Monthly Archives: January 2014

Blog 9 – Love & Anxiety Series: If you are happy, tell your face!

Flat+affect+face.png

The last blog was on spirituality and early world views. This blog about facial expression, or its lack, is a small part of how our sense of self can be reinforced or stunted.

When I was a child we used to sing a little song with this chorus…”if you are happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it…”

For most of us, this is true. When we are happy, we beam, we smile, we grin. And, this information is transmitted via mirror neurons, and our Nervous systems, via body language and facial expressions, to those that encounter us. In response, they immediately know that we are happy. This impacts the way they interact with us. Thanks to mirror neurons in human brains, we are “reading” each others emotional states, and our Autonomic Nervous systems (ANS) are pinging off each other all the time.

However, there are some people whose face does not broadcast their mood, happy or otherwise. The fancy term for this is called ‘flat affect’. This defines people who show little or no emotions on their faces. They look blank or “flat”, most of the time. If you recall the last time this occurred for you, there is probably a touch of discomfort connected to this memory. Because at a body level, we count on being able to read each others’ emotional states in order to know how to engage them.

So how what does this have to do with love or anxiety, quite a bit it turns out. People with flat affect, who show little or no facial expression, generate subtle anxiety in those they encounter. Granted it is often a vague and underlying sensation rather than outright fear, but when we cannot read another person’s mood on their face, our body and ANS responds with anxiety. If I don’t know if you are happy or angry with me, how do I engage with you?

Some of you might be in love with, married to, and/or a parent of, someone with flat affect. (This is one of the struggles for parents of autistic children. They receive no facial gestures of love and reciprocal affection and it takes a toll on the relationship.) While you have little hope for change with an autistic person, with anyone else, you can tell him or her how hard it is for you when their face is blank. People can learn new habits if they are motivated, including how to put a welcoming expression on their face. Or if you are the one that has flat affect, work on expressing an emotion with your face and voice rather than just experiencing it and moving on or hiding it.

If you are happy tell your face because it will help the people that you are in relationship with to feel safer and to connect more deeply to you.

GOING Deeper

1.) Think of anyone in your life that may not show much or any expression. Can you remember what you feel when you are in their company? If it’s anxiety but you can’t pinpoint that emotion to anything they did or said, then you are experiencing the discomfort of flat affect.

2.) Think about your own face. Go to the mirror if you dare and make your happy face, then a sad face and then a mad face. If there are very little differences in facial expression, you may struggle with flat affect. Become aware of the impact you may have on other people. Practice working on bigger facial expressions. Your relationships will improve.

To learn how to evict the anxiety in your life, join one of my 3-week anxiety reduction workshops. Go to http://www.sdtraumatherapy.com for more information. Mention this blog when you sign up and receive a 10% discount! Happy Loving.

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Blog 8 -Love, Anxiety, & Spirituality

Last blog we talked about early lessons and how they impact our behaviors. There is one early lesson we learn that is often under our awareness. We learn about the nature of the Universe. The way our parents attach to us, and interact with us, deeply impacts our spirituality and world view. Einstein stated, “The most important question a person can ask is, “Is the Universe a friendly place?

What he failed to mention, is how much our early environment has much to do with how we answer that question. Perhaps, he just understood this because he was brilliant. Almost across the board, children raised in secure attachment families would answer, the universe is friendly. Whereas children raised in abuse, neglect, or insecure attachments, would state is it not.

We learn in templates, so our interaction within our first family give us our baseline templates for power dynamics, how authority is handled, relationships, and how males and females and adults and children interact. This is just to name a few that have significance for this blog. We can not keep thousands of relationships separate in our heads, so our brains just associates anything similar to the first templates made. (By the way, the good news is that these templates can be changed for the better.)

Our world views are also formed during our early years, see previous blog for more on this. When our first years of life include situations where we feel unsafe or unloved, we are building our attachment styles and also our view of God or the universe. If you believe in a personal God, who interacts with human and creation as I do, the early lessons learned about power, authority and relationship dynamics will be automatically transferred onto your view of God. If you eschew the idea of a personal God, you may view it more as the power of fate or the universe, but you will still view the universe as unsafe if your early environment included neglect or abuse.

If you are questioning this information, do a little test, think about your dad and or mom. If your parent(s) were overall kind, loving and supportive people, I bet your view of God or the universe is a positive one. If your parents were angry, punitive, scary or neglectful, I bet when you think of God or the universe, your view is not so positive. Many long-term church-going Christians, and I would guess also Jews and Muslims, would insist that God is good and loving. However, when they are in trouble or have messed up, or are frightened, that same God seems unmoved to their plight, indifferent or even angry and punitive. (I was one of these people for many years of my life.)

This is one of the many reasons why learning how to become securely attached is so important. Your view of God and the universe changes for the better as you feel secure in your life and in your relationships. This can even occur in relationship with God and our faith communities, we can learn secure attachment there and then transfer it to our families, etc,. And my friends, this will decrease your anxiety more than most any other change you make!

Going deeper:

1) Think for a few minutes about your early environment and how that template interacts with your view of God and/or the Universe. Write down the correlations that you notice and if you have any anxiety about God or the friendliness of the universe, see where you may have over-laid your first experiences onto your worldview.

2)  We more often put our father’s traits onto our ideas of God because years of Christendom have given us the idea that God is a male, which is not even Biblically  accurate. When you think of your father, what traits of his, good or bad, have you overlaid onto your version of God or even the universe?

To learn how to evict the anxiety in your life, join one of my 3-week anxiety reduction workshops. Go to http://www.sdtraumatherapy.com for more information. Mention this blog when you sign up and receive a 10% discount! Happy Loving.