Tag Archives: anger

Another Relational Red Flag

redflag

You have been there. You are standing in a customer service line at a local store and the woman at the front of the line is arguing with the store representative. She gets louder and louder and more insistent and belligerent. You cringe. You are embarrassed for her, and you are feeling a lot of empathy for the employee.

I must admit that in the above scenario I always pray that the bully is not a member of our church. In “Christian-speak” we call it “blowing your witness”. That is when your spoken beliefs and your actions do not match. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that Christians have been labeled hypocrites – because in this case it is deserved.

In our premarrieds class I call this out as a red flag issue. I will ask the students to evaluate their partners. How do they treat service people, or wait staff in a restaurant? Are they kind and respectful towards them, or do they treat them as if they were lesser people? And why is this important? Eventually you will become the target of their displeasure and you are likely to be treated just as harshly or disrespectfully. Or you will have to stand by, perhaps in a public setting or in front of friends,  thoroughly embarrassed while your beloved is having a temper tantrum.

Yes, there are times when it is appropriate to be assertive. But this does not mean hostile and angry. I have found that the old saying “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” is largely true. Kindness is much more likely to motivate someone to help you get your needs met than rude or arrogant behavior. When I need to deal with a situation where I desire a corrective response I use phrases like: “I noticed that….”, or “I would like to bring something to your attention”, or “ I would like to request that….”.  I usually get good results.

From a Christian standpoint, Jesus suggests that it is better to take the hit, than to insist on getting our way. He never confronted anyone for selfish reasons. Instead he defended the weak; those that were being oppressed or taken advantage of by the religious leaders. Why was he so stern with these Pharisees? They were misrepresenting God to the people.

It is the kindness of God that leads to repentance. Our objective with our Christian brothers and sisters is restoration, not rejection. And our goal with others is to win them over with our love. That can’t be done if we are “pitching a fit”.

Pastor Tim Keller suggests that the solution in marriage (especially) is learning to forgive before confronting. It will change the whole interaction from primarily being a selfish pursuit (wanting only to be heard rather than to restore). Instead of seeking to punish, lecture or condemn, the goal is to connect, to understand and to reconcile.

Red flags mean stop: course correction needed before proceeding.

Romans 12:10 (NIV) Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 

Philippians 2:3-4 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. 

Ephesians 4:15 (NLT) Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 

John 13:34-35 (NLT) So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Is This Normal?

Normal2

There are times in counseling, when clients are resistant to talking about their childhood. The most common reason is because they say they don’t want to blame their parents for their current situation or state of mind.

The truth is, we don’t want to blame their parents either. Blaming gets us nowhere. Very few parents ever get up in the morning thinking “How can I mess my child up today?” That would be just plain evil. But parents have an enormous effect on the development of their children, and understanding one’s family of origin yields great insight. What kinds of insight? Often looking at what was “normal” in a family but wasn’t healthy gives us a clue to the blind spots that someone might be carrying.

  • Was there heavy drinking or illegal drugs?
  • Was the home environment tense all the time?
  • Was there constant criticism?
  • Did a parent hold impossibly high expectations and could never be pleased?
  • Was there physical or emotional abuse?
  • Were there relational fractures or abandonment?
  • Was there poverty or deprivation?
  • Was there wealth that created entitlement or superiority?
  • Was there unearned or overstated parental praise that created an inflated self image?
  • Was a parent or sibling frequently depressed, anxious or mentally or physically sick?

All these conditions, if normalized, have the potential to promote maladaptive coping mechanisms. They can become strategies for survival during our child and adolescent years, but ones that may challenge or destroy relationships or become self-destructive when we become independent adults.

What are some of these maladaptive coping mechanisms?

  • Anger, rage, passive-aggressive behavior – resentment
  • Withdrawal – timidity – dissociation – depression
  • Substance abuse or other forms of self harm
  • Lying, deception, shaming, blaming

I think you get the point that these are all negative and unhealthy responses under normal circumstances. They are also learned behaviors that can be unlearned when the realization of their destructive potential settles in. As I have stated in an earlier post, sometimes “our feelings haven’t caught up with our reality”. Usually this is a good thing. We are most likely safer and more powerful than we were as a child. Or at least we have more control or options regarding our circumstances and can make decisions based on reality.

Probably none of our parents did everything optimally. Most of them did their best based on their history and experience in the families they grew up in, or the education they picked up along the way. Each new generation has the opportunity to learn from the successes or failures of the previous generations and grow accordingly. The process often requires facing some grief and entering into a fearless self examination. Some people may come down off pedestals during our exploration, perhaps even ourselves. If you are a seeker after truth you will understand the value of this and proceed with the reassurance that God is with you in this journey. 

Psalm 139:23 (NLT) Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.

Finding Your Voice

Voice

In counseling, the concept of “finding your voice” may come up as a topic or issue. Usually it is because someone has had a hard time speaking up when appropriate, or has been silenced because of various reasons. It can be a pretty sensitive area when the person has been a victim of physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

Especially in marriage it is good to have an equal voice and shared power (along with equal responsibility) and we encourage people to ask for what they need. If we continually sublimate our desires to someone else’s we will eventually build up toxic resentment and bitterness. Trying to keep the peace by not speaking up in a relationship is very risky. It is with both our words and actions that we set appropriate emotional and physical safety boundaries that declare “This is my property, stay off!”. Sometimes, however, when a person is learning to exercise their power in this new way they may overcompensate and create new problems.

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As you can see on the above chart, the range of response is a continuum from very passive to very aggressive. I would suggest that the goal is right in the middle, communicating in a firm, but kind manner. That is assertiveness. From a spiritual perspective, we call this “speaking the truth in love”. It respects both us and them and creates an environment where closeness is possible. Both withdrawal and aggression creates distance within a relationship, but kind honesty is fertile soil for something positive to grow.

When a person has been a victim of something serious, regulating their emotions and behavior and finding a balance may be very challenging. Not wanting to risk becoming a victim again, they might overestimate what is required to remain safe (overpowering).  This is when having a counselor or mentor to give feedback can be very helpful.

From a spiritual perspective, the Bible seems to have many more cautionary verses about anger and aggression. It is an area that is more likely to get away from us once we enter the territory. I also think we have a higher risk of practicing self-deception as we try to justify our over-reactive or sinful behavior in retrospect. On the other hand, measured responses have the potential to promote understanding and intimacy.

Proverbs 16:24(NLT)  Kind words are like honey — sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.

James 1:19-20(ESV)  Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

The Bible is very clear that we are to treat everyone with this same principle, not just those we love or like or are close to us, but extending even to our enemies (or those who we perceive are against us.)

Philippians 2:3 (NLT)  Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.

Matthew 5:44 (NKJV)  But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.

Find your voice, but find the balance.