(c) 2018 All Rights Reserved | Rhonda Freeman, PhD
Affective resonance is basically the unspoken social connection and interaction that takes place between brains. It comes from the deepest regions of the brain reaching out to the deepest regions of the other beings brain. It covers a large range of emotional states — for example, empathy and morality would fall under affective resonance and so would bonding, caring, and feeling moved emotionally by the emotional state of another.
This is how many of us, who are considered emotionally deep, can understand what our dog or cat is feeling or thinking! Because animals communicate to us mainly through their limbic system.
Neurologically – affective resonance is considered a ‘bottom-up’ process (originating from the emotional and deeper regions of the brain first.) Some of the ‘deeper’ brain regions involved include the insula (Fan, Wonneberger, Enziand et al, 2011) and amygdala.
One of the roles of the insula is pain perception (of self and others | physical and emotional). The amygdala is an emotion processing area, connecting experiences with feelings.
Within this neurological process of
feeling with/ for, and
being moved by another
– other areas of the brain such as the prefrontal cortex and portions of the parietal lobe are recruited as well to account for self awareness and emotion regulation (Decety & Mayer, 2008).
Narcissists and psychopaths cannot pull this off. We see the break-down of affective resonance in their inability to connect deeply with us. To feel with, for, and about us.
In fact, this is one of the reasons they have to study what being sympathetic looks like. They do not feel sadness for another, therefore, at some point in their lives many will have to learn (by watching others) what those facial expressions, mannerisms, voice tone/ speed look like – because this process, which is so vital to human interactions, is not within their reach. This is likely one of the reasons many survivors will say, “They are not human!”
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Narcissists and psychopaths have to rely solely on the prefrontal cortex to imitate a limbic initiated process. They turn a ‘bottom up’ (emotion first) process into a ‘top down’ (thinking first) process .
By that I mean, they have to think of what that emotion must look like to others and then try to pull it off – imitate it. If it were a true emotion, the limbic system would handle it and move through the proper pathways to engage the other needed areas of the brain.
They cannot do this. The disorders on the pathological narcissism spectrum lacks this ability. Therefore, when you try to connect and build something real with someone who cannot generate this process, you will get nowhere.
This is why affective resonance would be a big variable when it comes to a relationship with a narcissist or psychopath.
This is also why trying to connect, understand, and expecting empathy in return will never work. It will only lead to arguments, scapegoating, and pain. They will not properly process that their limited or absent affective resonance destroys their chances at a true connection.
And connection is the core of a relationship. It is the glue that binds the both of you and make you both feel interested, invested, and in deep need of the other. A mutual, healthy, love addiction.
Their extreme lack of ability for this general process of affective resonance is going to limit how far the relationship can go. It puts the brakes on anything deep.
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There is Emptiness When I try to Connect with Him/ Her
Some people have told me that they can actually feel an absence of affective resonance within their partner. I have been told they feel a nothingness coming from their partner. Rather than feeling their partner’s concern when they are hurt, they feel their partner’s annoyance.
They may tell you that they care, but because affective resonance is nearly always in action when we are in the presence of another living being … you will not feel that they care.
What you may feel, especially if you are a person of high empathy, is that their words are hollow. You will feel that it is just superficial and shallow. You will feel that something is missing and this might even cause you to feel a sunken feeling of disappointment when your limbic system searches for a healthy connection in your partner and it comes up empty.
Affective resonance is all about the feeling of the interaction. In a 2015 study a researcher described this phenomenon well when he said, “affective resonance is the dynamic entanglement of moving and being-moved” (Mühlhoff, 2015).
Narcissists and psychopaths are not moved by us emotionally; with them we cannot have a deep, shared emotional experience.
All the best,
Dr. Freeman | Neuroinstincts
(c) All rights reserved
- You might also enjoy:
Decety, J. and Meyer, M. (2008). From emotion resonance to empathic understanding: A social developmental neuroscience account. Development and Psychopathology 20, 1053–1080
|Fan, Y., Wonneberger, C., Enzi, B., de Greck, M., Ulrich, C., Tempelmann, C., . . .Northoff, G. (2011). The narcissistic self and its psychological and neural correlates: An exploratory fMRI study. Psychological Medicine, 41, 1641–1650.|
Mühlhoff, R. (2015). Affective resonance and social interaction. Phenom Cogn Sci. Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 1001–1019