Hey! Good to see you! [62]

Dr. Keith WittLove, Sex, and Relationships, Neurobiology

aa005048Often when I walk into a room, Becky smiles up and says, “Hey! Good to see you!”  while I say, “Hey! good to see you!”  Our voices are sincere but marked by humor, because we’ve been practicing doing this, recapitulating the positive reunions securely attached mothers and infants have after being separated. Those deep emotional connections resonate nicely when lit up by affectionate welcome.

Do you light up when your husband comes home, stop what you’re doing and greet him with a happy smile? Do you look in your wife’s eyes, kiss her, and wish her a wonderful day when you go off to work or play? Do you feel and express the pleasure of seeing her when you get home? Maybe give her a real hug, feeling her body and yours relax into one another?

If you do, you’re activating some of the most powerful attachment programming humans are blessed with–neurocircuits that support bonding and intimacy.

Almost all of us start out as infants with these circuits intact and firing away enthusiastically when we see Mom or Dad. Babies are born craving loving relationship with caregivers. Baby reaches out, Mom holds, loves, feeds, and cares, and baby increasingly wakes up to life and smiles, laughs, cries, and relates.

Certain principles appear to be universal with parents and infants:

  • If Mom or Dad is present–available when baby wants company or care–baby feels more relaxed and secure.
  • If Mom or Dad is contingent–attunes to themselves and baby in a way that helps baby feel known, accepted, and protected–baby feels more relaxed and secure.
  •  If Mom or Dad is marked–slight amplifications of facial expression, tone, touch, and gesture indicating understanding–baby feels more relaxed and secure.

“Marking” is relating with just enough exaggeration, amplification, or humor to let baby’s nervous system know that statements like, “You’re angry! It made you mad that it took me three minutes to get here!” “Do you need to be changed? You must feel uncomfortable!” or, “You are so happy right now!” “Wasn’t that a yummy banana?”  You know, baby talk.

All these connections involve parents’ slightly exaggerated–marked–expressions of anger, distress, joy, or  pleasure being empathic reflections of baby’s states. It’s clear to baby’s nervous system that all is well and Mom knows me and is there for me.

Throughout life we crave others to understand and accept our distressed and happy states without getting lost in themselves. When we’re effectively happy or soothed with others, there’s often marked mirroring going on–very much like Becky’s and my playful tones with, “Hey! Good to see you!”

Happily greeting others is pleasurable, and as you do it more you’re likely to enjoy the world more. We all want to be value added in our social networks, and warm recognition is good for everyone.

People are powerful, and acutely sensitive to others’ attitudes, opinions, and judgments. Whether we notice it or not, we can have huge effects on everyone we encounter. If I greet you with a smile and “Hey! Good to see you!” you most likely will feel a lift. If I ignore you, or meet you with a grumpy, anxious, or depressed expression, you’re likely to feel deflated.

So try it! What have you got to lose? Practice your version of “Hey! Good to see you!” when you greet people, and especially your loved ones. It’s a lot of fun, and will make you and everybody else happier and healthier.