By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established, through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures” – Proverbs 24: 3- 4 (TNIV)
Goal: To grow your Social/Relational Core Area, which includes your thoughts, feelings, behavior, and experiences to engage in, build up and maintain mutual, meaningful, fun and respectful relationships.
The Importance of this Core Area: The idiom “this is where the rubber hits the road” is applicable in this, your Social/Relational Core Area because the work you’ve done to understand and integrate the love and goodness of God into your 5 Core Areas (Spiritual, Cognitive, Emotional, Physical/Biological and Sexual) will be on tangible display in this core area and in the next one (Environmental), as you live by and demonstrate your commitment to values, beliefs and intentional behavior in an enjoyable and meaningful (and hopefully mature) way with the “neighbors” in your life.
At first glance, this could be challenging for two reasons. First, it’s one thing to open yourself up to God and with His help, foster a relationship with Him where attributes, values, virtues and fruitful behaviors are developed in you, where gratitude prompts you to authentically say “I love you God with all my heart, soul, strength and mind,” due to the development of the 1stGreatest and the Middle “1.5 Commandment” (Love yourself) in your life. However, it’s another thing altogether to consistently develop then deliver the same essence and measure of love to your “neighbors” who are in and beyond your Social/Relational network, as we are encouraged to do per our adherence to the 2nd Greatest Commandment. Yes, at first glance this could feel daunting!
Second, it could be challenging because the question of your identity (“Who am I?”) squarely meets up with the question of intent, purpose and resolve (“How shall I live?”). Going forward, your behavior in these last two core areas not only provides answers to these questions, but your identity will also reflect your character and the wisdom you’ve chosen to live by, because your behavior reflects how you’ll treat others who are in close proximity to you at any given time, regardless of the ties you may have with them (Plesion, the Classical Greek word for “Neighbor”). Again, intimidating and challenging but not impossible, thankfully because we have a connection with a Higher Power who wants to teach and guide us in our efforts to be fruitful in all our affairs (John 14:15 – 17; 14: 26; 15: 4 – 5)!
So in this post we’ll name a few of the tools to help you to “love the neighbors” in your house, and in the next post we’ll look at how the application of those tools plus other strategies could assist you to love the neighbors beyond your home, who reside somewhere in the world we live in. Whether within or outside of your home, know that your established “1st Greatest Commandment connection” with God will empower and equip you to function effectively as the Chief Architect to build “2nd Greatest Commandment connections” and outcomes that are crucial to the positive development of anyone in and beyond your family system. Let’s look at some of the tools to help you produce your fruitful outcomes!
The Fruit from this Core Area: A few of the tools to help you achieve your goal of engaging in, building up and maintaining healthy connections with others are:
- Changing your mind with the A-C-T-I-V-E Model
- Changing your mind with the Wheel of Awareness
- Changing your mind with Interpersonal Neurobiology
- Changing your mind with the practice of LoveWorks
- Changing your mind with the River of Integration
- Changing your mind with the 68°- 72° Degree Target Chart.
Here’s why these tools are important:
Why the A – C – T – I – V – E Model is important: The A – C – T – I – V – E Model is important because before you engage in processes to facilitate change in someone else, you must first change yourself! So this self-reflection model helps you to identify unhealthy and/or dysfunctional patterns of thinking and behaving (e.g. maladaptive schemas, maladaptive schema modes, ego defenses and cognitive distortions) and prompts you to replace them with values and virtues which are constructive, adaptive and strategically help you to produce healthier connections and outcomes with others. Said one way, if you’re not a safe family member then it’s going to be difficult for others to grow and flourish in a household environment because safe people, safe places and safe processes are critical to the development of the brain, mind and healthy relationships!
Why the Wheel of Awareness is important: Developed by Dr. Dan Siegel (but adapted for use by the Author!), the Wheel of Awareness is created to assist you to “generate the best functioning in your Middle Prefrontal Cortex (mPFC)” because these nine parts (body regulation, attuned communication, emotional balance, response flexibility, fear modulation, insight, empathy, morality and intuition) are crucial to overcoming unintegrated adversity, dyadic dysregulation, posttraumatic repetition and emotional flooding, in addition to self- or other sabotaging behaviors. Knowing about then becoming skilled with how this part of your brain works will help you to develop, maintain and grow positive and self-empowering connections with others.
Why Interpersonal Neurobiology is important: When your brain and mind engage in goal-oriented activity to develop skills that produce constructive, functional and “win-win” relationship outcomes with the brain and mind of your partner or family member(s), then your effort typically results in what Dr. Siegel calls a personal “Triangle of Well-Being” and it also results in the production of what I call “good Interpersonal Neurobiology.” Developing and practicing good Interpersonal Neurobiology helps you remain “cooler and connected” during critical moments when the best of your thinking and energy is needed to help you to overcome current problems (“subtracting the negatives”) but also help you to create and maintain intimate connections with those close to you (“adding the positives”).
Why LoveWorks is important: LoveWorks is another practical and “integrated” model (this time with the acrostic “A – B – C – D – E”) to help you to identify, incorporate and live by values and strategies from different disciplines or schools of thought (e.g., Theology, Psychology, Neurobiology, Biology, etc.). This is important because although they work fine separately, when integrated or applied together the insights, strategies and outcomes tend to be far greater and more productive. Having said that, the LoveWorks model encourages you to…
A – Identify and live by your chosen Agape-oriented values. Doing this helps you to…
B – Impact your “Brain and Biology” (by revisiting the Nine mPFC) to powerfully guide you to create…
C – Healthy and beneficial connections within and beyond yourself, that guide you to…
D – Do the next right thing, because when you live by your values consistently, you’re…
E – Empowering your brain and reinforcing behaviors that prove LoveWorks!
Why the River of Integration is important: The River of Integration is another adaptation from Dr. Siegel to help you to mindfully integrate psychological and theological interventions to avoid the mentally disordered “shores and sandbars” of chaos (anxiety) and rigidity (depression) while you create and maintain flow, flexibility, adjustability, connection, congruence, and dependability for smooth traveling in the “river of mental health” during your life journey. You’re encouraged to implement the suggested behaviors to give your brain new opportunities to grow and your mind new skills to master in your overall effort to generate and enjoy health in your relationships.
Honorable Mention – Why the 68°- 72° Degree Target Chart is important: Somewhat like the River of Integration, the “68°– 72° Degree Target Charts” (Psychological and Theological versions) are intended to assist you in creating and maintaining safe behaviors in your mind and in your relationships, while also serving as a “quick reference menu of options” to help you notice then course correct any unproductive, unwanted or harmful personal behavior when you become aware of it. In addition, practicing your chosen behaviors establishes and reinforces a “best practices” list of actions that create esteem, skill and connection among other payoffs when you actively work to live within your identified range of responses.
Although you’ll find other helpful suggestions in this book, your predominant focus in your Social/Relational core area is to practice loving your neighbor as yourself, by producing behavior that creates a home environment where the safe behavior you value and practice helps to generate behaviors and experiences that promote good neural growth in the “developing brains” of the members in your family system. When this form of intentional living is fostered people in your family are treated honorably and with value, and their feelings and emotions are empathized with and respected, and secure attachments are formed where formerly traumatized members have a chance to survive then thrive largely because you’re using your energy to create and produce therapeutic behaviors and healing outcomes. It’s my hope these insights will generate hope and enthusiasm to learn about, consistently grow in and produce a type and quality of love that changes minds and changes outcomes for the good!
Contamination of this Core Area: A quick review of the Wheel of Awareness reveals four specific ways (Unintegrated Adversity, Dyadic Dysregulation, Posttraumatic Repetition and Emotional Flooding; there could be more) where your ability to love your neighbor as yourself could be compromised, contaminated if not downright sabotaged. Remember, the function of the Wheel is to produce a “triangle of well-being” within yourself, which could lead to the development of good interpersonal neurobiology with others in closest proximity to you, which strengthens your ability to do the next right thing, which contextually is to deliver appropriate expressions of love to them.
Unfortunately, when any of these four troubling, traumatic, “triggering” and dysregulating stressors are present (or embedded) in your life experiences, they tend to create a type of “mental tunnel vision” that could impede your ability to “see the larger picture” beyond the scope and range of the particular stressor that’s currently bothering you. When in this mental state, your awareness, focus, attention, perspective, and viewpoints could become limited to the data and stimuli that are currently dominating your mind, which could cause you to feel fear, anger, shame, trapped, stuck, or frustrated because you “can’t think about or focus on anything else,” which could impede your ability to do the next right thing, like delivering the appropriate expression of love to them per the situation at hand. Let’s take a closer look at these four contaminants.
Contaminant #1 – Unintegrated Adversity: Distress occurs when hurtful experiences aren’t acknowledged, addressed, nor do they receive a therapeutic response in a timely manner. Denial, Defensiveness, Disputes or other Ego Defenses are culprits that lead to reactive “hurt people hurt (other) people” interactions, which certainly interrupts your ability to get to the heart (of the matter) and thoughtfully contemplate then deliver the safe, caring or loving behavior that’s probably needed at that exact time!
Contaminant #2 – Dyadic Dysregulation: Distress occurs due to the presence and continuation of conflict in your relationship(s). These episodes “emotionally hijack” you, which means not only will your energy be misspent but you’ll probably default to and get lost in all the same old familiar places, practicing the same old losing relationship tactics, while the all-important intimacy needs that beg to be addressed will be ignored until a recommitment to safe and boundaried behavior is practiced by all.
Contaminant #3 – Posttraumatic Repetition: Distress occurs because current episodes of conflict could trigger traumatic memories from your past. This type of conflict triggers “fight, flight, freeze and feign” responses and/or the experience of emotional regression, which results in your engagement of child-like thinking and subsequently child-like reactions, versus sane, intentional, therapeutic and loving behaviors which can only be delivered by the adult part of you.
Contaminant #4 – Emotional Flooding: Distress occurs when emotions like fear, shame, humiliation, pain, grief, rage, sorrow or hopelessness overwhelm and threaten your ability to feel reassured, safe and grounded. Although the emotional imbalance (called Diffuse Physiological Arousal) in your brain and body is temporary, noticeable damage to your primary relationship(s) could be experienced because your “downstairs” emotions are not being helped by your “upstairs” cognition(s). This means your ability to render self-care to yourself, or, be open to alternative ways of viewing and integrating information, or, your ability to imagine and brainstorm possibilities with others, or, your ability to work with others to create and develop win-win strategies could be interrupted, or worse yet nowhere to be found!
Which of these contaminants is causing you distress, and threaten your ability to see if not create a larger and more loving picture of the behavior you’d like to display and deliver to your neighbors? Having then employing strategies that first create safety, calm then awareness helps your brain and body to then deploy practical, useful and therapeutic interventions you’ve “uploaded” into your mind which are more in line with the values you’ve not only chosen to live by, but will also assist you to accomplish your 2nd Greatest Commandment objectives.
Suggested Activity: Consider combining your insights from the above-mentioned exercises into a personal and relationship “Bill of Writes” document (fashioned after the Bill of Rights). Your Bill of Writes will serve as your mission statement and “living constitution” that provides guidance to you and reinforces your decision to live your life by the Agape-oriented values, strategies and experiences that make sense to you, while it equally provides safety, connection and empowerment to your “neighbors” who are in close proximity to you. As you consider the above-mentioned strategies, what ideas, changes and subsequent behaviors are beginning to come to mind that you’ll include in your first draft?
Keep in mind what you learned about yourself if you created a Trauma or “Self-Discovery” Egg (in “Defining Your Sexual Core Area”). This information will help you to identify the unhealthy family rules, roles, toxic behaviors and adverse childhood experiences that need to be treated, eliminated and replaced because they brought harm or trauma to you or others in your family of origin.
A carefully crafted Bill of Writes will function as a map, compass and flashlight to help you exit and avoid re-entry into the dark forests of traumatic repetition and it also guides and validates your right to live in an open, clear, inspirational and serene “meadow” where your life is defined by healthy, functional, fun, balanced, and agape-oriented values, principles and behaviors you’ve chosen to live by. Enjoy creating your new Bill of Writes (Rights)!
Skill to develop: Your ability to consistently develop and integrate into your relationships (2nd Greatest Commandment) what you have insightfully and intentionally grown, harvested and benefitted from as a result of the work you’ve done in the rows of your first 5 Core Areas (1st Greatest and “1.5” Commandment).
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” – Ephesians 4:29 (TNIV)
Thanks for reading this excerpt from Cultivating Love: Wisdom for Life. As time permits, please visit the other blogs written by Dr. Ken McGill: Daily Bread for Life and “3 – 2 – 5 – 4 – 24″ for additional information that could be helpful.
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