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Neural Pathways and Cross-Country Skiing

I’ve always had trouble with a response that begins with, “You make me” – ie. angry, happy, feel like________, etc. 

For many years, I’ve believed that another person can not make me feel any particular emotion. Another person can say or do something and I choose to react a certain way but that person doesn’t have the power to make me feel a specific emotion.

Now I’m backtracking on my thinking about this issue.

I’m beginning to think that someone CAN make you feel certain emotions because of woundedness in your life. When you are healthy (healed),  you can choose new responses because new neural pathways have been created during the healing process but when you’re wounded, there is often no other way – that is, there is a deep-rooted neural pathway that you’ve habitually “used” over and over again throughout the years. Therefore, when triggered by someone’s dysfunctional comment or action, you automatically slip into a certain reaction because you have no options. Your response is quick and subconscious.

Let’s use a cross-country skiing example because my husband and I skied on the lake recently and this experience is fresh on my mind.

When Chris and I made our way onto the ice, there were no tracks to ski on because fresh snow had fallen. I offered to go ahead of Chris and create new tracks. Let me tell you – it’s much harder work to create the tracks then to just slip into them and ski. Chris was behind me, his skis were using the tracks that were made and he was skiing up a storm! Once in a while, he would make fun of me and yell, “What’s going on up there? Can’t you go any faster?” (Needless to say, that didn’t go over very well.)

Anyways, back to my illustration.

Think of skiing tracks as neural pathways in your brain. When a certain neural pathway has been created and you’ve used it repeatedly as a response, your brain will naturally go there again – it’s the path of least resistance – it’s what comes naturally. This is the path that has been practiced on and well used. (It’s like falling into the only ski tracks on the lake.) If your response was created from being exposed repeatedly to an unhealthy circumstance, the neural pathway becomes an unhealthy way of thinking. If you are continually exposed to this dysfunctional circumstance, you will naturally use the neural pathway that has been created from constant use. This becomes the go-to response and there are no other options.  Therefore, a person involved in this dysfunction can make you feel a certain way, just by being a constant presence in your life. His/her comment or action illicits an unconscious, well-laid, no-other-option response.

Take the illustration one step further and I would say that it is very difficult to create new ski tracks. It’s a LOT of work.

So is healing. Creating new neural pathways takes time, courage, prayer and practice.

Most importantly, deep inner healing requires Jesus’ loving and restoring hand on your life. There’s no other way to emotional freedom.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 1 Peter 5.10










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