Words matter to human beings. Our words can serve a higher purpose in meaningfully connecting us to one another, or on the other hand, tearing us apart.
Studies in neuroscience back this. In his book, Words Can Change Your Brain, neuroscientist Andrew Newberg found that positive thoughts literally change the body’s physiology; and when prolonged, makes lasting changes in behavior is an optimal direction.
Not surprisingly, the opposite is also true. A study of negative self-talk showed that words of negativity elevate stress hormones situationally; and when prolonged, the outcome is long term anxiety.
You are wired to matter. And so is your partner or a friend or family member.
While there are many emotions, based on the release of hormones, the body-mind understands two basic biochemical categories overall, either: love and fear.
Whereas emotions of fear produce stress hormones and uncomfortable sensations, emotions of love produce feel-good hormones, such as Oxytocin, and sensations of safety and caring connection.
Emotions of fear also activate the body's survival system, which puts the higher thinking areas of the brain offline. In conversations, they should come with a "warning" label, that: Nothing of substance or good, yet a lot of harm, come from trying to converse or resolve an issue when the frontal cortex is blocked by reactive programs.
Why not engage in conscious-love talk instead? Conscious-love talking is purposeful, and the opposite of reactive or defensive talk. You are wired to matter. You have the ability to take the reins of your emotion responses, and disallow them from intensifying by speaking or thinking assuring words. This is a consciously loving thing to do.
When you are in a conversation with your partner or a friend, and note a sign or two of reactivity in you or the other, here are a few guidelines to consciously sidestep reactivity:
1. Set an intention to “do something different.”
Rather than respond automatically as would normally occur in the past, pause and take a deep breath. Remind yourself that, most of the time, it serves your higher interest to thoughtfully respond, rather than react, to something the other says or does. Ideas for thoughtful responses often come naturally when you respond with the "end in mind"; for example, to set an intention, and visualize that, at the end of your conversation, both of you will feel good overall about yourselves and relationship.
2. Give the benefit of the doubt.
Avoid jumping to conclusions, making judgments, negative forecasts, and so on. Remind yourself that nothing good can come of stirring negativity. Instead consider using words that keep you in "observer mode" and not judge. This allows you to observe what the other says and what is going on inside you without taking sides. It also permits you to remain compassionately connected, perhaps to consider the validity of one another’s actions or viewpoints? And keep in mind, seeing the other's perspective does not mean you “agree” or let go of yours. It is something you do to cultivate your capacity for higher, reflective thought, which makes space for both the other's and your viewpoint.
3. Find the understandable part.
Set a goal for growing mutual understanding. Look to connect and understand the other’s feelings and core emotion-drives. What are emotion-drives? This is a universal built-in system of values that make life meaningful for us, as human beings. The overarching emotion-drive is to meaningful matter and connect to life in and around us. Other emotion-drives include yearnings to feel safe, heard, understood, known, esteemed, loved and so on. Emotion drives are needs akin to oxygen, and not mere wants. Listening to the other, what emotion-drive or yearning do you think they seeking to fulfill? And how about you, what inner yearning are you seeking in this interaction with the other? A foundation of trust and love is nourished by setting an intention to mutual understand one another.
4. Express what need is driving your upset.
What does reactivity say about what emotion-drive is activating your defenses? Are you seeking to feel heard, understood? Or is it a sense of safety or connection? Express your feelings and needs in a way that supports you to remain relatively calm, and invites the other to do the same.
5. Offer assurance.
Assuring words are powerfully comforting. Use them freely as needed. Assure the other, for example, that you understand where they are coming from, that their actions or viewpoint make sense at some level, regardless that you share different opinions. Assurance and understanding where the other is coming from do not equal agreement. But they express you care to take the time to know and care about the other's feelings.
6. Ask the other to work with you.
Invite your partner to work together to find win-win ways of talking and resolving an issue. The reality is that no one always gets what they want. What is important here is to ensure you each convey an overall message that you want, and enjoy, the other having what they want, and also enjoy supporting them in their efforts when possible. This builds a sense of mutual trust between you, especially when backed by regular actions to assist in day to day things each wants to achieve.
7. Remain confident, calm and centered.
Set an intention to self activate your body's relaxation response. Another way of saying this is to keep your body's autonomic nervous system in its learning mode, also known as the parasympathetic division. Setting an intention to remain calm, confident and centered also keeps your mind and body connected, and in the present moment, where your higher thinking brain activated. This also keeps your survival system "black-and-white thinking" at bay, making it easier to observe words and thoughts, your breath and body language, what you say to ensure you speak of yourself and the other in ways that support one another's wants, yearnings, dreams, etc.
8. Maintain your calm should you need to stand up for yourself.
In event your partner starts to get reactive, for example makes a dismissive comment or something that is triggering for you, pause for a moment to take a deep breath, and set an intention to remain calm, centered and confident. Then you may wish to say something like, "I hope we agree those words are not helpful to either one of us or what we're trying to do here," and "let's start over" or if necessary, "let's take a break and come back to this when our thinking brains are in charge, okay?" In other words, to the best of your ability, resolve to consciously handle a trigger in the moment, and make it possible for both to remain optimally in the conversation.
9. Mutually "choose to disengage" and postpone talk if reactivity surfaces.
At the first sign of reactivity or defensivess in a conversation, be prepared to mutually choose to "disengage" and return to the topic at a later time, that is, when both have taken action to restore own sense of feeling centered, calm, confident. To do this successfully, the two of you must have already talked about the reasons to do so, agreed to do so, and so on. The primary reason to "mutually choose to disengage" is out of a consicous-love for one another, respect for one another's time, and your relationship. Once both of you become aware that your higher thinking brain is offline, consciously choose to disengage. A talk between two persons in defensive mode poses risks to your relationship; at best it is a futile waste of energy.
10. Remain light-hearted to avoid becoming overly serious.
Remaining consciously light-hearted when discussing an issue or disagreement conveys a message of hope and optimism. This also inspires an "I can do this; you can do this; we can do this" energy in both. In fact, you may want to speak these words or similar ones aloud, such as "We can do anything we put our mind to doing, right?" or “We've been there, done that. Now that we know better, we can do better.” Plus, keep in mind, you need your higher thinking brain areas to resolve problems; and when reactivity and defensiveness surface, rest assured, your body-mind automatically places the frontal cortex of your brains offline. There's no problem too big to solve when you remain light-hearted.
In sum, knowing how to consciously side-step reactivity will transform your relationship in mutually beneficial ways. You and your relationship are worth choosing quality words when you speak.