Science Explains Mind Control!
A new study sheds light on how people influence and control our minds. Research on mice, whose brains are remarkably similar to humans, reveals that our brains are affected by those around us. The key factor is mastery. The brain of the subordinate mouse synchronized with the dominant mouse. This probably applies to our relationships. In general, people with stronger personalities make decisions and get their needs met more often than their partners.
Other factors play apart. The more the mice interacted with each other, the more their brain activity became synchronized. Therefore, the longevity and intensity of a relationship affect the degree to which those close to us have influence.
Another twist in brain synchrony activates two types of brain cells. One set focuses on our own behavior and a second set focuses on other people. It matters how we think and where we put our attention. At Carnegie Mellon University, neuroscientists are tracking our thoughts in fMRI brain scans to see which areas and neurons light up. Self and other neurons fire to varying degrees among certain populations. (60 Minutes Ep. 52, “How MRIs Show Scientists the Physical Makeup of Our Thoughts,” Nov. 24, 2019.)
Dominance vs. Power in Relationships
Ideally, friendships and intimate relationships are balanced so that both friends and partners have an equal voice in decision making. In general, both people satisfy their needs. Each of them can assert themselves and negotiate on their own behalf. There is give and take and compromise. This is a relationship of interdependence. It requires autonomy, self-esteem, mutual respect and assertive communication skills.
Contrast codependent relationships that are unbalanced, which is often true of abusive relationships. One individual leads and the other follows; one dominates and the other accommodates. Some relationships are characterized by constant conflict and power struggles. Conquering Shame and Codependency describes the personality traits and motivations of the “Master” and “Usher”. The master is aggressive and motivated to maintain power and control, while the usher is passive and motivated to maintain love and connection. Most of us have aspects of both types in our personalities, although some people effectively fall into one category. For example, many codependents are accommodating and most narcissists prefer to be teachers.
How our partner’s brain controls our mind
Brain synchronization allows the dominant animal to lead and subordinates animals to read its signals and follow it. The new research suggests that in unequal relationships, the dominant partner’s brain will drag down the subordinate partner’s brain, whose brain will sync up with it. This pattern becomes more established the more the couple interacts. Some people, including codependents, are assertive and seem to behave independently before or outside of the relationship. But once attached to a master, they become more and more accommodating to the dominant partner. There are many variables at play, but presumably brain synchronization is one that makes it difficult for the subservient person in the relationship to think and act autonomously and challenge the imbalance of power.
Codependents and accommodators focus on others more than themselves. They admit to losing themselves in relationships. They monitor and adapt to the needs, desires, and feelings of other people. If you ask them what’s on their mind, it’s usually someone else. Therefore, I also hypothesize that your “other neurons” fire more consistently than the “autoneurons”. Their personalities prepare them to do it. By contrast, the brains of teachers and narcissists probably fire “self neurons” more than “other neurons.”
How to combat brain control
The synchronization process happens automatically and outside of our conscious control. Supports healthy relationships by allowing partners to be “in sync” and read each other’s signals and minds. We know what our partner feels and needs. When there is reciprocity, love deepens and happiness multiplies for both. On the other hand, when this process is at the service of one partner controlling the other, the relationship becomes toxic. Love and happiness wither and die. The dominant partner has no incentive to cede control. It is up to the subordinate partner to change the dynamics of the relationship. By doing so, the power in the relationship can be rebalanced. Regardless, he or she will have gained the autonomy and mental strength to enjoy a better life or leave the relationship. The basic steps to make these changes are:
Learn all you can about codependency and abuse.
Join Codependents Anonymous and start psychotherapy.
Build your self esteem.
Learn not to react to put-downs or your partner’s attempts to control and manipulate you.
Learn to be assertive and set limits.
Develop activities and interests that you participate in without your partner.
Learn mindfulness meditation to strengthen your mind.
If you are dealing with someone who is very defensive or narcissistic, follow the steps in Dealing with a Narcissist.
© 2019 Darlene Lancer