Have you ever had the experience of feeling like someone really ‘gets you’?
This can take various forms - like being able to share what’s on our mind and the other person holding space for us to explain. It can also be reflected in their ability to mirror back what we are saying with their own words. When I hear people talk about this experience, it often involves some form of dialogue.
But there are levels of this experience that are non verbal and that began a long time ago in preverbal forms.
Many of us rely on talking to co-regulate and attempt to be understood. But it’s important for us to understand all of the signals, sensations and frequencies that occur underneath, before and beyond what we are actually saying.
The tricky thing is that most of us aren't aware enough of how we move our body, eyes and face in ways that are based on our past experiences and that don't help us get what we really want from our relationships.
These signals are part of our social nervous system.
This system allows us to display signals to others that allow them to understand our internal experiences, and for us to know what another's internal state and intended action is towards us. Without these mechanisms for transmitting and receiving these signals, we would miss out on information that is critical for our survival.
There are so many ways that our brain-body system uses to portray what we are feeling inside to the external world. It does this by creating audible, visible and mechanical signals so that someone else can hear, see and sense what might be going on for us.
There are 6 aspects of this social frequency feedback system that I’ve integrated into a framework that has emerged from the years of work I’ve done in terms of:
- measuring internal body and brain states (through heart rate variability, brainwaves, facial muscle movement and skin conductance),
- neurocognitive testing (such as emotional bias),
- behavioral observations of clients and patients who are having mental health, interpersonal and personal life challenges.
I’m combining this with perspectives from several additional researchers (papers listed below). I go into each of these in detail in today’s podcast episode, but here is an overview:
Signal Seeking & Expression:
This is where we use the complex machinery of our facial muscles, eyes and voice to display and detect extraordinarily subtle signals that point to our internal state and intended action.
- The tiny, lightning fast movement of our eyes towards specific features in another
- The movement of facial muscles (such as tiny muscles around our nose that can indicate disgust. These muscles can activate not just in terms of disgust at rotting food, but also in terms of moral disgust towards people we stereotype - see Lasana Harris’ work on this - I was one of his research assistants at NYU).https://www.ucl.ac.uk/pals/research/experimental-psychology/person/lasana-harris/
- The movement of muscles that change the frequency of our voice in accordance with our internal state and intended action
- The movement of our eardrums in parallel with our eye gaze (our eardrums move in the opposite direction of where our eyes have shifted)
Signal seeking is significantly affected by our expectations that are based on our past.
These anticipatory mechanical adjustments influence how we move many of our voluntary muscles in order to seek out something that will confirm our expectations.
Related to this is what is called the ‘preparatory set’ and ‘anticipatory postural adjustments’. What we anticipate is related to our internal state at that moment. For example, negative emotions can lead to a narrower field of focus, whereas positive affective states can broaden our attention*.
*(See thought action repertoire paper by Frederikson & Branigan bel0w).
Signal Suppression & Avoidance
Signal avoidance occurs when there is a feeling that is occurring that is uncomfortable for us and so we use different strategies to avoid feeling these sensations. This can include substances, becoming hyper-social, sleep, eating, and other mechanisms that are not necessarily unhealthy - but that we use in certain situations to not ‘listen to‘ the signals our body is sending us about our experience.
While there are many reasons we have different sensations in our body, in this context, I’m particularly focusing on what happens within our body due to social interactions with others and what they might trigger.
Signal Suppression occurs when there is a power dynamic where one person uses signals to display that they are in a position of dominance.
This can happen with threats of physical violence, or verbal abuse.
It can also occur in other ways, such as when a boss reminds an employee that they are the source of income for an employee as a tactic to ask someone to do something they may not wish to do, or when a caregiver reminds a child of what they can give or take away in terms of basic needs.
In response to this power imbalance, the less dominant person may hide, camouflage or contort their signals in order to appease the dominant member (for example, smiling politely when they actually feel anger, saying yes when they want to say no, etc.).
From my observations of brainwave patterns, self-report data, and behavioral observations of clients and patients, as well as my own experience - I believe that Signal suppression and avoidance negatively affect our wellbeing and interpersonal functioning.
Signal flow and awareness
These are the states that allow for the highest amount of information to be exchanged between people. When we are experiencing the feeling of being understood, we are expressing what is happening inside of us to another person - using audible, visible and mechanical* signals that are being openly received by another without any attempt to suppress or control our signals.
And this exchange of signals creates increasing amounts of nuanced and complex information to emerge within that dyad or group. This is in contrast to signals being shut down, ignored, avoided and in contrast to information that is repetitive and redundant (like having the same argument, or making the same point over and over without any new ideas emerging).
If you’d like to learn more about these 6 signal mechanisms, as well as how we improve our chances of signal flow and signal awareness, please listen to today’s podcast episode!
*I’ll explain more what I mean about mechanical in a future episode, but just briefly - it’s related to movements, which are visible, but differs slightly from visible in the other senses that can be used to perceive these signals.
Within the next several weeks, I’ll be entering a very special and significant career and life transition. I’m excited for what this new chapter will allow me to share with you (hint.. Think brainwaves, breath, forgiveness, compassion and purpose). Because I want to focus my attention to intense full-time hours and provide you with content that I believe will serve you in the best ways possible, I will be moving to a once-a-month schedule for my emails to you.
I’ll be sending you the remaining two episodes of podcast season 2 over the next few weeks. I’ll then be taking a pause to assess the format for Season 3.
After that, I plan to send a monthly article. I’ll also be recording a monthly video - which may or may not be related to the article. So if you’d like to get updated on when a video is released, please subscribe to my Youtube channel.
This monthly schedule will also allow me to work on my book (which due to the hours of my current job and producing videos and podcasts, I’ve needed to put to the side).
Big Brain Summit!
I am part of a list of speakers who contributed their experience and expertise to the Big Brain Summit, which will be broadcast beginning September 13th. It’s free when you watch within the 72 hours that it’s up. It’s a unique and very cool line-up of topics that I’m a big fan of including: Breathwork, Attachment Commitment Therapy (ACT), Motivation, Peak Sleep, the Art of Awareness, Concentration, and Exercise.
De Gelder B. (2006). Towards the neurobiology of emotional body language. Nat. Rev. Neurosci.
Fredrickson B. L., Branigan C. (2005). Positive emotions broaden the scope of attention and thought−action repertoires. Cogn. Emot.
Gruters et al., “The eardrums move when the eyes move: A multisensory effect on the mechanics of hearing” https://www.neuro.duke.edu/research/research-news/when-eyes-move-eardrums-move-too
Massion J. (1992). Movement, posture and equilibrium: interaction and coordination. Prog. Neurobiol.
Payne and Godreau, “The preparatory set: a novel approach to understanding stress, trauma, and the bodymind therapies” Frontiers in Neuroscience