I recently listened to a podcast by Dr Kate Owen, a clinical psychologist on the Gold Coast. She offered some interesting ideas around the ‘contagious nature’ of anxiety and other negative emotions. (Have you ever noticed how flat you feel after looking forward to a meet up with a friend who then ‘dumps’ all their endless problems on you over coffee?).
As we know, our brains are divided into two main hemispheres – the left (the logical / rational part) and the right (which governs and influences our emotional responses).
Researchers have identified that when someone we care about is having a distressing experience, our right brain, and theirs, connect through sight, and we are directly and physiologically impacted by their experience.
If they are feeling overwhelmed and hurt, it doesn’t take long for us to reflect these emotions in our body language, our tone of voice or even the language that we are using.
The mirror neurons in our brains empathically connect with each other because we are designed to mirror and reflect our environment.
When we see someone we love becoming distressed and overwhelmed, we can feel an equally overwhelming urge to do whatever we can think of to support them. However, through our biological makeup, we can sometimes find ourselves just as confused and distressed, struggling to know how best to respond.
Concerned family members have often shared their sense of feeling “trapped” in the experience alongside their loved ones, giving the experience much more power and influence than it deserves.
If this is true, though, it means that we also possess the exceptional ability to positively influence and support our family members and loved ones through difficult experiences, using these same mirror neurons, to pass on the calm and safety that we most wish for them.
The SKATTLE team believe that when family members attend counselling together (rather than just the person with ‘the problem’) a host of opportunities emerge for each family member to objectively share their experience with ‘the problem’, and just as importantly, to identify how they are all being influenced by ‘the problem’.
When families are supported to explore their challenges in this way, they can decide together how best to move forward and better identify the skills and knowledge they use when anxiety or other distressing experiences are present.
Family sessions open possibilities for exploring individual and collective strengths – so everyone feels supported working together, with the common goal of lessening the impact of these difficult emotional experiences for themselves and each other.
When families recognise all of the brilliant ways that they stand strong, the relationship with the negative experience changes, and they feel more empowered individually and collectively on how they want to influence and support each other – ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ and we would welcome the opportunity to work alongside you and your family.
Post written by Michelle Fairbrother