Christian living- dealing with one 'oops' at a time…

Posts tagged ‘arguments’

Dealing With Dysfunction

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Everyone has one in their lives- someone who just will not behave, but life circumstances force you to be together. Here are some ideas for dealing with dysfunction, that will help you maintain your own sanity.

First let’s define dysfunction: The dysfunction we are referring to here is limited to a person who repeatedly belittles you, provokes you and/or flies off the handle without provocation. They misinterpret what was said and done, sometimes on purpose, for reasons yet to be discovered. Ideally, they would do well with counseling, but they are not at a point where they will receive it. Interactions with the person are affecting your behavior and your mental health.

1. Be honest with yourself.
Too often we tell ourselves to just forget it, that we don’t know why we let them get to us, that we really should be able to handle things better etc. The fact is that words do hurt. If David, the mighty warrior, and Job, the mature, successful businessman (before the catastrophe) had cause to complain about the words of others, so will you. Words hurt, and some people use words in ways that wound. It is healthier in the long run to deal with reality rather than to deny it. The person you are having trouble with says things that are abusive and like any other form of abuse it really does affect you. So how will this help? By admitting you do hurt, (or become upset, angered etc in response to them) you can now take steps to prevent or lessen their effect on your life.

2. Set boundaries.
Since words do hurt you are going to require strategies for minimizing the damage. Some suggestions are: When dealing with a potentially explosive person, schedule positive things before and after the time you must meet with them. Set time limits on your meetings by arranging other appointments you need to go to, and do not allow yourself to become trapped or under the dysfunctional person’s authority. If you need to arrange for a hotel room instead of staying in their home do so. Will they like the boundaries? No, that is the problem with people who are dysfunctional, they do not respect the rights of others, but they are going to be upset with something sometime anyways, so it might as well be something they can vent about while you are away. Being a trapped audience to their insanity is not helping either one of you.

3. Be clear.
Do not allow yourself to be dragged into their neurosis. Dysfunctional people love to go off topic, and typically stretch the truth while doing so. The topic will typically include why you are such a bad person, and involve many accusations that have only a limited amount of truth (enough so the people around them can ‘see their point’ and be sucked in as well). Do not engage in this. When it become obvious that the person is not looking for a solution, but instead has some other hurtful agenda, steer the conversation back to whatever originally needed to be discussed, make a clear decision and then end the encounter. Likely you were trying to be nice and tried to allow them to have a say in something, but they have proven incapable of having that discussion. Since they have proven themselves to be incapable the ball is now in your court, and the decision is yours to make. Make it and be done.

4. Realize that anger begets anger.
When a person has become irrational and is now spurting accusations that have nothing to do with the topic at hand there is a very good chance you will begin to do the same. Nothing will be accomplished if you too sink to this level. There are a few ways of dealing with this. Since the person has clearly lost it, you must now consider what your relationship to the person is to determine how you wish to proceed. If it is a close relationship, you may want to get close. Though the person is obviously not handling life well, and is intent on hurting you at this moment, what they may really be saying is, ‘I don’t believe you love me.’ If this is the case, shut up and hug them. If this is not the case, and the person is behaves like this at random with everyone, disengage and leave as soon as possible. You, like everyone else, have limits. Do not allow yourself to get caught up in the drama and do, or say, something you will later regret. Disengage before this happens. (This does not mean you get to walk out on every argument you aren’t enjoying. This advice is only for dealing with people who routinely lose control and who cannot be reasoned with. For all other situations, toughing it out and actually solving the problem yields the best results.)

5. Do not allow the angry person to control your life.
Too often we become obsessed with the fact that someone is upset with us. We allow the argument to consume our thoughts, and ruminate on the many ways we are going to solve it. When it becomes obvious that this is a pattern, and not a solvable situation, stop. There are other people in your life who are not unreasonable, and who need and deserve your attention. Stop fixating on the person who is being unreasonable (You have tried and they have proven that they need more help than you can give.) and start intentionally putting your efforts into people who will receive what you have to offer. Too often families suffer because mom or dad is caught up in a drama with an adult relative who simply will not behave. Your spouse and children deserve more than this. Try to settle the dispute, and when it becomes obvious it will not be settled in the near future, disengage. You will need to deal with the problem at times, but it should not be the focus of your life.

So here it is in review:

When dealing with an unreasonable person:

1. Admit that it is tough, and plan for it by surrounding yourself with uplifting people or activities before and after you encounter the person known for tearing you down. Tough emotional situations are times you want to look and feel your best, and then allow yourself time to de-stress before you take your angst and transfer it inappropriately to someone you who does not deserve it.

2. Set time limits on every meeting with the dysfunctional person.

3. Do not get caught up in senseless arguments, but return to the topic at hand. It will be tempting to defend yourself; don’t. Name-calling behavior is never based on reality and you will only reinforce their feeling of being right to abuse you when you stoop to acting as they do.

4. End the argument by loving or leaving. Sometimes the argument is a cry for affirmation, other times it is a hostile life pattern. Decide which it is, then act. If the hug doesn’t work, or is inappropriate, exit and if necessary, try again when they have calmed down.

5. Stop thinking about it. (Easier said than done.) This one takes practice. You must remind yourself that there are more important things in life and focus on what is currently in front of you. People who know how to behave should not lose out because of those who don’t.

I hope this helps. The most freeing thing in my life has been the realization that some people are not going to be nice and there is nothing I can do about it. I try to help, but when the abuse continues, there is not much left for me to do. It is not my fault they misbehave (I did not raise them.) and there is not much I can do about it. But I can limit my exposure so that I too do not become an emotional train wreck as a result of the interaction. Words do hurt, and I am as vulnerable as the next person to emotional abuse. The difference between someone who handles these situations well and those who don’t is often the boundaries they allow themselves to set. Spending 24/7 ruminating on an abusive situation will not allow you to look at the situation with clarity and function as a sane, rational human being. Some things are not for you to solve, and some solutions come when the person realizes people will no longer stand for their behavior.

Photo by Matija Barrett

For Everyone Who Gets Drawn Into Chaos… Here’s An Answer

Photo by Matija Barrett

Photo by Matija Barrett

Philippians 4:8 (NIV)
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.

Philippians 4: 8 is contained within a letter that addresses two women who are fighting with each other and what to do when people think differently. This verse is not the whole answer, but it does address what we are to do within ourselves to keep the peace.

It is about what we are to focus our thoughts on.

And it does not say to focus on what the other person said, or did to you. Nor does it say to focus on whatever you believe to be ‘stupid,’ and ‘ungodly.’ Instead it tells us to focus on the truth, not on our opinion of the truth, but on what scripture actually says, because that is the only truth. It is only then that we may accurately discern what is right, and find the ways to explain it to others (rather than yell and try to cram the same things down their throats over and over again).
We are also to focus on what is noble. Wanting to tear someone apart is not typically ‘noble’ behavior, so all of those thoughts about what you would like to see happen to the other person need to be pushed aside. What is noble is to work in the best interests of those with whom you disagree. This may not mean that you buddy up to them and become their best friend. There are very real reasons why we sometimes disagree, and the Bible does tell us to stay far from the wicked and the hot tempered. But, as hard as it may be to do so, we are to focus on being the best person we can be.

This involves doing what is right. So there is no thought of doing anything vindictive, or passive-aggressive to get the person back. We are to do what is right to do. This also means that we do what is right with regards to the rest of our relationships as well. We do not allow the person we are in conflict with to consume us so that we do not function well in the other areas of our life. We also do not drop everything to run and cater to the person whom we are in conflict with when they make unreasonable demands. Bad behavior is often a ploy to get attention and love in an unhealthy way. Dropping everything in hopes of fixing a relationship over and over again will only reinforce needy behavior, make you miserable, and strain your healthy relationships. Doing what is ‘right’ means that you try to fix the things you can, but you also recognize when someone is being unreasonable, and you do not deprive those who are behaving for unreasonable requests.

We are also to think about what is pure. Your love for your spouse, your children, your love for the Lord- those things are pure, and deserving of your attention. Thinking about what mean thing so-and-so-said, or how much you hate someone is not. Re-focus your attention to the good in your life. Focus on what the people around you do right, rather than on what they do wrong. And learn to put the people who frequently abuse you into a low-priority slot when it comes to the things you allow yourself to think on.

Think about what is ‘lovely’ to you. God created the world and put some impressively talented people in it. Surround yourself with things that you find pleasing. Grow flowers, invest in art if that is what pleases you. I like earth-toned, well-worn objects and my children’s creations. What is ‘lovely’ to you does not have to be ‘lovely’ to everyone. Make sure your home is calming. Play music and create beautiful memories.

Think about what is admirable. When the Sandy Hook massacre happened old advice from Mr. Rogers was circulated telling us to help our children focus on the people who helped and not the man who caused the hurt. While bad people exist in this world it is still amazing to see how many people come together to help when they are needed, even to the point of giving their own lives. Focus on those who sacrifice- the police, firemen, rescue workers. And teach your children about the heroes. Sadly we probably know more about Hitler than we do Mother Theresa. This should change. People need role models to understand what it is to be admirable. Focus on those who are and apply their example to your own life as well.

Finally, we are told to think about what is excellent, or praiseworthy. It is empowering to see what someone else has done well, and doing well is what we should strive for. We are not to settle for less than we could achieve, but instead we were made to use our talents in ways that only we, being unique, could. And we are to praise those who do well. Lifting up people who go above and beyond encourages them and others to do even more. Praise, given when something is truly praiseworthy, buoys the spirit and gives one energy to push even further. Admiring what is good also makes it difficult to have the conflicting emotion that comes with focusing on what is bad. Keep life in perspective, and remember that the ‘good’ deserves more of your attention than the ‘bad.’ It is not that we do not take care of the problems, but when they are done being handled, we are to move on to more wholesome thoughts, trusting God to do the rest in His time.

So, do not allow petty disagreements to consume you, leaving you unavailable for other people who have not recently mistreated you. While words do hurt, we must work to avoid allowing the problems in our lives to be the primary focus of our attention. In doing this we deprive good people of the love and care they deserve from us as well. Prioritize those who treat you well. Not the flatterers, but the ones who truly have your back and love you.

You have a choice. You can fill your head with garbage, awful thoughts that depress and consume. And you can fill your time with people with whom nothing ever seems to go right and you are always crying over. Or, you can choose something different. You can seek people who don’t invite drama into their relationships (be warned, they prioritize well, so you will not have their constant attention- this is co-dependency and it is not healthy!). You can seek to surround yourself with what is good, and focus on what is positive, instead of what is negative. This is what is healthy. This is what allows you to love, and be free and feel joy. This is what God wants for your life.

Will petty squabbles come? Yes. But they are not to consume you. In a healthy relationship there will be fights and misunderstandings, but they will be resolved and as the relationship grows they will become fewer. Immature relationships are marked with frequent fighting, that seems to be resolved, usually with a overly emotional ending where everyone loves each other again, only to be re-enacted in the near future. These are the relationships you need to set boundaries on and de-prioritize. They resolve more quickly when they receive less attention, but it is really the maturing process of the person who engages in this behavior that will determine how long they last, not you, so do what you can, leave it to God and think on other things.

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