October 30, 2019

Why physical and emotional health go together

Better than life!

Recently me and my son watched the Red Dwarf episode called “Better than life” where the crew enter a virtual world inside a computer game. This morning I woke up with an image of Rimmer in my head – even though he has the opportunity to create a perfect life for himself he ends up ragged, loosing his teeth and with a car full of children making demands on him. In that moment it felt like a representation of me. After a few weeks of dating yet another promising man and being let down I find myself wondering, how/why I am creating this situation for myself.

After dealing with the dull blow of rejection which briefly made my room spin I wonder if I can take another round of processing the pain. The words of Brene Brown helpfully came into my mind about being in the arena getting your ass kicked! I have made a commitment to myself to find a partner, someone alongside me in life to grow with and share joy and affection and part of the process of getting there, in fact trying to succeed at anything involves pain, rejection and failure.

Pain as a teacher

How we deal with this pain is critical and provides the opportunity to teach something to our children. I noticed the thought “suck it up” coming in to my mind, squash the feeling, carry on. Then a contrary thought – “be courageous”, what is courage, “cour” to have heart, (also from Brene) to be compassionate with myself and go deep into the feeling. According to Dr Gordon Neufeld it is these kinds of mixed feelings, not will power which determine how we act.

He recommends an approach to managing difficult situations which arise when caring for our children called “connect and redirect”, when a child does something which causes harm or could cause harm/damage his suggestion is to first connect with the child in a warm and loving way then to try and remove them from the situation.

Sometimes we slip into lizard brain!

Usually when children (or adults!) are displaying strong emotions they have left the thinking part of the brain behind and entered the amgydala. It is important in this moment to help them name the feelings that they are having to bring them back into the prefrontal cortex and offer them touch or your soothing presence to help them to regulate their state. The teaching moment comes when the child has become calm and are in a position to help them see things from another perspective and if necessary make amends. This way the “making amends” can come from a place of true compassion in the child – different from the old “say sorry” approach.

It is through teaching situations like this that over time the child learns to regulate their behaviour. They may feel a strong emotion but an experience they have had of seeing things from another person’s perspective present in their awareness could be enough to stop them from acting on this. In the same way that Brene’s advice popped into my mind at a difficult moment and helped me to deal differently with the situation. In fact I followed a similar process to “connect and redirect”, I moved physical location, connected with the feeling, reached out to a friend to allow connection to regulate my state, I then felt ready to find a more optimistic way to see the situation.

Through emotion we can heal

As adults it is tempting to skip straight to the last step, suppressing the emotion and missing the opportunity to regulate – after all this has largely been our cultural training (don’t worry you’ll meet someone..). However if we miss out these other stages we are overriding our body’s coping mechanisms which are not separate from but integral to our immune system. I will say more about this next time – there is growing evidence to suggest we can no longer separate physical and emotional health.

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