Have you ever watched someone spoon feeding a baby? As the spoon travels to the baby’s mouth the one feeding them will open their own mouth. I’m not sure who was imitating whom!
It’s like watching someone suck on a lemon and then puckering up yourself. Or finding yourself smiling as you watch people reunite at an airport.
There is a scientific explanation for this behavior. The study of Mirror Neurons begins to explain why Alan was “eating” as Lynn ate. There are mirror neurons, a small circuit of cells in the premotor cortex and inferior parietal cortex. What makes these cells so interesting is that they are activated both when we perform a certain action—such as smiling or reaching for a cup—and when we observe someone else performing that same action.
This explanation scratches the surface. Scientists continue to study how and why we mirror other’s emotions and actions. I will leave you to read more from the suggested sites below. Or of course…just Google it!
Why is mirroring important? It was pointed out to me that I was mirroring Riely’s moods! I was doing this both emotionally and physically. What the heck??!! This can’t be good, right?
Mitch is a friend of Riely’s from band. He had experienced depression and was someone Riely could talk to. Mitch turned out to be quite brave and helpful. (I can say that now)
One day while I while picking Riely up from band Mitch asked if he could talk with me. Well sure, I love kids. Talk away!! Mitch proceeded to tell me that, “it was upsetting to Riely for me to be sad. When she is sad and then I look sad along with her it makes things harder. The same goes for when she is anxious, she doesn’t need me to be anxious with her.”
Excuse me?! So many things rushed through my mind at that moment! To this day I wonder if my expression reflected those thoughts. In my mind I’m wondering…what does this kid think he is doing telling me how to act? He is 17 and I am…well I am older than that! I am sad that is my daughter hurting. What does he think he knows that I don’t?! (I’m sure all the thoughts were as clean as that too!)
Turns out he knew a lot. A few months later a friend told me that her husband has depression. One day he told her that she didn’t need to “copy” his mood. It made him feel worse and even guilty. She was reflecting back to him his own sadness and pain.
Damn! Mitch knew what he was talking about! I just hate it when I have to learn through humbling experiences! Eventually I was thankful. Eventually. And yes, I put on my big girl panties and thanked him!
I needed to separate my feelings from Riely’s. Her feelings are not mine. I did not need to take them on. I stilldon’t need to take them on. To see me reflecting her sadness and hurt back at her reinforced that she was not okay. And possibly made her question if I was okay.
I think during times of instability and sadness it becomes more important for Alan and I to present a sense of well-being and security. When the ground is shaking you want to grab on to something steady. Riely needed to grab onto something steady, not a reflection of herself!
I had to learn not put all my emotions on display. I needed to find my own space to hurt and cry, to get angry or whatever else I felt. What she needed was strength and assurance. Try leaning on a fence post grounded in mud, you both fall over.
I spent a great deal of time getting myself grounded. (Still do!) It meant spending time doing things that helped keep me healthy physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I enjoy “wogging” outside. It clears my head and I like being outdoors. I say wogging because I’m not sure it is walking or jogging, or both. I am a bit faster than a turtle.
A few quite moments in the morning help clear my head and center my heart. Sometimes creating that time was difficult. I find that a daily prayer I can recite anywhere at any time during the day is also helpful.
It also meant taking a few slow breaths before picking up Riely from school or walking into her room. I stole time to read or recite my favorite Psalm (139). I listened to (really sang along with) music from Broadway musicals, or I escaped with a mystery novel. All were gifts I gave myself.
My belief in God, in God’s incarnational love, and God’s Spirit moving within and around me strengthened during this time. I couldn’t walk Riely’s walk. I could walk beside her. And I could steady my own walk.
I think that may be what it means to be there for others, to be strong for others. Not to carry them, but to be strong in yourself, in your relationship with and understanding of God and God’s way of being.
Spirituality certainly isn’t all touchy-feely and woo-woo! It is hard work that somehow turns the murky times into a beautiful lotus flower.