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Truth #8 – Your Brain has a Mind of Its Own

Crystal Kotow-Sullivan 


Oh dear! I am late with this post. I have been thinking about several things this week. The Truth this week that marriage is a laughing matter is so true! We have to laugh together. John and I usually have a good laugh at least once a day! Wasn’t always like this. I have learned not to take myself so seriously … no one else does!

Laughter is healing! It reduces stress. A Vanderbilt University study estimated that just 10-15 minutes of laughter a day can burn up to 40 calories. Meanwhile, a University of Maryland study found that a sense of humor can protect against heart disease. (Huffington Post 2014)

Update on daily appreciations

Over the last ten days we have continued the practice of giving one another three appreciations each day. It has been wonderful. I have found that I am more focused and pay attention to what is happening around me with or without John. I have also noticed that it is drawing us closer. I had a situation this week that left me feeling very vulnerable. I tend to close in when I feel that way … perhaps because I think I can deal with things on my own, or more to the point, that it is a sign of weakness or failure to feel vulnerable … and yes I do know it is not … in my head. Despite reading Brene Brown and knowing that vulnerability is a gift and a doorway to growth and self awareness, I resist. However, this week I was able to be present to my vulnerability and share it with John. It was a growing moment for me and deepened my sense of safety and intimacy with John.

So the growth does not end. We continue to work on our relationship and learn about one another even after 43 years.

John Sullivan

In this chapter Helen, in speaking of the brain, uses the analogy of a crocodile (old brain, lower brain) and an owl (our higher brain). The lower brain “has a pretty straightforward job description: SURVIVAL It exists to defend itself (you) against danger. It reacts faster than the speed of thought.”

What we now know from authors like Norman Doidge and Joe Dispensa is that we can train our brain and create new neural pathways. But as I often say, we have to be aware, we have to be conscious.

Typically, in an unconscious relationship, one person will say, if you would just change, everything would be OK, but of course their partner says the same thing, and of course nothing changes. In a more conscious relationship, even if my partner does the same thing, I need to ask, “What can I do to get a different outcome?” Difficult, but possible!

The paradox in all of this is that the only way my partner can have empathy for me is if I am vulnerable, but if I am vulnerable I can be hurt (and I probably have been in the past) so why would I do that? This week Crystal was able to come to me and share something that left her pretty vulnerable but it enabled me to have so much empathy for her. In our appreciations that night I mentioned that I really appreciated her sharing with me and I think it caught her a little off guard. Perhaps a fear that I might think less of her. She in her turn, certainly appreciated me being there for her.

Two days later, the situation was reversed. Being more of a turtle (still) I was probably encouraged by her sharing a couple of days before, but I was able to be vulnerable with her and experienced her empathy for me. It was very healing.

At the end of this chapter, Helen suggests an exercise to Train Your Brain. She has me think of something Crystal might do that bothers me. I hold it firmly in mind for two deep breaths, then let it go and immediately bring up something I love about her and hold that firmly in mind for five deep breaths and continue this exercise for five minutes.

I have had a saying of Alfred Alder on my office wall for years – HAVE THE COURAGE TO BE IMPERFECT. My partner is a human being like me. She tries hard, makes mistakes, feels pain and wants to be loved – just like me.

I guess the key is to realize I have choices. With practice I can slow down my reactive crocodile brain and use my higher owl brain to create a win-win situation so that we both end up safe and happy!

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