The Neuroscience of Addictive Love: Attributes of Love Addiction

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

images-205What is this thing called ‘love’? Plato labeled love an ‘irrational desire,” and song titles such as “The Things We Do For Love,” as well as lyrics of songs such as “Why Do Fools Fall In Love,” convey the befuddling impact love relationships can have on human brains. For human beings, men and women alike, there is perhaps no bigger fascination or obsession for the senses, heart and mind, body and spirit.

The good news from fields of neuroscience and intimacy (known as social neuroscience, attachment, affective neuroscience and cognitive neuroscience) is that up-close studies of the brain mechanisms underlying behavior in social relationships have taken much of the mystery out of our quest to understand couple relationships.

As Dr. Sue Johnson states in a recent book, Hold Me Tight, quite the contrary, love relationships seem to be governed by an “exquisite logic” that follows rather precise algorithms. Bonding behaviors, it turns out, are less of a mystery and more a science.

We now understand, for example, there are neurochemical reasons why we tend to make poor decisions in certain relational contexts.

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Personal Power: How to Own It (& Stop Giving It Away) In Your Couple Relationship, 1 of 2

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

COUPLESIn successful relationships, partners take the basics seriously, and handle the yearnings of each to feel heard and understood as unique beings as really, really important; in short, they treat one another with dignity, recognizing their own and one another’s personal power.

As top trial lawyer Gerry Spence notes, what we face when we interact with one another, is what we most fear in our relationships, and that is: the power of the other as an agent of their choices.

The other has the power, for example, to choose to say no, to deny some need, want or yearning, and so on, and because this directly challenges our own sense of personal power (to realize dreams, wants and needs), it touches our deepest intimacy fears, such as fear of inadequacy, rejection, abandonment.

Not surprisingly, this dynamic is particularly intense in couple relationships.

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A Checklist of 12 Science-of-Love Approved Wedding Vows, 2 of 2

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

iStock_000008686716Medium    This post lists the last 6 of 12 science-backed wedding vows, and is a continuation of Part 1. They are

7. “I vow to disallow my past to negatively influence our present and future together as individuals and a couple.

This vow stems from research on couple communications and forgiveness. Consciously or not, early experiences in interactions with primary caregivers can subconsciously shape our lives, particularly events that were emotionally intense. Many or most core beliefs about who we are, what we are capable of, how we want life to be, and so on, originate in formative years of childhood. Some affect us in positive ways, giving us stamina to overcome challenges, while others block or limit our growth and happiness.

Often the impact of negative (and positive) childhood experiences remains dormant until problems in an intimate relationship surface, making it imperative that we take a fresh look at some deeply painful aspect of ourselves or lives, perhaps ones we’ve disowned or kept well hidden deep inside.

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What Does Reactivity Say? Finding Balance in Your Couple Relationship (Beneath the Surface)?

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

images-663Recent findings on the brain and intimacy remind us that all communications, regardless their delivery, are attempts to emotionally connect. We are wired for love and empathic connection.

With this in mind, let’s explore what defensive patterns in your couple relationship are saying to you and your partner. To be sure, your brains and emotions, thoughts and feelings, are doing what they’re designed to do whenever you or your partner perceive a threat, in this case, a threat to meeting a core attachment or intimacy (love) need.

What does reactivity say about what’s going on beneath the surface of your couple relationship?

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A Science-of-Love Approved Checklist of 12 Wedding Vows, 1 of 2

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Noel + Hannah Will Marlow via Compfight

A recent article on Science of Relationships outlined a list of ten research-based wedding vows. Based on findings, Samantha Joel outlined vows that, if followed, would best guarantee marital bliss. The below list of 12 vows is adapted from the original.

1. “I vow to think highly of you, and seek to know and appreciate you for who you are, as well as who you aspire to become.”

This vow draws from research on the power of imagination, more specifically, the use of positive illusions or imagination, as a creative force, a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. Based on the findings of Dr. Sandara Murray and colleagues, partners who maintained positive illusions of the other and their relationship were more likely to eventually create it. When you view your partner in a positive light, whether you do so consciously or not, the benefits include not only giving your partner a personal feel-good, but also increasing their sense of security in relation to you. 

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Body Wisdom: Taking the Reins of Your Health and Happiness, 2 of 2

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Summer Lovin' Caro Wallis via Compfight

You and your body are one vast interconnected communication system that operates nonstop.

Both you (thoughts and beliefs) and your body (physio-emotion responses) are sending signals to each other around the clock.

You’re at a slight disadvantage, however, as discussed in Part 1. Unlike you, your body’s mind or subconscious, comes pre-wired with the knowledge of how to interpret your thoughts (akin to your computer’s operating system).

In contrast, unless your caregivers in early childhood were tuned into their inner world enough so that they could be tuned into you, you’ll need to “work” at understanding how to interpret your body’s signals (emotion signals), as well as discovering the rules your body follows to to interpret your signals (thoughts)

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Body Wisdom: Understanding the Language of Your Body, 1 of 2

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

InnocenceCreative Commons License Hartwig HKD via Compfight

Like or love it, you and your body are a highly sophisticated communication network that operates 24/7 around the clock every day of your life.

Neuroscience and other studies of the brain and human relationships have taught us a lot about the brain in the last two decades. We know that to understand and organize our thinking experience of the world, we must necessarily learn language—and all of its syntax and grammatical complexities. In much the same way, we must learn to understand and organize our experience of our body’s own language — emotion and sensory cues — with its unique grammar and syntax rules.

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Does Your Brain Trick You Out of Happiness In Your Love Relationship?

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Valentine's Day

Sergiu Bacioiu via Compfight

When you and your partner discuss a hot topic, do you handle it in a way that enriches your relationship — and ultimately your happiness — or does your experience put more emotional distance between you and polarize your positions? Many couples fall in the latter category.

Think about it. It’s tempting, isn’t it, to use our capacity for logic to build a case against the other? The feel-good neurochemicals in our brain pull us in this direction, particularly, if we’ve experienced this reaction in early experiences with parents (and who hasn’t?).

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Mirror Neurons: How Our Ability to Connect With Others Makes Us Caring, Moral By Nature

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

MIRRORS Neil Krug via Compfight

As it turns out, social sciences and religions alike have been seriously wrong when it comes to labeling humans as inherently “bad,” “selfish” or “aggressive,” and so on, by nature or from birth. Similarly, scientific thought has mislead us at times into thinking that our instincts for survival have been the primary motivating force of nature, to include human nature.

(It begs the question: Is it coincidence that we’ve been simultaneously taught to think of love as fluffy, secondary or an optional add on to our nature?)

Conceivably, love is a primary evolutionary force. For humans, it is the primary reason to live, and the quest for meaning in life shapes most all of our behaviors, and not merely to survive.

More than likely, our physical instincts to survive are there to serve our higher ones. A handful of psychological theorists, such as Alfred Adler and Abraham Maslow, had it right. They understood certain essential instincts revealed our social nature as human beings, such as our yearnings for belonging, acceptance, making contributions, etc., substantiated by recent findings in neuroscience.

The work of Dr. Marco Iacoboni, published in his most recent book, Mirroring People:  The New Science of How we Connect with Others invites us to look at human nature with new reverence and awe.

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Affirmations to Calm Fear and Fulfill Yearnings for Love

By Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Stay on your path Tc Morgan via Compfight

The practice of affirmations can be a powerful means to heal, change and grow in positive directions. Correctly applied, reaching for customized affirmations is also one of the easiest, fastest, most effective ways to supercharge your life — in a given moment or situation — to activate the health-boosting hormones and processes that optimal emotional states produce in the brain and body.

When you think of it, in its simplest form, an affirmation is really anything you say or think to yourself silently or aloud. In effect, you likely practice “affirmations” around the clock – subconsciously, outside your awareness.

More specifically, however, the word “affirmations” speaks to the conscious use of words that affirm, lift up, inspire, refresh, in other words, a conscious practice of making positive statements to your self … for the purpose of optimizing performance, energizing the body’s healing processes or shifting away from toxic thought patterns that intensify fears, depression, anger, etc., to unhealthy levels.

Affirmations are a key aspect of letting go of and, or replacing old habits of negative self-talk, which most persons are conditioned to repeat, to some degree 24/7, whether they are aware of doing so or not. Because thoughts are powerful activators of automatic neural activity, which produces actual structural inside your body, when you make this a conscious process, you are literally exercising your very own built-in capacity (unique to human beings!), ultimately, to choose the beliefs that will direct the firing and wiring of cells in your brain and body.

The joining or “wiring” of brain cells, is often referred to as, “cells that fire together, wire together”; the words are used to describe what happens when we learn something new or reinforce or modify a current skill. This wiring produces different types of structural changes to the brain, literally, when groups of cells that get activated together, develop new associations, or get modified or reinforced (thicker connections) to the extent they are repeated.

This grouping of common brain cells is what learned behavior is all about; this ability of our brain allows us to walk, talk, run, write, sing, in fact any learned activity we do, and do so seemingly without thinking (in truth, it would be impossible to go to higher levels of playing an instrument or excelling in some sport with your “conscious” thinking mind!).

And it goes deeper than that; every bodily function and every aspect of your personality is somehow involved in the wiring and rewiring of groups of brain cells. Even before you were born your brain arranged cells or neurons in particular patterns, testing and rewiring its circuits, routing and rerouting its electrical signals.

This is no less than access to built-in tools that help you to become the consciously-in-command of captain of (regulating) the emotional states that shape your behaviors and life.

Negative self-talk can range from being limiting and fear- or anxiety-inducing to being just plain harsh, for example.  Can you afford to put them in charge of your life and relationships?

It is estimated that every day you have about 60,000 thoughts. Many of them are not original, meaning they are not “your own” thoughts or beliefs at all. Though they can feel like “you,” many of these thought patterns were acquired subconsciously in the formative years of childhood, when children’s brains get subconsciously wired interacting with parents’ brains.

You may think your thoughts reflect “the reality” of what you experience. It is more the case, however, that your experience of the world is dramatically altered by your thoughts—especially ones tied to core (self-concept) beliefs (in other words, your thoughts about food or car choices are not likely to be as intense).

If you’ve not awakened to understanding how powerful your thoughts are, at minimum you may wish to explore this further.

Affirmations are a practice that can help you energize the kind of focus you need to lighten your mental load, to increase your happiness, to help you appreciate the little things that other people do (for you – but also in general).  If you want to transform your life, more quickly than imagined, start practicing affirmations today.

Surprisingly, the practice can have an impact on your life whether you believe them fully or not. They train your mind to focus on what you really, really want – which operates as a directive of your subconscious mind.

In case you’re considering, here are a few guidelines to begin or enhance your practice:

  • Make a commitment to look for and even create affirming words and phrases that most resonate with you.
  • Put your favorite affirmations on index cards and keep these handy in your purse or pockets.
  • Memorize the affirmations that most inspire you or help you shift out of toxic states of mind.
  • Read them to yourself or aloud, at minimum, each morning and last thing before sleeping at night.
  • State each affirmation three times before going to the next.
  • Practice repeating each affirmation with your eyes closed, a smile on lips, enjoying the present moment.
  • Whenever possible, choose to feel the emotion of gratitude for what you are affirming (act if 100% true…just for a few moments, what do have to lose?)
  • Smile, and feel that smile radiate positive emotional boosts of positive or healing energy throughout your body.
  • Choose to become aware of and use affirmations to replace limiting thoughts, one that have kept you overly focused on negativity, as they appear in the moment.
  • Repeat certain calming affirmations whenever you find yourself feeling stressed, anxious, sad or having feelings that in general intensify negative states of mind and body.
  • Use affirmations when you find yourself focusing on what you don’t want – or thoughts of what you or life or others may “lack.”
  • Start thinking of yourself, and believing, to be the captain of the states of your mind and body, the creator of your thoughts and feelings and beliefs, and the chooser at any given moment of what emotion-outcomes you want to produce — inside.
  • Remember you always have the power to create the life you want to live by the choices you consistently make, one moment and day at a time.

Following the guidelines above will help you replace or weaken old life-limiting beliefs, and eventually, you may find that you automatically stop thinking thoughts that used to lower or attack your esteem, ones that prevented your brain from working optimally to solve problems, or blocked your happiness!

If you’re new to this, at first, the affirmations may not feel real.

Eventually, however, repetitive thoughts persuade your subconscious mind to integrate them as a new set of beliefs about you and your life (which is also good reason to let go of repeating toxic thoughts!).

Of course, you may be not “believe” in affirmations, and as you may be reading this, telling yourself the reasons this practice “cannot” work. This too is an affirmation, however. So keep in mind that, if this is your truth, your brain and body will work hard to make this true for you.

And yes, there is a delicate balance to consider. You’re absolutely right if you’re arguing that, “Well, no matter how much I tell myself I’m a Martian, that’s not going to happen.” What you affirm must necessarily follow the laws of physics and nature as we know them – and at the same time invite us to stretch “out of the box” and keep reaching for the stars for the unknown (quantum physics…).

Finally, if you’ve tried affirmations before, believe you were diligent, yet found they didn’t work for you, you may wish to consider professional assistance. Your subconscious mind may not be “permitting” change, and a professional can help you uncover possible reasons that you may not really, really want to change deep down inside (i.e., perhaps a few limiting core beliefs formed in past experiences?).

Remember what you already know, that: attitude is everything in any life endeavor. Your mind-body or subconscious does, and keeps track and accesses at any moment the precise “attitude” you’ve trained it to have in a given situation.

In other words, your primary job is to persuade your subconscious that you are okay with a requested change deep down inside, and talking to a professional can help make conscious any limiting or blocking subconscious beliefs and experiences.

Start with a few affirmations that help you calm fears, put on a mindset of trusting yourself and caring about your self and life to bring you positive results.

Here are a few suggestions to choose from:

I love and deeply care for my self, mind and body.

I easily say no to activities that overburden my schedule.

I easily say yes to activities that are healthy for my mind, body, emotional wellbeing (spirit).

I am healthy and whole and vibrant.

I love and accept myself fully, completely, unconditionally.

I am grateful for all I am, have, give and receive.

I am grateful for my life, every breath I take, my wondrous mind and body.

I choose to celebrate and feel gratitude for each day.

I dissolve all blocks to being courageous and free to ask for what I need.

I replace indecision with calm, focused decisive action.

I notice and wisely let go of any judgments of myself or others, easily and effortlessly.

I and all others deserve to be treated with the unconditional acceptance, dignity and love we yearn for.

I consciously seek to see the best in my self and others even as we may consider requests for change.

I courageously protect my happiness.

I let go of any reluctance, resistance to my good, easily and effortlessly.

I inspire others and others inspire me to live a life of wholeness, harmony and meaning.

I approach any triggering situation in my life thoughtfully and wisely.

Now step into a state of positive expectation. Expect to feel more and more capable and calm, confident and centered, when dealing with something that previously triggered your body’s fear response in the past. Expect to be able to create the optimal happiness you want in your life at any moment.

With a positive mindset, it’s guaranteed to work. Look for and celebrate small successes. Smile a lot.

What determines the brightness of your future is not your past. The level of fulfillment you reach and fulfill does not depend on your past, and rather your commitment to the level of happiness you choose to affirm for yourself in your present moments.


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