You may have already guessed that your feelings and reactions are affected by the people around you.
What you may not have known is that neuroscience explains this phenomena – by way of Mirror Neurons and Emotional Contagion.
These had survival value to our ‘tribe’ in years gone by, and were an important messenger of how we should then behave. Whether to connect and bond, or to fight or flee.
Our brain cells are called neurons and some of these are called mirror neurons. They reflect back to our brain the emotional aspect of something we are seeing and hearing. We then have a ‘reaction’ based upon that emotion – as if we were feeling it for ourselves.
If we watch a sad, frightening or joyful film we are affected by it on different levels. The cells in our brain and body become awash with chemicals - similar to what would happen if we were actually in that situation.
Perhaps you’ve encountered a nasty, angry, sarcastic or condescending colleague or boss; aggressive and hostile thugs, or - for too many people - a frightening and cruel parent. Their feelings infect and ‘contaminate’ us like toxic germs.
Over time they even affect the way our brain rewires itself, and how we then see and feel about ourselves!
In expanding upon this concept of being affected by other people’s moods, emotions, language and behaviours, there is also the ‘emotional contagion’ we feel from a crowd of people.
This can cover a whole range of emotions, from violent aggression through to love, kindness, compassion, empathy, joy and sympathy. For instance the jubilation of the sports crowd, the national outpouring of grief and mourning for a loved public figure, the high energy of a fighting mob. These can sweep us along and cause us to behave differently than we would if we were alone.
So, it’s worth thinking about who has affected and influenced your feelings, moods and behaviours so far.
Who has shaped your brain without you realising it?
Who will you now choose to stay around and who you will distance yourself from – for the good of your own well-being?
Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy)
Maxine Harley has a masters degree in psychotherapy, has written two books, and created four new approaches to psychological, emotional and physical well-being. She lives happily in Chichester with her daughter and grandson.