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This is me. This is me from the day I was born. For so long I felt misunderstood and rejected, even by the people closest to me, because they could never understand my need for solitude, and I had no idea how to explain it to them. Even now that I know more about Introversion and have a more informed understanding of my hard-wired need for solitude, it’s still very difficult sometimes to help my loved ones understand this profound craving for time and space all to myself. This is one of the best…
Sharon
That courage and dedication you so generously share with the world, has inspired me to push myself a little harder, persevere at each task a little longer, dig a little bit deeper to where the answers just “feel” right to both my humanity AND my spirit. Your insights have reinforced my direction and given me additional tools that help me clear my path. I’m wired into my creativity as never before and the new music is pouring out of me faster than I can record and produce it; this is the Un…
Gary
I have been dating an introverted man who I am very in love with for almost 2 years.  Reading your posts have helped me to be more supportive and understanding to him especially during the times when he needs space.  I just wanted to thank you for your weekly posts and let you know how helpful they are for someone who is in a relationship with an introvert. C.M. on space2live
C.M.
Your site has saved my sanity and my life. Maybe even my marriage. I work part time and have two young boys at home, my husband is supportive of me but until recently I thought I was going crazy. … Reading your writing not only inspires me to pick up the pen again, but gives me nourishment in the deepest places. I will fight for balance. Everything you write is spot on… And wellness is so incredibly multifaceted.  I was ready to give up hope, but understanding myself through your words is bring…
J.K.
Thank you for all the words. You’ve created the magic drug I’ve been looking for all my life. Your blog has transformed my life, and I feel like I am on the brink of a most satisfying fulfilling journey…You’ve made me see everything in a new light. I now feel calmer, able to care better for my toddler, less hateful of people around, and hopeful for my future. I am not so afraid for our marriage anymore. — Shilpa CB
Shilpa CB
I think I want to print out your articles and hand them out as a sort of relationship waiver form. “You want to be my friend?….You are interesting in going out? Here read this first. Sign here to acknowledge that you have read and understand the enclosed material. Thank you.” Seriously. I think it would work. — Guerin Moorman
Guerin Moorman
During one of the harder times in my life I found Brenda’s website
and reached out to her. To say the least it has been one of the best
decisions I have made. Being an extrovert I never quite understood
what it meant to romantically involved with an introvert. Brenda does
an incredible job listening, giving in the moment feedback, and helped
me understand the how an introvert functions. She helped explain to me
that I am introspective extrovert, and this gave something to identify
with and allowed me t…
Evan H.
You’re so honest in your writing. It’s bold. It’s frank. It’s wonderful. I could definitely see the work you are doing here as a useful book. It could save/make a lot of relationships! — Jimmi Langemo
Jimmi Langemo
BRENDA: thank you SO much! Your advice is exactly what I need to do. I am amazed how much you “get” me after only exchanging a few messages!… Again, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You’ve helped me more than a year of therapy sessions! – Megan on space2live
Megan
I met Brenda and took the MBTI… I had a fairly good understanding of these types before the meeting but was impressed by the depth of knowledge that Brenda shared with me. She clearly has a passion for this work and a gift in imparting the information. There have been doors opened for me because of our talks… — Alan Hintermeister
Alan Hintermeister

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Calming Each Other’s Nervous Systems : We Need More Than Self-Soothing

serious talk touching hands

The chapter titled, Do Your Nervous Systems Play Well?, in marriage therapist, Stan Tatkin’s book, Wired for Dating: How Understanding Neurobiology and Attachment Style Can Help You Find Your Ideal Mategrabbed my attention as a highly sensitive person.

I’ve known for seven years that my nervous system is more easily aroused than about 80% of the population. I startle more often. I can only handle groups of people for so long before I need quiet time to myself. I am highly attuned to other’s energy — positive or negative. Anything from emotions to lighting can feel over-stimulating to me.

I haven’t always felt highly sensitive

Growing up, I did not generally feel overstimulated. It was not until I found myself married with three children living in the successful suburbs that I started to feel overwhelmed frequently. The complexity of our lifestyle hit the tipping point of my ability to manage it in a composed manner.

During the marriage, and especially toward the end of it, there was not a lot of soothing going on between my husband and me. We both did our best to heal our own wounds, but that took us farther away from each other, and ultimately to divorce.

We need more than self-soothing

I’ve written in the past about self-soothing. I still believe it is a valuable skill, but my current view is that it is most effective if done within a secure and supportive relationship.

The ability to soothe your partner and vice versa leads to relationship sustainability.

Your nervous system regulates how calm or excited you are at any given moment. This is your state of arousal. Highly sensitive persons live with a naturally higher state of arousal.

Most of the time, our brain and nervous system respond automatically, without a lot of conscious thought, particularly if we are under stress. Our nervous systems are especially wired to notice any threats in our environment. For our survival, threats register stronger in our nervous systems than positive or loving behavior. Originally, our nervous systems focused on protecting us from dangerous predators, but since we have evolved to the point of minimal danger of being eaten by a tiger, our brains can now focus on stress and even our loved ones as potential threats.

Wouldn’t it be better if our partners were soothers of our arousal system versus threats to it?

What triggers me and how I respond

I know I’ve been triggered into over-arousal by others from such things as tone of voice, too fast driving and too much negativity. Now those aren’t exactly life threatening (well maybe the driving was), but my nervous system reacted as if I’d been physically hurt. My fight or flight response kicked in. My heart raced, my mouth dried, I spoke slower, I perspired.

Once in a calmer state of mind, I tried to explain how the perceived threatening behaviors affected me, but my words triggered my partner into a state of alert. Instead of soothing each other and helping each other relax, we escalated our threat responses.

What I did not know then, was how to not take my lover’s threat reactions personally. I did not understand his responses were wired into him long before me (perhaps from childhood or previous relationships). I did not recognize his elevated stimulation as an automatic response. It simply felt like danger and discomfort to me. I protected myself instead of working harder to soothe him.

How to soothe your partner

The first thing to do is notice  when your loved one exhibits a high negative state of arousal (there are positive states such as excitement). Become familiar with the behavior or perceived threats that make your partner’s nervous system sound the alarms. Are there experiences from her past that make her uneasy? Does questioning his judgement set your lover off?

If you see your partner begin to struggle — talk in a clipped manner, breathe faster, sweat, fidget, get tongue-tied — move in quickly to help. According to Stan Tatkin, we perceive threats very quickly and automatic reactions transpire just as quickly.

Two ways to soothe your loved one are nonverbal calming and verbal reassurance. Examples of non-verbal calming are reaching out and taking your partner’s hand, rubbing their shoulders or giving them a wink across the table when a discussion gets heated. Different people respond better or worse to different methods. A verbal reassurance could be as simple as starting a discussion with “I love you and I want to work this out” or verbally expressing gratitude for something you love about your relationship. In any case Dr. Tatkin says, the partner who feels most secure at the time sets aside his or her issues and cares for the other.

If we learn how to recognize and regulate our partner’s nervous systems and do it consistently, the future holds fewer and fewer instances of survival mode and knee-jerk reactions.

How good are you at soothing your partner? Who soothes you? What calms you down? 

Would you like more examples of how to soothe your partner or how to ask to be soothed yourself? I can help you through relationship coaching. Please contact me to enhance your relationship today.

 

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One Comment

  1. Michael August 20, 2016 at 12:03 am - Reply

    calm is soothing to me. gentle is soothing to me. the tone of voice is huge. i am sensitive to every nuance, in my own voice, and the voice of others.

    touch is nice. and it’s words, tone of voice, that mean more to me.

    calm mean safe. gentle means safe. i think almost anything can be said in a calm, gentle, soft tone. it’s the only way i can hear what someone has to say. when a voice gets strident, irritated, angry, upset … i shut down. i get defensive. it brings out the fight in me. and i don’t like it.

    i understand everybody is different. the 5 love languages thing. i’ve been with one woman, albeit the briefest serious relationship i’ve had, where i found a calm and soothing place with her. and laughter. because laughter, for me, is so important, too.

    i speak calmly. i can listen to and hear the other person. at length. and i like it to be reciprocated. of course. what feels like one-sided listening isn’t satisfying.

    talk is very important to me. the words. the words we say. how we say them. it’s how we say them that changes everything. from ‘i love you’ to ‘tell me about your day.’

    it’s tough being sensitive to seemingly everything …! and it makes for a very, very interesting life, for sure!

    thank you, Brenda, as always, for sharing you, and allowing me to share me, and others to do likewise.

    a safe place. it’s nice.

    michael

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