SGLY: The hopeful recipient

By Tiffany Chartier
Special to the Van Alstyne Leader

Fretful winds kept me up most of the night. It was not until daybreak that I noticed the silence on the other side of my window. My ears strained to hear the very sound that kept me tossing. I remained still, anticipating and expecting the gust and whistle of the wind. The lack of predictability unsettled me; the tension in my body was greater during this time of waiting than during the entire night of the storm.

This disquieting feeling reminded me of a study by neuroendocrinologist Dr. Robert Sapolsky. A study segment monitored the dopamine levels of monkeys who were conditioned to press a lever when they saw a light go on. After they successfully pressed the lever, the monkeys received a reward. The monkeys learned the pattern of reinforcement. As a result, their dopamine levels remained unaffected even after receiving the reward. They counted on what they had come to expect. However, when the scientists altered the rules and gave rewards intermittently, the dopamine levels of the monkeys rose to similar levels as a human on cocaine. The monkeys worked at a hypersensitive pace to obtain a reward because "maybe" was introduced to the equation — maybe they will get a reward; maybe they will not.

This interjected "maybe" compromised the monkeys' trust and pattern of stability — it flew in the face of what they had come to expect. The monkeys worked the same (pulling the lever) to receive unpredictability rather than stability. As a result, they became off-balanced.

Many can relate this study to relationships: parental, significant others, co-workers, and friendships. Some relationships begin with reliable actions of understanding and appreciation and later morph into patterns of unpredictability. We find ourselves straining to obtain the care and consideration we were initially conditioned to receive. When inconsistency becomes the new normal, emotional imbalance intensifies for the hopeful receiver. The receiver may feel anxious and hyperaware like they are walking on eggshells — internalizing an unhealthy fear of disappointing the other person. This “new normal” often leaves the hopeful receiver feeling baffled, belittled, and laboring under a false sense of guilt. Eventually, the body, mind, and spirit of the hopeful receiver suffers more from the rollercoaster of emotions than if they were consistently receiving nothing. In this relationship stage, people often question what they have done wrong to change the script and who changed the rules.

Many can handle the storm, even if they toss and turn from the sounds of the gusts and whistles of the wind. They trust their house for shelter. And they also trust that every storm has an expiration. But routinely engaging with someone who is emotionally erratic, manipulative, lacking in empathy, or unauthentic creates a different type of storm for the hopeful receiver: an inner storm. The interjected "maybe" softens the walls of their shelter. They become fearful that maybe there is no expiration to this storm. Eventually, the hopeful receiver loses hope.

Consistency is important enough to take a moment to evaluate the message we give to others. Do we get so wrapped up in our to-do lists and personal concerns that we fail to offer a reliable level of genuine care and interest to those we interact with the most? Are we responding and engaging with others with intermittent affirmations riddled with curt answers, disingenuous interest, and selfish motives? Do we give a consistent message? If the answer is "yes," is this message one that we would like to be given if we were the hopeful receiver?

The world changes with time and time is constantly changing. We need to maintain hope, and one way to do this is by building trust through positive stability. We need to be able to count on one another, have someone in our corner, and feel seen and appreciated. Children, significant others, co-workers, friends, etc., need consistency to feel secure in their relationship or position. There are enough societal storms to keep us tossing and turning. May we not contribute to the unsettling of others by weakening their faith in us.

SGLY, dear reader.

(Smile, God Loves You.)

Tiffany Chartier

Tiffany Kaye Chartier is a Christian author and opinion columnist. Submit feedback and connect for more soul lifts on Facebook: Tiffany Kaye Chartier; Instagram:@tiffanysgly; and Twitter: @tiffanychartier. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group.