Several recent conversations helped me see a pattern in my life that, if it could change, would make a big difference in my relationships, my confidence, and my effectiveness. As is usually the case with these things, seeing the problem clearly brought me hope things could change. Hope has been followed by a process of gradual change, punctuated by small leaps forward, and requiring help from others.
So here's the pattern:
A situation arises which requires my action.
I begin to engage it.
The way I engage it frustrates someone else.
They react (in small or large ways).
I begin to feel trapped, scared, hopeless, angry and pressured to somehow fix things. Quickly.
I react: usually I disengage, capitulate, or lash out, often without even realizing what I'm feeling.
Nice, eh? And you all thought I was so mature. :) Or, if you know me well you're shocked that I'm just figuring this out now. So why do I act like this? How did I get into this pattern?
Some of this pattern, I think, I learned by osmosis from observation and being in situations where people handled conflict this way. Also my personality which loves freedom and connection (two things threatened in these situations) plays into it. I'm a first born with the tendency to take responsibility for things that are not my responsibility. I also think self-protection is a natural human response which is operating in a twisted way here.
How can this change?
Somehow trust must replace fear, courage and hope are needed to withstand the pressure, and the pattern needs to be broken. The key ingredients for me in this so far have been the sense that God is working in me and that this isn't something I can or have to do alone, perspective from people who know me, and some new skills/practices I'm developing.
What skills am I learning?
1. To check my internal state when I'm going into a situation that requires my engagement or leadership. I take a couple minutes to ask myself "am I trusting God? Do I have hope? Am I afraid?" I am beginning to take the state of my heart as a real factor in the situation, rather than something to ignore. I'm not very good at this yet, but I've seen signs of progress already even as I muddle forward.
2. To pay attention to the kind of feedback I'm getting from people. If others are reacting to me it might just be that I'm bringing a new idea, but it might be that they are picking up on my fear or pressure and are feeling pushed or manipulated.
3. To get perspective from people who love me -- I've described this pattern to several friends and they sometimes recognize the pattern when I don't. Seeing it allows me to get in the fight at least.