The Tend and Befriend Magdalene Response
When I read about Joan Norton's Magdalene Circle radio broadcast on "The Weeping Magdalene," I was struck by the wisdom that weeping connects us to wholeness and harmony.
At first, I thought that weeping in times of challenge and crisis, like Mary Magdalene did, must cause the goddess-in-our-cells to release the tend and befriend harmonizing hormone oxytocin.
A closer look showed I was half-right: While weeping does not produce oxytocin, it does remove its opposite, the fight or flight adreno-cortisol hormone from our blood. And this clears the way for a tend and befriend response by the parasympathetic nervous system.
The parasympathetic nervous system is located in the brain stem, called the "old brain" by some. This nervous system has to do with emotions, is felt in the body -- often in the stomach -- and produces the hormone oxytocin.
Oxytocin is sometimes called the birth hormone because it is released during childbirth. It is also produced during breastfeeding, hugging, cuddling, and all kinds of intimacy. It causes us to tend and befriend ourselves and others, especially in times of crisis.
Many sources say that as we women evolved, we developed the tend and befriend response as we reacted differently to threats than men did. The masculine fight or flight reaction, which dumps adrenalin and cortisol into the body, didn't work for women -- then or now -- because we women could not fight or flee when we had small children, oldsters, heart-life, and hearths to care for.
Interestingly, men evolved so that their bodies process and eliminate adrenalin and cortisol much more rapidly than women's bodies do. Since adreno-cortisol can cause all kinds of health problems from diabetes to heart disease, getting rid of it fast is important.
Because we women can't discharge adreno-cortisol quickly, we're much better off if we don't go into the fight or flight response when we encounter non-life-threatening challenges in our daily life.
On the other hand, adrenalin and cortisol work well for men in daily life. These hormones allow men to be successful warriors every day in a business environment they created "in their own image" and that fits their biology, not women's.
Knowing this, women are beginning to experiment with consciously bypassing the fight or flight response and going into the tend and befriend response. I connect this tend and befriend response with qualities of the Goddess and with Mary Magdalene as the "Goddess in the Gospels."
Fortunately, if we women find ourselves overcome by stress and unable to bypass the fight or flight response, then weeping can restore balance. Weeping is purposeful crying.
Researchers, including William H. Frey II, a biochemist at the University of Minnesota, report that crying eliminates stress hormones, specifically, the flight or fight adrenocorticotropic hormones. He reports that women cry more easily than men and five times more often. It seems that women are hard-wired to cry often because our bodies need to release toxins that men's bodies generally release in other ways.
The process for women to manage stress well and to be in harmony with the goddess-in-the-cells may be twofold:
- Learn to activate the oxytocin/tend and befriend response before flight or flight takes over. We can do this by taking a few conscious breaths and asking for this response, by meditating, by praying, or by creating a connection to the inner goddess in some other manner.
- Alternately, if we women are overcome by stress, we can allow ourselves, like Mary Magdalene, to have the natural response of crying, which releases the stress hormones from our bodies.
Sources: Dr. Ellie Drake, who founded Braveheart Women, a social network for women.
THE FEMALE BRAIN by Dr. Louann Brizendine, M.D.