We’re kicking off the SYNTHESIS New Year at CANY with an invitation.
Take a look at the image above, “The Bath,” painted by Mary Cassatt in 1893. Perhaps it’s a familiar, even iconic image for you. Perhaps it’s a painting that you’ve never seen before. Either way, take in the image and experience, in the moment, how it makes you feel. Paintings, as with so much art, invoke in us notably subjective responses, of course but it’s possible that you feel some of the warmth that I feel when I look at this simple domestic moment of tender connection between mother and child. And maybe not. Most likely though, if this is not an image that invokes a sense of tenderness in you, there’s an image out there that does. And we want to know about it.
Turns out, according to research at the University of Exeter in England, that looking at pictures of love and care can reduce the brain’s response to threat. The study, published in Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience late last year, indicates that when “individuals are briefly presented pictures of others receiving emotional support and affection, the brain’s threat monitor, the amygdala, subsequently does not respond to images showing threatening facial expressions or words.” (“Brain’s response to threat silenced when we are reminded of being loved and cared for”, November 2014). It seems that when we are reminded of the experience of interpersonal tenderness in visual form, the threat response within our brains is subdued, even, the research points out, when we’re not paying close attention to the images shown.
For trauma survivors, this is a significant discovery. Being shown images of love and care may allow individuals with a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to function more effectively when faced with stressful situations, countering trigger and hypervigilant responses by invoking the individual’s capacity to self-regulate and self-soothe.
Dr. Anke Karl of Psychology at the University of Exeter writes, “These new research findings may help to explain why, for example, successful recovery from psychological trauma is highly associated with levels of perceived social support individuals receive.”(“Brain’s response to threat silenced when we are reminded of being loved and cared for”, November 2014). How, he goes on to wonder, might the study aid clinicians in refining existing treatments for PTSD, primarily by boosting feelings of safety and support.
I love the notion that images can help us feel more loved and connected. I can think of numerous occasions when I have meandered through art galleries, emotionally buoyed by tenderness in painted, sculpted or photographic form. Not to mention the abundant albeit random potential of plowing through images readily available online. Mostly it makes me wonder about the therapeutic potential of drama therapy within this context and what would happen for the trauma survivor when such images are brought to life in dramatic and therefore embodied form. It seems highly possible that a kinesthetic experience of nurturance and connection might also be born from the dramatization of such images.
So I invite you, reader, to muse on what love and care looks like for you and then to SHARE IT HERE WITH US! To get us going, I invited program staff at CANY to offer up some of the images that invoke a sense of tenderness in them and to share a few words about their feelings toward the image. I ask you to respond in kind. Here’s to a year of generating love and care!
Britton Williams, CANY Program Manager began by choosing an image that she’s been looking at since she was child.
To accompany the image she sent, Britton shared, “For me, this image conveys the power of loving arms and speaks in image that true rest can be found in the arms of those who love us and give us comfort.”
Meredith Dean, CANY Program Director opted for an image of mother and child too, sharing, “Their mutual embrace makes evokes a full release into the other. It makes me feel warm, cozy and safe.”
And finally, Heidi Landis, CANY Associate Executive Director takes us in a slightly different direction not only selecting tenderness between siblings but also in video form.
Heidi writes, “In this time in the world that is so fraught with tension and anger between people, the connection and the delight between these sisters gives me a sense of hope, joy and calm.”
Now let’s hear from YOU!
Lucy McLellan, CANY Training Consultant
Thanks to http://neurosciencestuff.tumblr.com/ for the original posting on November 8, 2014