Sharing emotions promotes bonding that supports you in crisis
Relationship Advice Tips from Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
Thirty-five year old Insurance underwriter Taylor was badly shaken in a bad road accident on his way home from the office. His car had been pushed into the vehicle in front by a driver talking on a cell phone, causing a massive pile up. He was in shock and shaking when he got home later that night. The events played over and over again in his mind trying to make sense of the carnage, wearing him out in the process. Telling his thirty year old partner Joyce, a florist, about the incident skimmed the top off the overwhelming feeling, but he still felt alone and anxious.
The next few hours dragged into days where Taylor had flash backs and night sweats about the accident. He kept hearing the screeching of tires, crashes and sirens. He couldn’t keep this up as it was affecting his ability to drive, concentrate on work, eat and sleep. He didn’t want to bother Joyce who was up and at the flower market by 5:00 am every day. He felt he should be strong and deal with this himself. After all he wasn’t hurt and he would get a hire car until he chose a new one.
Joyce felt concerned for her husband but couldn't find a way to support him.
She could see that he was suffering from PTSD and wanted to be a loving supportive wife, but felt hamstrung.
“It must have been awful for you, tell me what it was like when you felt the car hit you.” Joyce said inviting him to share so she could comfort him.
“I was stopped at the lights with two or three cars in front, and I heard this enormous bang and the next thing I knew my car was crashing into the one in front. Horns and sirens were going. Then the police and fire crew came out. The guy who crashed into me was badly injured. I got out of the car and gave the police information. Then I called you and got a cab home.” Taylor volunteered.
How could she really understand when she wasn’t there? That’s what Taylor told himself as he repeated the events for the fourth time in three days. He felt alone and trapped in his flash backs as he dealt with his traumatic experience.
But wait, Taylor doesn’t have to feel so isolated or burdened.
Research reported in the International Journal of Psychology, 2012 found that people who share bare facts with loved ones about their traumas miss out on creating the bonds that facilitate calming and reassuring support. Taylor left out his emotional experience when he shared the event with Joyce preventing the neurochemistry of bonding from working to his advantage.
The researchers found that social sharing is insufficient for bonding and reestablishing feelings of security. But the social sharing of emotion has a calming and bonding function. It provides benefits of security, reassurance and anxiety reduction. Stress is relieved by Oxytocin, making recovery quicker and more sustained.
If Taylor had shared his emotions alongside the facts he would have strengthened the social cohesion between him and Joyce so that he didn’t have to feel so alone. The social sharing of emotion by Taylor would have enabled Joyce to alleviate his distress, and offer him care, advice, short term solutions and stability while he recovered.
Joyce was relegated to the function of a tape, recording his experience but unable to reach those distressed spots that needed soothing and regeneration from love and empathic care.
Taylor deprived himself of trusting Joyce to be a reliable comforter and shock absorber.
He continues to suffer more intensely with every new negative event, for longer, adding layer after layer of stress on his already overstretched psychological system.
So, Taylor, include your emotional experience in as much detail as possible when you share the darker experiences of life. Let the Oxytocin flow and enjoy the comfort and security of a good strong bond with Joyce when a crisis hit you unawares. You will develop a healthy resiliency and a much deeper attachment with Joyce that will sustain you through your life.
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Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
Disclaimer: the information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only. There is no liability on the part of Dr. Raymond for any reactions that you may have when reading the material or using the suggestions contained in the article. Reading this article does not constitute a therapeutic relationship with Dr. Raymond.