“… belonging and being loved are core to the human experience. We are a social species; we are meant to be in community—emotionally, socially, and physically interconnected with others.” – Bruce D. Perry
Part 1: Neurobiological Need for Connection and Relationship
Your brain is constantly seeking felt and physical safety in your environment and experiences. This is called your interoception. Unconsciously our brains are scanning the environment and experience for safety and threat. Our senses provide the brain with the activators of response or rest. What makes this radar system complex is how it determines “safe” or “danger” in the split second it’s scanning the environment. Our previous experiences create highways to response or pathways to safety. Our nonverbal communication (body posture and position, facial expressions and tone of voice) tell our stress response system to chill out or activate. Knowing this, we can be more mindful of what activated our emotional responses and behaviors. Through this reflection and awareness, we naturally begin to coexist more effectively (and pleasantly).
As humans, we are social beings, therefore we also crave consistent, reliable and authentic connections and relationships. When you feel like you are part of a community, you are more willing to do new and/or hard things.
When you invest your time and energy in a relationship/friendship, you create stronger connections (what I will refer to as “relational mylienation”). As you increase frequency, duration and sometimes intensity within these relationships and friendships, that’s where the “mylienation” or the “strong bond” evolves.
From here, a trusting connection is cultivated as you begin to co-process, co-regulate and reflect on life circumstances. You feel more anchored, safe, reflective and connected to yourself and trusted friend. The challenge to this is when the other person may not reach the same stage of safety as quickly or maybe too quick. This makes the relationship complex as you navigate the intensity of the relationship. Oftentimes, in healthy relationships, these are moments to pause, check in, and clearly communicate to discuss the “rate of growth.” This could be awkward at first- yet it will set up a strong foundation for communication and growth.
Yet on the contrary, relational well-being is sometimes challenged by circumstance and control. These seasons, times or moments are hard because of the strong connection built in the relationship or friendship. During these times, you also seek out your trusted community to anchor yourself, restore strength in your perspective and resolve the relationship challenge while keeping your well-being in mind.
If you’ve never faced the waves of well-mylienated relationship challenges, this may sound easy. Though if you’ve endured these “waves” in time, you know they aren’t easy. Either way, we are neurologically wired to seek out others to help us get through tough things.
Considering this, how can you know that you have a secure “safety net” built for life curve balls (and confusing detours)?
First and foremost, get to know yourself. What I mean by this is- seek to understand, develop awareness and explore your mind and body connection. What stirs you up? What settles you down? Next attune to your relational investments. Who makes you feel recharged? Who drains your battery?
These two explorations alone will help you “prune” some of your relational investments and nurture others. You’ll also find yourself more anchored and aware of yourself in social and non social situations as you attune to the energy you give and receive.
From here, you can simply begin “mylienating” these relationships and friendships to cultivate growth, connection and relational wellbeing.
Simply put, through attunement and awareness of the mind and body response to our relational energy investments, we are better able to balance and boost our emotional and relational wellbeing.
Part 2: One-Sided Co-Regulation
As a human, your relational and regulation energy is contagious. This is both a positive thing as well as a challenging thing. Without words, our energy can be transferred simply by being in presence with someone. Considering this, a problem arises. What if the other person, who may be dysregulated or dealing with toxic stress has developed barriers and shields over time? They are doing whatever they can to not absorb your calm contagion. How can you support their well being without it negatively influencing YOUR well being? What can you do to meaningfully support the well-being and relationship without it becoming toxic stress?
With this inquiry, I think of my most challenging students. Oftentimes they are carrying in their big behaviors because they’ve learned them as coping strategies as they deal with the toxic stress in their families and/or homes. They’ve learned how to manifest and create chaos for their comfort. They engage in negative peer interactions and adult defiance and disrespect from learned behaviors. This takes all the heart and patience of the co-regulating adult to persevere, teach and love them through their big feels and big reactions. Yet the secret is- they don’t take these behaviors personally AND they check in with their nervous system during and after these interactions and experiences. These are the two keys to emotional and relational well-being. Now when it comes for adults experiencing these challenging experiences, it leads me to a second reflection for application.
As Maya Angelo reminds us, “When you know better- do better.” Considering this, when adults demonstrate a disconnect of emotional response and circumstance (bigger, louder, intense, unexpected), often times It could be from one of these thing.
- They are going through hard times and may not feel seen, heard or valued (relational well-being)
- Don’t have healthy of helpful coping strategies (self and co-regulation)
- They have yet to befriend and/or understand their Stress Response and Nervous System influence on their reaction and response (neuroanatomy knowledge)
Because we are biologically wired for connection, when another human responds unexpectedly, it puts OUR stress response system on fight, flight or freeze mode which directly impacts the response and in turn the relationship. Things are said that require rupture and repair. Resolution is not quickly established and it all gets far more complicated than first intended. This happens to all of us. We are human. Yet the more we understand our nervous system and behavior response pattern, the better our responses become in stressful situations. Our fight, flight, freeze response becomes better programmed and our relational well being (with ourselves and others) improve. How we repair our relational well-being is how we can heal our nervous systems to be more anchored and meet our biological need for connection and community.
Therefore, I go back to the beginning point, relationships and friendships take commitment and meaningful reflection to evolve and ‘mylienate’ over time. Developing skills together and being aware of your behavior and response based on neuro- and biological needs, you will continue to be anchored in yourself and your relationships. You can better choose how to invest in your relational well-being.
Also, I encourage to find a community that uplifts you and you can also co-process challenging things with. When you find a ‘tribe’ that can support you though relationship ‘mylienation’, you’re going to have better outcomes as you can authentically reflect, restore and rebuild your relational wellbeing.