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The bonds that bind: The science of deep connections

Link to the Episode

Anshu Bahanda: Look at yourself and the relationship that you have with yourself, with compassion, and with understanding. You will only be able to form relationships with others when you allow yourself to feel, to heal, and to seek help when you need it.

Welcome to Wellness Curated.

This is your host, Anshu Bahanda. Today’s episode is the science behind relationships. Now, relationships are intrinsic to the human experience. They’re intrinsic to wellness, they are intrinsic to longevity. They’re intrinsic to everything we do. Before I carry on, can I please request you to subscribe to Wellness Curated and to rate our podcast? Because that will enable us to get you more and more speakers for free. When we’re talking about relationships, we’re not just talking about romantic bonds. We’re talking about relationships with family, with friends, with the community, with everyone that you engage with. And whether you’re looking to mend a fence, build a bridge, or just develop deep, meaningful relationships, this episode is going to be very helpful.

Are relationships complicated, and do they have to be complicated? When I talk to people, every person seems to have one relationship in their lives which they feel could be better; you know, they need to work on that, at least one. Now, the way to explain this is if we look at the brain. Our brains are hardwired to connect to each other. We have something called mirror neurons, and these are like the empathetic backbones of our body. They help us understand and mirror the emotions of others. 

Let’s talk about empathy. Empathy is literally the relationship glue that binds people together. You know, anyone who’s a mother will be able to tell you about empathy. The time I learned most about empathy was when I had my kids and when they were teenagers. Relationships also thrive and endure due to communication. So these two aspects are very important, empathy and communication. And this is not just psychological. These are deeply rooted into our neurochemistry. So we have two neurotransmitters, which you’ve heard me talk about a bunch of times. We have serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin regulates our mood, our emotions, the feelings of well being and happiness. It keeps us balanced, and it helps us feel calm, content and secure. This helps us foster healthy interactions and understanding. Dopamine is the feel good neurotransmitter in your body. It’s the pleasure and reward system in your brain. Positive experiences like getting an award or having a laugh together, or engaging in an enjoyable activity with somebody or having a meaningful conversation release dopamine. This release of dopamine strengthens emotional connections. It strengthens social interactions. Now, to have effective communication, it’s not just the exchange of information between two people, it’s also feelings and thoughts and needs that we need to understand from each other. We did a really wonderful podcast called ‘EQ in Love and Relationships.’ And psychologist Nishigandha Date offers us some very powerful insights.

So now tell me, what are the common emotional challenges that people face in a relationship? I mean, you must be seeing a lot of people coming to you with various issues.

Nishigandha Date: I think one of the biggest challenges when you talk about emotional challenges is being able to regulate their emotions, to understand their emotions and then communicate them. And I think every other emotional issue, as you can call it, comes from these three challenges. So be it conflicts, it comes from communication, it comes from not being able to regulate. Another very important issue that you can say is also not being able to accept emotions. When we talk about understanding, when we talk about being able to communicate them, we also need to accept them first. If I’m angry, if I’m jealous, I need to accept that, okay, this is what I’m feeling. 

AB: So accepting, regulating and communicating. 

You know, we all have a certain amount of our EQ. Someone has more, someone has less. But how can we use that to the best possible potential in, say, when there’s a communication barrier in a relationship, or when there’s a long distance relationship. 

ND: Very honestly, the one thing that [one] needs to work on is self awareness. Unless and until we understand ourselves, unless and until we know what our needs are, what our boundaries are, we cannot establish them. So if, for example, I need to get reassurance from my partner, who maybe I’m in a long distance relationship with, that I matter to this person. Unless and until I understand that this is something that I need, I’m required to get this assurance, to feel safe from that relationship, I will not be able to communicate. So, the first thing is self awareness. I think the more we start looking at ourselves, the more we start feeling our feelings, sitting with our feelings, it becomes very easy over time to be able to go to the other steps.

AB: Now, there is one other factor which is very important. Building a healthy, strong relationship means that we have to manage expectations and set boundaries. I realised in life that when I started setting boundaries and managing expectations, that’s when a lot of my relationships, which were not okay, got sorted and we did this podcast about setting boundaries to manage expectations with Doctor Maria Kempinska. Here’s a clip.

Dr Maria Kempinska: I think communication is crucial. So how do we set our own boundaries? By our feelings, our visceral, you know, we come up with feelings. If we come up to somebody and you feel there’s something wrong, the way they look at you, the way they touch you, these are instinctive, almost primal feelings that will tell you there’s something wrong. I think what’s so crucial is to talk, to say no, to give space. So if somebody’s, if you’re on the phone or if you are on social media and you are listening to people, turn it off, put it down, don’t answer everybody so quickly. If you are the person that is the type that is always wanting to include people and you’re not being listened to, the best way you can protect yourself is silence and space. Actually, it’s really handy in a relationship as well. Sometimes arguing is just not the right way. People, when they’re heightened in their emotions, won’t listen to you. So it’s like holding on to the reins of a very wild horse at times, isn’t it? If you’re in that moment and you’ve got to say your piece— ‘why aren’t you listening to me?’ The best thing you can do is to just take a deep breath. If you can hold back, take a deep breath, hold back and walk away. Go and do something else. Go outside, go and start cooking. Go somewhere else. Take time, take space, take a deep breath. Don’t reply. Let the other person calm down. Because if you are both ignited and it is like fire on fire, I like the elements, you know, you have to become like water. 

AB: One of the fallouts of not setting healthy boundaries is trauma, and this can spill over into future relationships. It’s like, imagine you’re carrying a backpack and this trauma just weighs things down. So it could be trust issues, it could be the fear of commitment, it could just be an old wound that never actually quite healed. But all these things affect your connection with other people. Healing past trauma is the first step towards having lighter, more fulfilling and deeper relationships. I have been lucky enough to talk to a number of people who’ve given me some incredible advice. One thing which has come up again and again has been journaling. Journaling for trauma. We did a podcast— ‘Releasing Emotional Triggers and Traumas.’ Please watch this clip by Bushra Khan.

Bushra Khan: Practise mindfulness. Do grounding exercises, self love exercises. Positive affirmations like “I’m safe, I’m enough”. Journaling really helps too, journal your emotions and your thoughts. When you start journaling your thoughts and your emotions, you will see exactly the same way. Your life is a mirror. Whatever is showing up is because it’s happening inside. Meditation is a really amazing exercise. Becoming more self aware of your body through meditation helps as well. We understand where the pain is, what we are feeling, what we are going through. Lastly, I would say practise forgiveness. Once you start going into your trauma, you will see who hurt you, where it’s coming from. You can use this trauma as a positive thing. You can say, okay, fine, if this is my life, this is my journey and this trauma was teaching me something, what would be the lesson? What can I learn from it? How can I evolve? How can I grow from it? So using it positively and then basically forgiving the person who created this. So forgiving them and forgiving yourself and just taking the lesson from it and growing.

AB: I’m going to give you my cheat sheet to build strong relationships, I’m going to give you two quick exercises. The first one is called mirror neuron activation. And this is when you can connect with someone. These are exercises to activate their mirror neurons, mirroring that person’s actions. It encourages relationships, deep relationships. And of course, you have to look at empathy and communication as well. But this is a great place to start. So the second exercise is neurochemically balancing. So if you do meaningful activities with someone, if you share a hobby or you have really meaningful conversations, that will help you form deep, joyous bonds. So I have friends with whom I do art. You know, we go to art exhibitions together. That is a passion that I share. If a friend shares it, it forms a deep bond. I have to stress one thing before I go. Your most important relationship in your life is with yourself. You have to look at yourself and the relationship that you have with yourself, with compassion and with understanding. You will only be able to form relationships with others when you allow yourself to feel, to heal and to seek help when you need it. I hope you found some great insights. I hope we managed to help you and I hope you learned something new today. And I really hope we can help you lead a healthier, happier, more hopeful life. See you soon.