I am amazed at how much I am learning about being an emotionally healthy person at this stage in my life. Many people feel they have arrived by the time they get to my age, but it seems that the older I get, the more I need to learn, or maybe it is that I am more aware I have a lot to learn. Here are the two things that I am currently learning, or should I say relearning.
The first is that the things that bother me most about others are often the things that reveal deeper issues within me. I originally learned this from Carl Jung long ago, but it seems that only now am I developing the self-awareness to really understand what he meant.
Jung said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves,” in his book “Man and His Symbols,” which was published in 1964. He was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst known for his thoughts on psychology. This quote underscores his idea that our reactions to others often reveal aspects of our own lives and can be a valuable source of self-reflection. By the way, Jesus said the same thing 2000 years earlier when he asked, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?’ (Matthew 7.2-5)
It also seems that during times of stress, this truth becomes more obvious. As I have presided over or participated in weddings and funerals through the years, I have seen this clearly manifested in conflicts that develop. I think this is why Jesus intentionally talks of your “brother” above. I have watched one family member react to another and accuse them of the very thing that was obviously a greater issue in the accuser’s life. I think stress allows our emotions to come to the surface more easily than when we don’t feel stressed. This doesn’t mean those feelings or attitudes weren’t there before the stress. Stress simply brings those issues to the surface so we can be more aware of them and, I would hope, deal with them.
So when we are under stress, it is a great opportunity for us to ask ourselves, what is God trying to teach us in this situation? Or, when someone really causes an emotional response in me, whether inward or outward, it doesn’t make a difference; this is a great opportunity to ask ourselves, “Why?”. Why are this annoying person’s thoughts, actions, attitudes, words, or looks bothering me?
Let me suggest this is why a stressful environment can be a great environment for growth. We know that you grow a physical muscle by putting it under tension or stress. This is what lifting weights or exercising does; it puts a load or stresses your muscles. But somehow, we forget this simple principle when it comes to spiritual, emotional, or mental growth.
So, first, I am learning to be more aware of what bugs me in other people is most often a reflection of an issue that needs attention in me. And this leads me to the second thing I am currently learning, which is I can’t change another person. I can only myself.
We all shrug our shoulders and say, of course, we can’t force another person to change. However, most of us, most of the time spend a lot of time trying to change other people’s minds, emotions, or behaviors. In this, I am the worst offender.
Professionally, I am paid to help people identify what areas are negatively or positively impacting their healthy leadership. So it is quite natural for me to see things in others that may be inhibiting their health in relationships or leadership effectiveness. I am learning to not carry that attitude into my marriage and friendships. I mentioned the book by Jack Shitama several weeks ago entitled: If You Met My Family, You’d Understand, which has reminded me how I, in many subtle and not-so-subtle ways, take responsibility for others which is simply not mine to take.
We use all kinds of words and behaviors to attempt to manipulate others into acting or thinking or feeling like we desire. And if they don’t, then we pout, shut down, double our efforts, or emotionally express our displeasure. I can only control my actions! I need to ask myself, how do I need to change? Rather than, how do I get them to change?
As Christians, I think we are the worst at this. We feel the responsibility to “serve” others, which can be healthy if serving is meant to meet their needs and not our own needs. I have seen too many believers become insulted when they weren’t “appreciated” in their service. Whose need were they really trying to meet?
This is where we can overfunction by assuming we know what others need and are going to take responsibility for doing it for them. Rather than letting others as adults make their own decisions and experience the consequences of such, we want to rescue them.
I have a lot to learn, but at this juncture, these two truths are a major part of my curriculum: 1) When bothered, to look inward rather than outward, and 2) To work on changing myself rather than changing others.