August 3, 2015

The Neuroscience of Love (& How to Change your Patterns).

Charlotte Astrid on Flickr

Many times, I’ve had people ask me why they should consider hiring a coach or a therapist to improve their relationships.

They wonder “how is talking to someone going to change things for me?” In other words, how does it work?

Well, working with another person in an intimate way, like with coaching or psychotherapy, works to not only help you learn more about yourself but also provides you with what is known as a corrective experience. Corrective experiences challenge fears and expectations in order to create new and more favorable outcomes.

Learning takes place by repetition; we learn what we live.

The way we learn how to operate in relationships is by what we see modeled, what we are taught by others around us and later, what we act out. Learning something actually alters the brain. In other words, as we are exposed to something, the brain forms certain patterns. The more we are exposed to the same thing, the deeper the pattern becomes. Imagine the brain is like a river flowing from the mountains—the longer the river flows, the deeper it digs into the mountain. The only way to change the river’s flow is to physically alter the direction, like placing a rock or a dam in the way.

The brain works in a similar fashion, and neuroscientists call this concept “neuroplasticity”. A person is exposed to a certain concept (like the alphabet) and a tiny connection between neurons is born. With repeated exposure, that tiny connection becomes stronger and stronger until finally, the concept is automatic. The same applies to relationships.

If you are a person whose primary relationship exposure was less than optimal, say with an absent parent, an emotionally abusive parent or you lived in a household where certain behavior patterns were modeled such as infidelity, dishonesty, and secret keeping) then your brain is wired to recognize those patterns of behavior as normal.

The same is true for the opposite; if you grew up in an environment with positive relationship models, you will recognize a different model of relationship as normal. That’s why you are continually attracted to the same type of person. That’s why, no matter how much you recognize a certain person as one that is not good for you, you are drawn to them anyway. Your brain is literally wired to see that type of person and relationship as normal. Challenges to that belief can cause great distress, which is why it is so common for people to self-sabotage.

A good therapist or coach doesn’t simply teach you how to recognize a bad pattern and stop it. Instead, it will quite literally change who you are and thus, who you are attracted to.

You don’t need a fairy godmother or a genie in a bottle to rewrite your relationship story to be what you want—you just need a good therapist or coach. So what are you waiting for?


Relephant Read:

The Only Piece of Relationship Wisdom that’s ever Made Sense to Me.

The Science of our Brain on Sex.


Author: Lisa Vallejos, PhD

Editor: Alli Sarazen

Photo: Charlotte Astrid/Flickr

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