Emotional Responsibility

  • S O R R Y

You were never meant to carry the burden of keeping another person emotionally stable.

(I’m adding this to the things-I’ve-learned-in-my-twenties list)

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This takes the pressure off me but it also causes me to lower my own demands on those around me. And oh boy, how I’m realizing the unrealistic demands and expectations that I have been placing on friends and family and supporters recently.

First of all, this is a spiritual matter. Any time we look for approval or fulfillment in anyone/thing other than Christ we are setting ourselves up for DISAPPOINTMENT. I’ve met enough human beings to understand that we’re not perfect. When will I learn?

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At 25 I had the realization: “I am not responsible for keeping so-and-so happy” and now at 29 I’m getting the realization: “so-and-so is not responsible for keeping me happy.”

(This is an important lesson in marriage especially! Although my husband makes me very happy he is not the source of my joy or my identity.)

I am naturally sensitive and I long for words of affirmation and although I believe strongly that God made me this way it can easily become a hindrance to the work He has called me to if I am not careful. As a missionary with looming field reports and support raising and online spectators it is easy to feel like every part of your life is exposed for some kind of evaluation. This can heighten feelings of perceived rejection.

“Missionary women at times struggle with lack of understanding among friends and supporting churches at home. Women often feel it is hard for people who have never lived on the mission field to understand their needs or to relate to their struggles. Sums up one missionary, ‘It’s the rare lay person who understands what I’m experiencing and who understands my emotional needs. When I finally drum up the courage to share, I find that some spiritualize my needs, some give pat answers, and some empathize.’

[Missionary women have a pervasive] need for validation and affirmation, of both their personhood and ministry. They long to have their gifts and abilities respected and utilized, their God-given potential fully developed.

[They] need the freedom to share deeply from their hearts without people quietly dismissing their struggles or without granting them a “super-spiritual” status. One woman sadly expresses, ‘Genuine sharing of needs back home somehow seems to result in us being given the label of ‘too emotional for our own good’, like it’s inappropriate to have those needs. And that’s really painful because I so much want people to know what I struggle with. I’m not asking for sympathy, just understanding and a recognition of what we really grapple with on the mission field.'” – R.A. Graybill, “The Emotional Needs of Women on the Mission Field

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Once an acquaintance back home suggested that I “get tough” after reading a lighthearted and self-deprecating story I posted about a home maintenance fiasco we had recently. I’m sure it was said in jest but this person is not living what we live here full-time in Honduras. This person was not aware of the actual discouragement I was feeling in that moment about our unstable living situation (details I won’t make public) and the insecurity I was already experiencing about not feeling “tough enough” to make it as a missionary in Honduras.

Natán told me once during an emotional moment, “If you weren’t strong you wouldn’t be here. Your sensitivity which you think is your weakness is what brought you here to begin with.”

I have to be super vigilant to not let my sensitivity get me down. That can mean petty comments or just lack of interest or encouragement in general or the daily toll of living differently here in Central America. If I am depending on the Lord for my fulfillment then I don’t have to be tossed to and fro by others’ careless words.

While reading in Luke I got convicted of fueling that neediness at times by a puffed up attitude of self-importance. (like an emotional entitlement) When we accept a full-time ministry it should be an act of humility, never motivated by a need for praise. Luke 17:9-10 MSG: “Does the servant get special thanks for doing what’s expected of him? It’s the same with you. When you’ve done everything expected of you, be matter-of-fact and say, ‘The work is done. What we were told to do, we did.'”

Self-congratulation parading in the form of altruism is especially unflattering. We humans are so susceptible to this. Search my heart, O God.

“As you seek the Lord’s help in this area, He will guide you and give you wisdom, but it is you who needs to take the primary human initiative to get your needs met. Do not assume people around you will meet your needs; you could be very disappointed or disillusioned otherwise. YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOU…not your spouse, roommate, prayer partner, mission leader, friends, or anyone else. One seasoned missionary woman emphasizes, ‘You can pray for, long for, or hope for someone else to help meet your emotional needs, but you CANNOT expect it or demand it.’ So be willing to accept responsibility for getting your own needs met. Develop a plan; be proactive and assertive. Make getting your needs enough of a priority that you are willing to invest time, energy, and money in seeking solutions. One missionary wife speaks from the voice of experience as she comments how taking initiative has been her primary life-saver. She states, ‘No one is going to observe my need and take steps to meet it. That’s my responsibility. This includes taking initiative to make time with friends, to take time to read, to include fun and relaxation, to pursue potential friendships in unlikely places—among single women and with women both younger and older than myself. If I don’t bear responsibility to do these things, no one else will either. So if they aren’t important to me, they simply won’t happen.’

57620fec9caf3e189836388c1f07b762The plain, perhaps somewhat harsh, reality of mission life is that it requires a tremendous measure of emotional resilience or hardiness if one is going to endure the course well. Taking ownership and responsibility for your own emotional needs will go a long way in strengthening your internal resources.

  • T H A N K  Y O U

Even to those encouraging people in our lives, the ones who have been there from the beginning and the ones we’re just now meeting along the way: thank you, but also know that you’re off the hook. I’m not holding emotional blackmail over your head.

  • My Emotional Manifesto:
    • I take sole responsibility for my own emotions
    • I will not feel guilty for the tumultuous emotions of others
    • I reserve the right to open up about difficult emotions only to those who have proven themselves as “safe spaces”
    • I will not jump to conclusions or label every unpleasant interaction as an outright rejection
    • I will not seek approval or validation from man
    • I don’t have to prove to anyone that my work is significant
    • I don’t have to receive praise in order to take pride in my work
    • I embrace my sensitivity as an asset to my mission work, not an obstacle
    • I will take the necessary measures to care for my emotional well-being and not feel guilty about it

58ecf02127de5224b24febc1d6e2e310Obviously, I think you all should read Uninvited by Lisa Terkeurst.

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To Give or Not To Give Positive Affirmation

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I don’t remember if I ever actually took that Love Language quiz but I am 99% sure that my love language is words of affirmation. (love receiving it but still not the best at giving it) I think the need is in my nature mostly but probably also has to do with growing up in an encouraging and affirming environment. (not always unconditional mind you) For good or for bad it kind of created a dependency I suppose. When someone withholds verbal affirmation I feel it deeply. It still makes me feel like a child. My husband is a bit more resilient and I envy him for it. But every now and then I see that inner child looking for approval come out. It’s a part of us all.

All of us were created with some degree of innate need for encouragement and that you-can-do-it voice backing us up. If our childhood is devoid of that kind of moral support it can lead to grave emotional and relational consequences. (The results of which we see a lot here in our work in Honduras.)

I’m an INFP and I’ve mentioned before that I’m a self-diagnosed highly sensitive person so this combination makes me very attuned to which individuals are affirmation-hoarders and which are generous with their praise. Yeah, I see you.

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Emotional withholding is in fact a psychological manipulation tactic. It is one thing to be careless and just not thoughtful in general but it is another thing to intentionally withhold positive speech (an emotional need) in order to a.) punish the receiver or b.) maintain a sense of imagined superiority over them. I would even say, speaking from personal experience, that some of us feel this weird need to determine who actually deserves positive words and who’s “had their fill.” Have you ever felt that sense of, “Well, they sure get enough likes on instagram. I’m not adding to it.”? Kind of silly but I think we’ve all been there.

Sadly, what I’ve noticed is that almost every affirmation-withholder I’ve met did not receive adequate positive affirmation somewhere in their past: from a parent, authority figure, former employer, etc. It’s a cycle. I know that when I feel particularly insecure and in need of verbal affirmation is when I am least likely to give it out to someone else. Those really are my most selfish times, not when I’m at the peak of my confidence. Someone has the break the cycle. And it requires some strength.

I have a couple friends who are literally the best compliment givers. They can cheer a person up in under a minute. Sometimes I’m feeling down and they catch me off guard with their positive outlook. All of a sudden I feel invincible, with my head held high, ready to lavish praise (merited or unmerited) on literally any random person who crosses my path.

Encouragement begets encouragement, and positive affirmation begets positive affirmation. What power we have in our words to create such a ripple effect. It changes the environment around us and truly has a broad outcome even beyond our sphere of influence. As children of God why would we not want to give affirmation freely?

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Paul’s letter in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “…encourage one another and build one another up.” It’s a Christian responsibility! It’s important that we periodically check our hearts and pray like David, “Search me, God, and know my heart. Test my thoughts.” Even when it’s difficult or awkward or “not my style” we can step out of our comfort zone and give positive words of affirmation that someone else might be needing so badly. On the other side of the coin I also think it’s important that we examine ourselves and take responsibility for our own emotions that deep down our identity and security is founded in Christ and not in any human’s words. Working on it. 🙂

What about you? Are you on the needy end of the spectrum? Do you consider yourself generous with encouragement?