Tag: Implicit Memory

Can Relational Skills Make You Smarter?

Is there a subject or class in school where your child struggles? Perhaps your son or daughter just cannot seem to grasp math, or that pesky science class is a thorn in the side. Maybe reading is the big hurdle. For me, my Achilles’ heel was writing. Yep, writing was my least favorite thing to do IN THE ENTIRE WORLD. Well, this is what I told my mother when I was growing up.

Whenever I came home from school with a writing assignment for English, dread consumed my thoughts and body. Just thinking about my homework put my stomach in knots. It is safe to say that I shed many tears before my writing assignment was due. In truth, I wasn’t a bad writer. I had a mental block about writing and, for whatever reason, writing did not come easily for me. I would become so deeply upset about writing that my thoughts turned muddled and jumbled. I lacked the clarity to focus on my assignment. The mounting anxiety put my brain in a tizzy; it was clear my brain’s emotional control center plunged into a disorganized state where I felt confused. I got lost in my fear and hopeless despair.

Last night I observed a similar pattern with Matthew, my seven-year old son. He was working to correct a math paper he messed up at school. My son misunderstood the directions, and this meant he wrongly answered the entire page of equations. It was not a good situation.

Matthew is a bright student who has a solid understanding of the math concepts taught in first grade. For whatever reason, he freezes up when it comes to math. We have a number of instances where I ask him to sit down and work on his math homework. He then proceeds to melt into puddle of cries and tears, complaining that he feels discouraged and frustrated. He often declares, “I can’t do this, I just don’t understand. I will never get this!” It is quite the scene. When this happens, I help him calm down and catch his breath. However, it frequently takes longer to get to the point where he is ready to work on his math problems than it takes him to actually answer the questions.

Just last night we were playing a game to help him work on his math concepts. At one point he encountered some confusion over the game. He quickly became frustrated. I worked with him to answer several questions and I explained the problem he was supposed to solve. We went around and around for a bit, but he could not understand the concept I was explaining to him. After about 20 minutes of interaction, I realized my brain’s relational circuits had shut down. I also noticed his were off as well. With a few brief exercises we were able to restore our relational circuits and in no time our relational brains were back online. At this point he grasped the concept he was stuck on, then he solved the problem. Hurray!

It was at this point I realized my son was better able to understand and solve problems when his relational circuits were active and working. “Wow! Why didn’t I realize this earlier?” I wondered to myself. When his relational circuits were on, his ability to understand directions and solve problems was greatly improved. When his relational circuits were off, his ability to grasp even the simplest of concepts was greatly compromised. Because Matthew has struggled with math on other occasions, the frustration of trying to solve a difficult problem quickly shut off his relational circuits. Once this happens, every attempt to help him understand something felt like beating our heads against a wall. Once his relational brain was working correctly, he could utilize his problem-solving skills to figure something out with a little bit of coaching. What a difference!

Upon this realization, I then helped Matthew recognize that his relational circuits were off and his brain was not working so well to solve problems. I pointed out, “Matthew, did you see what happened when your relational circuits came back on? You could quickly understand and solve the problem!” Upon hearing this observation, a big smile broke across his face and he was just as amazed as I was at this revelation. We both decide that we ALWAYS want to work on math problems with our relational circuits online.

As I look back on my childhood writing struggles, I can see that my relational circuits were obviously OFF when I was trying to complete my English assignments. While there were other factors at play, I am sure the process of writing would have been much more enjoyable if my relational brain had been operating as God designed it to work.

What areas are you unable to live to your potential because your relational brain is offline?

Are there any subjects that send your children into non-relational mode, and make homework feel like going to the dentist to have a tooth worked on?

I want to encourage you to try some intentional exercises to restore your relational circuits, and see if you notice a difference. Because some subjects can historically feel overwhelming, don’t be surprised if your relational circuits turn on then quickly go off again. You may have to repeat the restoration exercises several times in order to keep your relational brain online. In some cases, we need Immanuel’s peace and resolution where pain and big feelings cause our relational brain to go off.

You can view Dr. Jim Wilder demonstrating some of the relational circuit restoration exercises here. Read how our amazing friend and teacher, Shelia Sutton, uses this training with her students in the book, Joy Starts Here and see my previous blog, The Brain’s Relational Real Estate for more on this topic. Our colleague and friend, Dr. Karl Lehman, has more to say here.

SUBSCRIBE

I Can’t Believe My Child Did This!

Have you ever cringed watching your child misbehave? Maybe you felt a dose of shame when, after your best parenting efforts, your child still says or does THAT? Let’s face it. If you get right down to it, you are deeply concerned how your child is going to turn out. More than anyone, you are invested in your child’s development and well-being. Will your child grow into an adult that you and others will like? These are weighty thoughts.

I confess I have moments where I ask myself these hard questions. In fact, if I am brutally honest, shame and fear creeps in and creates intensity in my parenting and discipline style that I don’t like. It’s not as though I consciously think to myself, “I need to figure out how to control these kids so they turn out right!” However, in the moments I am short and sharp with my children, I notice a common theme: I feel overwhelmed and out of control. Do you ever feel this way?

I was telling Chris about this recently and he asked me an insightful question. He said, “When you feel so overwhelmed by the kids, do you think this is an issue of emotional capacity or are you feeling triggered by something from the past?” To clarify, emotional capacity is when something is greater than my ability to adequately manage it, and I need to grow in my maturity skills. Triggered is a term to say unresolved pain that includes thoughts and feelings from my past that creep into the present and add intensity to an already difficult situation, which sends me over the edge.

As I thought and prayed about this question, it was clear that I had unresolved triggers impacting the interactions with my sons. The intensity of my feelings over their misbehavior was more than the situation called for. While it is discouraging to know how these painful triggers negatively impact interactions with my children, at the same time, it is hopeful to realize these unprocessed pain landmines can be disarmed! These responses do not make me a bad mother nor do they define me. These are places in my character that need some of God’s peace and healing. I do well to identify these places and repair with my children when I overreact.

After learning this, I spent some time with a friend practicing interactive Immanuel Prayer. I talked with Jesus about the situation and my big feelings. It became clear that part of what was creating intensity for me was the pervasive weight of responsibility I felt to raise my sons to be kind, generous, secure, capable adults who love Jesus. I was carrying around a heavy weight!

As I asked Jesus what He wanted me to know about raising the boys He has given me, I felt like He lifted the weight of responsibility from my shoulders. It was like Jesus was saying that, ultimately, He is responsible for how my sons turn out. My job is to follow His lead, and do what He asks me to do as I parent them. I realized my fear comes from a desire to protect my boys from pain and suffering. I felt like Jesus showed me there is no way to fully protect my children from pain. Rather, my sons will experience hard things in their lives and Jesus will use these hard and painful times to mold their character into the men He is calling them to be.

Whew! That was just what my heart needed. After these interactions with Jesus, I felt a renewed sense of peace and purpose wash over me. My boys are safely in Jesus’ hands! Yes, they will experience pain. Yes, they will endure hardship, but it will not be without purpose. Even in those moments, Jesus is drawing them closer to Himself.

Since my prayer time last week, I have seen a difference in my parenting style. I feel noticeably calmer in situations that previously would set me off. I am more patient and better able to extend grace to my boys when they act out and misbehave. When Jesus met me in my fears, something changed. I am deeply grateful for Jesus helping me remain a more peaceful parent. I feel thankful to my husband for asking the insightful question that led me down this road.

What fears drive you? Keep in mind that our fears tell a story about what we value. What do your fears say about you? I pray you find a fresh dose of peace as you turn to the Prince of Peace for clarity and relief.

SUBSCRIBE

Flames of Fury

The other day Chris and I had a couple of interactions that did not go smoothly. Ok, this is an understatement. I walked away from them feeling FURIOUS. I felt boiling mad…imagine steam coming out of my ears!

I tried to calm down, but it wasn’t working like usual. Thankfully, the kids were not around at the time so I opted for a little alone time and talked with Jesus about my big feelings. As I interacted with Him, the intensity of my feelings did not lessen like they usually do. However, I began to realize that maybe, just maybe, I was overreacting; a little bit. It occurred to me that Chris and I often have misunderstandings, and usually I feel frustrated and we quickly recover to joy. This time was different. I didn’t feel frustrated, I felt FURIOUS. I wasn’t recovering. I gave my feelings and the situation to Jesus then I asked Him what else He wanted me to know. I realized I was feeling way out of control and like my husband did not care about what was important to me, which, sadly, is a familiar feeling from my past. While the interaction with Chris was upsetting, the intensity I was feeling was out of proportion for the current situation. My past was unapologetically invading my present.

If there is something I have learned over the years, it is this. When I react with out-of-proportion intensity, there is more going on than meets the eye. This is known as being triggered, and our friend Dr. Karl Lehman also identifies this as unprocessed implicit memory, which refers to the feelings that are present without the information or details that go with the feelings. When a situation in present day life unconsciously reminds me of unresolved feelings (or situations) from the past, we call this being “triggered.” The difficulty with being triggered is we usually do not recognize it at the time and the intense feelings from the past spill into the current situation. What should be a minor frustration sky rockets into big and unmanageable emotions that are “off the charts.” In these moments nothing is going to go well until I can can quiet and have Jesus help me turn down the intensity from the past enough to resolve the problem in the present.

A number of things help me when I am triggered. Sometimes the simple act of quieting is enough. Since this is the easiest, I usually start there. If I need more, I talk with Jesus about how I am feeling and invite Him to help me calm down or show me what He wants me to know about the situation. This helps me feel seen, validated and understood so that I am not so alone in my feelings. I find that practicing appreciation warms up my brain and greatly increases the chances that I will be able to sense Jesus’ presence – even in the midst of my distress. When I have quieted and can clearly see where my past feelings are active, I can see the present problem and take responsibility for my part in the current situation.

After calming down I was able to follow-up with Chris on our earlier interactions. I could now own that the intensity of my reaction from earlier was not justified by the situation. I was able to express to him how I felt hurt by our interaction. My patient husband heard me and was apologetic. We discussed how the situation could be handled differently next time around. We were able to come up with a plan that felt good to both of us and we felt like we were again on the same team. Peace and joy was restored.

It is amazing how quickly things can spiral downward when triggered feelings go unrecognized. In most cases, our spouse has the response, “You are overreacting!” We may be overreacting but when our past pain includes feeling invalidated or minimized,things will be more explosive. Once we are able to calm down, recognize where the past is sneaking into the present and turn down the volume on the big feelings, the interaction has a much higher chance of resolving in a more satisfying way for everyone.

To learn more about triggers and implicit memory, I highly encourage you to read Outsmarting Yourself by Dr. Karl Lehman here or attend one of our Joy Rekindled Marriage Retreats to practice useful skills.

SUBSCRIBE