Interpersonal Communication

Scientific background

What makes us different as mammals from our amphibian and even reptilian cousins is some- thing beyond just the hair on our bodies and the warmth of our blood. We mammals share attachment, the need for a close relationship between parent and offspring to connect and protect, to soothe and attune.

The magic of attachment is that our children internalize our patterns of communication with them, shaping the very structure of their developing brains as they move from the safe haven of our love to set out into the world from the launching pad of home. While the tadpoles do fine without their parents’ care, as mammals, our human family shares this need for an attachment bond.

And as a very special kind of primate, we have the unusual habit (actually more like a key fea- ture) of our caregiving: we distribute the responsibility for the care of our young to more than just the mother. We mammals have “alloparenting” or “other-parenting” in which we provide trusted others to care for our precious infants. This cooperative childrearing is the key to our adaptive nature. We give birth to our children, share their care through collaborative communication, and then build cooperative communities that extend this interconnected way of living. Our youth grow into their adolescence, getting ready to push away from their parents and the solid home base from which they now can go out and explore the world.

Relationships are the defining feature of being human. As Robin Dunbar suggests, the more complex our social lives, the more complex our brains. Over the past decade scientists have been examining how the relationships we have within cultures—the repeating patterns of communication we have that link us together in families, communities, and societies—actually shape the structure and function of the brain.

These studies suggest that our experiences shape our neural architecture—and that our social relationships are one of the most important forms of experience that literally form who we are. And the very essence of a relationship is communication. Communication is what connects one person to another, or one person to many.

You can see how this essential collaborative nature of ours would be a natural backdrop to making communication amongst members of a group so vital for the group’s survival. If we could sense the inner state of others through verbal language and through the non-verbal sig- nals of eye contact, facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, touch, posture, and the timing and intensity of responses, we could then link our minds, connecting the core of our inner worlds, and making a more integrated whole from the sum of many individuals.

That’s likely how our relationships within groups allowed us to not only survive, but ultimately to thrive. Moving beyond the important parent-child relationship of our mammalian history, this human feature of cooperation propelled our need for complex communication and complex brain architecture into fast forward. The result for all of us is the centrality of relationships in human life. Now comes another amazing twist to the story. As our brains took on the need to connect to others, we developed the neural real estate to examine our own sense of identity. That’s right—it appears that relationships came first, and self-reflection came next! Relationships first.

With such a centrality of relationships in forming our evolutionary history and in forming our very identity—individually and as a human species—it might not surprise you to hear (or be reminded) that of all the factors in human life that predict the best positive outcomes, supportive relationships are number one. These research-proven findings include how long we live, the health of our bodies, the well-being of our minds, and the happiness we experience in life.

Relationships are the most important part of our having well-being in being human. It’s that simple. And it’s that important. But there’s another aspect of relationships that is also clear from recent science: The more we connect with others and embrace the reality of our interconnected nature, the more we’ll live with meaning, compassion, equanimity, and purpose.

The goal of this course is to help an individual achieve, through a special relationship with coach, good communication within himself or herself. Once this is achieved, that person can communicate more freely and effectively with others. So we may say that this course is about good communication within and between people. Good communication, or free communication, within or between people is always therapeutic.

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