BOOK REVIEW BY ALISON RICHARDSON
Rewire Your Brain for Love, Marsha Lucas, PhD (Hay House Inc., 2012)
In Rewire Your Brain for Love Marsha Lucas combines the age-old search for love with cutting-edge brain science. Presented as user-friendly guide to harnessing the power of neuroplasticity – the ability of the mind to change the structure of the brain – Lucas teaches us how, through the technique of mindfulness meditation, we can achieve better relationships and greater happiness and even better sex!
Drawing on her wide knowledge of brain science, together with her experience as a therapist, Lucas identifies seven “acquirable” skills that appear to be most powerful in creating and sustaining health and happy relationships. These are: management of your body’s reactions, regulation of response to fear, emotional resilience, response flexibility, insight, empathy and attunement (to self and others) and a perspective shift from “me” to “we”.
According to Lucas our early attachment styles set the pattern for our future relationships. She claims 45% of us “didn’t have a consistent, responsive secure-attachment harbor (and) as a result we have an insecure style of attachment” which tends towards ambivalent/anxious feelings about seeking comfort or closeness or a desire to “minimize or avoid relationships altogether” (p4).
These implicit, early experiences lay down pathways which affect our adult abilities to relate creating wiring pathways which may, for example, cause anxiety/fear in response to closeness in those with “avoidant attachment” styles or a craving to be close, gain approval and fear of rejection for those with an “anxious attachment” style.
Because these patterns stem from patterns laid down in the deep, lower part of our brain, Lucas suggests therapy designed to make changes in the higher brain (cortex) is going about the problem in a “backwards” fashion. The answer, she says, is to encourage greater integration between the parts of the brain, both “right-left integration (which) allows you to get your raw emotions put more clearly into thoughts and words, without being ruled by Spock-like unemotionality, and top-down integration (which) affords you more insight into (and control over) your unprocessed, unconscious reactivity, without diminishing your spunk and spontaneity” (p33).
So how do we do this? Synthesizing cutting-edge advances in neurobiology and psychology Lucas explains the scientific concepts that underpin our relationship patterns, showing how the different parts of the brain work together with the physiological and chemical changes that drive our behaviours. She then goes on to explore the science and clinical application of mindfulness meditation as a tool to heal both our relationships and ourselves.
Using a series of guided meditations Lucas shows how we can “rewire” our “alarm button” so as to regulate our body’s responses giving examples of how triggering an inappropriate “flight or fight” response can play havoc with our sex lives even citing evidence that better regulation can influence the quality of female orgasm!
Lucas uses another meditation to address fear and anger, building new pathways recognizing fear isn’t about “now”, that fear lies at the core of anger, that coping mechanisms like distancing, numbing etc. interfere with being present and that fear is a great stress on the physical body and brain.
Emotional resilience, (staying with the discomfort and choosing a more mindful response) can be increased by shifting towards the left-brain hemisphere and by moving lower brain activities into higher awareness. Again Lucas explores the brain science behind this and provides examples from her therapeutic work along with a meditation. We can, she says, integrate our brain “to have less emotional reactivity and greater emotional resilience” (p87).
Response flexibility entails extending the tiny but significant gap between receiving information and acting. Rather than allowing ourselves to be “hijacked by fear” Lucas aims to train the brain to have a greater range of response choices by allowing time for the higher cortex to respond as opposed to relying on the almost instantaneous response from the amygdala, which tends to act from a more primal level. Through mindfulness meditation we can learn to extend the response time long enough to allow choice.
Recognizing our own attachment and relationship history is important in helping us understand how we are in relationship and how to rebuild and strengthen certain neural pathways. Our implicit memories, which are “timeless” and formed when we were very young still shape our relationships in powerful ways and lay the basis of the way we form attachments. Lucas believes we must become aware of both the implicit and explicit (what we usually mean by memories) memories that make up who we are allowing us to “examine them, learn from them and…make different choices based on our insights and self-awareness” (p118).
Similarly Lucas believes increasing empathy through mindfulness is essential for healthy relationships but stresses it must not be at the expense of losing awareness of your own state of mind. Finally, mindfulness meditation can be used effectively to enhance the feeling of interconnectedness with our partners and our world.
In essence Lucas believes mindfulness meditation allows us to capitalize on the neuroplasticity of the brain, which will, in turn, allow us to build happier, healthier relationships. Whilst she says little specifically about sexuality she promises greater connection through mindfulness with our own bodies and those of our partners so allowing for deeper intimacy and satisfaction. “Our daily experiences and actions change our neural connections, change our thoughts and change how we relate to ourselves and one another” (p 155). By identifying the intersection between neuroscience and mindfulness Lucas gives us concrete tools by which we can improve our love lives and ourselves. It appears to be true that the most important sex organ is the brain and the great thing is we have the power to “rewire” it for love!
Hay House, 2012.
(Available from Amazon etc and www.hayhouse.com.uk)