Interpersonal Neurobiology. This is a pairing of words that always gets my attention. Some days it makes me feel inadequate because I haven’t chosen this as a field of study, per se. Some days I feel sad because I want to have the title Interpersonal Neurobiologist, and I don’t. But today it just makes me sit in wonder, pure awe of the universe we live in, and the things we get to do here.
I guess I could say that I know a fair amount about interpersonal dynamics. I could say, also, that I have made a decent attempt to inform myself about the nervous system and how the nervous systems of individuals respond to other nervous systems, and how we come into our lives here on earth with nervous systems that aren’t fully developed, and we need the nervous systems of other people, particularly our mothers, in order to develop and properly grow and mature. I can unarguably claim over half a century of experience trying to figure out how to regulate my own nervous system, and have actually had some success in the past decade or so. And now, from a place where I have some agency and confidence around my ability to calm my own nervous system, I am discovering that I am excited about getting even better at it. And excited, also, that this can only be done with the help of and in the company of other people. I can honestly say that this–at this particular moment–terrifies me almost as much as it thrills me. I know this because of a nightmare that woke me up this morning. I come back to that later.
But whether it is a community potluck, a group of people sitting around a bonfire, an online class, group therapy, a 12-Step Group, or Thanksgiving Dinner at Grandma’s, people can come together and actually be better off from having done so. Am I the only one feeling the profound potential here? Because if I’m honest, tapping into and using this potential has not worked well for me in too many contexts in the past, and since that has only relatively recently changed for me, I want to compare notes with those of you who are still reaching and yearning and working for rich and deep and satisfying and inspiring and gorgeous and transformative interactions with other humans as the new normal.
As I survey what I see as our dominant society and culture, as humans in the 21st Century, we have created, on the grandest scale, groups, systems, institutions and organizations that at best are failing to produce what we most need in the world today and at worst represent all of the things we loathe and wish with all our hearts to avoid. Yes, there are good things happening, but I am not willing to dismiss this overarching state of affairs right now. Families too often fail to protect and nurture their children, churches intentionally terrify and bewilder us and extract our resources, governing bodies fail to come together to represent or serve our best interests. And I don’t even begin to have words to talk about our economy. Resources, time, money and life force energy is being wasted in all the ways. We try, like swashbucklers, to make these groups and organizations work for us, to do our part; to do the right thing. But in the end, maybe the only way to maintain our sanity is to accept that we can’t and never will be able to make these groups work for us. And to accept that it’s actually okay, because we can get what we want and need (and have a whole lot of fun while we’re at it) anyway. (I do realize that there are people out there whose truth it is to work in institutions, and my hat’s off to you. I don’t diminish the value of what you are doing. It’s just clearly not my gig.)
What if it’s true that there is absolutely nothing stopping us from convening and collaborating our intentions and energies in a different way? What if we can count on ourselves and our own senses to know what we desire, so that we can join forces and explore and create and play? And what if organizing with safe others for creative play is actually the solution to all our problems? That is the realm in which my interests lie at the moment.
As I push myself to do things outside of the familiar; outside of my personal comfort zone, I am benefiting in so many ways. In preparation for our next Family Constellations Circle, I can identify, name and use my fears, my emotions, my worries, to build reassurances and encouragements and positive statements to use for myself to help me calm my nervous system (because Toni, who do you think you are to be doing something so bold and outside the box? is notably not calming my nervous system).
Spoiler Alert: this post ends with the list of affirmations I plan to use for the next couple weeks. Feel free to use those affirmations that have meaning for you, and use any others as seed ideas to build your own affirmations if that helps you to reassure your vulnerable inner children.
I’m pretty sure my angels and guides woke me up this morning with a dream and a realization that I need to double down on identifying and removing hidden obstacles to speaking from my heart in real time. Because this is the reason being in groups has not worked for me in the past.
My work now is to use my dream material to help me notice and name, one by one, the things that may keep me from speaking freely from my heart in real time. See if any of these resonate for you too.
- Shame about being so caught up in my own anxiety and stress that I can’t receive information from my senses about what’s happening in the moment. Disappointment in myself for not performing up to my own standards or as well as someone else who I’m sure could do it better. Shame for not being in control of my own body/nervous system.
- Fear of being blindsided by a trigger reflex, which shuts down the ability to enjoy connecting with others. Fear of missing the juiciest and sweetest parts because I’m so fixated on something that “should” be and isn’t, or getting it perfect.
- Fear of having to pretend to be completely present, calm and relaxed, while actually feeling a bit stunned and not sure I can connect to the words I need to express what I want to express and to accomplish my goals. Shame because I’m not feeling the calm and relaxed and grounded state I’m asking my group to feel. Fear that I won’t have what I need when I need it. Fear that I am inadequate, a fraud. Fear that what I have to offer (me being me, with my ideas, my contribution, my emotions, my processes and needs) is not of value.
- Fear of inadequately or incompletely expressing the breadth and depth of myself, my knowledge and lived experience. Being misunderstood. Fear of selling myself short, fear of disappointing people, of not delivering what others want and need. Fear that I can’t trust myself and my instincts.
- Fear of not having the integration I need to express myself in an engaging way when I want to. Fear of not being healed enough or skilled enough or capable enough or worthy of attention and trust.
- (and get this) Fear of actually getting what I’m asking for; of truly succeeding. Fear that if I succeed, I won’t be able to handle the big feelings and issues and problems that come with that.
- Chronic, unconscious muscular tension. Unconsciously clenching muscles. In the body in general, including but not limited to the physiological avenue of expression. Chronic, unconscious tension in the body restricts the free flow of information from the body to the brain and vice versa. I suspect that I have yet-to-be-identified muscular tension that keeps me from expressing emotions as they come up and advocating for myself, especially in circumstances where I feel I might be out of line somehow, or going against dominant paradigms (which is just asking for bad things to happen, right?) Women can’t be openly powerful or successful (without paying for it). It’s not safe to be powerful. It’s not safe to openly be a channel for the divine.
And at the bottom of all of that I notice a subtle but very primal fear of being cast out, being rejected, being dismissed, being exiled, or otherwise paying the price.
- I’ve actually been experimenting with bringing more consciousness to my desires and actively manifesting more of what I desire in my life.
- The results I’m getting are practically immediate, mostly delightful, new and surprising, and I am learning about myself as I go along.
- I get to make adjustments when unexpected things crop up and I become aware of needs I didn’t know about before.
- I am capable of learning from my experiences.
- I’m actually not too bad at this.
- It is my responsibility to value and honor myself by building in spaciousness and care and attunement around any group offering I decide to make (risks I take in new areas of my life, around tender new skills I am just developing).
- I accept that responsibility and make self care a priority, fully realizing that I will perform better and feel better about my performance if I am better prepared, physically, spiritually, emotionally, psychologically.
- I have all the support and guidance I need to adequately prepare for these events.
- The fact that I can imagine how it feels when I can relax and draw on my experience and knowledge to hold the space well (help my group members feel comfortable and prepared to participate in a group that goes the way I want it to go, and benefits all who attend) tells me that I am capable.
- I can accept myself exactly as I am as I strengthen my skills.
- I am worthy of consideration, kindness and patience as I learn and grow.
- I do not have to be perfect.
- When I get clear on what I want and need and articulate it, my needs are met as if by magic.
- My feelings help me know what I want and need.
- I know something about emotions and nervous systems, and I can trust myself to come up with the words I need to adequately express myself.
- This is not a competition.
- I don’t need to compare myself with anyone else.
- I can just be me.
- I am good enough.
- I’m not asking too much of myself.
- I do this with every client, reliably.
- The only thing is I am increasing the number of people I’m doing it with at one time.
- I’m in this for the long haul.
- I am committed to learning how to care for myself well.
- I am gaining more and more confidence in my ability to stay emotionally regulated and present in any group space, especially those that I call and facilitate.
My responsibility is to hold the container knowing that I can respond appropriately, and guide the process.
- I trust that I am adequately supported to do this, and that it is mine to do.
- I give myself grace, knowing that I am human, and I will probably not do it perfectly, but that it will be okay.
- Participants will be able to give me feedback that I can digest and integrate as appropriate.
What makes this risk worthwhile to me, is that in larger groups, we can accomplish extravagant healings in the context of the constellations, while learning even more about family systems and how they work, and how we’re more connected and alike than we ever knew. And we can actually participate in and support the healing of the others in the group in ways we never imagined were possible–all while bringing that same healing to ourselves. All of us benefit, and the effects ripple outward into our communities and the world.
Gleanings from the Dream
- I’m pushing up against my comfort edge, learning something new.
- In the role of teacher/facilitator, my responsibility is to the class, ensuring safety, and making sure people have my calm and compassionate presence.
- This is not particularly new. What is new is being recognized for it, asking for and receiving support for it, and getting paid for it.
- Neuropathways in my brain are being built, but many of the most essential ones are not even approaching finished.
- This could take some time.
- I need to pay attention to my habit of scrambling to fulfill my responsibilities to others. I can relax and trust that all is as it should be. I am not alone.
- I’m noticing that I have been efforting quite a bit, failing to recognize and honor the stage of development that I’m at. There is risk in forcing things to happen before their time.
- Ultimately I have to surrender and accept that the way I need to go (the long and slow way around), while it seems cumbersome and inefficient, it is way more effective and efficient in the long run. From where I currently stand, it is apparently the only way, and all I can do is accept that and work with it.
- Pay attention to the process. There are profoundly beautiful and unexpected scenes along the way, not just at the end.
- I am definitely not on my own.
- I can always count on my wise, creative self who is always working behind the scenes to help me problem solve, and connect with other very capable and state-of-the-art supports so I can regroup and return to my creative goals and responsibilities.