KERYGMA sat with Dr. Randy Dellosa, Christian psychologist and psychiatrist, to give us a spiritual and scientific view on getting along with difficult people. Here are some of the things we learned.
Kerygma: Research shows that for most peole, happiness lies in relationships rather than success or wealth. If relationships make us happy, why do so many of our relationships make life difficult?
Dr. Randy:Many times, it’s our subconscious that is responsible for the partners we choose. We usually get attracted to someone who is our opposite, to someone who complements us. But research shows that the relationships last when partners have a lot of similiarities and shared interests rather than contrasting personalities.
For instance, if I’m an introvert, I may get attracted, even infatuated with a lady who’s an extrovert. When we get married however, the very characteristic that attracted me to her becomes the very source of conflict in the relationship. As much as I’d like my wife stay at home, she begins to abhor my being a homebody.
Thus, it’s important to be aware of our relational patterns so we can make conscious rational choices rather than subconscious emotional ones.
Kerygma:That works when you’re talking about a romantic relationship because you get to choose your partner. But how about at work or in the family?
Dr. Randy: Family members don’t operate on the same wavelength, so it’s important to respect or tolerate each other’s differences. Secondly, we always have a choice in how we respond to our family members. We can choose not to reciprocate the way they behave towards us.
Kerygma:So there will always be difficult people?
Dr. Randy: Certainly so, and we need to give them the space, the leeway to be different from us. Each person operates from his or her own perspectives and standards. In other words, because we are all different from each other, it is more realistic to have minimal expectations of others than to impose our demands on them.
Kerygma:But what if the difficult person is in your family?
Dr. Randy:The important thing is to try to keep the peace. On the outset, you have 3 options: Firstly, you can choose to quietly tolerate, be civil or conciliatory with an abrasive family member. Secondly, you can give feedback, although of course, giving feedback does not guarantee changes in that person. Thirdly, you can choose to get out of the house.
Another thing to consider is that God must have placed us in whatever situation we find ourselves in. Thus, we have to reflect on how He would want us to respond. A question to keep in mind is, “What response will promote growth in myself, and growth in the abrasive person?”
Kerygma:Where do you draw the line between adjusting to an abrasive person and walking away from him/ her?
Dr. Randy: If the person harms us physically, emotionally, or sexually, then that draws the line. There is definitely no love in that, or else, it’s a distorted type of love which the person is displaying. We really need to separate from the harmful situation and protect ourselves.
Kerygma:Could you explain why there are some people we don’t like even if we’ve just met them?
Dr. Randy:Our subconscious may be picking up cues about the person, cues which our conscious mind may not yet be aware of.
Kerygma:Forgiveness. Is that something Christians should be good at?
Dr. Randy: I don’t think Christians are better at forgiveness. Forgiveness is a process and many Christians don’t realize that. I hear many Christians who say “You should forgive immediately” or “Christians shouldn’t get angry.” But we have to remember that even Christ got angry, though it be a righteous type of anger.
Kerygma:The Bible says do not let the sun go down on your anger, but sometimes, a day isn’t enough to forgive and forget.
Dr. Randy: Oh, forgetting is out of the question. Because we have the cognitive capacity to retain memory, we may never forget the anger-provoking situation or person. Regarding forgiveness by sundown, of course, it’s good if you can forgive quickly, but for most people, they have to go through a process of forgiveness. That means there must first be an intellectual openness to forgive, after which true emotional forgiveness can follow. The length of time for true emotional forgiveness to develop depends really on the gravity of the situation.
Kerygma:Some people say, “I’m not ready to forgive.”
Dr. Randy:That usually means that the negative feelings are still too intense. The person is still too emotional and the intensity of the anger has to subside first.
Kerygma:Let’s say someone is giving me a hard time right now. What’s should I do?
Dr. Randy: Be aware of the feelings that you have inside. You have 3 options depending on what’s the most mature thing to do: tolerate quietly, give feedback, or confront aggressively. Remember that even Christ overturned tables, and that was the move He considered wisest at that moment. It was a righteous indignation.
Kerygma:Anger does not necessarily have to be bad.
Dr. Randy: Right. Sometimes though, our angry reactions are automatic and we fail to choose the wisest response. So we always need to depend on the Lord and trust that his Holy Spirit will work in us even as we react in anger.
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