In this podcast (episode #292) and blog, I talk about a post I recently put up from @psych_today about being a shock absorber in a relationship, which generated a lot of great comments and questions! In fact, one reason I reposted it was because, as I was reading the post, I realized that I tend to do a lot of shock-absorbing. From the comments, it appears I am not alone in this—a lot of you are in the same boat. So, I am actively mind-managing this over the next 63 days to change this habit in my life, and I hope you will join me!
So, what exactly is “shock-absorbing”? It is kind of like feeling you need to smooth things over all the time or keep the peace and avoid conflict in your relationships. It includes feeling responsible for maintaining harmony in your relationships, trying to justify another person’s negative behavior to blunt their impact, taking on more and more responsibility in a relationship, feeling resentful or over-burdened because you are always trying to keep the peace, or putting up with bad behavior to avoid conflict.
I think most of tending to shock absorb in our relationships. Now and then, this is okay, if we recognize and regulate it. However, it can become a problem when we get into the habit of doing it all the time—it essentially becomes a toxic pattern in our life, which benefits no one and can dramatically impact our wellbeing. Indeed, some of us shock absorb so often that it has been wired into our brain as a default pattern, which is exhausting because it works against the “wired for love” nature of the brain (which seeks balance and harmony) and drains the body’s energy resources.
But, thankfully, if this sounds like you, then there is hope! As the saying goes, if you wire it in, you can wire it out. Being a shock-absorber doesn’t have to define you or your relationships.
It is important point to remember that we all do what we do for a reason (or reasons). There is a reason why you are falling into this role too often, and you need to find out why to change it. We cannot shift our behavior unless we get to the root cause(s).
One of the main reasons I believe that many people “shock-absorb” is because of what I call our “wired for love” nature (our optimism bias), which I briefly mentioned above. We are often drawn to people’s pain or toxic behavior to restorebalance and reduce the threat to our survival. Like a weird noise while we are sleeping at night, these behaviors are jarring and we want to figure out what is happening to reestablish a sense of peace. However, along the way, our emotions and entanglements get the better of us, things get even more unbalanced, and everyone ends up suffering! The reality is that no one benefits from constant shock absorbing.
How does this become a habit? Someone who shock absorbs regularly has gotten into the habit of doing anything to reduce conflict in their relationships for at least 9 weeks or 63 days, which is the time it takes to wire a pattern into the brain that will change our behavior. (For more on this see my latest research and check out my book Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess.)This habit may have come about with good intentions; however, as I am sure you well know, good intentions can backfire! Peace at any cost often comes at a major cost, including stealing your mental peace and ability to function well. In fact, people who tend to shock absorb a lot in relationships become so used to prioritizing other people’s needs over themselves that they can damage their mental health, physical health, and even the very relationships they are trying to protect!
Why is this the case? Thoughts are real, physical structures that contain, transmit and absorb real energy. When someone is being toxic, they are emitting a type of toxic energy. If we don’t resist this energy, we can absorb it into our brains and bodies. This creates imbalance, and the nonconscious mind deals with this by sending valuable little packets of information to the conscious mind every 10 seconds in the form of emotional and physical warning signals, which are designed to warn you to tune in to what is going on and control your reactions. These signals are those uncomfortable feelings we get when we feel we are being manipulated or are in a challenging or threatening situation. If we don’t pay attention to these signals, capture our thoughts and analyze them, we can build this pain into our brain, mind and body. Very soon, we can become entangled in the toxicity, which in turn can lead to feelings of frustration, resentment, and anger, which will affect our overall wellbeing.
But, as I said above, this doesn’t have to be the end of the story. We can literally rewire these “shock absorbing” patterns in cycles of 63 days, which will do wonders for our mental and physical health, including helping us develop a better perspective on what’s actually going on in our life and relationships.
To do this, I recommend using my 5-step mind-management process, called the Neurocycle, which is based on over 30 years of research and practice. These steps are:
- STEP 1: GATHER AWARENESS of your shock absorbing mindsets and how they are making you feel mentally and physically. Ask yourself questions like:
- Do I feel I am responsible for making everyone happy?
- Do I feel I am responsible for mediating arguments?
- Do I feel I am responsible for keeping the peace?
- Do I feel I am responsible for maintianing the harmony at home, school or work?
- Do I feel I am justifying other people’s behavior to blunt the impact of what’s happening?
- Do I feel I am taking on more responsibility because I don’t feel others are competent enough?
- Do I feel overburdened, anxious and resentful in this relationship?
- Would I be embarrassed if others knew about the bad behavior I put up with to avoid conflict?
- Do I feel I am being manipulated? Why/how?
- Is this relationship sparking joy or confusion? How does this person make me feel when I am around them? Do I feel exposed/vulnerable?
- What do I feel in my body when I am around this person?
- STEP 2: REFLECT. Be curious about what you gathered awareness of above. Ask yourself why, and answer and discuss this with yourself as though you are talking to another person. Do you perhaps have a distorted version of what a “good person” should do? Is this based on certain cultural or religious assumptions you have? Your upbringing? Your expectations? Do you wonder what would happen if you weren’t here? Do you fear conflict? Explore these feelings, but don’t spend too much time on them, or you may end up ruminating on the negative.
- STEP 3: WRITE. This will help you organize your reflections and thinking.
- STEP 4: RECHECK. Look at what you reflected on and wrote down. What patterns do you notice? Triggers? What thought “antidotes” or new thought patterns and behaviors do you want to see in your relationships? For example, do you need to get past the fear that if you don’t shock absorb, then things will fall apart in some way? Are you not considering the fact that this may not be bad thing, as consequences are one way we learn and grow?
- STEP 5: ACTIVE REACH. This is a statement or action you use to practice what you have learned from the above 4 steps. This can be as simple as a statement reminding you that you are not responsible for the feelings of others and are not just there to make them happy. You can also practice releasing control; for example, you can walk away from the person in question, say nothing, or say that you have reached your limit and put up a boundary.
Indeed, clear boundaries are important in all our relationships—these are the foundation of a healthy rapport, and let the people in your life know what you can and can’t handle. You can figure out your boundaries by paying attention the warning signals that certain words or behaviors trigger in you.
Gratitude work is also a great way to heal yourself and learn how to resist the urge to shock absorb. You can develop gratitude as a buffer against shock absorbing and its impact because it helps you feel more empowered by stimulating the amygdala in the brain. When activated in this way, the amygdala can help balance emotional perceptions, develop a healthy perspective around issues, and help with mental processing.
In fact, recent findings on the neural correlates of gratitude show that it involves both an emotional and cognitive response, activating a healthy, coordinated and balanced brainwave response in the medial prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate. When the brain is activated in this way, we make better decisions, we have increased cognitive flexibility and resilience, and our intellect increases, which is pretty great when it comes to mitigating the effects of shock absorbing! We can even become better at predicting the effects and impacts of our own actions on each other, which is going to make us stronger at resisting the urge to shock absorb in a relationship. Some ways to practice this are statements like:
- Yes, … happened and angered me, but … also happened today, which made me so thankful.
- I am grateful my empathy will actually increase as I put up boundaries; I will develop better insight into why that person is doing what they are doing and have more mental and emotional capacity to be there for them.
For more on shock absorbing in relationships, listen to my podcast (episode #292). If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
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3:38 What is a relationship shock absorber?
5:15 The difference between a shock absorber & a peacemaker
6:30 Signs you may be a toxic shock absorber
11:25 The power of learning how to step back or away from a situation
12:18, 20:05 How shock absorbing can affect your mental & physical health
22:30 Toxic people can emit toxic energy
28:50 How to use mind-management to heal shock absorbing habits and improve your relationships
42:45 How to tell if someone is manipulating you
46:40 Why letting people face the consequences of their behavior can be a good thing
51:15 How gratitude can improve your own health and your relationships
This podcast and blog is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. We always encourage each person to make the decision that seems best for their situation with the guidance of a medical professional.