Today, I wanted to take some time to focus and bring down the volume. After doing a number of in-depth interviews, I thought it would be nice to have a solo podcast focusing on an incredibly important concept.
When we are interacting with others and are possibly nervous, or sharing something important, there are many layers to what is happening within us. How we deliver any information we want to share in those moments changes dramatically depending on the specific environment we are in. We will deliver it differently when talking to ourselves, to a best friend, to our partner, giving a lecture, or performing, just to name a range of scenarios. Additionally, whether or not we are in homeostasis at the moment, our body’s natural way of trying to always keep us level, will make a large impact on our delivery.
This is where something I refer to as the front of the system comes in. It is an idea that sums up how we can name our fears and increase our intimacy.
The Front of the System
If we’re sharing something particularly personal to us, we want to be in a state of homeostasis. This is why we have to find some way to regulate ourselves in order to communicate. If we ignore our needs or try to leapfrog over what our particular fear might be in a moment, then we can come out of homeostasis.
This is the same process that makes us shiver when we’re cold, makes us sweat when we’re hot, and gives us hunger pangs when we’re hungry. The body is always trying to combat or bring us back to homeostasis.
When we’re in a place where we’re regulated, can feel our breath, and are in touch with our emotions, we’re more able to actually talk and reveal how we feel. Of course, to arrive at this state requires a degree of safety. The problem is that often in relationships things aren’t safe.
This is where we need to think about and apply the front of the system. If we can acknowledge how we’re feeling, it might help us regulate. In other words, a shortcut to having intimate conversations and bearing anxiety is naming how we feel. This includes getting clear around all those subtle communications within ourselves and with others.
On the flip side, if we try to fake it, it’ll be obvious to others that we’re not okay. From that point on, we can begin to lose connection. Particularly in romantic relationships when we’re trying to talk about significant issues, what happens when we’re nervous but don’t name it is that we can come across as aloof, upset, or threatening.
If you find it hard to name your feelings, it’s possible that you need to slow down and acknowledge how uncomfortable, awkward, and new it is to get into your body. This idea is related to the notion of “name it to tame it”. This simply means that when we’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t know what’s bothering us, we need to stop. We need to become curious and ask ourselves what we’re really afraid of.
All of this is what the front of the system is. If you can just say a few words (“I feel nervous,” “This is awkward,” or “I’m scared” for example), you will might notice that the temperature doesn’t go up as fast in difficult conversations, and this can help keep the door open to intimacy.
Going along with all of this is one of the most important factors when it comes to how we reduce our anxiety in relationships: an idea called repair. Repair helps take the pressure off of us to get it right when we’re under duress. It’s simply the idea that after we come back from those perfect storm moments, we open up to the person we hurt, let them in, and be clear about what happened.
We need to recognize that at the end of the day, we’re all human. We are all going to be scared, get upset, have disappointment, become overwhelmed, make mistakes, and occasionally snap at those we love. When we find ourselves in these situations, we often begin to imagine that, because we’re in pain, there isn’t going to be a solution. This is one of the main reasons we go into fight or flight. Repair, on the other hand, restores our hope, which is something we need to survive.
You don’t have to be perfect or get it right. You can just come back and say you were exhausted, had nothing left in the tank, that you feel ashamed or are scared to talk about it, or even just communicate that you are afraid the person you are talking to is angry but still want to connect with them.
All of this is to say that we have to think about and name the psychodynamics that are going on in a given moment. We have to find a way to put into words our fears. This is what recognizing the front of the system and engaging the reparative process helps us do.If you want to learn more about how the front-of-the-system approach applies to romantic relationships, check out Episode 006: The Science of Emotional Regulation: How to Name Your Fears in Order to Foster Closer Connection.