December 17th, 2019 would have been my eighth wedding anniversary.
Instead, it was the day I was granted my divorce.
As I sat there listening to the registrar talk about irretrievable breakdown of the marriage and satisfying the laws of the country in terms of separation and residence, I felt an overwhelming sense of sad relief.
Divorce, for so many, is a devastating ending to a journey that was supposed to be forever. You never get married thinking of the end, because the fairy tales do not make room for anything less than prince charming or being awakened by the kiss of true love. There’s no room for being battered, disrespected, exploited, abandoned, or even murdered by the one you said “I do” to. When your marriage ends, there is a public expression that somehow you failed at something.
People put a lot of energy into maintaining the image of the perfect love affair and the perfect family. That’s probably why so many remain married, miserable, lonely, and depressed—because risking admission that this relationship is simply not working is evidently too much for many to do once, let alone twice or even thrice.
Even though you’re anxious every day, insecure in your love affair, fantasizing of the day you will be loved wholeheartedly, feeling like you’re rowing your marital boat alone, you keep rowing at all costs.
But you know what? Marriages end all the time. There are probably over a 100 divorces granted every month—and many more to come.
So where does this leave us in our journey toward our own healing, toward the prospect of loving again, and toward the ability to create momentum toward a life worth living—from independence toward interdependence? Is there room when the fairy tale ends to begin writing a story of how flawed humans fall, fail, and transform even more hopeful and more loving?
Is there a story of a you not limited by the past—open to loving and receiving love? Is there meaning in this part of your journey, lessons to learn to bring you comfort and peace, and even wisdom as you go forward?
Moving forward is essential, but moving forward differently is significant. Your brain holds the answers for rewriting your personal love story.
Between the years 1996 and 2000, researchers at the University of Parma in Italy discovered what neuroscientists now call mirror neurons.
Mirror neurons “mirror” the behaviour or actions of the other. If you ever laughed when someone else was laughing, you’ve activated your mirror neurons. When you smile at someone and they return the smile to you, you are again experiencing your mirror neurons at work.
We all affect each other so much. When we embody peace, love, and kindness, we can activate the mirror neurons in others toward an upward spiral of peace, love, and kindness in them. Our emotions and energy are contagious.
The same ripple effect is true for toxic emotions, such as resentment, bitterness, hatred, and deep disregard for others. Working in toxic environments is detrimental to health and well-being for this very reason. So too is continuing in destructive relationships. The mirror reflection is activating anxious, depressing, and heavy emotions creating emotional upheaval, disregulations, and instability.
Now let me be clear: I’m not a huge supporter of being positive 24/7. I’m certain that is never a realistic ideal to strive for. Neither am I one for suggesting that we should suppress normal and natural emotions such as anger, sadness, or fear.
But what I am suggesting is to acknowledge and express those feelings in ways that, and for however long, allow them to serve you, free you, and bring real healing into your life.
How long do you keep telling your story to yourself and to others?
“He cheated on me, so how can I trust another?”
“Nothing I ever did for her was enough.”
“All I do is give and give and get used in return.”
“I’m not enough for anyone.”
“I’m unlovable and undeserving.”
“I choose bad men in my life.”
While acknowledging and validating that this is how you feel about the experiences you have had, retelling this story with no rewriting of the script activates your mirror neurons and those of others, keeping this story on an automatic loop.
Mirror neurons don’t respond to pantomimes, or to meaningless gestures, or to random sounds. In his book Brain Rules, molecular biologist John Medina explains this phenomenon: “When the brain detects an emotionally charged event, the amygdala releases dopamine into the system. Because dopamine greatly aids memory and information processing, you could say it creates a Post-it note that reads, ‘Remember this.’”
Storytelling is powerful. When we tell a story, we not only remember the story; we also remember the conclusion of the story—that is, the point of telling it.
I don’t know about you, but when I watch movies, I feel the sadness and the injustice of the story on the screen. The latest Netflix series “Now They See Us” is a powerful example of my mirror neurons being activated. As Daniel Pink said, “Stories are easier to remember because stories are how we remember.” You feel the injustice, you find yourself holding onto hope, you are filled with a restoration of healing and justice for the exonerated five in the series.
As people enter new relationships after old ones, it’s so important how they present to each other. More often than not, they present with the same story, same beliefs about themselves and others (whether in or out of their awareness).
And guess what? Because we remember the story, we get the same conclusion of the story and a repetition of events. So yes, you move on to someone new—but you move on with the same story. This is why at the beginning of the article, I said moving forward is important—but moving differently is significant.
Because of what I know about how my brain works, I know how important it is to tell stories of yourself and others that are forgiving of yourself for making mistakes and that can let go of anger and resentment—stories of directing loving acts of compassion and kindness to self and others.
When we channel these magical and powerful emotions through us, our spiritual journey deepens. We start to understand the lessons we need to learn in this life—that make us bolder, lighter, loving versions of ourselves.
Guess what? Because you and others have mirror neurons, your boldness, light, and love allow you to be surrounded by nothing less than those who reflect those values and are on that very same spiritual and magical journey.
Love, my friend, begins with you. I don’t mean the self-love movement and talking to the mirror with a loving affirmations (whilst there’s merit in this). I simply mean that your mirror neurons project your personal love story on the screen.
I have learnt through a lot of heartache that trusting myself and forgiving myself for making mistakes were definitely themes of my story that I have been needing to address. My choice to end my marriage was a decision to move toward a different story for myself. Rewriting this story can be a lot like walking through fire.
But for me, going forward means deepening my connection with myself, to be kinder to myself, to not hold myself hostage for choices I made when I knew no better, to resist doubting myself and my judgement because others do not see what I see.
My journey is to pause daily in self-care and surround myself with nourishing connections that mirror the story that I am enough. That my mistakes are no longer my life sentences.
As a therapist, I journey with many as they embark on changing their limiting stories. I know the pain experienced when we let go of these stories that gave us predictability and a sense of control.
But you know what I know: there’s power in stepping forward differently. I smile at that, and their mirror neurons cause them to smile back. For in that moment, there is a recognition of a new love story breaking through the tiny opening, shining a ray of hope. I think in that moment I know that life can and will get better for them.
Watch out, fairy tales. There are powerful, earth-moving, groundbreaking love stories just waiting to be told that will be better than you could have ever hoped for or dreamed off.
As we prepare to enter 2020, our connections with those around us matter more than any material aspect of life. Let us mirror dynamic spiritual connections that uplift ourselves and others.
The mirror neurons show us how we impact change, in ourselves and other. They hold the blueprint for a 2020 version of yourself that sheds the past and leaves it rested in 2019.
Here’s to an awesome story of love for me, for you, and for those around us.