Is True Love All In Your Head?

Dr. Stosny thinks so. And that’s a good thing.

Empowered Love

February is a month of chocolate hearts and declarations of love and devotion, all because of St. Valentine. But as we all know, love is a tricky business and fraught with perils, pitfalls and massive disappointments.

Ever wonder why?

Steven Stosny, Ph.D., can answer that question for you as well as give guidance on how to live a more realized and adult life in all of your love relationships; romantic as well as familial. His latest book, Empowered Love from Dover’s Ixia Press, is the kind of insightful work in which you will recognize both your best and truest self — as well as a few places where you might fall short.

One of Dr. Stosny’ s key concepts is that of the Toddler brain; the impulsive, demanding part of ourselves that projects anxiety and deflects anything that sounds like it might be a threat.

Dover Books: It’s very clear how much damage that power and passion can do if the Toddler is too strong in the adult. Could you talk some about the dangers of remaining in a toddler state?

Steven Stosny: The Toddler brain is great for having fun, playing, and indulging in pleasure. It disastrous for solving problems under stress. It has no reality-testing, no perspective-taking, no ability to think through consequences, and its primary coping mechanisms are blame, denial, and avoidance, all of which make bad matters worse.

“Always be the person you most want to be, not the person you think others deserve.”

Dover: What is the best course of action for people who want to escape the traps of resentment and jealousy that beset so many of our relationships?

Stosny: Be true to your deeper, most humane values of compassion and kindness. Replace blame, denial, and avoidance with improve (do something to make things a little better) appreciate, connect, and protect. Both jealousy and resentment occur in states of disconnection and alleviate in states of connection. Be more loving, compassionate, and kind, and jealousy disappears. Be compassionate, kind, and fair, and resentment alleviates.

Dover: What about work situations where a kind of group-think might work against healthy outcomes and relationships? Work situations can often mirror emotionally toxic partnerships.

Stosny: In work situations people tend to be more invested in defending their egos than honoring their values. That makes them more likely to retreat to the Toddler brain under stress. The solution is the same as with families, focus on improving the situation instead of blaming it on someone. Use your Adult brain to come up with plans and strategies for improvement. If you feel devalued, use that as motivation to succeed. Instead of devaluing others, show value and respect — even if you think the coworker doesn’t deserve it, and you’ll most likely get back respect and cooperation.

“Be compassionate, kind, and fair, and resentment alleviates.”

Dover: What should parents do to create healthy family environments for their children? Or perhaps how should they evaluate their own role first?

Stosny: The single most important thing that parents can do for their children is have a good relationship with each other. That makes children feel secure. When parents are conflictive or disconnected, children feel less secure.

Children learn emotion regulation (how to cheer themselves up when down and calm themselves down when upset) and how to behave in intimate relationships by watching their parents. Model Adult brain behaviors for them.

Parents should replace blame, deny, and avoid with improve, appreciate, connect, and protect. When children makes mistakes, focus on doing things right in the future rather than what they did wrong in the past.

“Be true to your deeper, most humane values of compassion and kindness.”

Dover: Could you share some feedback with people who have used your techniques to improve their relationships?

Stosny: In addition to numerous anecdotal emails of positively changed lives and relationships, we do systematic follow-ups with our boot camp participants. A year after competition, over 85% of the more than 3,000 graduates report more compassionate, caring, and stable relationships. When relationships fail, we help them recover their core value.

Steven Stosny, Ph.D.’s latest book, Empowered Love is available from Dover’s Ixia Press