I was living with so much tension and stress; I didn’t notice that people care for me, people love me.
These were the words that captured one participant’s experience in our Aesthetics of Self-Care workshop last month. Perhaps this same realization rings true for many of you as well. Given too many responsibilities, it’s easy to get caught up. In the everyday hustle and bustle, we can take the people who pass us for granted. Even just those who share space with us—in the office or on our commute—more so friends and family members who share or hold our experiences. And this is possibly when we suffer a lack in what psychologists and psychiatrists are now calling resonance.
In music, resonance is the quality of sound that is full, deep, and reverberating. In a similar manner it is our ability to establish a deep connection, in such a way that we bounce off what others feel, think, or experience. It is foundational to empathy—and love. Connection starts at our brain’s ability to mirror. Have you ever wondered why you wince at the mere sight of someone else’s gash? Or why you feel some pain at witnessing someone stub their toe? Since the turn of the 21st century, researchers have uncovered the neural basis for such connection. They have discovered that certain neurons in our brains respond the same way when we ourselves perform an action and when we watch another person do the same. These are called mirror neurons.
Additionally, experts contend that these specialized cells are key in social interaction, helping us understand facial expressions and gestures as well as predict the intentions behind other people’s actions (Ferrari, Gerbella, Coudé, & Rozzi, 2017; Goldstein, 2014).
As these functions are reinforced through years and years of social engagement, we come to form an energetic exchange especially with those near and dear to us. In fact, this mirroring pathway is intricately tied with the brain’s reward system (Ferrari et al., 2017; Banks & Hirschman, 2015). Relationships become gratifying due to a release of feel-good neurochemicals; one of which is dopamine (Banks & Hirschman, 2015; Cash, 2011). Psychiatrists Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon poetically describe such an exchange, starting with looking someone straight in the eyes, in their book A General Theory of Love:
Instead of seeing a pair of eyes as two bespeckled buttons, when we look into the ocular portals to a limbic brain our vision goes deep: the sensations multiply, just as two mirrors placed in opposition create a shimmering ricochet of reflections whose depths recede into infinity. (2001, p. 63)
Not many people realize just how nourishing our interactions can be. With jam-packed schedules, it’s almost added labor to carve time for coffee and a catch-up, an added task to acknowledge another’s presence. Yet making the effort may just be what you need. It’s part of a commitment to self-care.
However, Dr. Hilarie Cash (2011) cautions that resonance is better facilitated when the interaction is multisensory: that is, when it happens in real-time, rather than online. If this caveat just made it even harder, fret not. We have listed below some creative ways to foster connection and mutual resonance.
Artful Ways of Connecting
- Learn the art of letter writing. — As old school as it may sound, writing a note by hand still provides an experience different from sending an instant message. Letter composition is “a way to process our own experiences” according to author Kate Bolick in her piece detailing “endangered” forms of art.
- Get creative with greeting cards. — Crafting a card for a special occasion does not only add a personal touch, it also provides the recipient an added layer of tactile (and maybe, olfactory) experience.
- Go dancing. — Have you ever wondered why some people are more likely to dance when with a group? Yup – those are the mirror neurons at work! Moving with others, like dancing in or amongst a group, can be a wonderful way to receive and and create resonance. If you’re based in Manila, Dance/movement therapist Joey can share more about this with you in EXA Philippines’ first workshop this year about art and dance therapy.
- Engage in a shared hobby. — A lot of social events are centered on food. Although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, certain consequences weigh in on the scale or in one’s wallet. Spending time with loved ones can alternatively revolve around other activities: biking, volunteering, or even taking on a house project. You can get creative with it!
For more information on expressive arts therapy, or to express interest in our programs about wellbeing and expressive arts, email us. We’d love to hear from you.
Banks, A., & Hirschman, L.A. (2015). Four ways to click: Rewire your brain for stronger, more rewarding relationships. New York, NY: Penguin Group.
Bolick, K. (2010, November 1). Endangered arts. Psychology Today. Retrieved on March 12, 2019.
Cash, H. (2011, December 4). The online social experience and limbic resonance. Psychology Today. Retrieved on March 12, 2019.
Ferrari, P. F., Gerbella, M., Coudé, G., & Rozzi, S. (2017). Two different mirror neuron networks: The sensorimotor (hand) and limbic (face) pathways. Neuroscience, 358, 300-315. doi:10.1016/j.neuroscience.2017.06.052
Goldstein, E.B. (2014). Taking action. In J. Perkins (Ed.), Sensation and perception (pp. 153-172). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Lewis, T., Amini, F., Lannon, R. (2001). Archimedes’ principle: How we sense the inner world of our hearts. A general theory of love (pp. 35-65). New York: Vintage Books.