We all have an inner voice. Sometimes this voice is reassuring, kind, and compassionate. Other times, it is critical, cruel, and the source of shame. Acting like a barometer for our well-being, our inner voice often eludes to feelings we may have overlooked, ignored, or denied altogether.
Neuroscience has demonstrated our capacity to both experience an emotion, and witness that emotion at the same time. And whether we witness our emotions with compassion or not influences much more than how we feel – it also influences how our brain functions.
In her new book, Your Resonant Self: Guided Meditations and Exercises to Engage Your Brain’s Capacity for Healing, Sarah Peyton demonstrates how, through guided practice based on the latest neuroscience research, we can invoke our brain’s innate capacity for healing, connection, and self-regulation.
How we use language can either create connection or separation, invite others towards us, or push them away. And how we use language can also help us feel understood.
“Resonant language is language that gives people a sense of being understood,” writes Peyton.
How we speak to ourselves reveals deeply held attitudes about ourselves, others, and the world. When we speak in ways that invite compassion, we can begin to shift rigid and traumatic experiences into experiences that can be understood, witnessed, and ultimately integrated into our sense of self.
Learning to speak to, and witness ourselves differently is a process based in interpersonal neurobiology, a field that combines knowledge from every area of relational brain science including cognitive and social neuroscience, attachment research, and psychology.
While often painful, Peyton writes that the patterns we learn through our collective experience were meant to serve an important survival function. Healing them requires rewiring our brain through learning to engage with ourselves and the world differently, a process known as neuronal remodeling.
“Memories are collections of multiple inputs from many sources. What we call ‘learning’ is an interneuronal connection and association process that takes place across millions of cells. The structural organization and reorganization of the neurons that are at the root of learning are the essence of neuroplasticity,” writes Peyton.
However, for most people, the result of our experiences is a savage default mode network (DMN) that is critical, shaming, and automatic.
“Most people believe there is something wrong with them. They believe something is wrong with them because they believe their own brains,” writes Peyton.
Calming the DMN, according to Peyton, begins with mediation.
“There are physical changes in the way the brains of long term meditators respond to both self-criticism and self-praise (they become much less reactive), and changes in the DMN that make it more efficient and integrated are visible with fMRI,” she writes.
One helpful perspective shift Peyton suggests is to try to see the inner voice, however harsh, as an effort to contribute, reflecting unmet needs, dismissed feelings, and a deep longing for warmth.
Traumas can often also be generational, Peyton says, and can be passed down through our family histories. Appearing as inappropriate reactivity, intrusive memories, feeling of shame, self-hate, and an incapacity for love, these traumas are lodged in our implicit memory and inaccessible to our conscious selves. And like firsthand trauma, healing generational trauma requires an engagement of both the amygdala and the hippocampus.
Through posthearsals, which are intentional reruns of experiences that we feel triggered by or regret about, we can learn to bring resonance and compassion to the part of the self that was overwhelmed and unaccompanied in that moment. We can also learn to relate to others differently and unravel patterns of ambivalent, avoidant, or disorganized attachment.
“To heal, people need to see their critical self-hating voice not as truth but what they have learned to do to try to manage pain and punish the self so that there is hope of learning to be better,” writes Peyton.
When we can experience ourselves differently and bring compassion and warmth to ourselves, we become more attuned to our own needs as well as to the needs of others. As our capacity for connection with the self expands, we find it easier to resonate with others, and ultimately experience joy and a sense of community.
“Once this approach begins to catch hold, our relationships and our communities are transformed,” writes Peyton.
In Your Resonant Self, Peyton bridges the gap between neuroscience and daily practice, offering meditations that change the way our brains function, help us integrate past painful experiences, and see ourselves with a newfound tenderness and compassion. I would recommend this book to anyone seeking to heal pain and find a more enriching life.
Your Resonant Self: Guided Meditations and Exercises to Engage Your Brain’s Capacity for Healing
W.W. Norton & Company
Hardcover, 280 Pages