The Biology of Connection

When I started the Reconnection Club Podcast back in 2019, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I hoped the brief weekly episodes would provide rejected parents with useful information and inspiration for reconnecting with their estranged adult children.

I didn’t anticipate that listeners would find it calming or soothing. But from the feedback I’ve received, people do.

Some even say they use it as a sleep aid, which I take as a compliment. (I hope I’m not kidding myself.)

They attribute their reaction to my voice which, although I disagree, is understandable. My voice is rather ordinary, but it acts as a vehicle for calm.

Any voice would be assumed to play a part in the soothing nature of a podcast. But I’d be willing to bet it’s not the voice per se that turns a podcast into an auditory hug.

What’s going on underneath the audio track… the real forces creating the calm… are more subtle than sound waves.

One of those forces may be simply the practice of meaning-making.

Turning chaos into order is helpful for the troubled mind; it’s one of the strengths of psychotherapy. We need to know what we’re going through makes sense, or that it’s following a knowable pattern.

Perhaps I’ll talk about the benefits of meaning-making another time. Today I want to focus on how you could potentially use your own biology as a soothing balm in all your relationships.

This includes, of course, the relationship you share with your estranged adult child(ren).

Catching a Feeling

When I record episodes of the podcast, two things tend to be true.

First, it’s usually early in the morning. The day hasn’t yet had a chance to stress me out, distract me or steal my calm.

Second, on the podcast I only speak what I believe to be the truth, that I think can help people.

Because of those two facts, the feelings dominating my emotional state when I’m recording are conviction, compassion, optimism and calm.

Through our shared biology, my voice conveys my emotional state directly to the brains of people listening.

Human nervous systems vibrate like tuning forks. We easily “catch” feelings and moods from each other through multiple channels, including the voice.

If you’ve ever been around someone in a bad mood, you already know this. It’s hard to feel sunny sitting next to a dark cloud.

On the flip side, it’s soothing to be around a nervous system that’s relaxed, flexible and open to connection.

Human biology constantly broadcasts its current state, whether we want it to or not. This has implications for parents of estranged adult children.

A Silent Language

Your child has been reading your nervous system for many years. S/he can pick up on your true state even as you claim to feel something else. Your sense of safety, for example, has always been transparent to your child(ren).

When words and biology don’t match, biology wins.

Many beautifully worded amends letters are sent to estranged adult children by parents who feel desperate, anxious, and frightened.

Despite their best efforts and intentions, these parents may be projecting instability through channels outside their awareness.

Invisible packets of emotional information take many forms…

It could be the frequency of attempted contact.

The parent’s response time, if contacted.

Subtleties of word choice in written messages.

Vocal tone, pitch, and rhythm.

Head-to-toe body language.

All of that is too subtle get “right” (from the adult child’s point of view) if your nervous system is inflamed, paralyzed or otherwise impaired.

This is why, like a broken record, I continually urge parents to begin with your own healing. Because without a well-functioning nervous system, it’s hard to create close, nurturing connections.

Knowing the power of your own nervous system to affect others and, by extension, your relationships, what can you do to make your biology calm and appealing, as often as possible?

Tame Your Nervous System

Your nervous system wants to be flexible. Sometimes it needs to activate into fight-or-flight mode. Other times, you have to rest and digest. For social connections, a combination of relaxation and activation may be just right.

When it comes to communicating with an estranged adult child, try to build a safe base of operations in your own biology, starting with your nervous system.

While your child may not immediately be able to accept the invitation of your calm presence, at the very least you won’t be fanning the flames of over-reactivity.

For more on a theory of three interrelated nervous system states, watch a video about polyvagal theory.

Below are a few other resources to get you started along a path of befriending and, if necessary, healing your nervous system. These links are not necessarily the best possible sources; please do your own research on any topic(s) of interest.

Breathwork, including nasal breathing

Meditation

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

Yoga

Trauma Chat Podcast

Just as actions speak louder than words with estranged adult children, your nervous system is also speaking all the time. Learning the language of your own biology can be an avenue for healing, and a prerequisite to reconciliation.

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