Overcoming the Amygdala Part 50
We tend to think of affinity as a positive force, a tangible thing, woven into the fabric of our lives in various ways, hopefully in adequate amounts to sustain us as living people. But as we were exploring last time, it might be more helpful to describe affinity in other terms — namely, as an absence of polarity.
It’s easy to grasp semantically: if ‘affinity’ means closeness, then polarity is what happens when you begin to introduce space, or lack of closeness. Things get pushed apart; distance intervenes; things tend to polarise.
I might like someone and like to spend time with them, to be close in proximity. Perhaps we spend so much time together that we take on each others’ characteristics and become a unit of two people, finishing each others’s sentences, automatically covering each others’ backs in a crisis, acting mutually to deal with situations as they arise. But if that person is removed from me geographically — let’s say they go on holiday without me for some reason — then a kind of polarity starts to develop: there is ‘me’ and there is ‘them’, clearly distinct individuals.
Psychological distance perhaps makes this polarity element clearer: if an upset develops, or an unhelpful difference of attitude to something throws two people apart, then it can clearly be seen that one becomes one ‘pole’ and the other becomes the other ‘pole’.
No rights or wrongs are implied, just that mechanical polarisation as a phenomenon.
Polarity of this kind is evident all around us, in the news, in social relations, on social media and so on; it’s the substance of fiction and the underlying fundamental of any kind of drama. It’s clearly present in politics — in fact, the subject of politics seems based upon it. It’s the basis of adversarial legal systems. It’s hard, actually, to find any area of life not touched by polarity, partly because polarising something tends to energise it, make it more visible and attention-absorbing.
The world in which there is plenty of affinity is by its nature less attention-seeking, less visible.
Part of what we are suffering from when we experience anxiety is over-polarisation. By that, I mean that we are full of worries and fears because the situations we are confronted with seem polarised: they are made up of ‘sides’ or conflicts between viewpoints, or irresolvable differences, or there’s too much space between us and any kind of solution.
On a mechanical level, any anxiety is composed of the need for, but absence of, the other pole or solution — if that pole were to appear, even remotely, anxiety would begin to reduce. If the other pole were to approach more closely so that an interaction could take place, as in electricity discharging from positive to negative terminals and vice-versa, anxiety would drop markedly; if the interchange were to become smooth and the poles were to eventually merge, anxiety would vanish.
Anxiety vanishes, then, as affinity grows or as polarity reduces — in the end, it’s the same thing.
So one workable technique for the reduction of anxiety would be the attraction of appropriate poles — in social interaction terms, other people who would act as ‘discharge points’ so that worries and fears would grow less.
Parents in relation to children is an obvious example; lovers is another; an effective and compassionate therapist is another instance. You can probably think of others — basically, any situation which is currently polarised would be defused by the bringing together of the poles involved. That’s a tautology because it’s such an obvious thing — but you may not have seen it quite like that before.
What’s happening with our amygdalas re polarisation?
Amygdalas are built to detect departures from the ideal. In other words, they are polarity detectors: anything in your environment which seems to be missing something that should be there triggers your amygdala.
Your amygdala is not triggered when it senses lots of affinity between appropriate things, people, places, anything in your surroundings; your amygdala remains quiet as these things are ideal scenarios. But if a ‘hole’ develops, if something is out of place, then off go the alarms.
The alarms only really switch off when the gap between poles is closed, in other words. Almost like a mechanical switch.
You can close this gap yourself by consciously walking into the ‘threat zone’ personally, despite all your mental ‘noise’, and confronting the absence of whatever it is head-on. Your persistent presence eventually brings about the necessary ‘pole' and things discharge. Or you can work on attracting an appropriate ‘other’ into your life so that anxieties are discharged both ways regularly.
How do you attract other ‘poles’?