But the hormones don’t lie, and while it’s uncomfortable and distressing to acknowledge what’s really going on, what’s really going on is that chronically-stressed women find it very difficult to have the necessary ‘oomph’ available to mother their children and nurture their families (and also, perhaps even more crucially, themselves.)
Let me add in here that I know that all too often, the women themselves know this to be true, but are often pushed into working by misplaced feelings of guilt, friends, or relatives who don’t understand that having a genuinely happy, relaxed wife and mother is the key to everything else in the home working the way it should.
So now, let’s throw some scientific studies into the mix, to prove the point that chronic stress and caring compassion can't go together, hormonally-speaking:
‘Studies have shown that loyal, loving prairie voles can be made to behave like their more callous montane cousins by disrupting oxytocin activity in their brains…several studies have shown that genetic differences in the gene that encodes for the oxytocin receptor are associated with prosocial behavior and empathy, as well as with neurological / psychiatric conditions such as autism that are characterized by deficits or abnormalities in social behavior and empathy.”
That’s the message of the first study. The message of the second set of studies is that:
“Being stressed out does not typically bring out our most caring behavior towards others. Studies tend to confirm this, especially when the stressor is social in nature. EG, people who are socially excluded in an experimental paradigm show less subsequent prosocial behavior towards others…oxytocin has been shown to reduce stress-related patterns of brain activation (ie, activation of the amygdala)…the same oxytocin receptor gene that has been associated with reduced empathy has also been shown to promote increased autonomic stress responses.”
If you’re wondering what the heck an ‘autonomic stress response’ is, it’s the fight-or-flight response that I’ve written about a great deal on this blog as being underneath pretty much every mental illness, emotional difficulty and bad character trait known to man.
So to recap, this is what we’ve just learned over the last 2 posts:
- Many hormones also act as neurotransmitters in the brain, directly affecting our mood and emotions.
- Compassion is closely linked to the ‘bonding hormone’ oxytocin. More compassion = more oxytocin, and the reverse also holds true: more oxytocin = more compassion (up to a point).
- Women have naturally much greater levels of oxytocin than men – which they need, in order to properly care for, nurture and empathize with their family members.
- Chronic stress (such as holding down a challenging job in a competitive or otherwise stressful work environment, or dealing with 'difficult' people or situations on an ongoing basis) – takes a woman’s supply of oxytocin out, leaving her with precious little energy to interact with her family and nurture and care for herself.
- Oxytocin is boosted by nurturing activities like heart to heart conversations, quality time with people who care for you, and vice-versa, and bubble baths.
- A lack of oxytocin has been proven to be directly linked to difficulties in showing empathy and compassion, and is also linked to a person experiencing more ‘fight-or-flight’ reactions.
- A lack of empathy and compassion are the defining traits of some of a whole bunch of mental illnesses, including depression, BPD, autism, narcissistic personality disorder and anti-social personality disorder.