Years ago, there was a very famous study done by Harlowe & Harlowe with rhesus monkeys. They created surrogate mothers by forming the shape of a monkey with wire. Some of the “mothers” were rigged up to give the baby monkeys food; the others had cloth on them but didn’t offer food. During times of anxiety, the baby monkeys sought contact comfort by going to the cloth “mothers” rather than those who offered food. This famous study has long been referenced to indicate the need for attachment and comfort in relationships.
Relationships, clearly, are so important. Good emotional connections in your relationships are necessary both physical and psychological health.
Though I mentioned this last week, it’s worth repeating again with a bit more detail.
More recent studies with monkeys have again indicated some very interesting findings. This time what’s been learned is that within the brain there are mirror neurons. These mirror neurons will begin to fire (start to go into action) merely by watching an individual do something. In other words, the brain doesn’t actually have to do the behavior; it merely has to observe another doing it.
The significance of this finding is that the brain is capable of tuning-in to another person’s experience. It also indicates a connection between mind and body. When a mother is feeding a baby and smiles to her, the baby will reflect that smile and respond in kind. As this is happening, a neural connection occurs of a very pleasant, comforting, secure experience. Additionally, as the mother continues to smile, there’s now a shared experience.
This interaction is not at all limited to babies and mothers. Emotions are contagious. Think about how easily your own emotions are affected by those around you — whether they’re turned upward or downward. Just as the example with baby and mama is cyclical, so is the relationship with your partner. If one of you is negative, it will affect the other. Then the other responds negatively and the spiral continues.
Emotions get conveyed through facial expressions, posture, and tone of voice. They can even be sensed on a more subtle energetic level.
Having knowledge is strength. So, now that you know that this phenomenon occurs, there are things you can do. Rather than being a victim, make a choice to respond differently instead of just reacting. If your partner is negative, chances are something is emotionally bothering him or her. Often, by matching your body language to theirs, the person, unknowingly, will feel more understood. Don’t dismiss the other person’s feelings, but try some of the suggestions in the last two posts: validating and showing more empathy. Finally, when some of the emotions have calmed down, try to be a bit more uplifting in your attitude — after all the emotional contagion works both ways.
Being aware of emotional contagion and how to enhance it will lead to a feeling of being heard by others to increase emotional connections in your relationship!