Safety and Connection

Description: This workshop is part of the larger series Immanuel Prayer and Friendship with God.

Workshop Reading:

What helps people connect with God? In facilitating Immanuel Approach and prayer ministry related trainings one of my main goals is to help people connect with God in a relational, interactive, experiential way that goes beyond just talking about God to talking and interacting with God. I, along with many others, have found that people tend to connect much more easily with God once they feel connected and glad to be with one another. And they find it much easier to connect with other people when they feel safe around those people.

Relational Circuits: Dr Karl Lehman, the primary developer of the Immanuel Approach summarizes a big body of brain research by saying that our brain has specific “Relational Connection Circuits” that help us connect relationally with other people. When these circuits are running smoothly, we tend to feel glad to be with others, to care about what they are thinking and feeling, to feel adequately flexible, curious, and open to engaging with others. When these relational circuits are not running smoothly, and temporarily go partly or heavily offline we tend to a greater or lesser degree to not be glad to be with others, to focus on flaws and problems, to try to fix, judge, or blame others versus connect with them, and to lack curiosity and openness toward them. This clearly makes connection more difficult. It seems that the same relational circuits which help us connect with people also help us connect relationally with God. (Maybe no surprise given what a relational God we seem to have and in whose image we are created.) It appears therefore to many of us, and as you test it out, you may agree, that if our relational circuits are adequately online it is easier to connect with God (and people) and if they are too far offline it is more difficult to connect with God (and people). This fluctuation can often happen many times each day where at certain times we are in relational mode and at other times we are not. Our aim with these workshops is as much as possible to help people have their relational circuits online so that they can more easily connect with God and one another, and in the event that they go offline to have an environment and a culture that makes it easier get them up and running again. So, how do we help people get their relational circuits online?

How to get our relational circuits online? Dr Lehman and many other Immanuel Approach trainers have tended to emphasize the importance of remembering and reconnecting to positive memories and focusing on deliberate appreciation, as well as sharing these positive memories with others in a small practice group. This truly does seem to work well the majority of the time and it has been a fairly good starting point for many Immanuel Approach and other trainings. The problem comes when people have difficulty connecting with positive memories and difficulty feeling appreciation which happens for all of us from time to time. I have been experimenting with a slightly more foundational starting point than sharing positive memories: establishing safety. I want to establish safety at every level, physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual, but particularly emotional and relational safety.

Safety first! When we feel safe it tends to be easier to connect: While this may sound basic, it is perhaps so simple that most people overlook it and don’t think about it until it becomes clear that people are having difficulty connecting with one another and with God. Most professional and church based trainings I have attended do not directly name the importance of emotional and relational safety. Fortunately, many of these same facilitators and trainers automatically do certain things to promote an adequate sense of emotional and relational safety which allows the training to go fairly well and to be a positive experience for most people involved. However, if you have ever been in a group of any kind where adequate physical, relational, emotional, or spiritual safety was not taken into account, you can probably appreciate the importance of it.

What helps people feel safe and be safe? Being seen, heard, significant, and cared for.

Many people do not know that God is safe:

Our brain is always scanning for cues of safety and cues of danger:

What is relational and emotional safety? If you pause for a moment and think of a place/setting where you felt safe and able to relax. Now, think for a minute and notice some of the details about the setting you were in. Are there things about that setting that promoted a sense of safety and rest? Chances are that the scene contains things that communicate messages and associations of safety to your brain and lacks things that communicate potential danger or threat to our brain. These could be called cues of safety or cues of danger. In other words, settings which have a lot of cues of safety and few or no cues of danger tend to help us feel safe. The particular cues our brains interpret as safe or dangerous may be different for each person, so it is hard to use a particular example. For some people, a warm, sunny day relaxing on a familiar and safe beach contains a lot of cues of safety and very few cues of danger. For others, sitting by the window with a cup of tea and listening to the morning birds may be such a scene. These are places where the brain may feel physically safe.

If we take this a step further, what helps our brain feel emotionally and relationally safe? Our brains also have gathered a lot of information based on our life experiences about what is safe emotionally and relationally and what is not safe. They tend to go into alarm or threat mode when they recognize cues of emotional or relational danger. For some people who have had a lot of negative social experiences and relatively fewer positive relational experiences, our brains may be more sensitive to cues of danger and less aware of cues of safety. Here are some generally recognized cues of relational safety, remember that these may vary to some degree depending on the person.

What about spiritual safety?

What do I mean by connection. A basic sense of physical, emotional, and relational safety can free up space for our brain to connect more deeply with others since it does not feel the need to devote attention and energy to guarding us from threats.

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