Part I: OXYTOCIN
I took a magnificent Dementia class by fellow occupational therapist Teepa Snow. She taught a contact technique to use on people with dementia. She elaborated that it led to the release of Oxytocin, a hormone produced in mammalian brains.
I call it our herd hormone.
I later learned it controls social recognition among like kinds, and is involved in attraction, orgasm, and bonding. It affects factors like trust, generosity, and eye gaze. “An oxytocin nasal spray caused men in a monogamous relationship, but not single men, to increase the distance between themselves and an attractive woman during a first encounter by 10 to 15 centimeters” (Scheele et al, 2012). Sheep injected with Oxytocin inhibitors did not show maternal behavior towards their young whereas virgin sheep injected with Oxytocin exhibited bonding behavior towards strange lambs (van Leengoed, Kerker, & Swanson, 1987).
When I got home from the class that night, a young man delivered medical equipment for a new resident of mine. I shook his hand at the door and commented that he had a great, firm handshake. I have a thing about handshakes and frequently request a redo if I get a limp one.
“Turns out firm handshakes elicit Oxytocin release,” I said to him as we were setting up the equipment, eager to teach him what I had learned.
“Dude!” he exclaimed, “I AM the Oxytocin man!”
“What do you mean?” I asked, taken aback.
“I love Oxytocin so much I have it tattooed on my shoulder!”
“I’ve got to to see it,” I said wide-eyed. I expected pretty calligraphy of the word.
People! The guy had the chemical formula of Oxytocin tattooed down his shoulder and clear across his chest! Mind. Blown!! I squealed in delight and disbelief as I snapped the picture below.
Needless to say, I stood transfixed (10-15 centimeters further away) and stared at him in rapt attention as he assembled the equipment and taught me about Oxytocin.
Part II: CO-REGULATION
Fast forward to co-regulation, a term I recently learned. You might be familiar with self-regulation which has to do with self-monitoring so as to control our own emotions and behavior. Self-control requires time, thought, and deliberate decision making (a top-down process.)
Co-regulation, on the other hand, entails herd members influencing each other’s emotions and behavior. It is the “continuous unfolding of individual action that is susceptible to being continuously modified by the continuously changing actions of the partner” (Butler & Randall, 2013). American social worker David Belford says, ““being with“… [emphasis mine] can help co-regulate the other person more quickly because it bypasses our thinking brain (bottom-up processing).”
Co-regulation is fundamental to all human relationships from conception to death. We become stable human beings if we receive healthy regulation from our primary caretakers. If not, “we struggle with our own regulatory challenges and may turn to drugs, alcohol, sex, food or other externals to regulate our anxious or depressed systems. If this goes on long enough, we can find ourselves in addiction. Living in isolation or addiction is self-destructive, while turning to responsive people to soothe our pain is constructive.” (Katehakis, 2017). Katehakis asserts that co-regulation is a main reason why adults are in relationships.
Part III: ADRENALIN
This is an abbreviated version of what is, hands down, my favorite YouTube video in the world. Please take a minute to marvel at it.
This video has over 79 million views! 66 million are mine. What you don’t see is that at one point in the course of the scuffle, the baby buffalo falls into the grateful jaws of a crocodile! Not only is he officially having a bad day, but he doesn’t stand a chance!
Imagine that you, mum, and dad are strolling along at Kruger National Park, enjoying some family time by the river when a pride of lions waylays you. Before you now it, you are squealing for your life as the lions mount, claw, and bite at you. You have no idea what hit you in the watery brawl before you are dragged and pinned helplessly onto shore. Mum and dad are off at record speed and you are dead meat. The lions growl and snarl with drooling, primal pleasure. It’s a wonder you can hear it over your visceral groans. The uproar intensifies as they tear at you despite your failing fighting efforts. You are a sorry match for these killing machines.
Adrenalin floods your heart and the earth thunders to its deafening rhythm. Boom. Boom. Boom! The drumfire should be fading along with your draining life, yet it gets louder and louder, rumbling, stampeding. It’s not just nature’s greedy heartbeat as she gapes her ravenous jaws, it’s the hooves of a hundred irascible kin on a rescue mission. Boom. Boom. Kaboom!
Suddenly, your neck is released and surprised lions are flying in the air. Kicked cats are whimpering and scampering for their lives.
All because your tribe came back for you. It’s a fuming , foaming sea of them. You can’t make out mum or dad for the massive, cranky herd. You’ve never seen so many, never heard such enraged bellowing. It’s dizzying. And it’s all for you. That’s the power of belonging!
It gives me chills EVERY TIME.
I, for one, am just dipping my feet in the warm ocean of these beautiful concepts and can’t wait for an exploratory swim.
Have an Oxytocin rich day!
Video retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGvj7NxMMMU on 10/20/17
Scheele D., Striepens N., Güntürkün O., Deutschländer S., Maier W., Kendrick K., et al. (2012). Oxytocin Modulates Social Distance Between Males and Females. The Journal of Neuroscience, 32, 46. PMID 23152592.doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2755-12.2012.
van Leengoed E., Kerker E., & Swanson H. (1987). Inhibition of Post-Partum Maternal Behaviour in the Rat by Injecting an Oxytocin Antagonist into the Cerebral Ventricles. The Journal of Endocrinology, 112(2), 275–282. PMID 3819639.doi:10.1677/joe.0.1120275.
Butler, E. A., & Randall, A. K. (2013). Emotional Coregulation in Close Relationships. Emotion Review, 5(2), 202–210. http://doi.org/10.1177/1754073912451630
Katehakis, A. (2014) Co-Regulation. Mirror of Intimacy, Daily Reflection October 8, 2017 via email.
6 thoughts on “Meant to Belong to a Herd”
Spot on! Oxytocin is such a gift to our mind, body and spirit. Co-regulation nurtures our human nature, encouraging compassion, vulnerability and healthy dependency while all the while adrenalin postures ready to pounce when alerted. These three together wove into a human body that portrays a beautiful and complex balance.
P.S. I want to see the tattoo !
Thank you Gwen. Your work is so important, imparting these truths to little bodies every day. We appreciate you!! (Did you see the photo of the tattoo? It was on the blog)
Fantastic, we as people need to work together like that!
So true! We just need to be careful who we as a herd decide is the enemy.