Where Exactly Do Healthy Relationships Start?

In Your Brain, Not Your Heart

I am not here to throw cold water on the glorious feeling of being “in love”, but there is fallacy concerning our emotions that needs to be reexamined – this fallacy has caused intense pain and relational strife with millions of individuals just like you. Over the ages we have been handed down false depictions of love from poets, songwriters and is currently propagated by much of our present-day entertainment world.

Does this sound familiar?

“I can’t help feeling this way anymore than I can control the rotation of the earth or halt the movement of the planets.”

And when it comes to the feeling of “love” this is what most people believe, whether they feel “in love” or “out of love” they think this emotion is heart based and is out of their control

In counseling it is common to hear reasoning behind their state of emotions, such as;

  • “He isn’t good for me but I can’t help but love him”

  • “I know I am “in love” with her because I can’t control the need to hear from her every hour”

or when we think we are falling “our of love”

  • “I can’t help it we just out grew each other””

  • “They didn’t make me feel loved”

All the above statements are based on a feeling, one that can come and go based the the actions of the other.

Is true love really that fickle? Can we be in love one day and not in love the next? Can anyone stay in love for a lifetime?

The Science of Emotions

Our emotions are caused by the way our brain develops responses to the events we experience. In short, our brains are always attempting to predict the outcome of present situations and uses past experiences to help us understand and bring meaning to our current situation. Some of these predictions are known to us (our conscious thoughts) but most of these predictions (and the accompanying emotions) are unconscious. Psychologists call these triggers. (i.e. they trigger an emotional response that is a part of a memory that was built from a past experience.)

Psychologist and Neuroscientist Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett has studied emotions for over twenty-five years and has come to this conclusion.

The brain is not pre-wired with an emotional circuit … emotions are not built into your brain at birth, they are just built
— Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett

This is not to say that emotions are not real, they are very powerful and influential. Emotions are the primary means for most of our decision making. As any good salesperson will tell you people make buying decisions primarily based on feelings, not facts. How we feel about something is far more predictive of our behavior than our rational processing of information. In other words, we buy the sizzle, not the steak.

So, if our brains were not prewired to experience emotions where do these emotions come from? Our minds use past experiences to predict what is happening now and what will happen in the future. These experiences are held in the amygdala which acts like a reference library to help us interpret information that is being received through our five senses. Emotions are connected to these past experiences and then filter our perception of our present circumstance.

For example, have you ever had a bad experience with a certain food? Let’s say you got food poising from a serving of Kung Pao Pork and as a result, you had an all-nighter hugging the porcelain throne. Now let’s say several weeks later you walk into a restaurant and yes, there is a serving of the vile pork on the table next to you. What are the chances that you would be ordering Kung Pao Pork at that restaurant? Zero! Why? Because your memory of that experience has attached to it the traumatic feelings associated with your recent experience. Because that memory was fresh it was probably no problem connecting the dots between the sick feeling you had in your stomach and the food poisoning incident but what of other traumatic events that happen in our life that we don’t remember?

According to cognitive neuroscientists, we are conscious of only about 5 percent of our cognitive activity, so most of our decisions, actions, emotions, and behavior depends on the 95 percent of brain activity that goes beyond our conscious awareness.

Our brains have been taught to attach emotions to certain situations and when our brain recognizes this situation as similar (whether it is or not) the accompanying emotions are felt. We teach ourselves to think and feel in certain ways that create these patterns of behavior which can be detrimental to experiencing life and finding success. In short, we get stuck in these patterns and often don’t even know it. How many times have we told ourselves that we aren’t good at something because we had one bad experience with it? We then go on to accept that negative belief as truth which then subsequently reinforces that belief and then produces new negative experiences. The opposite can also be true. research has shown that when we enter into a new experience with a positive, optimistic attitude we are far more likely to experience a successful outcome.

We are not biological automatons doomed to experience our negative emotions over and over again. We have the power to change, even if it doesn’t feel that way.

When you recognize how powerful your thoughts are and how much control you have over them you activate the most significant human process for transforming your life.

And that is where we come to building loving relationships.

Building a Love that Lasts

I’m going to share some basic truths that may bust your bubble regarding intimate relationships (that is unless you are in one then this is not new information)

  • All intimate relationships are hard

  • All intimate relationships experience conflict

  • All intimate relationships become stagnate

  • All intimate relationships cause emotional wounds

  • All intimate relationships need renewal

  • All intimate relationships occasionally drive you crazy

Intimate relationships can cause the greatest pleasure and the greatest pain … that’s because they are INTIMATE. In other words, you allow another human being close enough to bless and/or curse you and sometimes at the same time! However, you are in control as to how you are going to allow your brain to interpret your experiences. If you harbor anger, unforgiveness, fear, resentment and a host of other toxic beliefs about the relationship then you will experience a cascading effect of these beliefs which will produce all the accompanying conditions – depression, anxiety, hostility etc. On the other hand, if you are able to process any trauma that occurred and create a positive memory and perspective about the experience you will not be burdened by years of conscious and unconscious emotional “tagging” of future events. You will be free from the emotional scarring that comes from ruminating on the pain and free to experience your present situation without all that harmful baggage.

Recently I was meeting with a client who had a very painful break up with his former girlfriend. He told me he ruminated on this break up about 6 hours a day and it was causing him a lot of pain. I then asked him to tell me three things that were positive areas of growth from this “failed” relationship. He sat for a while and couldn’t come up with one. This is because he had trained his mind to think only negatively about the relationship and was blind to any positives. Finally, I told him I’d give him the first one – “he was no longer in this toxic relationship and it didn’t take him years of pain to get out” This seemed to open the floodgate as he then found many positives about the relationship. “So”, I said, “now your goal is to stubbornly think of these positives whenever you are tempted to ruminate on the negatives of that relationship.”

Instead of his thoughts tearing him down and demotivating him from going forward in his life he now can take the same experience and make more positive, healthy and empowering structures in his brain. And that is one of the great mysteries and miracles of the human brain. Our very thoughts create structures in the neuron cells of our brain. These structures are called dendrites and they hold the key to producing health and happiness. When our thoughts are loving and positive they create cell structures that tell our endocrine system to produce the hormones that will cause us to have euphoric feelings of emotional well-being - and yes even love.

This is how you stay in love, you steadfastly refuse to allow the tough parts of a relationship to kill your commitment to the other person. This is not to say that there aren’t certain aspects of any relationship that need work. Areas like:

  • Learning how to enter into non-toxic conflict

  • Developing “rituals of connection”

  • Creating the ability to compromise

  • Finding a deeper appreciation for the inner life of your partner

These are critical to growing and deepening your relationship. But that will never happen unless and until you are able to control the flow of negative thoughts that come out of you.

So here are some key ways to change your brain concerning relationships and how to maintain positive, healthy emotions toward your partner … and yes even deepen love!

  • Find something to be thankful for in the other person every day

  • Forgive the inevitable emotional wounds (unilaterally if need be)

  • Replace critical, demanding and unaccepting thoughts about your partner with thoughts of appreciation

  • Become increasingly present to your unconscious triggers and find reconciliation and healing for them

  • Refuse to allow hurtful, corrosive, demeaning words from your mouth. (these types of words are products of our thoughts and those thoughts should not be reinforced!)

  • Practice monitoring the garden of your thoughts like you were a master gardener and don’t allow the ugly and destructive weeds and thorns to choke out the flowers

So, it is your brain and the way you choose to think, that remains the starting and finishing point to all healthy relationships.

We at Total Wellness Resource Center are committed to helping you become the best version of yourself through our commitment to empirically based truth shared in a loving, spiritually attuned atmosphere. If we can help you along your life’s journey don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

Sincerely;

The Total Wellness Team

Do You Dreeam of A Better Relationship?

Key Steps to Help Make Your Dreams Come True

Dream.jpg

Many couples come to me with a belief that if they can just get their mate to change then their marriage problems will be solved. Oh, I know they will rarely come out and say that, they usually couch that belief in phrases like; “I know that I’m part of the problem but he …” or “I’m not perfect but she …”

It seems to be a human trait to make someone or something the “reason” for our not being happy. We immediately look outside ourselves to find the source for our misery. As a result, we may change our circumstance but we rarely achieve our objective.

Am I saying that our environment does not affect us? No. We can greatly benefit by creating healthy environments but our internal beliefs will always be a more powerful influence on us than our external situations. In fact, we will invariably mold our external world to conform to our internal reality. We then point to what we have created as the cause of our problem. This is a bit like digging a deep pit, jumping in, and then cursing the pit.

This attitude is demonstrated by words such as, always, never, can’t won’t and other self-limiting declarations.

“He will always …”

“She will never …”

“We can’t …”

“This won’t …”

When I hear these statements I ask a question (in my most understanding tone of voice), “Are you omniscient?” In which (if they understand the term) they reply

“No?”

So I press on with my questions.

“So you can’t see into the future, right?”

No” they respond in their confusion.

So why are you so willing to shut out the possibility that something good can happen in this case”

As long as we make certain negative outcomes our reality, we will refuse to see anything that may remotely contradict them or any possibility that change can occur. This negative filter will block what does not conform to our belief and so we create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The opposite is also is true. If we tenaciously hold on to a positive belief then we are almost certain to see it come true.

In 1962 President John F. Kennedy said, “we choose to go to the moon”.

It was a fanciful idea at the time. We had neither the technology nor the experience to accomplish such an ambitious goal. Those who were sitting in the audience, who would be tasked with fulfilling this declaration, must have experienced a range of emotions from exhilaration to terror as they assessed the challenge of fulfilling this “dream”. To date, the sum of their accomplishments was to put a single astronaut into an orbit three times around the earth. But the seed was planted, the commander and chief gave an order. Send Americans to land on the moon and successfully return and do this within eight years.

Some say I must see then I will believe, I say believe and only then will you see

“Okay, James thanks for the history lesson, but how does this apply to my life and my relationships?”

This is how.

If you are ever to have something better than you have now, if you are ever going to achieve a life that is beyond what you are currently experiencing you must make that dream a reality in your head and heart before it will become one in your experience.

We are who we believe we are
— C.S.Lewis

When it comes to our own identity and our relationships this means you must hold out hope that it can be better before it ever will become better. Experiencing an intimate, loving, mutually nurturing relationship is absolutely dependent on whether you believe it is possible. If you don’t believe it is possible then you will simply reproduce the same failures and experience the same results.

It starts with creating the dream just like President Kennedy did for those men and women of NASA. You can recruit an army of resources that will begin working for you but first, you must be open to the new possibility that something beautiful and extraordinary can happen.

Self-limiting beliefs are like cancer of the spirit, if left untreated they metastasize and kill. What they kill is our dreams, ambition, hope, love, and faith. They camouflage themselves as being “reality” or “rational thinking” but when you strip away the mask they are lies fueled by fear. We fear loss, failure, being exposed as a phony, or the loss of being able to justifying our own misery. We also fear losing the dysfunctional comfort we derive from not challenging our self-limiting beliefs because it would require painful self-examination and necessitate difficult fundamental life-change. For some, this is too much and so we slip into our tepid pool of dissatisfaction and entertain ourselves with all manner of toys. But for a few, the passion for a higher calling lies deep within their soul and will not be satisfied with a mundane and feckless life. For these, the calling is to the road less traveled, the mountains beyond the furthest peak.

If that is you then obey this internal calling and begin shedding all that would hinder your upward climb. For the air is sweet at the top and few are those who are willing to experience it. Are you?

Here are some beginning steps:

  • Make a list of all the limiting beliefs that you can bring to mind. This may take a while for they are often so much a part of us that we can’t extract them from our souls. Focus on your true dreams, not merely what you want but who you want to be. This is where you will find your most powerful self-limiting beliefs.

  • Begin to create a list of affirmations that will produce “cogitative dissonance”. I have attached a worksheet on how to create Smart Affirmations that will help you.

  • Reach out to friends, relatives and/or counselors to help you. Ask them what they see and be open to their perspective.

  • If you are spiritual then ask God to reveal areas of your life that are hidden to you. This is a verse that has been very meaningful to me over the years.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
— Psalm 139:23,24 NIV

If we can ever be of help to you please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

This One Habit Will Change Everything!

I've Just Got To Share .....

When I come across something that is life changing I’ve just got to share it.

It is a simple thing but it will change the course of your life.  Don't get me wrong, simple does not mean easy – In fact, this may be one of the hardest things you ever learn to do. It could even take months to perfect … but it’s worth it.  So What is this "thing" I am talking about?

TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR MIND

( I TOLD YOU IT WASN'T GOING TO BE EASY)

Take control of your mind every morning and make sure it is nourished with healthy, uplifting, inspiring and empowering food.  Yes, I mean every morning make this your first exercise.

Let me ask you, when you wake up in the morning where do your thoughts go? Do they start working on the agenda of the day? Maybe they rehash yesterday’s failures, or they may run into the future working out possible negative scenarios and worrying about upcoming events.

For many of us who struggle with anxiety or depression, these first morning thoughts set the stage for the rest of our day – and for the rest of our lives for that matter. But even if you aren’t prone to anxiety your first thoughts of the day are critical for giving you the ability to function effectively and efficiently throughout the day.

Bottom line – Don’t let your thoughts default to the problems of the day until they have had a healthy breakfast of empowering and inspirational nutriments.   I once heard someone say. "Put your pen down and stop trying to write the last chapter before the entire story unfolds".

But many of us are habitual negative thinkers, so much so that we don’t think we can change. But you can change – you can rewire your brain - your story,   you can create new neural networks and change the course of your life.

Here are some ways you can do it.

  • When you wake up, before you even get out of bed, grab a 3x5 card on your nightstand that has several morning affirmations and read them 5 times out loud.
  • Upon getting up, grab your hot tea or coffee and sit in a quiet place then read something inspirational, uplifting and empowering. If you’re not a reader listen to an inspirational message.  I personally like to read the Bible but you may want to find something else that inspires you.
  • Then journal your thoughts – make them positive! Speak to yourself like an inspirational coach even if you don’t feel it (ESPECIALLY IF YOU DON’T FEEL IT!)

I know some of you may have a hard time with this.  When we live with negativity for a long time it begins to feel like being positive is wrong. But please hear me on this – You need to stay ruthlessly positive until your negative thoughts begin to feel wrong and your positive thoughts begin to feel right. That’s the change we’re after and it takes time for the mind to process this new way of thinking.

I have 30 daily affirmations to kick start your new morning routine that I would love to send to you. Just send me an email at connect@totalwellnesscenter.net and I’ll send it to you immediately.

You can also ask for our ebook- 10 Days of Loving Yourself. We'll send it to you free if you request it. 

 

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Take Care and Be Kind To Yourself