The image of a parent kissing their child’s scraped knee is as timeless and iconic as it is heartwarming. Though some might say the act is more symbolic or just a placebo, there are some good brain reasons why this actually works. Louis Cozalino writes in his book, The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy, “This biochemical cascade stimulate the secretion of oxytocin, prolactin, endorphins, and dopamine, resulting in warm, positive, and rewarding feelings.” He goes on to say, ”It actually does feel better when a loved one kisses your boo-boo because endorphins are also natural analgesics.” It’s as if the sharing and soothing of pain is wired in us.
While the kiss does physically make you feel better in the moment, it’s more than a little biological boost in the present. It’s symbolic of our parent’s intent to soothe and protect us, while teaching us how to soothe and protect ourselves. In this moment, our parents are teaching us that we are worthy of love and deserve the attention of others. When we get that consistent love and attention early in life, we build the resilience to do it for ourselves and others. When childhood goes well, we are set-up to deal with all kinds of cuts and scrapes, both physical and mental. Not getting those needs met may lead us to withhold our hurt and develop a distrust of others’ ability to soothe us.
I’m Always on My Phone and the Internet
What do we do when we don’t trust others to accept this side of us? We look for something outside of us to give us that soothing feeling. We may turn to drugs, alcohol, shopping, gambling, sex, work, social media, etc. While some of these things are fine in moderation, I don’t know that I’ve met a person who doesn’t struggle to keep them in balance. We look for a short term solution to a long-term problem.
The Benefits of Talking About Being Hurt
There are a lot of messages in the world that urge us not to feel sorry for ourselves, to suck it up and move on. These messages can leave us protecting our loved ones from hurts and anxieties we may have, making us feel more alone and distant from them. We go out of our way to protect people from the parts of us we struggle with. I have definitely heard the defensive line, “Why would I go back there? What good is dwelling on the past?” For those people, it may sound backwards, but talking about and processing those fears out loud with their loved ones is the kiss their boo-boos may need.
In a New York Times article, neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman talked about a study he did with interesting results towards the idea of sharing pain. People who talked aloud about how scared they were of spiders were more willing to get closer to a spider than those who didn’t talk about how scared they were. Sharing and venting those energies turned being scared into being brave. The conversations we yearn to have are often behind the ones we don’t want to have. Sharing gives us strength.