Q– “It is hard for me to know who to trust and how to express my feelings. I worry about being Christlike, so I feel I have to just forgive and keep quiet. Any advice?”
A- Knowing how to be assertive about your feelings and needs is a tricky process and one you will have to listen to the Spirit on. The problem is that if you do and say nothing, those who have empathy, self-control, and personal responsibility will not have the chance to see your perspective, change their behavior, or grow and develop in their insight and understanding. (This theory of looking for a lack of empathy, self-control, and personal responsibility was presented in my first book, Dating Game Secrets for Marrying a Good Man, to help singles recognize the potentially abusive and manipulative in three dates or less.) So, it is usually best to express your feelings, rights, and needs in a respectful and appropriate manner rather than not at all.
There is one exception to this. If you have expressed yourself two to three times, and each time your date fails to show empathy, does not exercise more self-control afterward, or fails to take responsibility, I recommend that you stop sharing your needs and realize that they definitely belong in the 1/3 box. (This refers to a concept I call the “1/3 & 2/3 boxes.” In the 1/3 box are the people you shouldn’t trust. If you are giving 2/3 of your attention to people in your 1/3 box, you will simply find no reason to trust others and will conclude that the word is full of jerks, nags, manipulators, liars, cheaters, and beaters.) In contrast, you need to know and believe that 2/3 of people are relatively safe to be in relationships with. They are all around you. You need to learn to recognize and invest in them rather than in the jerks. If you don’t, you will never find or be able to trust in a good relationship.
You say that there are many people in your life who do not show these qualities (which can be common), but my challenge would be to test them at least once or twice more to tell for sure (unless you have already done this several times in the past with disastrous results). Be sure that as you do this you show empathy, self-control, and personal responsibility, or you will not get a true witness of their skills or lack thereof.
Relative to the idea of being Christlike, I believe this advice is Christlike because you should be showing empathy (which includes respecting another’s feelings, rights, and needs and trying to see it from their perspective), but you are also holding them responsible, which Christ often did. Consider the manner in which He addressed the Pharisees and Sadducees. He never lost control, He did not accept blame that was not His, and He showed respect through His actions and words even in correcting others and speaking the truth. He addressed their behaviors rather than demeaning their worth.
Christ does for us what we cannot do for ourselves (hence acting as our Savior), but He does not do for us what we can and should do for ourselves (which would be acting over-responsible and enabling). He knows we need to grow through our own efforts, and He cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.
He, of course, did not need to take responsibility for wrong doing because He was perfect. However, we do. When communicating your needs, keep striving to learn how to do it better, which demonstrates personal responsibility. Just don’t take blame or feel shame for what someone else is doing wrong. Blaming others is a common manipulation and one you need to avoid buying into.
So, what I am saying is, this is a difficult process and one that takes practice, experience, and balance. You try to be perfect, and I am sure you would like to get it right the first time—but you can’t and you won’t. You need to remember that you do not need to be perfect to be loved. Quite the opposite actually. Just do your best (as imperfect as that may be) at each encounter. With those who have empathy, self-control, and personal responsibility, that is all they will need to see.
Once you have gone through this process with others a few times, start creating your own 1/3 circle of distrust and 2/3 circle of trust. There are those who will not respond favorably to your needs and those who will. When you have a history of letting yourself be manipulated and demeaned, it seems that jerks and manipulators will surround you like wolves to a lamb. Once you start to discern the wolves from the lambs it’s important that you start focusing 2/3 of your energy on the lambs and distancing yourself from the wolves. The fact of the matter is that 2/3 of the population of people have sufficient empathy, self-control, and personal responsibility enough that they are relatively safe to be in relationships with, especially if you use respectful skills with them as well.
Once you learn to distance yourself and your attention from the wolves (by standing up for your rights) and start giving your best to the lambs (this embodies the idea, “I don’t give the best of me to those who don’t invest in me,” as taught in the workshops), you will see that you can quickly create a circle of trust where you can depend and rely on others. At first it feels strange to walk away from the comfort of others, but if you are surrounded by wolves, they don’t offer much comfort anyway. Trust that you will find your way to the lambs.
Does this analogy help?
As it relates to those you don’t trust, do not look to them for validation, approval, or respect. You will probably not get it from them . They do not have the empathy, self-control, or personal responsibility you need. Look at your interactions with them more pragmatically and unemotionally, and you will start to see options for positioning and maneuvering yourself to avoid them and their efforts to gain unnecessary control or influence over you. For example, observe your interaction with them as if you were a fly on a wall. Observe rather than react. This reduces their power because, like all bullies, they need a reaction to enjoy bullying you. Take stock of your options: calling them on their behavior, not taking responsibility, stating when their expectations inconsistent, and choosing to not react with fear. After reviewing all your options, strategically begin to take action. You may need to process this with friends and others before you step forward.
If you maintain your composure and act strategically, you should be able to overcome your fears and break free of any tyrant. God intends for you to have options to help you navigate and to avoid the threats of others. If you turn to God and the Spirit, you will find a way to do this.
I hope this advice helps.
Or join our e-mail subscription list (in the upper right column), which will notify you every time new dating advice or posts are added to ItsYourTechnique.com.