What do you turn to for comfort when you are hurting? Sugar? Drugs? Alcohol? Chocolate? Food? Sex? Excitement? Activity? A bad relationship? Did you know that these things we turn to when we hurt are substitutes for what our brains really want? Our brains were designed by God to thrive on joyful, relational connection to Him and others. God made us to long for someone to be glad to be with us; to be the sparkle in someone’s eyes. Our emotional brain is wired to be in joy-filled relationships. When we are not in relational joy, it hurts.
Babies arrive with this longing for relational joy and someone to meet their needs in a timely manner; to synchronize with their cries for help—or their smiles for love. When those around us do not connect with us when needed, we feel great pain. That pain is often left forgotten as we grow up, but the wound is there. Along the way, we figure out ways to dull the pain of cries–and smiles–left unheeded. Later, those things we turn to for temporary pleasure become monsters hounding us to be fed long after those early years are far removed. The pain we felt when ignored, neglected, dismissed, or even abused is called “Attachment Pain,” the worst pain we can feel. Those things to which we turn for temporary pleasure that cover the old pain are called “addictions.” The cure comes by learning how to quiet the monsters while experiencing joy-filled relationships with God and others who want to be with us.
Quieting monsters is not done by will power. Quieting monsters needs help from others who have better trained brains; people with trained brains that know how to quiet themselves, how to keep their relational circuits on, and how to pass their skills to others in attachment pain. The wounds that made the monsters need to be healed by Jesus. When unresolved wounds and attachment pain roar and relational circuits are off, bad things happen. It’s impossible to solve a problem when the RCs are off.
When our relational circuits are on in our brains, we see people as people rather than as a problem to solve. We care about their perspective, their feelings, and the possibility of working through something and keeping the relationship. When the RCs are off the opposites are true. We just want the person or problem to go away. We get defensive, attacking, and/or blaming. Quieting and restoring RCs go hand in hand. When we can quiet ourselves, get the RCs back on, work through an issue relationally, and be glad to be together in the distress, the monsters stay small and more manageable. In the process we are giving our brains what they want—relationship, connection, togetherness, belonging. These are the opposite of attachment pain and much more satisfying that the temporary pleasures. Healthy, joyful connections with others satisfy. When we get healing from our unresolved wounds and learn new brain skills for quieting and relating, those monsters will be overcome. The need for temporary pleasures to dull the pain will fall away. Authentic, joy-filled relationships in community are what we are craving.