Three Cheers for Oxytocin

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Women under stress release the hormone oxytocin which encourages us to make and maintain friendships with other women. UCLA Study on Friendship Among Women – Gale Berkowitz

Two weeks ago I had one of those moments (well, days) when I cried, and I cried, and then I cried some more. Yes, it was after the interaction during which I had felt more like a meal ticket than a mentee. I was so gut-wrenchingly sad that, apart from the meltdown my husband was privy to, I tried to avoid contact with anyone that I know, and sought refuge at the local Borders.

In the book, The Price of Privilege, Madeline Levine titles a chapter: “Having everything except what we need most: The isolation of affluent moms.” She writes, “Experienced clinicians find an unexpectedly high amount of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and plain old unhappiness among well-to-do mothers.” (She is defining well-to-do as income of $120k plus per year). Continuing:

While affluent moms can be many things: bright, competitive, persistent, protective, interesting and funny. They are not vulnerable – at least not publicly. Vulnerability is a kind of admission, of hurt feelings, of neediness, of things not going well.

Hmmm.

Not wanting, but wanting some contact, even comfort, I sent an e-mail to one of my friends outlining what had happened. When she first tried to call, I didn't pick up. But when she persisted (which can sometimes be quite difficult in the face of possible rejection), I finally screwed up my courage, and answered the phone. Yes, courage. Because I was afraid that in recounting my experience I would again unravel, cry, and appear vulnerable, even needy. And, well, neither of us really needs Madeline Levine to tell us what we already know is true — appearing vulnerable does take courage.

Here’s what was interesting.

As we spoke, I shared how I was feeling, how sad I was, and after my friend listened for at least 10 minutes, she said something akin to “That’s really hard.” In other words, no profound words of wisdom were asked for, needed, or even wanted.

But because she listened, and I knew that she cared – well, I felt better.

Not just a little better.

A lot better.

In his editorial Of Human Bonding, New York Times columnist David Brooks writes, “I’m not trying to reduce all human relationships to one hormone. But I am trying to emphasize the importance of human attachments. In the policy world, we debate how to improve productivity, competitiveness, education… but often it’s the space between individuals that really matters. Everything we’re learning about the brain confirms Adam Smith’s observation that the ‘chief part of human happiness arises from the consciousness of being beloved.' So maybe it’s time to focus a little less on individual capacities and more on nurturing attachment.”

If our sisterhood can buoy us up on a bad day simply because of how we are hard-wired, just think of the possibilities on a good day. Because of the chemical connection to one another, this feel-good hormone multiplies as we share our dreams and help each other pursue them (SYSTERGY!). As discussed in Identity Crisis, it won’t be easy – we can only really connect when we are willing to be vulnerable, but when we do, we bridge ourselves to a much happier place.

Make that fours cheers for oxytocin!

Can you think of a time recently when you were sad or anxious about something, and you were able to share with a caring friend — did you feel better?

Was it difficult initially to let her in?

Or what about when you've gone to lunch with a friend, and come home energized simply because you were able to listen and share?

Did you almost cancel the outing or wonder if you actually had time to go in the first place?

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