Are your coworkers out to get you? The in-laws overwhelming? Spouse out of touch and unsupportive? Those church members being unreasonable… again? Sounds like you could have a case of “Them & They” disorder. You know, it’s always “them” or “they” with the problem. It certainly cannot be you.
Ok, so there is no such thing as “Them & They” disorder. However, if your relationships are marked by a pattern of conflict, distrust, and avoidance, an investment in time and counsel to explore yourself is long overdue.
Having God-honoring relationships in every area of our lives starts with the humility to assess oneself, to dig deep, clean house, unpack bags of drama, and begin the hard but worthwhile work of being more healthy and whole. Without a doubt, that can be intimidating talk. But you, child of God, are more than a conqueror in Christ Jesus. Conquering the hurts and struggles within you is within your reach.
So maybe you are thinking, “I am a loner” or “I don’t like people and all I need is King Jesus.” Sadly, the idea that we don’t need other people is often prevalent among Christians. However, the declaration that “it is not good for man to be alone” originates not from man, but from God (Genesis 2:18). God knows best about His creation. And it is in and through relationships with people that God graciously sanctifies us, positions us to share His gospel, and matures us for the work of the ministry.
So, what is the first step in fostering and maintaining a healthy self? How do we develop a sense of self-wellness, so that we can have healthy relationships with others? Such questions have led to generations of lively debates about what makes a person emotionally and spiritually healthy. Contemporary secular theories vary tremendously from the influences of Freud’s controversial and abstract view of personality to Carl Roger’s emphasis on self-actualizing (in other words, being your best self).
For the Believer, however, our identity and personhood finds its foundation in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We come to see ourselves rightly when God’s Word is pointed towards us like a flashlight in a darkroom. This illumination both immediately and recurrently reveals our sins, our strengths, our insecurities, and our purpose in Christ Jesus.
Let’s face it—our own sins, as well as those sins committed against us can fill a lifetime’s worth of luggage with doubts and distrust. But thanks be to God—we are not left alone to unpack those bags! God Himself reveals to us, through His Word, our experiences, and even unhealthy relationships, the things that need to be forgiven by us and purged in us.
For example, you probably did not know just how impatient you were until your sister asked you to keep her clan— oh, I mean, “sweet children”— with little notice. Or perhaps those struggles with covetousness and pride became undeniable when your co-worker received the promotion that you thought should be yours. Self-assessment can be like cleaning out a closet. We’ll be shocked to see what we’ve been holding on to, yet delighted by the surprises we uncover and the freedom in letting things go.
Below are some thoughts to process as we move from the easy task of externalizing blame in relationships to internalizing responsibility and fostering healthy relationships.
1. Do I keep it real?
Some of us have struggles in relationships with others because we are certain that the other person will uncover “the real you.” The real “you” is someone you may very well be ashamed of, afraid of, or uncertain about. For this reason, you bring your representative to your relationships. It’s a pseudo-you that, without fail, will only last for a season because you can only fake being something you are not for so long.
2. What defines me?
Maybe it’s some trauma you’ve experienced, but cannot bear to address, that leaves you unwilling to be vulnerable and transparent before others. Perhaps it is the loss of a loved one whom the Lord called home. Or maybe the deterioration of a marriage that was supposed to last until parted by death.
Make a running list, grouped together in 5 or 7-year intervals, of the most significant events of your life. This is a practical way to see the events that have shaped you. It is surprising to see all that God has brought us through and to. We can rest in the truth that Christ’s work on the cross has redefined the life of the believer, from a sinner running from God to a saint who delights in the things of God. This provides our most important source of self-definition.
3. Do I make idols out of my relationships?
While there is nothing wrong with high standards, some of us look to relationships with others to meet deep voids. It’s likely that we lack the insight to see this while engaged in the relationship. If you find yourself frustrated because your spouse, co-worker, or church member isn’t near-perfectly meeting your needs, then you may be looking to the wrong sources for wholeness. To expect perfection from a person is idolatry. We are to look only to God for perfection. Look to Him, alone, for the relationship that ultimately fills all voids, meets and surpasses all needs, and defines who you are.
4. Am I willing to ask for help?
There is a great deal of stigma in the world about emotional problems. The stigma is even more profound in the church. As you are bravely and rightly assessing yourself, pray for continued wisdom to know when you may need to seek out Godly counsel to assist in further unpacking those things that have led to a broken “you” and toxic relationships. God is not limited in his ability to bring us comfort through a variety of means, including a pastoral counselor or mental health professional.
Humans— especially believers— are designed to be in fellowship. When we reflect on the majesty of our triune God, it becomes more understandable why we are to be in relationship and union with others. It is because of our love of God, and because of the relationship that He has called us into with Jesus, that we strive (and at times struggle) to deal with our issues, all the while demonstrating His love to those He brings our way.
So cue Hezekiah Walker’s classic song “I Need You to Survive,” because there is no such thing as a holy hermit. But before you set out to fix everyone else, set out to make the healthiest “you” possible.