Not really cheating …or is it?

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Building connection through shared activities.

Couples often come for help because there has been infidelity, or the mutually acknowledged imminent risk of an affair. Also often, in completing a clinical interview and exploration of the history of the relationship, it becomes evident that ‘cheating’ was happening in significant ways before the physical affair.

The research data out of The Gottman Institute is long term, and unambiguous, encompassing multitudinous couples. Sometimes, something apparently innocuous grows to become A Thing which can threaten the health of an already existing intimate relationship. When individuals within a committed relationship begin to make emotional connections with a degree of intimacy that rivals their primary partnership, trouble brews

3 ways we may be cheating

It is a myth of epic proportions (and a completely unrealistic expectation) that one individual is capable of meeting all of another’s need for emotional connection and intimacy. Paradoxically, it also a reality of being human that we need to experience a degree of intimate connection with another individual that is mutually exclusive; to be known and accepted as is. This need is what makes the pain of betrayal so significant. When an individual, as part of a couple, discovers that this degree of intimacy has been extended to a third party, emotional and psychological security evaporates.

In what ways might you be unintentionally or inadvertently jeopardising the health & happiness of your relationship?

The Therapist’s Office

Currently, over on LinkedIn, one of the discussion groups is having a pretty rockin’ debate about the “proper” decor for a therapist’s office. The comments range all over the map, from “stark, bare, and business-like,” to “looks like my living room,” and everything in between.

This is actually an important point …and guess what? There’s been some research done. Since the primary element in effective therapy is the therapeutic relationship, it stands to reason that the next most important element would be the environment. So, here we have the research and I am chuffed to know my office fits right in with the findings. Dim lighting, comfort, and safety are the the hallmarks of more client self-disclosure, and overall participation in the therapy. So here’s my office… feel free to drop in talk to me.

Ambition

Source: Ambition

My friend Anna-Lou is an amazing bundle of everything Tigger would be if he were a grrrrrrl. Or maybe, Anna-Lou just channels the spirit of Tigger on the way to wherever she is going. We live very far apart and I read her posts and see her in my mind’s eye gracefully flitting, book(s) in hand, from one shiny thing to another, scattering a frothy mess of feather bits, sparkles, and paint splots. (Anna-Lou will snicker. I said “gracefully flitting” instead of what she really does.)

All this and ambition, too. How groovy.

Are you contagious?

We have known for hundreds of years through behavioural observation that emotions appear to be contagious, but these conclusions were only based on patterns of behaviour.

Recently, that’s been changing. With the advent of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), scientists have been able to see how the brain lights up in response to emotional stimuli, positive or negative, and in the process, have been able to observe changes in the brain’s response to external emotional influence.

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There are two primary processes at work – focus, and scan, which have very different functions. When we are focused on problem solving, the “Task Positive Network” which is part of Executive Function, engages, and our brain process is almost completely cognitive. In other words, we’re thinking. The brain suppresses other “unnecessary” functions in favour of quick processing, creativity, and hyper-focus. In other words, when this Task Positive Network is engaged, the brain blocks out social/emotional processing. When interacting with people, we use a different part of the brain, the Default Mode Network. We scan; looking for verbal and non-verbal cues that will allow us to gauge the other’s emotional state. We have the ability to “tune in” to people, offering an appropriate social and emotional response to what we pick up.

happy-sad-facesPractically speaking, we have an unconscious tendency to end up mirroring the mood of the dominant individual in our immediate sphere. Apparently, these changes happen at the speed of light very rapidly and mostly at a subconscious at the neural synapse level. We aren’t aware of the change in frequency in brain activity that happens neurologically as we make the shift. If you think about it, you can probably come up with an example of a time when you felt that emotional shift – from positive to negative (or vice versa) after an encounter with someone. We even have language that expresses that experience; “He was a real downer.” “I always feel good after I’ve had coffee with her.” We might not be able to point to a specific action the other person did, nevertheless we experience an internal shift in feeling.

This is where mindfulness – as opposed to mindlessness – becomes key.  Mindfulness is so much more than just “paying attention.” It is being aware of both the external circumstances and, simultaneously, of our own internal landscape.

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Why does any of this matter? Because when we live mindlessly, we are at the emotional mercy of the strongest mood we encounter. It is also a sad truth that we are more likely to be swayed by a negative mood than a positive one. Our mood might pick up a little if we’re with a particularly sunny friend, but we are much more likely to feel flattened by someone’s downer mood. Now neuroscience has begun to compile a body of data indicating that living on autopilot can mean life is much more difficult than it has to be.

Here are some things that help us manage our own emotions in any context:

  1. Selfcare: When we are hungry, angry, lonely, tired, or sick, we are much more easily influenced by the moods of others. At the same time, we are also more likely to be negative to begin with if we have not had enough sleep, or not pursued some emotionally and psychologically renewing activity recently. Take care of yourself, first. Check out Selfcare on Pinterest
  2. Learn & Practice mindfulness: Don’t live on autopilot. Pay attention to your own inner responses to your external environment. Question your responses by choosing to tune in to the automatic self talk that is constantly running in the background of the mind. It’s there for everyone – I mean everyone – and those repetitious, under-the-radar thoughts compel a reaction before we have a chance to choose a response. Mindfulness is a cultivated habit.
  3. Journal: In some form, process what’s actually IN your head. I often suggest “morning pages” to my clients (Check out The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron for instructions) but any form of reflection will work. Do a vlog like Jake Sully in Avatar; look up art journaling on Pinterest and try it; take five minutes a day to record an audio file on your smartphone. Think over the day, and work through the times/occasions when your inner landscape was impacted by the external situation. Do this consistently for at least 30 days, then go back and review. You will be surprised at what you learn about yourself. Journaling ideas
  4. Focus on “Positive Emotional Attractors” – this is not just some sort of spizzy, think-yourself-happy exercise. Research supports the contention that focusing on strengths (as opposed to weaknesses), practicing empathy, and consciously monitoring and managing stress levels has a beneficial payoff through increased creativity, internal resilience, and self-motivation. Cultivating gratitude (as a bonus, check out www.unstuck.com – a gloriously helpful place to explore. There’s even an app)

When we focus on what is going right, mindfully cultivate a habit of gratitude, and look for ways to compassionately connect with our fellow human beings, life seems easier …and we all want that.

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