**Note: please don’t let this section on relational connection circuits intimidate you, and lead you to the conclusion that Outsmarting Yourself will probably be too technical for you. In the book, more than one-hundred pages are dedicated to carefully explaining the material that is summarized here in the following two pages. Many true story illustrations and case study examples are included to help the reader understand these very important phenomena and principles.**
We have been created to be relational beings – we have been created to be in relationship with God and with each other. Our minds and spirits have been created to desire relationship and to function best in relationship, and the Lord has actually designed specific circuits in our biological brains to serve this longing and need for connection. When these brain circuits are functioning as designed, our spontaneous, normal experience will be to feel relationally connected and to feel the desire for connection. We will experience others as relational beings, we will be aware of others’ true hearts, we will feel compassionate concern regarding what others are thinking and feeling, we will perceive the presence of others as a source of joy, and we will be glad to be with them. We will both want to offer attunement and be able to offer attunement, we will be flexible and creative even when unexpected circumstances require that we change our plans at the last minute, and little things won’t “get under our skins.” When these brain circuits are functioning as designed, our spontaneous, normal experience will be to perceive others as allies, even in difficult interpersonal situations; and as part of this allied attitude we will want to join with them in the collaborative process of exploring the situation together, we will want to understand their perspectives, and we will want to join with them in the collaborative process of working together to find a mutually satisfying solution. Charlotte refers to this way of living as “operating in relational mode.”
Unfortunately, there are certain problems and conditions that can cause us to temporarily lose access to these brain circuits. When this happens we operate in non-relational mode. Our spontaneous experience in non-relational mode will include the absence of feeling relationally connected, and we won’t even want to be connected. We will not perceive others as relational beings, we will not be aware of other’s true hearts, we will not feel compassionate concern regarding what others are thinking and feeling, and we will not be glad to be with them or experience their presence as a source of joy. We will not want to offer attunement or be able to offer attunement, we will be rigid and unable to think outside the box, and we will find little problems to be much more irritating. When we are operating in non-relational mode and we encounter difficult interpersonal situations, instead of perceiving others as allies we perceive them as adversaries, and instead of wanting to join, explore, understand and collaborate we will tend towards judging, interrogating, and focusing on trying to “fix” the situation. Furthermore, when we lose access to our relational connection circuits in the context of being upset with a specific friend or family member, instead of perceiving that person’s presence as an emotional resource we will perceive him as the problem.
When we lose access to the parts of our brains responsible for processing relational connection (that is, when we fall into non-relational mode), we temporarily lose the relational aspect of every area of our lives. We not only lose the ability to be relationally connected to those around us in the present, we also lose the ability to think relationally, and we even lose the relational connection components of our memories.
One of the most important consequences of falling into non-relational mode has to do with attunement. As described above, attunement is an especially powerful form of relational connection, and when we are connected to others through attunement we can temporarily share their neurological, emotional, and spiritual resources. For example, if we are in a painful situation that is beyond our capacity and/or maturity skills, but we are linked to the Lord and/or others in our community through attunement, we can still successfully complete all processing tasks by “borrowing” capacity and maturity skills from the Lord or any others who are stronger and more mature. However, when we lose access to our relational circuits we temporarily lose this special attunement bridge, and for as long as we remain in non-relational mode we are no longer able to receive this capacity and maturity skill augmentation from others.
And all this stuff about relational connection circuits is especially relevant to our discussion of psychological trauma because the implicit memory package that comes forward when unresolved trauma are activated usually also includes loss of access to our relational connection circuits. Referring back to the pain processing pathway and the origins of trauma: in order to successfully process a painful experience we need to stay in relational mode as we feel the negative emotions associated with the experience. In fact, providing this necessary condition by maintaining access to our relational circuits is one of the most important processing tasks, and being unable to stay in relational mode is one of the most common and most important processing failures that causes painful experiences to become traumatic. This means that one of the most common and most important pieces of unresolved content carried in traumatic memories is loss of access to our relational connection circuits. And if the unresolved content carried in a particular traumatic memory includes loss of access to your relational connection circuits, then these circuits will go off line (and you will fall into non-relational mode) every time this particular memory gets activated. Not every traumatic memory carries this problem, so being triggered does not always cause this temporary loss of relational mode; but my perception is that most traumatic memories do carry loss of relational connection. Therefore, in most situations where you are triggered you have also fallen into non-relational mode.
The good news is that knowing about these phenomena and understanding these principles translate into several very practical, valuable applications:
1.) Learning to recognize when we lose access to our relational circuits is the easiest to learn, easiest to use, and the most effective tool for helping us recognize the times when we are triggered. (An entire chapter of Outsmarting Yourself is dedicated to helping you learn this important skill.)
2.) Recognizing that we have lost access to our relational connection circuits, and then choosing to take deliberate steps to get them back on line, will dramatically reduce the negative effects of our traumatic implicit memory and VLE confabulations. (Several chapters in Outsmarting Yourself are dedicated to describing, and then teaching you how to use, specific tools for getting your relational circuits back online.)
3.) As described below, when a person is triggered, making sure that you are in relational mode, and then helping him regain access to his relational circuits, is one of the most valuable interventions you can offer.
4.) Furthermore, understanding with respect to our relational circuits and attunement, and specific tools that apply this understanding, can further neutralize the exacerbating factors discussed in chapters 9 through 13.
See chapters 12, 15 through 22, 24, and 25 for additional explanation, true story illustrations, and fascinating case study examples.