My friend had asked me to meet her for coffee because she was smack in the middle of unsettling change and feeling lost. She was seeking direction, feeling powerless, overwhelmed and discouraged by her circumstances. She began our conversation by explaining that over the last few months, every time something would happen, she would think, “I really need to talk to Julie.”
Why me? Not because I knew what she should do, because I most definitely did NOT know what she should do. I don’t have some freakish sixth sense and as much as I pray for discernment, I have very little confidence in my ability to interpret God’s perspective on things in my own life, much less in anyone else’s life.
I responded by telling her that my plan was to listen and ask a lot of questions. She said, “THAT’S why I want to talk to you. You always know just the right questions to ask!”
I’ll admit. I can ask me some questions. And I know that both my plethora of questions and I can get annoying, especially when the answers begin to chip away at mindsets and decisions that were previously firm. But if I ask a question and someone’s answer leads them to doubt or to consider possibilities they hadn’t before, I view that as a good thing. It’s never good decision-making to dismiss alternative points of view without consideration. That kind of tunnel vision leads us to believe we have the best idea ever, only to come face to face with roadblocks and monkey wrenches later. Or even worse, it leads us to believe we’ve come up with the only viable solution to a problem, when really, it’s just what we found at the end of the path of least resistance. If we never consider alternative scenarios, how do we know if we’ve even come close to the best case scenario? Unchallenged thought processes run the risk of leading to substandard ideas and a false sense of security and, sometimes the high and low extremes of a false sense of superiority or resigned hopelessness.
My friend’s comment got me thinking. What are the “right” questions? There are a couple of factors.
First, I ask the honest questions, no matter how “inappropriate” or politically incorrect. I don’t have a lot of patience for pretense (reason #1 and reason #2). Because of my desire to be used by God and my understanding that He equips me for service, I always pray for Him to lead me, to give me the right words to say and to tell me when to ask them and when to SHUT. UP. I pray with full confidence that God will give me the right words to say and since I have that confidence, keeping my mouth shut or skirting around a question that pops in my head feels like a lack of faith. And disobedience. If I ask God for help and He gives it and I chicken out by rejecting or ignoring His help, that’s disobedience.
What else makes for the “right questions?” It depends. And that’s key. It depends on what the other person says. If you ever give me the honor of an onion layer conversation, I’m going ask you questions and based on what I hear, I’m going to try to ask MORE questions that (hopefully) progressively peel back the layers that may be concealing or distorting the crux of the underlying issue. I pay attention to your stories, examples and explanations with the foundational possibility that they are all manifestations of something bigger and deeper. I’m not a-scared to ask the questions that might be embarrassing or make someone angry with me. (Well. Usually. Remember the disobedience thing.) I try to test assumptions (yours and mine), whether I see them as valid or not. I’m not unaccustomed to people getting exasperated with me. As a matter of fact, exasperation is a big clue that I may be on to something. If they didn’t care about a particular issue, they wouldn’t get upset about it. The goal is to find out if they care because they are unwaveringly passionate about something or frustrated because they see the erosion of the reasoning for their point of view? Either is a step in the right direction as far as I’m concerned.
Rationalization is a huge obstacle in these conversations. I’m pretty good at it myself. Given enough time, the right books and at least 3 pages of Google search results, I can convince myself of just about anything. I can ignore the elephant in the room no matter how much he stinks. Statistically, I can not be alone in my expert and stealth rationalization skills. I’m thinking I have many, many partners in crime.
For the most part, I’ve found that deep down, people already know what they think and how they feel about their circumstances and choices. They just have trouble extracting it out of the subjective overwhelming chaos of their mind during the frantic pace of their days. We so rarely take the time to be still and think. And when we do, the sudden unaccustomed quiet is often barreled over by a deluge of overlapping thoughts all vying for top billing.
So when I’m blessed with an opportunity to engage in these deeper conversations with someone, I try not to start out by talking. There are already more than enough voices in their head already. I wait my turn, listen to the voices and, based on what I hear – sometimes spoken out loud, sometimes in between the lines – I ask questions.
Hopefully, the “right” questions.
I’m back to writing my book again! Momentarily holding distractions at arm’s length.
Working on my chapter on Influence, writing about the impact of Groupthink. Curious. If you were in the elevator with these people, what would YOU do?
“so, have you spoken to them about their behavior?”
That was the question I was asked after publishing my post entitled “you see the big hat too . . . right?“
(For those who don’t have time to read that post, here’s the twitter version: “passive-aggressive narcissist. boundaries, distance & prayer. attempted normal relationship. failed. back to boundaries, distance & prayer.”)
Back to the question – Have I spoken to this person about their behavior?
The person asking me the question is someone I respect. They deserve an answer with a reason. So here goes.
As Christians, we tend to think God wants us to reek of Ephesians 4 and live in “Unity and Maturity in the Body of Christ.” My concern, the reason I’m still writing about my response to passive-aggressive behavior, is that some Christians interpret “unity in Christ” to mean we should get along with everybody God has placed and/or allowed in our lives. Some Christians believe that “unity in Christ” means that anger is a sin and most importantly, that we should strive to resolve differences when we encounter conflict.
Have I spoken to this person about their behavior? It’s a reasonable question – from a reasonable person. And therein lies the problem. The assumption we want to make is that everyone is, at least for a few minutes of every day, reasonable.
What a beautiful theory.
In reality, it’s more like this:
(oh, chill out. It’s just a cartoon. God loves jerks too.)
To answer the question, Yes. I tried confrontation. I was a communication major. I have a conflict resolution model memorized and am ready to use it at a moment’s notice. So, yes. I did speak with them about their behavior – Before I figured out their standard MO (with everyone, not just me) was passive-aggressive behavior. Specific behaviors were openly addressed and were discontinued, at least temporarily, only to be replaced with a different manifestation of the same root issue. See, passive-aggressive behavior is like a flu strain. It subtly morphs, but is never eradicated. Since the behaviors never stop, the need for attention never ends.
I have years of experience with narcissism and its key characteristic – passive-aggressive behavior. I spent months saturated in research on it. Once I recognized it in this person, I knew exactly what to do. Over and over and over again, the books and documentation suggest that boundaries and distance are the only long lasting solution.
really. I’m not just making this stuff up to avoid confrontation. Remember, I tried confrontation. Confrontation produced temporary results:
“Realize that the narcissist may agree to change the dynamics of the relationship for a short time, to get you off his back,” but will usually revert to what he or she considers “normal.” In the end, the only healthy way to live with a narcissist is to become more of “your own person” and to create a space between you and the narcissist from which you both can live . . .
Minimize direct confrontation with the narcissist’s unhealthy behavior. Most narcissists are simply unable to receive criticism, even if it is meant constructively and spoken in a soft and respectful manner . . .
Maintain good personal boundaries between you and the narcissist. In response to your setting a boundary, the narcissist may attempt to rewrite history or even try to convince you that what you thought (or saw) just happened didn’t, and thus, there is no need for setting a boundary in the first place. Do not back down. . . ” (emphasis added)
My recent problem stemmed from the fact that I intentionally made the decision to take down the boundaries I had set and I attempted to bridge the distance I had established. (To find out WHY I would do such a thing, CLICK HERE to read my post Dear PinkGirl: don’t copy me.
(For those who don’t have time to read that post, here’s the twitter version: “a friend witnessed a passive-aggressive attack that didn’t bother me, but upset her. I explored the possibility that my boundaries were not God’s will.”)
Someone I respected – also a Christian and a reasonable person – witnessed a passive-aggressive attack. Because I had mental and emotional boundaries firmly in place, I bounced back like a quarter on a tightly made bed. My friend, however, was surprised and upset by this person’s behavior. It was new to them and seemed out of character. From my perspective, the behavior was fairly typical. But out of respect for my friend, because it upset her, I decided to prayerfully consider whether I was ignoring any promptings from the Holy Spirit to reach out to the narcissist God was allowing in my life.
Armed with daily prayer and all the research on narcissism and passive-aggressive behavior I could devour, I spent the last few weeks attempting to engage in a positive interpersonal relationship with this person I had previously (and successfully) blocked out for 2 years.
It depleted me. It sapped my energy and stole my peace. It interfered with my work. I became so discouraged I even stopped eating and exercising. I slowly lost my patience and my ability to respond appropriately and began to resent this person and react with frustration when I witnessed continued attempts at manipulation, whereas I had previously felt nothing toward them and had been immune to the manipulation for 2 years. I had experienced 2 years of sincere calm indifference when they behaved badly and now? I wanted to smack ‘em every time they acted out. That ain’t good. CLICK HERE to read “step away from the puppy” to read what I wrote about that.”
(For those who don’t have time to read that post, here’s the twitter version: “emotional bullies wear puppy suits. wounded puppy suits. feeding the puppy just makes him hungrier and wipes you out.”)
After relentlessly praying about this situation and this person and relentlessly asking God what he would have me do, I’m grateful and confident that Christ isn’t calling me to extend compassion by making myself available for continuous attack. (again, with another backstory – CLICK HERE to read “I’m going to stop being discouraged and be awesome instead. True Story.“)
(For those who don’t have time to read that post, here’s the twitter version: “I can’t be discouraged anymore. It doesn’t work for me. It’s like breathing through a pillow.”)
My favorite verse in Ephesians 4? Verse 26a: “Be angry but do not sin.”
And I’m very grateful to Dr. Paul Meier for his interpretation of scripture:
David’s response to Saul offers a three-step process for us to follow today:
1. Remember that you aren’t the issue! David knew the problem was with Saul, not with himself.
2. Recognize you can’t cure the other person. David couldn’t straighten Saul out. If you want peace of mind, you must realize you cannot change a crazymaker’s internal workings.
3. We can only change ourselves. Instead of responding to Saul in a like manner, David refused to become Saul’s enemy. David supported the king even as he hid from Saul’s vicious attacks.
Crazymakers by Paul Meier M.D.
I’ve gone back to a place of peace through the re-establishment of boundaries, distance and prayer – I literally pray for this person multiple times per week. If anything will change them, it will be God. Because, unlike me, HE can do ANYthing.
CLICK HERE to see other posts I’ve written about dealing with emotional bullies, narcissists and passive-aggressive people.
I haven’t exactly been sad. But I’ll admit. For the last few weeks, I’ve been discouraged. I found myself in the middle of a new work group dynamic and the results have been . . . discouraging. Actually, it’s an old dynamic that I allowed to resurface. I should have known better.
I can’t be discouraged anymore. It doesn’t work for me.
I’m not going to hold back my best anymore to try and accommodate someone who is uncomfortable with my strength. It’s been like breathing through a pillow.
I can’t intentionally incorporate their work product into my work anymore. The addition is eroding the quality of my finished product and my peace of mind. If they can add to the finished product, that’s great, but I can’t continue modifying my work to include inconsistent contribution and incompatible components.
I’m not going to be less because they aren’t more. It hasn’t helped them be more. Affirming them hasn’t made them stronger, it’s just wiped me out. Giving them attention doesn’t satiate their need for attention, it just feeds it. It’s never enough.
Like feeding Seymour.
I’m going to go back to what I was doing before I allowed this situation to get out of hand again. I’m going to pray for them. And for me – That God will either change the situation or change my heart.
CLICK HERE to see other posts I’ve written about dealing with emotional bullies, narcissists and passive-aggressive people.