New technologies in brain studies are increasingly showing the profound significance of relationships in our lives. I am currently reading “Attachment in Psychotherapy,” which has a wonderful overview of developments in brain science as well as a summary of attachment research. In one of the studies cited, people were shown videos that were upsetting. The activity in their amygdala was heightened due to the trauma of the videos. When they were instructed to describe what they were seeing, they were less impacted. In other words, in times of emotional distress, it helps to talk about it. It helps even in the sense of protecting your brain.
Talking assumes a listener, and a listener changes everything. A listener is a witness, a vicarious participant, a co-responder. Our experience is transformed by being recounted. It is processed. Meaning is formulated, clarified, digested, and integrated. We learn from explaining; we see new angles; we connect ideas. And then we can be understood, and we can understand ourselves. We can inhabit our lives as agents who are awake to the complexities of our own motives and meanings. We can make choices based in knowledge and acceptance rather than driven by unexamined assumptions.
Ironically, we become strong and free as individuals in the context of being connected and understood in relationships. There is a yearning for this process, even when we are not quite sure what we are missing. Our culture tells us we want immediate gratification and pain relief through acquiring material goods or recreational experiences. But we know the truth. We want the luxury of time together to explain ourselves. We want to experience a deep satisfaction in our lives and a reliable peace of mind.