I once dated a guy who was so energetically charged that being near him felt like biting on aluminum foil.
In an amazing way. He was inexplicably magnetic and he just made things happen. And through proximity to him, my own energy and productivity was magnified. Over those months, strangers would stop and remark on my mood, my energy, my “vibe,” what have you.
There’s a reason we fight to sit next to certain people at dinner parties. We just want a little bit of their je ne sais quoi.
As much as I like to think of myself as an emotional tank impervious to the moody winds of change, our nervous systems aren’t self-contained and we pick up contagious energies in our proximity. Like the mono of psychology, science says we take on the mood and energy of those around us through “emotional contagion.”
We catch the energetic colds and vicariously ride the energetic highs of the people in our lives. Sometimes I’ll warn the guys in my office if I’m in a “funk” that day, worried it will rub off on them. Come close at your own risk, because there’s only so much we can do to contain the outbreak.
None of us are immune to emotional contagion. Except maybe Beyonce.
Emotional contagion, also called limbic resonance, is a neat evolutionary trick mammals developed as social animals.
We have a built-in API that lets us to pick up other’s emotions “in the cloud.” Limbic resonance is the ability to exchange and attune to deep emotional states through the limbic system, an area of the brain responsible for emotion, behavior, and motivation.
Like a tuning fork or radio tower, the structure and neurochemicals of our brain change depending on the energies we’re around.
“Within the effulgence of their new brain, mammals developed a capacity we call ‘limbic resonance’ — a symphony of mutual exchange and internal adaptation whereby two mammals become attuned to each other’s inner states.”
The wiring of our limbic system is strung pretty tightly from infancy. If your Mama made lots of eye contact, you’re probably in the clear: The integrity of that wiring comes from early experiences of bonding, emotional closeness, security, and trust. But unlike more recently evolved parts of our brain that constantly learn and change, our limbic system is a tough nut to crack.
One of the only things that can change our limbic response is other people.
We sync up to, adjust, and strengthen the systems of others through limbic regulation.
Like mind control, limbic regulation is the ability to “adjust and fortify one another’s fragile neural rhythms in the collaborative dance of love.” Relationships exist in open-loops and are reciprocal exchanges that constantly regulate the physiologies of its participants.
Psychologists poetically describe limbic regulation as a “shimmering conduit” to “tinker with one another’s psychology.”
We intermingle our rhythms and energies to regulate each other. Think of how powerful that is. Our physical body affects and is affected by other physical bodies. Consider yourself a source of energetic radioactivity.
You, by being you, impact another’s experience of themselves. This brings new light to the saying, “Who we are depends in part on who we love.”
We have the ability to “remodel the emotional parts of the people we love” through limbic revision.
What better way to love someone than to help them remodel their faulty wiring? By modeling love and empathy, we reshape and heal the brains of our partners through limbic revision. Think of it like emotional physical therapy.
“In a relationship, one mind revises the other; one heart changes its partner. This astounding legacy of our combined status as mammals and neural beings is limbic revision: the power to remodel the emotional parts of the people we love, as our Attractors activate certain limbic pathways, and the brain’s inexorable memory mechanism reinforces them.”
But this is a frighteningly potent proposition. There’s a big responsibility to set your partner to a heathy rhythm, and not sync them to the tune of your off-pace, hungover, lopsided metronome.
To use limbic resonance, regulation, and revision for good and not evil, here are a few thoughts:
Do It In Person
Without enough face-to-face limbic resonance, our systems start to fall apart.
I find myself fresh off my first long distance courtship. To no fault of his or my own, I spent those months tired and emotionally uncharged. Nightly calls don’t leave smudgy energetic finger prints on a relationship. When you’re separated by a few states and temperamental WiFi, you starve your evolutionary disposition to be a social animal.
We’re moving further away from the natural design of face-to-face emotional reciprocity. On a deeply physiological level, our biology demands an in person exchange of energetic information. Infants who lack limbic regulation fail to thrive and often die. And even as adults, it’s a critical piece of happiness equation.
Mirror, Mimic, Meme
The exchange of body signals between two people is complex and infinitely quick. Researchers believe this is how mothers and infants and owners and their dogs communicate. A mirror neuron fires when we see someone do something, and it “mirrors” a response as if it were doing the behavior itself. This primes us for intimacy, empathy, and a “we’re in this together” mentality.
I yawn, you yawn. You jump, I jump. See? Jack and Rose got it down.
“Eye contact, although it occurs over a gap of yards, is not a metaphor. When we meet the gaze of another, two nervous systems achieve a palpable and intimate apposition.”
The “energetically charged” guy was a powerful partner because he was an excellent mirror. He made lots of eye contact, was mindful to get on my level, communicated openly, and was emotionally intelligent. While very far from perfect, we had a high degree of empathic resonance.
Contain Your Own Funk
We all know “energy vampires.” The Voldermorts who unintentionally sweep panic, darkness, and an energetic funk into a room. We also know people who are the human equivalent of a cleanse. The energetic unicorns who sync you to a happy rhythm and clean slate. I’ve dated people who’ve reset my system in profoundly positive ways, and I’ve been in relationships that left me exhausted for months at a time. Before you blame it on the weather or work or a missed yoga class, first see if it’s the person sitting across the dinner table.
Be the person that everyone wants to sync their system to. Be the energetic role model.
In short, always leave a person better than when you found them.
And you can do this through limbic resonance. Share your positivity. Pick up what they’re putting down. Regulate their systems. Rewire the faulty stuff.
“if you are softer than before they came, you have been loved.”