Mirror Neurons—Family Healing

posted in: Stage 3, Stage 3: Step 2

I always ask family members or close friends to fully engage in the DOC project. It is not just for support, which is important. People exert a direct neurological effect on each other’s brains. The brain contains mirror neurons, which are cells that fire in response to the observation of another person’s actions and in the corresponding area of the brain.




Mirror Neurons

For example, when a baby cries in a hospital nursery, other babies may begin to cry. It is because the “crying cells” in the other babies’ brains are stimulated due to the mirroring effect. Laughter is contagious. So is yawning. The reason a baby smiles back at a smiling adult is not because the baby is happy. He or she simply had the smiling center stimulated. Video: Mirror neurons – family

This phenomenon was discovered in monkeys who were being studied with fMRI’s (functional MRI) in the lab. An fMRI is able to detect labeled glucose that is injected intravenously and localize which part of the brain is active in response to a specific activity. The primate study involved analyzing complex hand movements while eating. The researchers noticed increased brain activity in the eating center when they were watching another monkey eat.

Have you noticed that when your spouse or partner is having a great day that your day is better. Conversely when he or she is having a bad day then it takes yours down a couple of notches. It is because a similar part of your brain is being triggered. Almost uniformly, the family members or friends of my patient will roll their eyes when that question is asked. It is not that easy living with someone who is suffering from constant pain.




Compassion = Action

The most caring and compassionate action you can do for those close you that are suffering in pain is to fully engage in the DOC project tools. I ask them to use the word “stress” instead of the word “pain.” Recent research using fMRI scans shows that emotional pain stimulates the same chemical stress response your body as physical pain . Both cause elevated adrenaline and cortisol levels, which create numerous physical symptoms as well as anxiety. If you look at Dr. Schubiner’s list of NPD (Neurophysiologic Disorder) symptoms, every person has a number of them so you have a choice. They will disappear as your stress hormones drop. Conversely, if you are the one in pain, your mood has a tremendous influence on those close to you. What energy are giving off? As your mood improves with rewiring your brain you will enhance your support system. Otherwise, you will spiral down along with them.

Do it for You

However, each family member or close friend has to pursue his or her journey for their own benefit. You will not be helpful if you are doing it for the other person. Too many other factors come into play. If a family member chooses not to participate that is their right and the topic has to be dropped.

If you are that person who won’t participate I am going to ask you why? Why would you not engage in process that is immensely helpful for your partner, spouse, or child as well as being of great benefit to you? Interestingly, most people close to the patient do not initially participate in the DOC process regardless of how clear I am. Do you feel trapped by living with a person suffering chronic pain? At some level are you angry?  Give yourself a gift as well as to your family. The chronic pain marriage-go-round

We have all heard that the only person that you can change is yourself. If you are giving advice or being critical, you are being judgmental, which will trigger a similar response in them. If you are open, accepting and willing to listen you will change those around you in addition to yourself. Consider the choice of an upward spiral.




Listen to the Back in Control Radio podcast Mirror Neurons – Family Healing