Ever start laughing, even though you’re not in on the joke? I’m not talking about nervous laughter because you feel awkward about “why” they might be laughing. I’m talking about feeling someone else’s emotion — inside yourself. It happens with all of us. And sometimes when relationships are strained, we have to work to find it in couples counseling.
In couples counseling, we call it empathy.
Most of us totally know that feeling. I saw a fun video this morning showing a woman unable to stop laughing apparently from what she saw on her phone. And then for 3 minutes the video shows how her laughter spreads … to people all around her! This constantly happens in couples counseling and in all types of interactions.
And when it’s laughter, most of us want more of it. The video‘s really entertaining and a great example of how we can positively affect people around us. There are actual neurons, called mirror neurons, that help to make this happens in humans and other mammals.
But what many people don’t know, or tend to forget, is that when we’re struggling in relationships, we are often doing the negative of this. We’re mad or scared or feel deprived and the people around us tend to know it. Sometimes we bottle it up inside and don’t say a thing.
But actually you do. Right?!
You show your feelings in 1,000 different ways.
Especially with the person you perceive to be the cause. Sometimes , maybe you find that it can roll out of you, kind of like a snowball going down a hill, getting bigger and faster… And usually this doesn’t make things better. It tends to make things worse. Sometimes MUCH worse. Why? Because Emotions are Contagious. Neuroscience continues to show how these contagious emotions effect not only our emotional, but our physical health.
Laughter as well as sadness (or anger, resentment, etc) is felt by others. Especially the ones you are most connected to. And then it typically spreads through time and space, just like the laughter did on this train.
So, how can knowing this make things better?
Well, knowing this deepens your understanding of what’s really going on. Of what’s happening inside of you as well as in-between you and someone else. If you’re mad and ruminating in that anger — it can’t help but affect the relationship.
But if you know this and if you want to make the relationship better, you can find ways that work to change this. Ways that work either inside yourself or within the relationship.
And then things begin to shift. Really? Really.
I regularly witness this… one of the perks of the job! (I LOVE my job!)
Couples counseling, especially couples counseling using the most effective and evidenced based intervention out there called Emotionally Focused Therapy, can help to make this happen.
Sometimes that change can be talking about what’s really going on with a trusted friend. Other times it can be managed or reduced by taking care of yourself. And still other times, and I totally encourage this, it can be worked out with the person that you feel is the cause of that problem.
Learning how to resolve those things is often the first step to making things better. Sometimes people need help (that is what I do for a living after all) but other times, actually MOST of the time, people can do it without professional help.
I recommend a couple of books that can be really helpful. For couples, Hold me Tight is amazing. For families, No Drama Discipline is the best parenting book I’ve ever read. And I’ve read A LOT of parenting and relationship books!
Knowing that emotion is contagious, can begin to change the way you perceive, experience and then share your internal world with others. Especially how you share it with the people you love the most!
And that changes everything.
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