Answered by Jessie Handy: Just to give a bit more context, the full question I was originally asked is, “What if someone is a real introvert, and does not deal well with personal relationships or even being with people? Is it possible they don't have the capacity to handle relational circuits?”
That's a great question, and one I've wrestled through myself, since I'm an introvert. Here are some thoughts:
Having RCs on is not just about enjoying being around other people in an extrovert way. RCs can be on or off for introverts just as they can for extroverts, but there are different things that turn them on or off for introverts than for extroverts. I find that sometimes I'm overwhelmed by people and my RCs shut down, and being alone helps me get them back on. I can tell they're on when I feel content (rather than restless), when I feel centered and connected to myself (as opposed to stressed or numb), and/or when I'm able to settle into a sense that God is near (rather than that I have to work hard or beg to get him to hear and answer). Often this happens as I take a long walk outside or sit down with a good book. Then I can spend time with people again and enjoy it, and be in relational mode. I also know about myself that I'm much more likely to have my RCs on during a one-on-one or small group conversation than at a cocktail party or wedding reception, so I have to prepare myself to pay attention to my RCs more diligently when I'm at a big party.
So I would make a clear distinction between being introverted, on the one hand, and not dealing well with relationships and not having much capacity, on the other. Growing one's capacity and ability to deal with relationships in healthy ways can happen whether one is an introvert or extrovert, and it will look different for introverts and extroverts. For example, when my RCs are off and I don't want to talk with people, I just withdraw emotionally and come off as cold and uncaring, or anti-social. I avoid taking phone calls, I get annoyed when interrupted, etc. When my RCs are on and I don't want to talk with people, I can tell them graciously that I've hit my social limit and just need some alone time. I'll answer the phone and ask the person if we can set up a time to talk later in the day or week, and I'm able to set aside my work for necessary interruptions without grumbling about it - even when I'd rather keep working on a task. It's more about handling the situation relationally than about whether I'm naturally introverted or extroverted.
At the same time, it's quite possible, as you suggest, that a person may seem introverted because the actual issue is low capacity and their RCs shut down often or for long periods of time. Whether the person is truly an introvert or actually an extrovert who comes off as an introvert, they really need some help growing their capacity to be in joyful relationship mode. The best way to work on that is to start connecting with them as much as possible without overwhelming them. You can do this by noticing & telling them things you appreciate about them, attuning with them (listening well), and finding things that turn their RCs back on. These things can help build their capacity to deal with more difficult stuff. For some people this will take days or weeks. For others it will take years and a team of pastors, intercessors, therapists, family & friends. In the process, be careful not to overwhelm them, and be sensitive to the alone time they do want or need.
If you're involved in a relationship where the other person is like you described, I think your main tools are: prayer, keeping your own RCs on, and working on your own frustration and impatience as they arise. You might consider possibly having a frank but gracious talk with this person and offering help. It would also be valuable to find or cultivate a strong and joyful community for yourself that will work with you to love this person. You must also be willing to let the person make their own decisions about how to respond. It’s self-defeating to attempt to force or manipulate or nag someone into getting relational. That’s why prayer and doing your own internal work is such an important part of the process.
I hope that helps! Jessie
I’ve been in the people-helping business for a long time, in one aspect or another: nursing, health upgrading, clinical psychology. I saw good things happen in each of those eras of my career. But the most exciting change for me was the shift in focus from the healing of wounds to the development of maturity. My introduction to this new paradigm was the book The Life Model and Dr. Jim Wilder’s teaching videos from 1999.
I had been on a long journey of my own to heal from A Trauma wounds. Somehow back in the 90’s it got through to me that I was not just wounded but also immature. Sadly I was already in my 40’s and felt so far behind. I began desperately begging God to grow me up. I had no idea how to do it, knowing I had definitely missed the sweet spot for the development of emotional and spiritual maturity. Whatever was supposed to happen, hadn’t. I knew someone was supposed to have done something for me, to me, about me, with me, but I had no clue what it was. And no idea how to get there.
Therefore the desperate cry of my heart, “Grow me up!” Then I read in The Life Model something that confused me. “Maturity is not a spiritual gift nor is it a byproduct of salvation. It is something we, as Christians, must work at our whole lives.” (I knew that part.) “Salvation, deliverance, healing and redemption – these are all God’s domain. God graciously and miraculously does all these things for us because we cannot do them for ourselves. But maturity is our domain.” That was the hard part because I felt SO dependent on God to do a work in me I didn’t know how to do myself. How could developing maturity be my domain? How could I untangle my job of maturing from his job of healing me from the wounds that kept me from maturing?
Then one day, I was driving a congested freeway in the Chicago suburbs on my way to an appointment. I was asking God to get me there safely, when I had a moment of clarity. I saw the difference between his job and my job in that circumstance right then.
His job, if it was in his plan for me, was to protect me from other driver’s actions and random events that I couldn’t control. But what I realized about my part was the real breakthrough. I had to meet him halfway by being willing to stay open to his prompting so that he could guide me – warn me to slow down or avoid a certain truck or really pay attention right now.
That may sound simple and obvious, but a hallmark of my immaturity was stubborn resistance, not being responsive to guidance. If I wanted to go fast, I would set my chin and go fast. As much as I knew all the verses about obedience and wanted intimacy with Jesus, I hadn’t yet seen how that familiar feeling of resistance was a maturity issue I could do something about.
From then on I began a discipline of saying, “Dear Father, as I drive, please protect me from the actions of others and events that I can’t control. And I pledge to you that I will do my best to be attentive to your voice as you guide me about my driving and my focus and my attitude. I want to be responsive to you as a cooperative child with a wise and loving parent.”
My first of these lessons was also in the car. I became aware that I would stubbornly refuse to put on my seat belt each time I remembered that I should. By God’s grace (even though I was stubbornly resisting him at the time) I realized how self-destructive that was, and I made a tiny maturational leap. I decided that every time I realized I didn’t have my seat belt on, I would immediately put it on, even if I were only 2 minutes from home. I've never forgotten that moment, that small beginning in learning to be responsive rather than resistant, cooperative rather than stubborn.
When I hear a truth or learn a new concept, especially in the area of spiritual life or human relationships, I’m not content until I can grasp it at a doing/being level for myself. The lessons of the seat belt and how to stay safe on the highway have given me little pictures of a big truth. Doing my job goes beyond grasping the concept of obedience and submission. It means putting on the darn seat belt when I feel like resisting, and being willing to follow simple guidance on the road like “slow down,” “look to your left,” and “don’t pass that truck.”
I know that many, many times I've asked him to do my part in this interactive relationship we call the Immanuel Life. I’m aware and very grateful that my healing God has met me in the dependency of infant maturity and the messiness of child maturity that gets mixed in with adult responsibilities and relationships. But if I want to grow up, I will learn not to expect my parent to do my chores for me, and I will stop stubbornly resisting correction. My loving Father will help me grow, but I must take his hand and pledge to do my part.
We all know how dramatically this virus is affecting our lives, some more than others. But we’re all facing circumstances and challenges we’ve never had before. I’m thinking today about the effects of confinement, stay at home quarantine, and what the Life Model wisdom and practices have to offer us. Dr. Wilder and Marcus Warner wrote a book called Rare Leadership, using the acronym RARE, a very powerful and useful summary of what the Life Model has to offer. R – Remain relational A – Act like your connected self R – Return to relational joy when you’ve lost it E – Endure hardship well These are all skills that originate from a well-trained R prefrontal cortex, the relational control center of the brain. The Life Model in a nutshell is about training and maintaining these skills. This virus is presenting all of us with hardship of one sort or another. Let’s look at how these 4 skills can be worked into our quarantined condition and beyond . Remaining relational has to do with becoming aware of our relational brain circuitry and recognizing when we are in relational mode and when we’re not. There is much that can be learned about relational circuits, but a summary is that when they are on, we are in harmony with those around us. It can be high energy or peaceful energy, but we are synchronizing well and glad to be together. Circuits off usually results in misunderstandings, discord, and strife. If we can keep our Relational Circuits on, we are more likely to act like our relationally connected self. What can we do in our confinement to keep our relational circuits on and increase harmony and relational joy? Here are some practical suggestions: 1) Express a lot of gratitude and appreciation for everyone in the household. Gratitude is like food for the relational brain. Children and adults alike will thrive on it. Parents can model it for the children, encouraging them to thank each other, to tell each other what they like about the others and about good things that they do. Focus more on good behavior than on bad. Create a specific time each day for expressing appreciation to each other. 2) During that connecting time each day, acknowledge whatever struggles family members are having and gather around that person to pray for them. Teach the children to pray for each other, each child praying for another family member, especially those who may not have acted like their connected self. Practice connecting with Jesus by expressing gratitude to him and listening to his responses of love and encouragement. The booklet Joyful Journey offers a very practical template for interacting with Jesus and can be practiced in the group or individual devotional time. 3) When frustrations erupt, come closer together to help each other rather than pulling apart. Whoever is not frustrated has the opportunity to help the group practice being glad to be with someone who is frustrated and help them return to relational joy. Gather around physically, use positive touch if possible, acknowledge the negative emotion, communicate that you are with them and for them. If you are able to do this is some form or fashion, it invites the person whose relational circuits are off and who is feeling disconnected back into harmony with the family. There is more likely to be repentance and forgiveness in an environment of love and acceptance rather than condemnation. 4) It isn’t a good idea to isolate a child who is acting out, because they need a more mature person to invite them back into relational joy. But sometimes as adults we need to put ourselves in timeout if we are not handling our frustration well, and we need to go connect with Jesus to get it back together. The temptation however is to nurse our grievances and come out worse than before. Humble yourself before Jesus and invite him to be with you in your messy state. His presence will make a difference as you synchronize your perspective with his and receive his loving care. 5) It’s important, especially for parents and spouses, to learn to recognize the symptoms of overwhelm in ourselves and each other. Overwhelm results in disconnection and an escalation of miscommunication, triggering, fight or flight, and no good outcome. Symptoms like raised voices, tense body language, rapid fire interactions without listening to each other, or shutting down with no eye contact, slumped posture, and no words. This skill involves recognizing the overwhelm and being able to take a break to rest, deescalate, breathe, reestablish positive touch, pray together, or just let it go until you can come back and deal with it in relational mode. Dr Wilder is focusing in this time of crisis on how we can avoid enemy mode and protect others from ourselves when we need to. Enduring hardship well means that when we live in relational mode and return to it quickly when we lose it, we will be able to care about those around us, to recognize what they’re going through, offer help where we can, and avoid subjecting them to our unconnected self. Don’t forget that Jesus is our very best model of how to live in loving connection with ourselves and others. It transforms our ability to love when we experience him loving, guiding, correcting, and affirming us. Learn about the Immanuel Approach process at immanuelapproach.com and alivewell.org. Go to lifemodelworks.org to find the books Rare Leadership and Joyful Journey. May you and your loved ones experience JOY in these troubled times.