Do you find yourself from time to time, feeling like you want to tear your hair out over something someone did or said to you? If so, you will want to read further.
In order to avoid or limit these situations we must practice self-management. An important aspect of this is to maintain a healthy balance mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. One way to do this is to become a self-differentiated individual. This is vital to all individuals but even more so to pastors who find themselves in conflicted situations.
Ronald W. Richardson discusses the importance of self differentiation in his book Becoming a Healthier Pastor. This is a companion book to Becoming a Healthier Church.
Richardson states, “Differentiation assumes a confidence in God’s invitation… ‘Fear not for I am with you!’. It allows us to take the lonely courageous stands we occasionally need to take in life. It is an act of faith that says we can survive our vulnerability and not fear it. Differentiation involves the understanding that the suffering and the near death experiences, we may have as a result of standing by our beliefs and principles is the best way to ‘find’ our lives. It is the way to a healthier life and better relationships.”
He further defines “health” as: “Specifically the degree of emotional well-being and the level of emotional maturity that allows pastors to engage in the relational aspects of ministry more competently.” This refers to having emotional intelligence. (See attached resources below.) When we are healthy emotionally then we can deal with the difficulties that arise regularly in the pastorate.
The work requires us to become better managers of ourselves in such a way that we do not add to the long-term anxiety on the system. We cannot manage others but we can model good practices and in the end we might be able to reduce or modify the strain on the system.
When we become better managers of ourselves, we can better avoid what Richardson says are the “standard styles of emotional reactivity in close relationships.”
1. Compliance–covering up who you are and what you think, feel, and do to fit in with those around you; seeking their support and approval.
2. Rebelliousness–telling others in various ways that they can’t control you and “You can’t make me…”
3. Power struggles–being equally as critical of others as they may be of you; shutting them up or getting them to back off; showing how they are wrong and how they should be more loving or more accepting; or, in other words; trying to change them just as much as they are trying to change you and getting them to conform to your wishes.
4. Distancing–breaking off emotional or physical contact or both.
The work to becoming a healthier pastor and individual, begins by understanding our place in our family of origin. Once we understand how we function within our families, we can better understand how we function in the church family.
I believe that it is healthy to ask yourself the following questions when feeling emotionally charged. What is it about this situation that is making me feel this way? Why is this person or situation pushing my buttons? This gives the brain the time it needs (six seconds) to process the emotion and to formulate a rational strategy for dealing with the situation that would be more productive. In a highly charged situation, our first reaction is not our best reaction. Take time to think it through and then respond.
I strongly recommend anyone experiencing unhealthy situations to read Becoming a Healthier Pastor and Becoming a Healthier Church. You might also want to read some books on Emotional Intelligence. My recommendations are any books written by Daniel Goleman such as Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence.
Further reading and resources: