Written by Bhavana Nissima
I almost started with addressing you as sister. Too soon isn’t it? Before you know, whether what I write, think, is sisterly indeed.
How often we address each other as sisters without truly caring, truly reflecting, truly listening.
And in this world of multiple knowledges, each one bringing a sense of relief sometimes, and sometimes an aha and sometimes, evoking sadness, shock, a relooped memory of pain, what do I have to offer you?
This. Human neurobiology. The most neglected part of our social experience.
The way through which you, I, we, experience this world—attend to, process, store, restore, recollect, reloop.
The physics, the chemistry, the physiology, the neurological structure of our experience of the world.
At this moment of reading this article, pause, and ask—how are you reading? What sentences did you read whole? Read neutral? Which words drew you? And when you were drawn to those words, what emerged in your mind? What images, colours, sounds, words, smells, feelings floated to your consciousness?
How are you feeling now versus before you started reading this piece?
Sit with it.
Where do you feel it? Inside the top of your head, a tug in your back, something in your hands, or perhaps your chest, your belly?
Our human body is the seat of all social experiences. The enigmatic you emerges from the combination of various processes within the body that you inhabit or at least claim as yours.
Everything you know about yourself in the past, every desire you have for the future, is organized in a non-linear way here within your neurology. Here, time collapses except as a concept through which you code certain thoughts. Here, the world is built and rebuilt continuously in unique ways to house the you.
And may I ask, what role do you play in directing how this world is created?
Take a moment to assess.
Those who love to pathologize your state will tell you that you cannot be an agent to the world you inhabit in your mind. That you are a powerless entity who can be inscribed by significant events easily and permanently.
As for social activism to create better social structures for all of us, it focuses on social states, not our internal states.
And yet it is here we inhabit continuously. The human body. It is here we can begin correcting structures that hold us down, prevent us from emerging whole in the world.
Let us take the example of mild to moderate anxiety and break it down.
How do we get anxious?
Anxiety is always related to a possible future event.
Like say, visiting a government office to get an important document. When we think about visiting a government office, each of us think about it differently. You might think of a government officer, see a face and perhaps a facial expression- maybe the face is big and close. And it makes you feel uneasy. Or you may think of the staircase, a door, a road, a word that represents the building. And you feel queasy. Or you hear sounds—maybe the fans whirring, or the sound of papers moving or a dialogue. Or a specific smell. Or the touch of paper, or the wall, or a door.
And maybe these images, sounds, smells, bodily sensations remind you of another memory from the past.
An unpleasant memory. A memory that makes your insides cringe, shrink, withdraw. Or agitate.
And then perhaps there is a monologue—"No, I can’t.” “I can’t do this!” “Not again.” “Why me?”
This is a possible chain (not necessarily sequential) through which you become anxious and avoid doing work that can help you progress in other areas.
How can you interrupt it?
If it is mild to moderate anxiety, create a new movie in your mind about your visit in the future—make it amusing or profound or heroic. Ensure you can see, hear and feel the movie.
Or add a new smell to the sequence. For example, “I step into the office and walk towards the table where that officer sits. And I smell perfume, my favourite perfume.”
Or say the monologue with new vocal nonverbals. For example sing the monologue in your favourite animation tune.
Or pause and disrupt the chain.
States are connected to specific sensory ways in which you have represented an event. Any change in the representation disrupts the emotional charge of that event.
However, the social discourse around anxiety is built up in a way that tells you that you cannot control the feelings of anxiety, that your body is an enigma that evades your grasp, you are a prisoner of your own neurology. That isn’t true.
For years, practical and simple methods have been deliberately banished, and instead, you are given a diagnosis and a new label. A new medical identity that you now begin to perform meticulously.
Now many believe it is true and solidly hold they cannot recover and live normal lives.
What about social anxiety? Anxiety in meeting with friends or strangers?
Sit down for a moment. And slowly map out how you do this. When you think about meeting people in a gathering, what images, sounds, smells, feelings emerge in your mind?
Note how you have portrayed others in your mind—what sensations you have privileged more than others, what words you tell yourself, how your system undergoes change.
In my practice, I notice that it is more about women believing they have to act and be in a certain way. They recollect incidents when they failed to do that. Sometimes these incidents are stacked up to create a structure that triggers multiple emotions and feeling poorly of oneself.
This can be changed. Decide the outcome from the social gathering. Maybe you want to listen to an interesting woman. Or maybe you want to dance. Maybe you want to try out a new dress. Maybe you want to make one new acquaintance. Maybe you want to share your business idea.
What do you specifically and tangibly want from that gathering? You choose and walk into it with the intention of getting it.
Notice how your experience changes when you are the director of your social experiences.
This, my friends, I call neurofeminism. The way by which you use your neurology to shape the world you want to inhabit in—every day, every moment.
In my next article, I dwell on traumatic memories and the possibilities of releasing them.
Let me know if this article has been useful for you.
Bhavana Nissima is an NLP-based counsellor and runs her clinic, the Lighthouse, in Hyderabad. She has trained with 12 different specialists across the world to effectively use language, physiology, and improved understanding of neurology to help her clients return to healthy living quickly. She also holds a Doctorate in Communication (Intercultural and gender) and has taught in US and Indian universities.