into relationships of all kinds. Each of us long for relationships that compliment our character, while allowing our deficiencies to be absorbed by the sufficiency of others. This might be why we fall so hard in love with our partners, but then after years of being together begin to notice their opposite behaviors and personality traits. We want to change them into mirror images of our own sense of perfection (which of course is ourselves!). The very reason we were initially attracted, becomes the reason we want to part.
What if we can return to just being ourselves in the presence of who we associate with, and allow others to exist in their natural states? Could we watch a coordinated dance of individuals contributing to the naturally occurring connectivity found within our natural states? I love you with all of me, so that you can love me with all of you.
There are these interesting parts in our brains called Mirror Neurons. Mirror neurons function in a way that is congruent with what their clever title suggests. They pick up on sensory feedback in our environment, and voila, they begin to mirror it! Have you ever silently moved your mouth while another is speaking to you? Have you ever began to feel restless when suddenly the group your with starts to panic? Have you ever cringed at the sight of another smelling something foul? You can thank mirror neurons for all of these responses. Mirror Neurons function in your subconscious automatically. This is very important in the context of both survival and relationships. If we had to solely rely on our conscious ability to pick up on potentially threats in our proximity, we might be conversing with someone over a nice Dutch Bros coffee, miss the threatening cues from our environment, and not take cover, as a truck slams into our peaceful picnic table. We might be watching our team (NY Mets) winning in the last inning while sitting aside from a gentle faced man, but inside this man is ready to commit homicide, takes a gun from his coat and points it at the waitress. Suddenly the waitress and onlookers go into panic, but because we are so focused on the Mets, and our mirror neurons are no longer automatic we, think… “Come on Syndergaard, just strike him out!” It is not too much to suggest that we are actually all connected to each other instinctively, naturally, and out of necessity.
In order to make a healthy connection with others, we must feel safe around them. This felt safety is vitally important in the development of healthy relationships. However, if we do not feel safe around our loved ones, we cannot simply un-feel this. Naturally, our relationship with them will be based upon surviving: Fight, flight, or freeze and not thriving: Intimacy, love, respect and connection.
How then do we begin to feel safe, how do we exist with each other in the midst of all the fear that surrounds us at all times? There is hope!
Approaches to Safety
Proxemics is “[t]he branch of knowledge that deals with the amount of space that people feel it necessary to set between themselves and others.” (Dictionary.com) With good mindfulness skills in place, simply notice you are feeling a little uncomfortable with how close you are to another individual. Then, allow yourself to make more space between you and them. This simple approach could ease your physiology, psychology, emotionality, and in the case of a bad breath attack, your olfactory regulation systems.
In many cases, we present a desire for emotional connection with others verbally. When this underlining desire is not reciprocated or an emotional connection is not established at this point, our attempts are thwarted and we are left feeling missed and disconnected. Then, often times we revert to aggression or passive aggression to reestablish this lost connection. This gentle and passive attempt for connection quickly morphs to a demanding, “You will feel like I feel!” And now that the feeling is hurt, the other person is either provoked to wrath, verbally assaulted, or a reservation is made for the next plane trip to dissatisfaction via the US Airlines, baggage at an additional charge. Once both parties are feeling hurt, the connection is established. This is a very unhealthy form of connectivity. All this hurt can be avoided by attempting to connect to the initial emotional pallet being served up. Instead of disagreeing with the verbal presentation, adding on to the presentation, or blatantly disregarding the presentation, try reflecting (mirroring) the presentation. i.e. “I am feeling tired and frustrated today”, “So you mean you feel tired and frustrated today, what’s going on?”
If you have never watched a movie in an unfamiliar language or perhaps seen a captivating scene on mute, I suggest you give it a shot. Challenge yourself to try and identify what is going on in the scene minus the verbal presentation. Chances are this will not be a very difficult task. Our bodies communicate as much, if not more, than our words. We have more neurons in our gut than our brains. Which means, if we are sensitive to the changes in our bodies while interacting with others, we may have a greater chance of providing necessary attention to ourselves in order to maintain our sense of safety. This will allow us to communicate effectively and productively with others without reverting back to our fight, flight, or freeze ways of reacting.
This self-awareness is the first step in being able to notice others. “Hey, I remember feeling crowded, maybe they are crossing their arms and legs and facing downward because I am presenting myself as intimidating or aggressive. I think I will slow my speech, lower my tone, and take a step back or angle my body away from directly facing them”. If we fail to consciously care for ourselves, and we begin to feel threatened without consolation, we will remain focused on our self-preservation, and not on others. Exclusive self-centeredness, self-focus, and self-interest in a world designed for concern for others and connection with others is a recipe for dissatisfaction and physical and mental illness. Notice yourself, be respectful and kind to yourself; notice others, and be respectful and kind to others.
All living animals breathe and all living organisms, to include anaerobic organisms, respire. As it turns out, breath is directly connected to our nervous system and other vital self-regulation systems found within our body. Could breathing differently directly result in living differently? Or perhaps, could changing our breathing during stress and danger/perceived threat result in an ability to feel safety, agency, and peace?
There is a vast amount of research being produced that shows the value in focusing on breathing healthily. Fast and shallow chest breathing, where the deepest point of the inhalation rests within the chest results in a release of adrenaline and cortisol. These chemicals result in stress and anxiety. Remember the last time you were stressed, or in a traumatic situation, how was your breathing? In contrast, deep and slow diaphragm breathing, where the deepest point of the inhalation rests within the lower stomach results in a release of oxytocin, and other relaxation hormones. Deep and slow focused breathing has an immediate and direct positive effect on our immune system, heart rate variance, stress reduction, PH in blood, and blood pressure. Through breathing, we can change the body with the mind, and establish one of the most vital connections existing in nature: The mind-body connection. This mind-body connection will facilitate the connection with others, and help change the course of the world for the better.