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TRIBEWORK is about consuming the process of life, the journey, together.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

It’s not easy being vulnerable, yet healing cannot occur without it

Authenticity, genuineness, candor, intimacy.  These are all hard things to achieve.  But they don’t have to be.  You might be thinking it’s not worth the risk, the effort, the shame for getting wrong, the punishment of other people’s reactions.  But it’s a reality that we cannot grow and become all we can become without being vulnerable — without trusting ourselves to something, someone.

Too many of us have been burned, it’s true.  Betrayal and disappointment lay the fresh stones of caution in our midst and we find it hard to trust when those softer more relational stones have been paved over.

When those stones of trust no longer show through underneath, when we’ve lost touch with them, it can feel impossible to dig up what feels right to leave right there — those stones of betrayal and disappointment.

But those stones must come up.  They must be lifted with a crowbar and removed from the garden of our heart.  If we don’t guard our hearts to this degree, we find our hearts harden over just like those stones.

We may get to a place in our lives when we lose hope that vulnerability really is the answer to life.  We become jaded.  Cynicism creeps up and becomes the easy position from which to deposit ourselves.  And perhaps our jadedness doesn’t prevail over all areas of our life, but those areas of our life it does leak into become stagnant over time.  It’s the contrast of Ezekiel 47:11-12 come home to bear in our own life.  There is no life in jadedness, cynicism, hardness of heart.

What has been a caustic experience, if it’s not processed properly, tends to make our attitude toxic in that area of our lives.  It becomes difficult from there to think in balanced ways.

And, of course, what we have not been able to process, usually because others refuse to go there with us, where others refuse to own their contribution to the mess that’s become of the relationship, makes us feel stuck.

It’s a great blessing to have experienced this at least once in our lives.  This is because it gives us a special measure of empathy for those who are on the receiving end of injustice.  Anyone who has been plagued with injustice has struggled to forgive, and through such a challenge that person may have overcome what it is that made them stuck.  It all takes time.

When we get to a place where our bitterness only makes us bitterer, we have an option to depart from it.  This is when vulnerability peers through the window and catches our attention.

Having cycled through the cycle of hurt, we come to recognise it leads nowhere good.

Truly.  Vulnerability, waiting for us to say yes, just pauses.  Vulnerability causes us to venture on a journey with someone.  It invites us to open up and to trust again.  It comes a little easier when we feel safe, where we’re not judged, where we can get it wrong and not be condemned.

Through vulnerability healing can occur.  Not overnight.  But it’s a journey that will have its fulfilment.  Vulnerability is the chief reason why we need safety in our lives.  If we don’t feel safe, we cannot be vulnerable.

Our quest therefore is to find safe people with which to process our hurts, to help us by their listening, by being empathetic without taking sides.  Perhaps the first thing we can say is, “I’m feeling vulnerable about sharing this, and I want you to assure me that if I do so, I’ll be safe.”  Then take it from there.

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

Thursday, November 26, 2020

In a debacle year, just gratitude for ‘debacle day’ in the past

2016 was about the worst year of my life, yet 2008 wasn’t much better, and yet as I cast my mind back — poring through old journals — I notice something very cool.  I linger not over the difficulties back then, but my mind searches for the emotional depths of the time, and conveniently they’re gone.

All I have is my notes.  But oh how low those times were, learning to be married again, learning to parent my daughters within marriage, learning to be a manager, learning to carve out peace in my own home.  It was hard for our whole household, but we were helped by our counsellor at the time, even if a lot of the work needed to be done was up to me.

I had a strange ally in those times; my father-in-law, who had an incredible objectivity when I was at crisis point.  My mother was the key influence in my daughters’ lives.  And ‘debacle day’ (April 2, 2008) was crisis at full tilt.

Like many days that end up as debacles, my day started out well.  The fact it has a red flag attached to it signifies something significant for all the wrong reasons.  Note how many red flags are attached to the pages of the journal for that year.  A lot.

‘Mental fog’ appears to be the culprit as I read these pages; a mental tiredness that caused me to view life through the lens of dread.  When all is complaint, especially when that complaint begins to reveal itself in quizzical looks and social silences of crickets, something’s gone awry.

What I notice most as I look back on this kind of day is just how many of these kinds of days I’ve had over the history of my adult life.  There have been dozens upon dozens, perhaps on average, one or two per month.  I’ve lived about 400 adult months — that’s actually hundreds of very poor days.  And yet, my life has not been condemned for them; only God truly knows the totality of my lack of effectiveness.  And my wife?  She loves me despite my ups and downs.  But to keep it in context, this was a particularly trying year.

None of us are condemned for struggling, so long as we’re doing our best to plan our way to recovery.  And we do recover if we’ve got the insight of awareness to make good of what has turned out poorly.

There is always tomorrow and it’s never too late to start all over again.  No matter how many times we fail, there is always a future moment when to succeed is the opportunity.  In days like now, I still have low days; we still have low days, if we’re honest.

What will we learn?  What will we do with our learning?  How can we be better for our loved ones and for all those who rely on us?  These are penetrating questions that beg to be answered.

Whatever this season looks or feels like, in years to come we’ll have a deeper appreciation mainly of our courage simply to wade through challenging days a day at a time.  Those years will, unfortunately, come all too soon, which reminds us to practice presence in the present.

What I notice most of all in this diary entry is an honest willingness to do better.  Not do more, but do better.  When doing better is about being better for others, we’re bound to succeed more than we fail.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Meeting the crises of exhaustion and hypocrisy

I’m tired.  Not sleepy tired.  I’m mind tired.  It is an occupational hazard.  I’m probably only one week’s rest from a complete recovery, but that week’s rest is a few weeks off yet.  I know so many who feel the same way at this time of year.  And, as I said, particularly it’s true of those in ministry.  When I’m nudging exhaustion, my mind slows down, is less efficient, and I get a little more irritable.

Still, I’m thankful that since I first burned out 15 years ago my body and mind function differently now; I get glimmers of warning before shutdown commences.  This means, that though I suffer dysfunction early, I’m highly unlikely to suffer complete burnout — which can take 12-21 months to recover from. The fact that my mind shuts down is a protective mechanism from further harm.  It’s my body’s activation communique that, respond-now-or-else.

The problem of exhaustion is at the polar opposite end of another problem I used to have, nearly 20 years ago now, but that I no longer have and will never have again.

Let me paint a picture for you.  I was state health, safety, security and environment coordinator for Shell distribution company.  I was well remunerated and travelled a lot.  I flew in a lot of planes and stayed in some great hotels.  I managed an alcohol and other drug program, carrying breathalyzers with me in my company four-wheel drive.  Like the police, I conducted random testing on fuel tanker drivers and depot operators.  If they were caught, there were consequences.  Yet, regularly on Monday and Friday mornings I would drive to work with that foggy feeling in the mind having over-indulged myself the previous night.

I could tell you exactly what blood alcohol concentration I had having consumed 15+ standard drinks, and I would only just be over the legal limit (0.05) that previous night.  I was inebriated.  But I was well under the limit in the morning.

Yet, the amount of times I left home feeling the shame of having lost control yet again, feeling seedy, and like someone was going to smell it on my breath or through my pores.  And perhaps there were more pangs of guilt for having been less than cordially patient with one of my young daughters at the time.  The fact is I had less patience with my children when I was hungover.

But it was the exposure of my own drinking problem I feared the most; especially when I was meeting regularly with drivers who had breached the company alcohol and other drug policy and procedure, as I spoke to them about what the long road of rehabilitation looks like.  I felt sure that the teetotaler drivers could see right through me.  Such hypocrisy of shame gets to you after a while, and counter to what you might think it made my drinking and smoking worse, not better.  Tragically, though fortunately, I was exposed when my first marriage collapsed.  The house of cards crumbled.  I would not be who I am today without that having happened.

As I sit here tonight, I truly wonder what the worse problem is.  I seriously know that being exhausted in the name of serving others has integrity about it.  There’s nothing worse than feeling like a complete phony.  But rubbing up against a little burnout is scary.  It can feel as if nobody cares when your care is the care they seek out — like it’s only you who will work for them as is so often the case, because people don’t trust just anyone with their deepest material.

The common thread of these dipolar problems is they both give us the sense we’re not in control.  The former problem has the fear about it that you could be caught out at any time, yet the latter issue — when it goes unacknowledged over the years — is so often the cause of a broad range of clergy misconduct.

This is why at least in this short period before a longer break I’m taking Tuesdays off — my Invitation to Retreat (my strategic withdrawal).  I do not want to and cannot accept that my problem will become another’s problem; that my problem would be for them, harm.  I must take responsibility to get all the rest I can.  Any person who has a role in ministering needs to take their responsibility in this area seriously.

So I guess I would much prefer to be exhausted than feel hypocritical.  Both form out of a fear for what might occur.  Both call aloud for action.

For the present problem, there’s attention needed toward self-care: good diet, plenty of sleep, regular exercise, spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude, saying no when you can.

For those who are also feeling tired, can I encourage you that you’re not alone.  Can I also encourage you to do your self-care and not put it off?  For those who have the opposite problem of a secret hypocrisy, the only advice I can give you is, in the words of Sy Rogers, “You must tell on the sin or (ultimately) the sin will tell on you.”

We must be both gentle yet truthful with ourselves. 

Friday, November 20, 2020

When you’re about to give up, remember encouragement’s often just a moment away

There is all manner of ways we give up in life.  It’s a hard day and we’re done.  It’s that blow that we didn’t expect.  It’s sheer exhaustion.  It’s feeling that sting of betrayal.  And so many more.  But when we’re ‘done’ and we’re just about to decide to give up, it’s surprising just how close the encouragement we need often is.

We hardly expect to receive the instant boost that tells us, “See, you just needed a little leg up to feel better,” or “Wow, I guess I just forgot how much God knew I needed that,” or “Now I can rest a little easier knowing my life isn’t the catastrophe it seemed.”

Sometimes it’s all we need before we go to sleep; that reassurance that God’s got us, our purpose is real, our hope is sound.

Faith really is the essence of believing in the dark that light will shine through in a coming moment. The most courageous faith trusts IN the dark night of the soul.  And after we’ve completely traversed the dark night we know not only how far hell is to cross, but that God was with us every step of the way.

Of course, there are practical things we can do to support the providence of God, like reaching out before the abyss closes in around us — yes, I’m saying that most people wait far too long to reach out.

Those who love and care for us, including our mentors, are not burdened so much by our reaching out as they feel privileged that we’re trusting them again.

But my main and solitary point is hope comes alive most when we anticipate a breakthrough.  Such faith is a muscle with exponential potential for growth.  The breakthrough isn’t just something we wait for, mind you.  It’s something we can be proactive about.

We all have times when tiredness, lack of time, meaninglessness, discouragement, opposition and conflict, and doubting spring up, even colluding with each other to confound our hope.

When you’re about to give up, realise that giving up is a decision, and you can just as easily decide to be hopeful, do something proactive, take the rest you need, smile in a mirror, and hope for a better tomorrow.

When you’re about to give up, remember that time when something happened to restore your hope.  Remember that time.  You will feel better soon if you don’t give up.

Photo by Tom Moser on Unsplash

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Empath, I know you’re tempted to, just don’t lose heart!

“I feel as if this world chews highly sensitive people up and spits them out,” I said to a counselling colleague one day over coffee.  His response astounded me.  “Imagine if only we had more highly sensitive people and how much better the world would be for it!”

Without going into the differences of introverts, highly sensitive people and empaths, among other terms, we can know that life is hard for anyone who is so emotionally intelligent that they literally feel everything.

For people who have the gift of intuitively sensing people’s emotions, people who have the gift of empathy, such a trait can feel not only a blessing, but perhaps more often a curse.

Empaths are so often sucked into the vortex of addicts and abusers alike, and their empathy tends to be weaponised against them even as they become enablers of horrendous behaviours.  And with such powers of empathy there is little wonder why the empath feels they could be the difference in their addicted or abusive partner’s life.

But when an empath believes they can make a difference in a life that’s realistically a runaway train, they become toxic enablers, especially when they cannot let go.

But this article isn’t anything about making the empath feel guilty.

When empaths realise that they’ll so often be taken for granted, that they’ll become servants to mostly hopeless causes (let’s say 1-in-10 addicts/abusers recover), and that their gift will literally become wasted, there is frustration, guilt, anger and shame.

Do not lose heart, empath.  You have been graced with an extraordinary gift and just know how much the world needs your gift and you.  You offer hope to those who feel hopeless, given that many who have addictions at least do not want to be addicted.  You offer hope to families afflicted because there is a loved one afflicted.

Do not lose heart also amid being caught in the spiral of an abusive relationship, but know that change won’t happen while you’re still there.  The abuser’s only hope is that you withdraw from the relationship.  That will cause you immense pain I know, but there’s no other way if you want them to have the only slim chance available.

Do not lose heart when it seems that every step on the journey feels like a misstep, when every step you seek to help and yet are either blamed or drawn further into the toxicity of their struggle.

Do not lose heart when you’re tempted to imagine that your gift is a curse.  This period of your life is there for your learning, and you’re growing in wisdom.  Think of the boundaries you’ve already been implementing, and don’t think that failures to enforce boundaries are a waste; they too are good for your overall learning.

Do not lose heart when again and again you’re taken for granted, blamed, gaslighted, begged, forgotten, rejected or betrayed — did I mention the word, ‘again’?

Do not lose heart when you know the pattern, you can sniff it from 100 miles off, yet you still operate to serve the person, but just know that the pattern won’t shift without change.

Do not lose heart when you’re tempted to.  Of all people your heart is most sacred and proven in the fire.  The world needs your beautiful empathic heart.

Make change by all means if you need to, but whatever you do, don’t give up on that beautiful empathic heart of yours, because you know what, you cannot deny who you are.

Be thankful you’re an empath.

Photo by Maksym Kaharlytskyi on Unsplash

One reason the abuser doesn’t appear abusive all the time

Just have to love the wisdom of others in this advocacy community.  On my way to work I patched into a Zoom with Psalm 82 Initiative and Sarah McDugal, and there was so much in that I just felt led to write on, but of course, God gives me the choice to pick one thing.

One of the common things many of us hear is, “They don’t abuse me all the time; it only happens once a year/once a month,” or “He/she seems nice most of the time; it does my head in.”

When we think about it this makes sense.  An abuser KNOWS they cannot get away with abusing their victim all the time.  Their abuse is a dance.  When we see this, we see all their behaviour as manipulative and intimidating, albeit covert in expression.

When they’re being ‘nice’, because if they’re not nice you may not hang around, they’re ALSO being abusive — they’re being manipulative.  They know they can only press you so far.  It’s like the clever gifts they give or the things they do for you instead of actually apologing.  Or, any other behaviour of concession that isn’t an apology.  And remember genuine apology always has an element of repentance — of turning away from the abusive behaviour in this context — about it.

The key thing that fired off in me when I heard this is, victims of abuse are not just being abused in the act of abuse; they’re also being manipulated (abused) throughout — in the good times as well — and these ‘good times’ can often be used against the victim to intimidate them later.

For the abuser, they need to keep the one they’re abusing thinking, “Well, if this is abuse, it’s not bad enough to leave...” or, “Is this actually abusive; he/she is nice most of the time.”

The one sure thing we all can do in our relationships is have honest conversations where truth is discussed.  That will be a red flag for some; if there is an avoidance for that at all costs in the one you feel could be abusive, you have to begin to wonder if the relationship is based on the love inherent in equality.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Monday, November 16, 2020

Trust your gut on the safest and most toxic relationships

Our gut or our instinct is incredibly intuitive.  It’s not just animals and children who are built to sense what the mind knows second.  The gut or our senses alert us to patterns and those patterns we ought to trust.  If someone’s responded the same way with us time and again, they will generally almost always continue in the pattern.

Whenever we disappoint someone and they forgive us easily, especially when there is absolutely no retribution about them and their response, we can trust that.  That’s a safe person, and someone to be cherished.  We ought not to disappoint them again where we can because of all people we should want to reciprocate the grace they exhibit.

Whenever we disappoint someone and we know instinctively that that was a wrong move, where we need to now watch our back, we can trust that feeling we’re getting.  A spirit of vengeance is something we ought to become highly aware of.  I often say that it’s only the narcissist who must win at all costs.

Beat them, betray them, disappoint them, and payback is sure to occur.  And another sure sign is their entitlement to disappoint and betray us at will — often accompanied by a lack of apology or a fake repentance.  Those who think little of exploiting others are inherently unsafe people.  They have no empathy.

But good and safe relationships offer us all the capacity to be wrong.  They’re safe by the very fact that perfection isn’t expected or required of us; just as we don’t require or expect that of others.  Good and safe relationships feature high occurrences of patience, kindness, gentleness, compassion, self-control, etc, and where we do falter there is grace for that faltering where it’s not a pattern and when the apologies are genuine.

Bad and unsafe relationships can appear good and safe much of the time.  Until the unanticipated moment when all hell breaks loose.  When anger boils over into aggression and breaches into violence.  When that occurs, a suitable apology requires the breaking of that toxic cycle.  If ever we’re in a place where we feel ‘it’s only a matter of time’ we need to be really honouring that gut instinct.

Even though we’ve all probably tolerated unsafe relationships to a point, it begs our attention that if we have the capacity to be safe people, we ought to ensure we configure our lives and our loved ones’ lives around safe people.  I know that that isn’t always an instant fix.  It can take years to develop a plan and implement it, especially where those closest to us are unsafe, toxic people.

Relationships with safe people mean we have less trauma to bear in our lives and we therefore have more capacity to love.  It’s honestly a great tragedy that it’s often the gentlest, most compassionate and sensitive people who end up attached to unsafe people.

Photo by Kevin Delvecchio on Unsplash

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Past pain is for the future benefit of the broken-hearted

I personally don’t know of another couple who had bad news at the 19-week scan like we did, but I know that our experience is like a coiled spring; it’s ready for whoever and whenever someone needs it.  It’s why we published Nathanael’s story.

Until now I’ve only really commented on what happened after the scan on July 1, 2014.  We really had no idea beforehand, from April sometime, to the announcement that we were pregnant (on May 10), to the family celebration we had for what would have been my Grandmother’s 100th birthday on June 2 to that ill-fated Tuesday July 1 morning.

We had no idea what was about to hit us.  No warning, just like the parents who suddenly discover their baby has died.  The statistics are stark, that 1-in-4 pregnancies are lost, so the risks of miscarriage are higher than we’d anticipate and the risks of stillbirth like we had are always unacceptably high.

For someone who cannot remember the time nor memory of his brother, our son seems to have a sense for nurturing slightly younger children.  He so often has lamented that he doesn’t have a little brother, and we haven’t done anything to create this in him; I write about Nathanael, but we’re not continually talking about him.

In some ways I wish there was more memory of that time when we were blissfully unaware of the storm that loomed on the horizon.  But we also know that the period after the July 1 scan is the most relevant to our purpose now.  We hope that not one person or family goes through what we went through, but we’re there for those who do.

There are just so many people we know who have had wonderful 19-week baby photos to show off, like we did with our first son.  That scan checks on so many things that couples are probably completely unaware of amid the excitement of meeting baby all the more fully formed.

We are there for the person who suffers the devastating blow like we did.  It’s been six years, and we just know that at some point someone will reach out and say, “We’ve had this experience; we heard you did too.  What can we expect?  Can you help?”

Our experiences in life, especially the tough ones, have a special purpose.

We had some of these experiences with people who had been on a similar path, but much of our journey, beyond people’s prayers, we had to go it alone.

We do hope that our experience can be used to help others going through infant loss, just as we can say that our experience has already been helpful for some.

Friday, November 13, 2020

“You’ve changed!” – Yep!

What is often both a reality and a gaslight at one and the same time has happened in so many of our lives.  People put up a guise with people they don’t feel safe with and then suddenly the game changes when they see a way out to freedom.

It’s why women (and men) who don’t feel safe in their marriages wait until the planning is done — when a safe path is cleared — and their abusive husbands (or wives) are no longer in a position to use coercive control.  All they can say in their disgust is, “You’ve changed.”  And the reply may say many things, but essentially it’s, “Yep, I’m no longer putting up the façade to protect myself.  I’ve ‘changed’ and now I can be the real me.”

But it always feels like a gaslight; like the one doing the abuse has a right to deflect the blame yet again.  Yes, they act entitled.  They have for such a long time executed their will over their victim.  And resistance was inevitable.

This kind of arrangement occurs in all sorts of human relationships.  One behaves a particular way and the other must conform, or it’s a culture into which those entering the culture are forced to adapt.  Either way, nobody appreciates being told overtly or even more subtly that, “This is the way you must behave or else.”

When we think about the dynamics in all our lives, it’s about now when we think, “Mmm, yes I feel that way in THIS or THAT relationship, or in THIS or THAT situation/circumstance/workplace/community/group/church etc.”  It’s probably only a matter of time before they say, “You’ve changed!”

Or, it’s a situation where for whatever reason YOU are the one saying, “This is the way it is.”  This might be a warning to you to reflect on how you’re treating a person or people.

There are times and situations, however, where the “This is the way it is” is that way for a good and justifiable reason.  There are times in all our lives when we do need to accept certain arrangements. They go with the territory.

But the thrust of this article is centrally about relationships where coercive control is at play.

Wherever we feel there’s a power differential abounding where there shouldn’t be one, i.e. in marriage or any other relationship where equality should be present but isn’t, the dynamic cannot really continue.  Resistance must occur at some point.

Where we’re particularly thankful that someone has ‘changed’ is wherever we watch on and see someone close to us having to accommodate or adapt to another person in ways they shouldn’t.  It’s heartbreaking when we see people we love treated badly.

Photo by Francisco Gonzalez on Unsplash

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Remembering to say, “I love you”

The commonest phrase and gesture the victims of 9/11 heard, felt or expressed in their final hour would have been, without much doubt, “I love you.” It is a revered and solemn gift. Yet, many never think to say it or avoid saying it. Why is it we think of saying, “I love you,” most when it’s too late?

Perhaps we mean to say it more, but don’t; for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we don’t say it because we lack courage, or we don’t know how to say it in ways we mean it, or maybe we’re scared of saying it or getting it wrong.

It takes a great deal of vulnerability for many to say, “I love you.” For others, it’s just a matter of making the time and effort. For others, again, it’s simply remembering to do it. And for a few it becomes simply a cliché.

Converting Words to Meaning

Many people struggle to say the words because of the meaning attached, or to say the words with meaning. They struggle for intimacy, because there are trust issues between the two or they don’t have the self-esteem of courage to look someone in the eye and honestly give of themselves that way. But boldness and vulnerability are to be their allies.

If only they give the words a chance to escape their lips. Before it’s too late.

Converting words to meaning or finding different words or ways to say the same thing, requires imagination motivated by love; that is affection directed toward another.

Somehow, it must be remembered, words can cheapen meaning. We can flippantly say, “I love you,” and it becomes habitual and meaning is stripped away. Such a powerful phrase diminishes in importance. But that can only occur if we say it mindlessly. 

To say, “I love you,” and not mean it betrays the words themselves, and this actually causes us to reflect if we’ve become flippant.

When the words are said with thoughtfulness, intimacy is conveyed. When the words are said mindfully, the whole body and spirit acts in unison, and the person being told how much they mean to you feels loved.

The meaning of the phrase is where its power resides.

And words are not the only way to say, “I love you.”

Saying It As If Today Were the Last

As I reflected recently on the motion picture, Ghost (1990), I was compelled afresh to reconcile the frailty of life—that loved ones always die too early.

Sam Wheat, played by Patrick Swayze (himself now gone), is insatiably in love with Molly Jensen, played by Demi Moore. He famously responds, “Ditto!” to her vocal affirmations of love toward him, much to her annoyance. The “I love you/ditto” issue becomes central to the plot in the movie. These two are parted so suddenly that it is stark to the viewer that while love is deep, life is too short, and people forget to say their “I love yous” all too often.

We have to do better than “ditto,” although, again, we need to be free to express love beyond words. Some people’s dittos will really communicate a richness of love.

Saying, “I love you” with utter sincerity is foremost acknowledging that any of our precious relationships could end at any time. That puts life into proper perspective. Remembering to say “I love you” is making the most of the given moment, before the moments suddenly stop being given.

By the way, if you didnt manage to communicate your love, and perhaps it causes you the grief of regret, I for one believe they know how you feel.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

When everyday conflicts become entrenched

All of us have relationships that are strained, and most of the time we let bygones be bygones and ‘live and let live’, or in other words, we either overlook conflict or we sweep issues we have with people under the carpet.

That is until something comes up that can’t be ignored; either you go and front them about it, or they front you.  Either way, it’s a potential powder keg.  Issues very quickly become bigger than the value of the relationship, but it also must be said that if everyday conflicts weren’t resolved, what chance is there of something more serious creating a real impasse?  It happens so often.

Do you keep a short account with someone and risk telling them an inconvenient truth, or do you let it go?  Do you risk the relationship for growth and equally for conflict?  Do you trust that you’ll be able to speak the truth kindly enough that they’ll listen?  Or, do you encounter having tried that, that they went and lost it anyway?

Managing conflict so it doesn’t get worse is one of the hardest things to do.  That is because we all tend to bunker down into what WE did right and what THEY did wrong.  Not many want to admit that these days.

It’s hard to reconcile that peace actually comes only from seeing something of the other person’s viewpoint — empathy.  But that’s only good for us if it’s a reciprocal arrangement, because many entrenched conflicts feature one prepared to be empathetic of the other, but the other won’t return serve.

Conflict resolution just doesn’t work if one party is stubbornly entrenched in their being right.  It only takes one person for all hope of reconciliation to fall over.  It takes two, each willing to look within and see their own contribution to the mess of conflict, to establish hope for peace.

If one person polarises into their corner, you can just imagine what the other person will do.  Peace doesn’t stand a chance.  That, there, is entrenched conflict.  Of course, the more sensitive and less narcissistic person will always feel they owe something to the other side, and the more narcissistic person will deflect and manipulate and possibly even intimidate.

When everyday conflicts become entrenched, there’s more anxiety and burden carried, less hope for peace, more likelihood that matters will get worse, and less goodwill and more suspicion.  Poor all round!

Doing all we can to ensure conflicts stay at the more everyday, garden-variety level is worth the payback of less stress and angst overall.  But we also must accept that some people will completely shut down or assault us.

Conflict at an everyday level is manageable — if we stay committed to speaking truth kindly and graciously.  You invite people to engage in conflict in reasonable and rational ways that way.  But not everyone will respond.  Some will take it and use it against you.  You will be misunderstood.  It is the way that life is and we’re best to accept it, continuing to have the courage to speak the common truth gently.    

Photo by Obie Fernandez on Unsplash

Monday, November 9, 2020

You are NOT crazy, and guess what, you’re not the only one

Someone I have a lot of time for said this after reading Dr Diane Langberg’s, Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church; “I’m not crazy and I’m not the only one.”

Indeed, there could not be a more resounding, “Yes!”  Survivors of abuse, who have been gaslit into questioning their sanity can know that their sanity is never really in question even if they feel they’re going insane and are made to believe it.  Get clear of the toxic influence in your life and suddenly the light shines forth as a beacon from within you.

I’ve got personal experience of going to my psychologist a long while back now and saying, “I think I have a memory problem; I’m told I have a memory problem; I don’t know if I trust my memory of what happens; it seems I’m constantly remembering wrong.”  A consult or two later she came back with the results!  My Christian clinical psychologist simply said, “You have completely normal memory function.  Do not doubt your memory, it’s fine.”

I shouldn’t have doubted my memory, but it seemed as though ‘a very loving person’ was questioning it; someone with ‘such concern for me’... A B U S E is what that spells; gaslighting abuse.  Particularly malevolent is the abuse that smiles to your face, puts an arm around your shoulder, and burns you covertly in the process.  And if you question it, THEY feel misunderstood!  Talk about crazymaking.  And there are, of course, more obvious forms of gaslighting when they hold nothing back in saying you’re crazy.

The worst thing about the abuse that calls you to question your own sanity is it completely disconnects you from the love you really do have — those who truly care and support you.  The mind is consumed.  The heart is burdened.  And intimacy becomes such a stretch when much bearing for trust is lost.

At the very moment you need most support, you’re least able to be vulnerable because all that precious vulnerability has been betrayed.

You’re not crazy, and guess what, you’re not alone.  There are so many people who exist for themselves and have no capacity for empathy apart from weaponising it against you.  Even though it’s normal to feel like you’re the only one on the planet to feel estranged to your own mind, be assured there are plenty right now — and always — who feel exactly the same way.

You’re not alone and you’re not crazy.  Your ‘weakness’ that they have identified is usually the one area you have resisted them on.  See how it is a strength?  They have weaponised your strength against you. That’s how they weaken you.  Get you to capitulate and somehow get you to thank them.  All the while you’re asking, “Something just doesn’t make sense.”

The sad thing is you cannot win other than to refuse to engage and get out of Dodge, pronto.

Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

Sunday, November 8, 2020

For sufferers of Election fatigue all over the world

I’m on the other side of the world from America and I have to say, there’s nowhere in the world you can get away from the US Presidential Election.  Of course, it’s understandable; there are massive stakes, and though I won’t give my allegiance here, people on both sides of the RED-BLUE spectrum are feeling the pinch.  Like, when did the race begin building?  It seems as if it were months ago.  And this past week has inculcated just about every single one of us in a state of hypervigilance as states called or continued counting.

You’re forgiven and understood if you feel completely exhausted.  The hypervigilance, together with the mental burden carrying, and the willing for leads to be attained and gaps gained wears on us all.

It’s like we’re all been living within a week-long Superbowl, championship game or grand final.  Then, for every single one of us, we’ve seen the fighting, the verbal abuse, the unfriending, the blocking, the constant one-upmanship.  It leaves us battle-weary.

What can be done?

Part of it is recognising the fatigue and where it’s from.

Sometimes it’s simply realising, “Ah, that’s where it’s from... I knew I was/am struggling... now it all makes sense.”

Part of it is about setting up a plan to recover.

Sometimes it’s about getting out of Twitter-land for a few days, a week, a month... whatever it takes.  To get some peace between the ears and in the heart.

Maybe some of it is about recognising that people with the opposite allegiance believe what they do because that’s the way they see.  It’s just like us appreciating that they might respect that we see the way we see for reasonable and rational reasons.

Part of it is about knowing that there are many things in this life that we will never understand, things that either play to or against our biases (and yes, we all have them, no matter what side of the political spectrum we’re on).

Sometimes it’s about recognising that conspiracy theories take us away from goodness and serve us only to the degree that they weaken our trust in good things — even if they do sound legitimate.

Part of it is about looking forward to the better things, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, a time beyond Covid.  And of course, Covid has fatigued us all considerably this year.

If you’re suffering fatigue, it’s a good chance the Election has played some contribution — for all the right reasons, for what is at stake.  Maybe it’s time to go gently and make some decisions that will bring peace into your life.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Friday, November 6, 2020

Faith amid struggle and the fight to triumph over adversity

“Faith in God is a struggle in ordinary life.  Faith in God when we have seen tragedy and trauma is a massive struggle.  But it is a good fight because it is a fight against those things that tried to destroy us and make us like themselves.”

— Diane Langberg, PhD.

Some people subscribe to this, others don’t.  I mean in a lived way.  Others don’t see that life is a struggle, and those who don’t — when they also cause misery in others’ lives — tend only to struggle when the tables are turned, and the struggler says, “No more!”

It is said that the best form of resistance is survival, and it’s true.  Those who struggle in the ordinary life do find ways to stay the distance, even if they sputter and falter occasionally; they do find a way to survive the tyranny that has become their life, and they even wrestle with ‘worse’ to make life better in the long run.  They make tough decisions, because tough is how they do life.  They’re not afraid of tough. 

Those who tend to eventually say, “No more!” are usually those who have the gentlest of spirits.  They may be tough — i.e. they CAN be tough — but they would NEVER take advantage of you.  They just aren’t wired that way.  They look at those who do with steely eyes and facial resolve even when they would prefer to be kind to everyone.

But these tender and kind people find themselves in constant contact with those who will and do take advantage.  Their lives are characterised by accepting a struggle that assumes their fight will need to be ‘the good fight’ in keeping with Langberg’s quote.

Boundaries were made for those who insist upon their way over others, whether directly or by stealth.  And there are operatives of both scattered through this world.  Some even use both categories in a concert of menace to deal with those who get in their way.

The gentlest people feel mean for putting boundaries in place and those who would break boundaries know it, hence the presence of manipulation, whether overt (“I can do what I like to you”) or covert (“Nothing to see here”).

But as I say a lot, better to be aggressed than be the aggressor, and I would say, that though Langberg’s quote makes no excuse for abuse, it does offer the redemptive pathway where it inevitably occurs.

I understand that’s not much compensation.  There is the need, however, of ways of thought and operating that give survivors of abuse a way back to hope.

Fight the good fight of faith.  Don’t let adversity cause you to lose hope.  Stay resilient in love.  You will triumph over your adversity if you don’t give up.

Photo by Itzel González Lara on Unsplash