The Brain’s Relational Real Estate

My husband and I had a wonderful time seeing old friends and making new friends at the recent Life Model Works Annual Gathering this past week. This conference was a success and each day was filled with joy and special moments from beginning to end.

Chris was busily training attendees on the 19 relational brain skills as well as emceeing the event while I worked on troubleshooting problems and overseeing volunteers and speakers. The days were long which means this past week was not a time of rest and relaxation. To top it off, I ended up catching a cold so the combination of busyness and sickness left me feeling worn down. By the time I returned home I noticed my energy levels were low.

Things came to a head this morning when it was time to get out of bed but my body refused to move. Chris was out of the house early for a doctor appointment and my blaring alarm clock felt like an intrusive annoyance preventing me from the sleep I craved. Well, in truth it was not an option to stay in bed because I needed to drive my son Matthew to school. Feeling sick as well as tired, I was in a sour mood from the moment I opened my eyes. Things quickly culminated by the end of breakfast as I was encouraging my boys to put on their shoes so we could get out the door. They were not responding to me so my frustration along with my diminished relational capacity led to some scowling and snapping on my part. By the time we all climbed into the van the thought occurred to me: “My relational circuits (RC’s) are way off!”

I knew I did not want to send my boys out for the day on a grumpy note, so I decided to try and wake up my relational brain. Because I am usually the one reminding my boys to activate their relational circuits, I thought they would enjoy the opportunity to coach me this time around. I said, “Boys, Mommy’s RC’s are off. What do you think I should do to get them back on again?”

In case you are wondering what relational circuits are, I refer to this topic in previous blogs but I have not spent much time explaining them. Relational circuits are a specific part of our physical brain that, when functioning and working, help us feel connected with people. We have the desire to connect. When our relational circuits are dimmed or off, we lose our desire for connection and we no longer experience joy with the people around us. We no longer value or care about what others around us are thinking or feeling. We no longer correctly gauge our impact on others. Everything in life and relationships runs better when our relational circuits are on because we can be our best relational self to navigate the smooth or bumpy terrain of relationships. Thankfully, we all can learn how to recognize the moments our relational circuits are off then take the necessary steps to restore our RC’s.

During the events Chris and I run, we spend a good portion of time training people to recognize the status of their relational circuits and keep them on. Thanks to the work and resources of Dr. Karl Lehman. Dr. Jim Wilder, and Ed Khouri, we have lists available to help people identify the status of their relational circuits. Below is a condensed list with questions you can ask yourself. If you answer “Yes” it is likely your relational circuits are off.

  •      I just want to make a problem, person or feeling go away.
  •      I don’t want to listen to what others feel or say.
  •      My mind is “locked onto” something upsetting.
  •      I don’t want to be connected to __? (someone I usually like)
  •      I just want to get away, or fight or I freeze.
  •      I more aggressively interrogate, judge and fix others.

If you answer “Yes” to any of these questions, the next step is to restore your relational circuits by 1. practicing appreciation and gratitude or 2. utilizing the Shalom My Body exercises. You can watch the Shalom my Body sequence here on YouTube. With practice, you can quickly distinguish the moments your relational brain is on from the moments your relational brain is off. The contrast between the two is remarkable.

Now back to my morning. The boys enjoyed giving me suggestions how to get my RC’s back on. Before we pulled out of the driveway, all of us were giggling and laughing. My relational circuits were brightly shining. I felt deeply satisfied sending my sons out for the day on a high and joyful note!

I recommend you pursue resources by Dr. Karl Lehman at www.kclehman.com and Dr. Jim Wilder at joystartshere.com for more information on the brain’s relational circuits. Specifically the Connexus for a thriving community is a great resource on relational circuits.  Chris and I wrote 30 Days of Joy for Busy Married Couples to give marriages a relational, joyful boost

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