Today's post is by Contributor Susanne Ciancio, LPC, Licensed Professional Christian Counselor.
Last month we looked at three different types of relationships that may end in a break up.
This month I'd like to look at some practical tips about what to do if we find ourselves struggling in a chronically toxic or imbalanced relationship.
First things first: I need to examine my own heart. Seek The Lord, not a mutual friend. Ask Him to reveal what's in my heart and why I'm feeling so irritated and resentful. I may have been practicing a lot of people-pleasing and self-deception myself. Have I pretended to be more kind and patient than I truly felt so now I'm about to blow a gasket? (We all know when we're giving jabs and unkind comments out of pure frustration or truly finding ourselves at the end of our rope due to repetitive or negative conversations.) Or am I a generally intolerant person so people's character flaws are hard for me to get around? Big distinction here!
DOING THE BEST I CAN ISN’T THE BEST
I know many of us have not been willing to be truth tellers; we err on the side of grace and then the grace card is completely vanquished. This happens because I've been managing the relationship myself in the flesh, doing the best I can. Uh-oh! There's the problem..I'm doing the best I can and forgetting my entire Kingdom orientation to life. From a Kingdom perspective, I'm completely dependent on The Lord! I cannot...but He can. It's no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me. (Gal. 2:20). It's not shameful to admit I cannot handle a toxic relationship or narcissistic personality. That burden is Christ's alone.
SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE
There is a specific biblical admonition in Ephesians 4:15 which says, "but speaking the truth in love (we) may grow up in all things into Him, who is the head, Christ..." If we look closely at scripture it is clear that "I" am the one who does the growing up when I speak the truth in love! Why? Because I'm practicing a very adult Christian behavior that takes a lot of grace and maturity. It's childish to think that problems will go away without having conversations that are direct but loving.
In preparing to speak the truth in love, it seems to help if we get prayed up and stay prayed up. Our spirit must be right. We cannot have a hidden agenda of straightening a person out or finally getting something off our chests. That's just being blunt, no grace or truth. I have to ask the Lord to give me the grace to guard the other person’s heart. If I’m struggling with my friend’s tendency to badmouth others, I can soften the blow by saying, "Wow…I'm really struggling with these disparaging conversations about folks we both know.” Am I afraid of the response that comment may elicit? I need to let it happen. I'm not accusing the friend of anything but rather just giving them a piece of info about me. That's what friends do. If the info about me isn't welcome then that becomes a here-and-now-moment reality we can discuss. I may have to say, "I'm not sure if what I said made any sense to you or not. I'm just letting you know I don't permit myself to get involved in those kinds of conversations. It's just a limit I set with myself."
SOME POSSIBLE RESULTS OF TRUTH
The friend could get really angry, but why? It has been said that every relationship has conflict or one of us is not necessary! Did I just learn that my thoughts and feelings don't matter? Or that I'm not permitted to be a contender in the relationship?
The friend could also be clueless and I may need to state and restate my position as they continue to gossip and badmouth about others. That's just relationship boundaries. Or a third scenario could be that the friend is genuinely taken aback because this is totally new feedback for them. Maybe they're a new believer or for whatever reason they've never gotten the message of Proverbs 18:21: The power of life and death is in the tongue. Our words are powerful and can be very costly.
Regardless of how a friend processes the information, "I spoke the truth in love." Now they must deal with the reality I've given them and process their feelings. I can breathe a sigh of relief. It's better than the alternative, stuck with all the resentment and irritability that comes from conversations that are driving me crazy.
My friend might become uncomfortable with me because I no longer permit them the rancorous freedom of speech they were enjoyed in my company. They may avoid me or break up with me.
We may be able to negotiate a new relationship. This is clearly a win-win for us! It's a relief when someone realizes I just don't go down that path of toxic conversations, even if they find me less interesting companion. Then we could truly get a fresh start. That's what reconciliation looks like.
What if I'm the one being broken up with? That can really hurt. We'll look at that next month.
Why Is It Always About You? The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism by Sandy Hotchkiss, LCSW. - "A how to for disengaging yourself from the narcissists in your life, but also learning to live with them."
Robert Morris, The Ten Deadly Sins - A 30-minute video about the various ways the tongue gets us in trouble and why we simply must avoid conversations that sow discord!
Other Articles by Susanne:
Susanne Says - Are you stuck? Have I Got the Resource for You! (Part 1 of a 3 part series)
Susanne Says - Dealing with Angry Teenagers (Part 1 of a 3 part series)
Susanne Ciancio, LPC, is a Licensed Professional Christian Counselor. She has been serving the Christian community as a professional Christian counselor in Essex county and the surrounding area since 1986. Beyond her private practice in West Orange, NJ she is involved in teaching, consulting, and pastoral supervision in various churches in the area. Click here for Susanne's website.
EDITORS NOTE: While Susanne can’t answer specific counseling-related questions, she welcomes your thoughts, comments, and suggestions about what kinds of topics you’d like to see addressed here at Circles of Faith. Click here to contact us.