This post will be the first in a series where I will cover the Positive Perspective, a key component in Gottman’s Sound Relationship House. The positive perspective holds a lot of influence in how couples are able to dialogue about conflict. It is often an overlooked component in how conflict is processed in a relationship. In order to understand how to build a positive perspective in your relationship it is first important to understand a bit of neuroscience.
I was sitting in a continuing education course a few years ago led by a pharmacist discussing addiction and pharmacology. With one simple statement he shifted my perspective of just how amazing the brain is; “the human brain is the most powerful and effective pharmacy imaginable.” Have you ever considered the reality that your brain has the ability and resources to change itself? In a time where psychotropic medications are relied on heavily, this might serve as a good reminder that we have the ability to impact our own neurochemistry. But how? Before I move on, I want to point out that for many people medications are both helpful and necessary. Taking medication consistently can be life-giving. So if you are one that has benefited from the use of meds, I am not saying to stop, I am also not saying you have the capacity to produce for yourself the same benefits of the medications you are on.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals released and received by neurons which transmit signals throughout the brain and body. Although the number of neurotransmitters is unknown, the total number is thought to be well over 100. Impacting the release of neurotransmitters impacts the feeling experience of the brain. It’s important to note that neurotransmitters are not categorized into “good” vs “bad”; for instance, dopamine is a neurotransmitter that increases with exercise and meditation, but also increases with pornography use. The manipulation of neurotransmitters in the brain through these activities can either be helpful OR unhelpful. Exercise increases serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine which are all neurotransmitters that impact mood uniquely. Maybe you have heard of the “runner’s high”, a reality made possible by the increase of those neurotransmitters. If you have spent any amount of time in my office then you undoubtedly know I am a big proponent of meditation. Meditation has been found to decrease anxiety (by decreasing GABA and norepinephrine). Jonathan Haidt in his outstanding book The Happiness Hypothesis says meditation “decreases anxiety, increases contentment, self-esteem, empathy and trust.” These two examples show we can impact our emotional climate by changing both physical and mental disciplines. Paul in Philippians says, “whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, good, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Modern neuroscience and Paul are saying the same thing- be proactive with what you meditate on, choose the good, the gratitudes, the appreciations. Whether it be in our thought patterns or our behavioral disciplines, our neurochemistry is being impacted, so choose wisely. When we realize this, we can then take a more active role in what we set our minds on, and therefore how we feel and experience the world.