Sunday, September 8, 2013

Avoiding A Relational Trap

All week I have been advising counseling clients not to fix, analyze or advise (thank-you Jim Cosby). Of course I have been analyzing and advising in hopes of fixing broken places in people’s lives. But then I figure that’s what many come to counseling for. Some, of course, come for emotional support during times of grief or hardship, but many more are looking for solutions.

I must say that my advice (to not F, A or A) is really hard to do for several reasons. But I will be avoiding a potential relational crash and burn if I do.

  • It feels so powerless and passive. The key word here is “feels”. But actually a good listener is doing something important. They are connecting emotionally with another person. Active listening is not easy. Just try to do it very accurately and you may re-evaluate its difficulty.

  • I get invited to do just that (FAA). Here is where it can get tough. What if your advice is solicited? Sometimes you may be offered an open door to speak into a person’s life or struggles. If the offer comes without strings attached and is genuine, you may want to carefully respond to the request. But sometimes it is an attempt to draw you into their drama with the hopes that you will rescue them and assume their responsibility. This is not helpful because it reinforces their sense of inadequacy and immaturity. Too often I will find myself entangled in an emotional triangle, because these kinds of problems often involve a third party. (See Emotional Triangles) <----- click link. 

  • I am a male and it is just my nature. Yes, it is true that men are designed to be problem solvers first and foremost. And that is also why we get into so much trouble relationally. We put our need to fix ahead of what’s best for the other person. But as Christ followers, male or female, we are to make sacrificial decisions for the greater good.

When I attempt to fix, analyze or advise I risk relational disharmony. I may be met with anger or distance when it is unwanted. I may feel rejected and resented by the other person. Also, I may feel resentful when they misunderstand my intention or reject my advice. Even when I am asked to comment, I may at some point cross an invisible boundary that I did not know existed and encounter some resistance. Then "I" might feel even more frustrated and resentful.

So what should we do? In most cases we should go back to the tried and true pattern of:

  • Reflecting – you can paraphrase what has been spoken to you so that the speaker knows that they were heard accurately.

  • Empathizing – you can express your (positive) feelings for them without having to remove the source of their pain.

  • Reassuring – you can offer up any honest reassurances about the situation without attempting to f, a or a. 

OK -- now go practice! And let me know how it works.

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