Calm Is Contagious
Most people have witnessed occasions where anxiety in one person quickly spread to others in the room.
There’s an invisible “emotional field” that exists within groups of people, and just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean that it isn’t there.
Anxiety is essentially “contagious” because one person can quickly spread it to others.
Does the Opposite Hold Too?
So if one anxious person can render others in their vicinity anxious as well, could the opposite also be true?
Obviously I think so, otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this piece.
My premise is that calm is also contagious.
I was born into a family with what I consider to be low to moderate level of drama. That was my family of origin.
As for my nuclear family, the one where I’m the father, and my wife is the mother, and our two children are the kids, I like to think that we’re also on the lower end of the drama continuum.
We all have our own family or families, and if we think about them in terms of their typical drama level, we surely know of other families who exhibit a higher propensity for drama.
Another way to look at this is to think about it in terms of emotional reactivity.
There’s often one person, or maybe more, who simply have a way of triggering the emotions of others, and not necessarily in a good way.
It could be something very subtle and it may even operate at an unconscious level, but it is definitely there.
You may not be able to see the anxiety, but you can definitely sense it.
A while back, an acquaintance asked me straight up, out of the blue, “What’s your superpower?”
I was a bit taken aback, but since then I’ve really come to love the term and what it means.
It’s a nice way to define some ability that one has that seems to be very rare in others.
It’s often something that comes to you so naturally, that at first, you assume everyone has it too.
But eventually, you realize that it’s some innate ability that you have, that few others do.
The Sixth Sense
My superpower is the ability to sense the anxiety between people.
I’m not just talking about walking into a room and sensing the general tension that’s there or feeling like there’s an ultra-sensitive air in the room.
I’m talking about the direct tension that exists between a specific pair of people.
Unfortunately, this sense is not infallible, and it does not kick in immediately every time.
So let’s try to bring this back to the calm contagion where we began.
Families, especially when they manage a business together, or simply share ownership of some assets as a group, need to come together occasionally to make decisions.
Because of their complex relationships, being family members and having shared financial and ownership responsibilities, things can sometimes become tense.
Oh, and can we all agree that when our brains are preoccupied with interpersonal anxiety, we don’t always do our best thinking?
Calming the System
In order for a group of people, in this case, a family system, to be able to function at their best, it helps if they are not distracted by emotional reactivity, a.k.a. drama.
One person can quickly disturb the calm in a system.
Can one person calm a system back down?
I believe that it is possible, but it also requires patience and a realistic expectation level.
Anxiety can be ramped up quite rapidly, but instilling calm usually takes more time.
A key ingredient is that one person who goes first, and models the calm for the others to follow.
The contagion analogy is making me think about the one person who is immune to the sickness, who can then interact with each of the sick people without worrying about catching their disease.
The mere presence of the healthy one can give hope to the sick to believe that they too can be well again.
For families, it can be difficult to find such a person from within their ranks, because each person is “caught” in the system to some degree.
That’s where an independent, unbiased, objective, neutral outsider can certainly play a role.