Anxious? Upset? Angry? Relational Circuits and how to get them back on

October 27, 2013

I continue to be impressed with Karl Lehman’s book, Outsmarting Yourself, Catching Your Past Invading the Present and What to Do About It.  Karl is the psychiatrist in Chicago who developed the Immanuel method which we use to connect with God and process pain. According to Karl, there is specific circuitry in the brain that is active when we are relational.  When we are relational we feel connected to others and we want that connection. When our emotional intensity stays within the limits of our capacity, we are able to engage well with others and stay relational.  When the intensity or duration of an emotion exceeds our capacity, we become overwhelmed and we lose the ability to stay relational to varying degrees. This is like plugging too many appliances into an electrical circuit.  If we exceed the capacity, we will trip the circuit and electricity no longer flows.  In the same way we can overload our relational circuits. Healing increases our capacity so as we heal we should be able to stay engaged at higher and higher levels of intensity without becoming overwhelmed. Capacity is limited (except for God) but it can grow throughout our lifetime.

Many factors can reduce capacity. One of the primary ways is lack of sleep. We’ve all experienced how hard it is to deal with even minor bumps in life when we are tired.

There will be times when situations exceed your relational capacity. It is okay. But it is really good for us to be aware when this is happening so we can get our circuits back online.  The circuits affect all of our relationships including our ability to connect with God and people.  By now all of you who are familiar with Theophostic Prayer Ministry will recognize that having your circuits off is similar to being triggered.

In his book Karl outlines an objective way of recognizing when your relational circuits are fading or going off. How many of you have gotten into an argument with a spouse or friend about who was more triggered?  It’s you! No, it you!  Well here is an objective way to know if you are triggered.

When you are upset ask yourself:

1.  Do I feel connected to ____________? (Fill in the name of the person involved).

2.  Do I want to be connected to ________?

3.  Do I experience them as unique, valuable, relational beings?

4.  Am I aware of their true hearts?

5.  Do I feel compassionate concern regarding what they are thinking and feeling?

6.  Do I want to offer attunement? (More on this below)

7.  Am I able to offer attunement?

8.  Am I free of judgment?

9.  Do I experience their presence as a source of joy? (As opposed to a problem to be solved or a resource to be used).

10.  Am I glad to be with them?

11.  Am I comfortable making eye contact with them? (Other than angry glaring).

12.  Am I flexible and creative (as opposed to rigid and unable to think outside the box) with respect to thoughts and behavioral options?

13.  Am I patient and tolerant (or impatient, intolerant and irritable)?

14.  Do I perceive others as allies, and want to join, explore, understand and collaborate?  (As opposed to perceiving others as adversaries, tending toward judging, interrogating, and focusing on trying to “fix” the situation).

15.  Can I recall past positive experiences with the person and do I feel the positive emotions that should be associated with these good memories?

16.  Can I think of things I appreciate about the person, and do I feel gratitude as I think about these specific appreciations?

Note that these questions are not asking about how you ought to feel but what feelings spontaneously and involuntarily arise.

Karl’s book and hundreds of page of essays are available at and at


If your relational circuits are offline, how do you get them back online?

 According to Karl, one of the fastest ways to get your circuits back online is to have someone attune to you. To do this they should have their circuits on, have the capacity to do so in that area, and be willing to help you:

  1. feel seen
  2. feel heard
  3. feel understood
  4. feel that he/she is with you
  5. feel that he/she cares about you
  6. feel that he/she is glad to be with you

Karl notes that friends with the capacity and maturity to attune to us are not often available when we need this kind of help. If you are able to experience the Lord’s presence you can also let him attune to you.

 2,  Do the Shalom For My Body exercise, followed by Shalom For My Heart and Soul worksheet from the Belonging workbook.  This may be the best option if you both are highly triggered or don’t have access to TPM.


Shalom for my Body Demonstration on You Tube




3. Practice appreciation. Think of three things you are grateful for and remember those things in detail. Enter into the memory of what it feels like to savor a favorite meal, a time with a friend of a beautiful landscape. As you dwell in a place of gratitude, your relational circuits will come back on. You can do this even if difficult circumstances. My husband is fighting MDS and as he had his first transfusion (which took 13 hours!) we came up with a list of ten things we were grateful for. Right. In. the. It lifted our spirits and helped us realize that God was with us in the midst of our pain. Here is our list from December 23, 2016 when we were trying to get to Asheville to celebrate Christmas with our children and granddaughter:

1. Nurses and doctors have been great.
2. Sam feels better after the transfusion and his color is better.
3. I was able to walk to a Harris Teeter and get us both lunch. I “mistakenly” bought Sam a huge a sub but he needed it because he ate half for lunch and half for dinner.
4.  We are all packed and ready to go so that big job is done.
5. I drove home around 4 o’clock and loaded the car.
6. We have a great car, a one year old Prius.
7. Our kids have been incredibly supportive. Interacting with us by phone and FaceTime. Our daughters are both in Asheville with their husbands; our son is in Charlottesville and is willing to meet us and drive us the rest of the way to Asheville, if we need him to.
7. We took our dog Darby to Sam’s brothers yesterday because we thought we were leaving and we’re so glad we didn’t have to worry about him today while we were at the medical center.
8. We have tons of people praying for us.
9. Were able to hear from God who is comforting us in our distress. God is good. He loves us.
10.  We’re trusting that Sam will feel better for at least two weeks. We are grateful for that.
All this just to demonstrate that even with everything seems to be going south–you are heading out of town when the calls comes: Don’t leave, you need a transfusion!–you can find things to be thankful for and that can make all the difference.
After the transfusion we were so tired that we went back home and slept. In the morning I drove us to Charlottesville, our son drove us the rest of the way. We got there Christmas Eve at 6:00 PM, just in time for dinner. It was wonderful to be together. God is good.




What is our role in relationships?

May 28, 2011

You were looking forward to lunch with your friend but twenty minutes into the meal, she begins to tell you about her conflict with her mother and your stomach begins to tighten. What should you do?

It is not as hard as you think. We often get tense because it is hard to see people suffer and we think we have to fix the problem or come up with the solution. But we don’t have to be the answer experts. In fact I believe there are only four things we need to do to be a first-rate friend: Love our friends, listen to them, respect them and keep our lips zipped.

Let’s break these down.

Love Them

There isn’t a person on the planet who doesn’t love to be loved. We were made for close relationships with people and with God. Yet we often find it hard to stay relational and connected to someone in pain. How can we do it?

1. I remind myself that I can listen to them without agreeing with them.  I also tell myself, I don’t have to fix this. This is not my problem. I don’t have to take responsibility for this issue; I can help by listening.

2. Stay attentive. Make eye contact. It is often good to match the expression of the person who is sharing.  Matching facial expressions shows the speaker that you understand without words.

3. Be genuinely glad to be with them. People can tell if you want to be with them. According to Jim Wilder of the Life Model, a signal goes back and forth six times a second from your eyes to theirs that tells them if you want to be with them.

If you aren’t glad to be with them, be honest about your limitations. It is okay to say, “I only have ten minutes,” or “This isn’t a good time for me to talk,” or even “This is touching on some of my own pain and overwhelming me, can you spare me the details?”  Wilder calls this “taking the thorns out of the story.”  By this he means telling the story in a way that leaves out specific detail so we won’t overwhelm people.

4. Be aware of optimum spacing. The best distance for deep sharing is about an arm’s length apart.  If you move closer, a lot of people will feel that you have invaded their space and will back up.  If you stand further away, people tend not to open up. Also it is helpful to angle your body a bit relative to theirs, straight-on may be too confrontational, while side-by-side makes it hard to maintain eye contact. Choose something between straight-on and side-by-side. This works seated as well as standing, so think about positioning chairs at the optimum distance and angle for sharing.

5. Monitor you attitude. If you feel that your relational circuits are dimming or going off, take your feelings to God and process what you are feeling. Remember when talking to God always tell him how you feel not how you think you ought to feel. I sometimes find that my worry and concern get in the way. When I take my fear to God and connect with him, he gives me his perspective and enlarges my capacity to stay connected.

We all know people who radiate warmth and draw people like bees to honey. If you think about what makes them warm and inviting, it is almost entirely non-verbal. They smile, make eye contact and are genuinely glad to see you.

Then there are those who struggle to connect. According to the Life Model, the kinds of social skills that make it easy or hard for us to connect with others are learned while we are still infants. Have you ever seen a mother and baby smile at each other?  First one smiles, then the other. Back and forth. As they smile, their brains release dopamine, which builds joy and helps them bond. Babies and mothers need rest, too. Indeed the optimum emotional growth occurs with mothers and their little ones share synchronized cycles of smiling joy-building and rest where they let their bodies slow down and enjoy being quiet together.

If someone seems cold, don’t assume they don’t want to connect. Maybe no one synchronized with them when they were tiny and now they don’t know how to synchronize with others. They may isolate themselves because it was too painful to try repeatedly to connect without success. But it is never too late to build those social skills. We can help by tuning in, being genuinely glad to be with them and modeling good skills, including when to disengage, take a break and rest.

Listen to Them

The second way we can reach out to a struggling friend is by honing our listening skills so they feel understood. According to the class Listening for Heaven’s Sake by Equipping Ministries International, listening makes people feel loved and helps them process and take ownership of their own problems.  And knowing how to listen well can also keep you, the listener, from becoming anxious or overly involved in your friend’s woes.

How do you start? The best way to make people feel understood is to reflectively listen to them. It shows them that we want to understand even if we don’t get it right the first time. To listen reflectively, we listen closely and try to discern what the seeker is feeling and thinking.  Body language and voice tone speak volumes about what others are feeling and if you listen closely you should have some idea of the thought, or situation, that has them stirred up.  Then simply put the feelings and thoughts together and slap a tentative opening on the front and you are good to go.

Tentative opening?  The Listening for Heaven’s Sake class teaches participants to start with a tentative opening because no one likes to be told what they think or feel. Even if someone says, “I am furious, that car almost hit me!” they don’t want to hear you say: “You are angry!”  The tentative statement: “You sound a little angry,” sounds so much better.

Start tentative. Some good ways to make your reflective statement tentative is to turn it into a question such as:

Am I hearing you say  . . . ?

Are you saying . . . ?

Are you feeling  . . .?

Or you can just begin with the word, “So . . . you’re feeling . . .  or “It seems like you’re . . . .”

The word little is also great.  “So you’re a little blue?”  “Am I hearing you say that you are feeling a little down.”

It takes practice but when you get good at it, it becomes almost automatic. People love it when you listen.

When you reflect back the feeling and the situation, try to use different words than the speaker.  Don’t sound like a parrot! It will only irritate them.

“I am so angry.”

“You sound angry.”

“I am angry. She almost hit me.”

“So she almost hit you?”

AAArrrggh. No one wants to be mimiced. If you are struggling, be silent and keep an attentive expression. That is so much better than most people do.

So let’s try to practice reflecting.

Exercise One:  “I am really struggling.  My daughter says she wants to move to California.”

Step one. Chose a tentative opening.  So . . .

Step Two.  What might the seeker be feeling? Hurt. Sad. Betrayed. Lost. Devastated. Irritated.

Step Three. What is the situation?  Her daughter wants to move out. Her daughter is leaving.  Her daughter is moving away.

Put it all together

So am I hearing you say that you are feeling sad because your daughter wants to move away?

So you’re pretty upset that your daughter wants to move out.

It seems it would be pretty painful to have your daughter say she wants to find a new place to live.

Let’s try it again

Exercise Two:

“My son broke my favorite teapot!”

See if you can come up with a good reflective statement.  Send them to me as comments and I will post the best ones.

In my next blog, more on listening, respect and how to keep our lips zipped.

Ideas in the blog are from the course Listening for Heaven’s Sake and the Life Model at

Eating crow on Good Friday

April 22, 2011

I’ve been reading Karl Lehman’s new book, Outsmarting Yourself, Catching Your Past Invading the Present and What to Do About It. In the book he talks about recognizing triggers. You know, the moments when you get stirred up about something. A meltdown. An overreaction. A not-so-nice reaction to someone you normally love.

We all learned about triggers from Theophostic Prayer Ministry which teaches that the primary source of our pain is rarely the present. The pain orginates in unresolved memories. I’ve been practicing Theophostic or TPM as we call it for years, since, I think, 2004 and all of us have benefited.

Now most of my family knows the drill: Let yourself feel the painful emotion and, because your brain works by association, a memory that feels the same will surface. Once you have the memory let yourself be in the memory and process how you feel and what you believe. Your feelings will match your beliefs and as you cycle down to deeper and deeper levels of feelings you will hit pay dirt: A core lie such as, I am worthless; I should have never been born; or my personal favorite, No one will ever love me because I am unloveable. Once you have the core lie, we ask Jesus to speak: Is it true that Betsy is unloveable? And he does. It is different for everyone. I ususally see pictures in my mind, some people have impression or thoughts that come to them. It is a glorious experience, something you have to do to fully understand.

All this to say that I know about triggers, but I don’t get so easily triggered anymore. Or so I thought.

Then I began reading Lehman’s book. Kudos to Karl for being so open. It is as if he is dissecting his heart in front of you. And ouch, it got me.
One of the best ways to recongize that you are triggered, he writes, is to check your relational circuits. My what? Relational circuits are anologous to electrical circuits, they can only handle so much juice before the go frizz, bang, pop.  The list is long but I will give you the ones that resonate with me:

1.  Do I feel connected to ____________?

2.  Do I want to be connected to ________?

3. Do I experience their presence as a source of joy?

4.  Am I comfortable making eye contact with them?

5. Am I patient and tolerant (or impatient, intolerant and irritable)?

At this point several people came to mind and I was batting 0 for 5.  I began to squirm. It is so easy, as a busy ministry leader to simply carve people out of your life. Those who criticize me.  Those who irritate me.  Those who wanted “too much” of my time.  Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!

I was looking forward to a quiet Friday. I was fasting and looking forward to connecting with God.  Good Friday.  But as the morning puttered on I began to feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit. I had a few calls I needed to make.  To people I had rendered invisible.

They accepted my apologies and said that they honestly had not noticed.  I know that is true. It is so easy to ignore people and they just assume you are busy. It is so easy to look good and have a rotten heart. But God knows, and so do I.

If ever there were a good day to eat crow, Good Friday has to be it.

Karl’s book is available at
More about Theophostic at