Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Value of The Process

The beginning of a new year has come and gone.  Although it seems like this is way too soon, we again face another 12 months ahead of us and what we are going to do with that time.  I volunteer my time for another website where individuals can write to me and ask questions about domestic violence, abuse and remarriage.  Over the holidays, there were so many people writing for information because they were either in an abusive situation or were seeing a loved one in an abusive situation.  The holidays put an incredible amount of stress on families and on people who are dealing with a lot of stress already in their lives.  As we all know, stress only makes abuse worse because individuals who don't have a lot of skills to deal with their stress anyway, have financial, familial, job and sometimes personal stressors such as depression and/or anxiety heaped upon them and they are just unable to cope anymore.

So, why do I say this now?  Perhaps it is because no one is immune to the effects of stress.  High levels of stress over a long period of time wears away at a person's internal resources.  Patience gets thin, problem solving abilities become paralyzed and energy levels drop.  This is a lethal combination.  Looking back over the holidays, one can make an assessment about where they are on the stress meter.  Once the stress of the holidays subsides, we tend to look back and go, wow, that was a really rough patch!  Then we move on.  However there is something to be said about learning from any problematic behaviors that surfaced during those times of stress.  In all honesty, there are some who say that if there was no predisposition to behave in whatever inappropriate ways we may have acted out, we wouldn't have behaved that way.  High stress situations tend to produce behaviors that we never thought we would do.  Historical perspective confirms that.....look at the Donner party.  Crossing high mountain passes by wagon, they got caught in winter weather and could not proceed.  Supplies eventually ran out and they were starving.  People in their party died and they resorted to cannibalism to stay alive.  Would they have done that under any other conditions? Most likely not.  But under the stress of fear and death, they did things they never imagined they would ever do.

These are the things to consider when we look at abuse and our behavioral responses to high stress situations.  Inappropriate responses only become problematic when they start forming patterns.  Looking back at the holidays, if you've been around for more than a couple years you can look back on a pattern of behavior during family gatherings, high stress conditions etc.  If there is a pattern there, you might want to begin to look at why the pattern exists and what you can do about it.  Abuse becomes an issue when it becomes a pattern.    Using the Donner party as an example again...would you call them cannibals?  No, not at all.  None of them reached their destination and began to consume human flesh on a regular basis.  Therefore you  believe that their behavior was the product of a desperate situation which modified their lives so radically in that specific time that they took radical action to survive.

If there is someone in your life who has a pattern of treating you disrespectfully, dishonorably, aggressively or unsafely...then you have to look at that and make some decisions.  Why is this person behaving this way?  If it is stress, we can understand that but if the pattern continues then the question has to be asked as to why they aren't doing something to correct their behavior and response patterns.  When others behaviors and/or words impact another person negatively over a period of time, something needs to be done.  According to scripture there is a process meant to deal with this kind of thing.  It is called the Matthew 18 principle.

In Matthew 18, scripture tells us that if we are having a problem with someone we should first go to them and talk to them privately about the situation.  This usually happens between spouses or friends by saying, "I don't know if you realize this, but when I get called names and am yelled at, it makes me afraid and I don't want to be here anymore."   If that produces no change, then we go with them to a third party.  In this day and age that could be a pastor, a counselor or some type of mediator who can give an outside opinion and hold the parties accountable to any agreement that may be reached during this process.  If that produces no change, the offender is then brought before an authority figure.  Scripture talks about the elders of the church and the church body which still holds true in a church setting, but in a secular setting this might mean calling in the police in the case of domestic violence or enrolling in a group counseling program, going to rehab etc.  The last instruction that is given is that if there is no change, if the behavior doesn't come to an end, the person is put out of the church, divorced so to speak.  Scripture always holds open reconciliation as an option in this case, which most people tend to do even past the point when they should.  However in any restoration that is considered, there has to be mountains of evidence which proves that the person has gotten the help they need, no longer exhibits the inappropriate behavior and can be trusted to be a person of honor and integrity.

Often when I hear of Pastors who have fallen, either personally or professionally, there are people who will go to them with offers to help them put their lives straight, but if they refuse the help or go through the process without the commitment to change and receive the healing they need, reconciliation does not happen.  This is where husbands and wives fall down in the process.  Reconciliation absolutely cannot happen until the offender is willing, able and committed to the process and follows it through to completion.  In churches, there is then a panel of individuals who go over the evidence, consider the attitude of the person throughout the process as well as their behavior and overall character after completing the process.  Most of the time what happens is the victim sees the offender in pain, hears an apology as well as a promise to change and that is it.

The reason we can't do that is because it is only through time and the healing process that these individuals will metabolize the healing and character changes that need to take place to become the functioning individuals they need to be.  Additionally, most offenders want their victims to be the ones who help them get better and that is so very, very inappropriate.  Victims need to heal as much as the offenders need to heal.  Matthew 15:14 says that if the blind lead the blind, they will both fall in the ditch....which in laymen's terms means that if the victim had the skill set to help the offender, that person wouldn't be a victim.

If someone in your life has a pattern of treating you badly, these are the steps to take in order to correct the situation.  Each step depends on the willingness of the offending individual to participate in the process.  At any point where the offender stops participating, the process stops and there is little left to do than remove yourself from the situation.  You can't try for them and you can't change them.  You can only give them opportunities to try and to change and if they refuse, they need to receive the consequences of those decisions.