I wrote recently about how to deal with anger in relationships. I introduced the idea of working through real issues without criticism or contempt.
This is really hard, but an important step in healthy relationships and in growing in our Christlikeness.
I work with my clients to help them to understand what is really going on in their hearts and how to talk about that without beating up on the other person.
One of the critical steps in this work is to think and communicate with “I” statements.
We might think this is easy. All we have to do is to say what we are thinking using “I.” It is actually fairly hard to do well. It involves knowing what I am feeling, how I am responding, what I am hearing, etc.
When we are responding to hurts we receive from others, we typically move quickly to the sins we believe the other person has committed against us. We might even think the following is an “I” statement. “I can’t believe the way you just spoke to me! You are so mean! You have no idea how much that hurts me.”
This, to be clear, is a grenade. It is an anger response. We have spoken using the word “I” but the intent is to inflict hurt on the other. The anger response is about giving away my pain and typically we are trying to inflict that pain on the one who hurt us. When we stay in the “hurt circuit” we are not trying to inflict pain, we are trying to express the hurt we feel without criticism or condemnation. We want the other to understand and care about what we are experiencing. We want to work at eliminating whatever is causing our pain, not simply passing the pain on to another person.
Anger responses focus more on trying to have the pain flow through us without having it stay long enough to damage us. The problem is that anger generates more anger. When I try to give my pain away I create pain in the other. They then have to decide how to deal with their pain. If I have hurt them then they typically are tempted to respond by returning that pain to me. Now I have two sources of pain. I am likely to throw another grenade and inflict more pain on them.
The cycle will intensify unless it is broken. It is very hard to break this cycle when it is actively building.
When I am hurt I have the choice to respond by expressing my hurt clearly and without criticism.
“I am not sure what you were trying to say, but I have to tell you that what I heard you say was very painful. Am I right to understand that you were saying that …?” “Can you tell me what you felt when I told you that I am hurt when you forgot our date tonight?”
This may sound unrealistic. You may be thinking “No one speaks like that!” “No one can bite back their anger like that.”
I am telling you I work with some who do. I am also seeing people come to understand how important it is do build the skill of thinking and speaking in “I” messages.
As we grow in Christlikeness we will have the safety to feel hurt without fearing the pain. As we grow in Christlikeness we also have the strength to respond with gentleness and love.
The foundation for this lifestyle is to know Jesus intimately and to trust Him with all of who we are. This is not simply an issue of skilled communication. Those who teach this skill without recognizing our need for Jesus are building a second story without the foundation or first story. The building will always collapse.
We need Jesus. We need the Holy Spirit indwelling us. We need the Father justifying and empowering us to grow in grace.
More to come in a future post.