Resonance from Bouncing Back by Linda Graham

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All human beings are hard-wired to reverberate, instantaneously and without any conscious processing, to the emotions and actions of people around them.

This process of basic sensory perception and instant communication, especially of signals of safety or serious danger, is called resonance.

Some form of this capacity is essential for all living organisms, from single-celled protozoa to flatworms and sea anemones, frogs and eagles, squirrels and chimps, and us and our neighbors.

The prefrontal cortex uses resonance to relate to other human beings.

We reflexively read the body-based signals that constantly flow between us and others.

Resonance helps explain why we yawn when we see somebody else yawn; why we flinch and say “Ouch!” when we see someone else get hurt; and why we spontaneously say “Oh!” when the baby says “Oh!”

Resonance is the basis of the emotional contagion that can bring us into a shared emotional state: it is at work when anger sweeps through a soccer crowd, when an entire concert audience jumps to its feet in applause, and when anxiety about failing health or a failing marriage gets passed on, unconsciously, to a child.

We can misread these signals, of course.

When we walk into a meeting or a party, depending on how our early conditioning might have nurtured or distorted this capacity, we may see safety where there is truly danger or perceive danger or hostility where there is none.

But the capacity to use resonance skillfully is hard-wired and completely recoverable.

Though resonance itself always operates completely outside awareness, we can learn to be mindfully aware of its workings.

We can sense a “vibe” and learn to know whether it is coming from someone else or from inside ourselves.

As we recover our capacity to use resonance skillfully, we simultaneously strengthen the capacities of the prefrontal cortex to relate, feel, and cope resiliently.

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