In This Article
What is an Emotional Footprint?
Imagine walking through a garden and the plants feeling your presence—your state of mind and emotion! Now imagine that you are a plant in that garden that can feel and communicate that with the other plants.
Are the plants reaching out to you feeling safe as you walk through (imagine a Disney scene)? Or are they retracting, retreating, trying to run away, clamming up to protect themselves because they sense danger? Are you projecting a message of love and kindness or are you crushing delicate flowers with each step?
Your emotional footprint is the impression you make, whether you are walking through a garden, entering a room, or interacting with family members.
Humans, much like plants, can feel on much more subtle levels than previously thought. Plants emit hundreds of defense chemicals into the air when being attacked or eaten by a predator to alert neighboring cousins to protect themselves by releasing poisons or bad-tasting chemicals in the leaf tips.1
Many studies now confirm the acute non-verbal sensitivity potential humans have that often dictates our behavior. Our microbiome is significantly altered when exposed to social stressors and studies show that our gut bacteria play an important role in how we process and react to stress.2
Good for its Own Sake
In another study related to subtle perception, researchers measured the differences between the following two actions:
- Giving and doing good without any expectation of personal reward (eudaimonia, aka our true nature).
- Doing good to personally feel good (hedonism).
While both types of giving created positive emotions, only giving unconditionally or eudaimonically elicited a positive gene-regulating pattern and a measurable effect on the human genome. Giving hedonistically (for a feel-good reward) had a negative effect on the genome.3
The study concluded that when we give with an expectation to get something in return compared to giving for the love of giving, the person receiving the gift will have a positive physiological reaction to the eudaimonic giving and a negative reaction to the hedonistic giving. So if you are giving and caring for others with an underlying self-interest motive, the receiver is never really fooled.
Moreover, negative outside influences from stress, environment, feelings, impressions, and who and what you expose yourself to can have an epigenetic modifying or damaging effect on the oxytocin receptor gene that can trigger anger and fear in the brain.4,5
Cycles of Hurt
Let’s imagine you come home one day and your partner seems to be ignoring you and in their own way being kind of aloof. When you ask them what is the matter, they finally reply that there was a situation three days ago that hurt their feelings and now, three days later, those feelings of hurt are surfacing.
The emotional footprint you left three days ago didn’t go away! Stop for a second and think how often you find yourself sensing that something is off in the communication with you and your partner and you chalk it up to that they are having a bad day.
Before you blame them, we should always be reminded of one of my favorite Vedic sayings: To the extent that someone or something affects you is to the extent that it is your karma or action step.
This means that if you are bothered by something, this is an opportunity for you to not react hedonistically, in an attempt to get something in return. It is a time to act eudaimonically, from a place of non-judgment, truth, compassion, and understanding.
This, however, is not a typical first reaction. When someone is throwing darts at us, it’s tempting to throw darts back. When someone is mean to us, our first reaction is to be mean back. If you were mean back to your partner, they would probably be hurt again and withdraw further. Those first three days might turn into six. Sometimes couples slowly drift apart like this!
Going with our first reaction can create cycles of anger and hurt. The alternative is not to react, but to take action rooted in your true feelings—love rather than hurt.
The Happy Giving Hormone
Take a risk and choose to acknowledge your emotional footprint can sometimes be a little heavy. Before we judge, we must remind ourselves to ask, “What could I do or could I have done differently to have not hurt my partner and avoid this situation? Did I make a disruptive emotional impression that is now coming back to bite me?”
Next time, Ask not what they can do differently, but what you can do for them—to take a line from a famous president!
Studies show that oxytocin, the hormone and neurotransmitter previously only associated with labor and breast-feeding, is also signaled to release by acts of appreciation, generous touch, gratitude, and emotional connection with others.
Benefits of Oxytocin
Oxytocin, the giving and longevity hormone, has been shown to:6
- Increase longevity as a result of cancer support groups.
- Treat addictions. When scientists administered oxytocin to rodents addicted to cocaine, morphine, or heroin, the rodents opted for less drugs or showed fewer symptoms of withdrawal
- Reduce cravings for sweets.
- Reduce anxiety and depression.
- Increase sexual receptivity and counter impotence .
- Counteract effects of cortisol (a stress hormone), thereby boosting immunity.
- Extend lifespan of married people.
- Extend lifespan of parents who are caregivers (as opposed to non-caregiver parents).
- Accelerate healing in those who have a loving pet.
- Contribute to healing effects of massage, acupuncture, and meditation.
My hope is that next time you walk into a new situation, you offer oxytocin and love for its own sake to all the plants, animals, and people involved. If you try it, let us know how it goes!