“When People See you Smiling, They Can’t Help Smiling Too” – Sheriff John, 1950s-1980s childrens TV show host
Its hard to imagine that this 1960’s Children’s TV show host was onto something, but evidently Sheriff John foreshadowed what we learned 30 years later in the Decade of the Brain when researchers would find out more about the social brain and the mechanisms that cause that reflexive smile. In 2005 Ioccobini discovered the existence of the mirror neuron, which allows for an undertanding and empathy for what another person may be feeling. Another person’s smile may make your heart and mind AND all other aspects of your physiology and experience upbeat and happy. Likewise a frown or disengaged expression of another, especially one you love and are close to, may effect negative mood in you. Anger, disgust and resentment can make for more nervous system arousal in deeper brain structures associated with survival. Multiple experiences, extended over time can make or break a nervous system’s decision to move toward or move away from the other person.
When both persons celebrate “We-ness” in a positive way, the relationship wires together in a healthy way, making for positive experiences for them and those around them. Though some therapists help patients “self actualize”, doing so in a relationship may spiral them into different directions. A good therapist knows how to make bridges between the couple or help them repair the broken bridges, communicate more respectfully and efficiently so that neurons that provide for “we-ness” are in synch!
Treatment of couples has taken on a different meaning for students of Interpersonal Neuropsychology. Interpersonal-Biofeedback, a hybrid of Biofeedback Therapy and Couples Counseling, attempts to decrease the entrained arousal (stress) patterns that get couples in trouble. This arousal is a learned behavior where couples get conditions by criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling (John Gottman Phd;s 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse). I-BF is a tool to help tone down arousal and increase Mindsight ( a term created by Dan Siegel, MD which refers to Mindfullness plus Insight and Empathy), because when couples know how to decrease stress physiology such as heart rate, sweat gland activity, hand temperature, respiration and heart rate variability, they have calmer nervous systems and move toward each other in trust and affection.