Chris Coursey is founder and president of THRIVEtoday. See more of Chris’ online features such as podcasts and guest blogs here.
I remember the time my wife Jen was holding our screaming son when he was a baby. His brother grabbed his favorite toy, and he was having none of that. He lost it. He was crying loudly. This was a magnificent tantrum! Jen quickly offered comfort by pointing out the toy he thought was gone was already returned and within reach. If only he would open his eyes to see what was happening! Jen’s words did not resolve our son’s distress.
If we could scan the two brains in this interaction, we would see an intriguing picture. The brain’s relational circuitry is offline. My son was upset and he wanted what he wanted. Have you ever felt this way? In this case, my son wanted his favorite toy. My wife was trying to soothe my son’s upset and in the process of listening to his screaming, her brain shifted into “problem-solving” mode to make the distress stop. Have you ever felt like you wanted a person, feeling or problem to go away?
Of course, you have! Because you are human. All of us have times we wish big painful feelings would go away, or that problem person would stop talking. We all have moments where we lose our peace and our joy dissipates like the morning mist. In this situation with Jen and my son, I told Jen that our son was likely unaware he was in his mother’s arms. His brain’s relational center was temporarily disabled. His eyes were closed. His yelling was loud. Our unhappy camper did not realize his loving mother was trying to soothe him. I said, “Dear, he doesn’t even know you are holding him! Try to gently rub his back while you sing softly to him.” Within a few short moments our son opened his eyes. He calmed down, and realized Mommy was holding him and he was not alone. Joy was restored.
Interpersonal neurobiology calls this relational center on the right half of the brain the right-hemispheric emotional control center or the emotional control center for short. My friends Dr. Karl Lehman and Dr. Jim Wilder call it by a much easier name to remember, our brain’s relational circuitry or simply “RC’s” for relational circuits. This four-level relational center is progressively integrated and closely interconnected. I like to think of this as the brain’s master switch, because this region of the brain must be working in order for us to remain our best, most relationally engaged self. When online, we can be flexible and patient. We are able to put ourselves in other people’s shoes to better understand their experience – even empathize with them. We can lower and turn down our intensity when we see others reach the end of their limits. We think through different scenarios to pick the best option. Quite simply, we are better primed to enjoy interacting with people. In my new book The Joy Switch, I call this ability to remain relational staying in our relational sweet spot.
In our relational sweet spot, we have at our disposal the learned relational skills we picked up along the way from our family and community. These are the 19 skills we train at THRIVEtoday. These skills keep us relationally connected with people – and with God. Learning relational skills help us stay in relational mode under increasingly difficult circumstances and return to relational mode faster when we fall out. In my book, I suggest using the CARS solutions as the Joy Switch steps to activate the brain’s relational circuits. CARS stands for Connection, Appreciation, Rest and Shalom My Body. We share our distress with others (or God) so we are not alone, we remember the good stuff to feel appreciation, we take a relational pause to catch our breath and we practice a specific set of exercises known as Shalom My Body to calm our body and mind. The Joy Switch includes the wide range of steps and activities which help us activate our relational circuits and stay in our relational sweet spot.
Let’s face it; we all feel relational at times and offline at other moments. When we think about the things which upset, annoy and bother us, we lose our peace and our relational circuit-breaker can go off. The lack of peace is a good sign we are slipping into enemy mode. The difference between relational mode and enemy mode is rather noticeable when we start to experience this shift in ourselves and others. Learning crucial brain skills is a vital step toward developing “Jesus-like” character where we increase our ability to live with an awareness of God’s peaceful presence and keep relationships bigger than problems. THRIVE Training exists so people can strengthen their existing relational skills and acquire new skills.
Enjoy a free relational assessment to better gauge your relational temperature and practice a new exercise here to jumpstart your brain’s master switch. Joy spreads when we share it with others, so I encourage you to go through THRIVEtoday’s materials with friends and practice the exercises. Watch what happens!
Further Reading: The Joy Switch