In a prior blog I discussed my fear of bees and how I overcame it when I realized that I was exposing my son, Leor, to my fear. I developed this fear because I saw my sister’s terrified reaction to getting stung by a bee. The curious thing is that I developed that fear vicariously by observing my sister while she, who actually experienced the sting, did not. How come?
The answer is rather cool. Apparently we have these neurons in our brain which mirror what we perceive in another person. You know how contagious yawning can be? Well now we know that mirror neurons are responsible for that reaction. They are also responsible for our ability to feel empathy; to feel what another person feels. It was these neurons that fired in my brain as I was observing my sister’s reaction that activated the terrified feelings in me that she was feeling. These feelings got imprinted in my emotional memory and stayed there all those years. My sister, on the other hand, was able to release her initial reaction of terror as soon as she got some ice and experienced some relief.
This example illustrates how sensitive children can be to the feelings of people around them. They actually get imprinted with emotional associations without their parents even knowing about them. This explains why children whose mothers are depressed often become depressed themselves. Mirror neurons clearly also play a very important role in helping a child communicate, imitate and understand the intentions of his parents.
This brings new irony to the often-alluded parental statement of “do as I say not as I do.”
If this knowledge doesn’t inspire you to rewire your brain I don’t know what would?