Dr. Henry Cloud’s work has helped me out a lot in this whole process — especially his book, Necessary Endings. That book taught me about the three kinds of people: the wise, the foolish, and the evil.
Not only that, he’s Christian and backs all this up with biblical references. There’s backup for my choice, right there in the bible. Not that that matters to me, but it ought to matter to some people:
If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them. For people like that have turned away from the truth, and their own sins condemn them.
A brief recap:
A wise person
The wise person sees the light and adjusts
Diagnosis: Is this someone who listens?
The evil people
The evil people intend to destroy. For this post I’m not going into detail about this category.
A fool shoots the messenger
The problem is never in the room, unless it’s you
When the light comes, the fool gets angry
A fool hates knowledge (Proverbs 1:22) and takes no pleasure in understanding (18:2). They defend themselves (and their ideas) even when they aren’t attacked.
- Not listening
- Don’t talk
- Hope doesn’t come from more talking
[Fools] may be very bright and gifted. This is why they’ve gotten as far as they have… But here’s the problem. With the wise person, when the light comes, they adjust themselves to the light. With a fool, when the light shows up, they adjust the light. It hurts their eyes. They’re allergic to it. They try to dim it and they try to adjust the truth. The wise man changes himself; the fool tries to change the truth. “This wasn’t a big deal.” “It’s not like that.” Or, they shoot the messenger.
Whenever you give feedback to someone, and the first reflective move is defensiveness, let that be a warning sign. They are squinting. They deny that it’s reality, they minimize it, they externalize it, they shoot the messenger. They aren’t happy to hear it, and a lot of times they get angry. You become the problem.
Every time you talk to a person like this, they do not own it.
When you get hopeless about that with them, that is one of the best things you can do… [A wise responsible person] initially has hope that the person will start listening. But this person just keeps not listening. You gotta give up here.
Here’s what the Bible says, and all research validates: “With a wise person, talk to them. They will love you for it and listen and get better.” But then the Bible changes its tone. It says “do not correct a fool, lest you incur insults upon yourself. Do not confront a mocker, lest they hate you. Etc.” These verses describe reality like you’ve never seen it before. They say: “Here’s your strategy: Stop talking.” Why? They have stopped listening. Their allergy to reality is now in charge.
Here is the principle: Fools don’t change when truth comes to them, but only when the pain of not changing becomes greater than the pain of changing. (I remember having a conversation about exactly this idea with my oldest brother, at that last reunion, before I said to hell with this. They are indeed bright enough to understand all this. They just won’t own it.)
The challenge here is to limit your exposure, make it clear about the consequences, give them a choice, and follow through. Need to say “I need someone in this position that can hear reality. I hope that’s you. I want you to be in that chair. But that’s what that chair is going to require, and you get to make the choice.”
So much of that was essential in helping me understand (after the fact) that I did make the right choices. I went about it in an angry, upset way, and not the best way that I could have done it. But the gist of what I did had the right, healthy instincts.
Anger is a normal response to what I experienced. But now I find another reference from Dr. Cloud that helps explain the anger from a different perspective. I’m just going to quote this one in its entirety:
“Many people conceal their negative feelings of anger, sadness, and fear. These people are unable to cope with good and bad because they have never processed these negative feelings, and they suffer from many problems, such as fear of relationships, depressions, and anxiety as a result. Negative feelings are valid, and they must be dealt with so they won’t cause problems.
“Anger, our most basic negative emotion, tells us that something is wrong. We tend to protect the good we don’t want to lose. Anger is a signal that we are in danger of losing something that matters to us. When people are taught to suppress their anger, they are taught to be out of touch with what matters to them. It is good to feel angry because anger warns us of danger and shows us what needs protecting. But, we are not to be mean or abusive in our attempt to solve a problem. This would mean to resolve it in some unloving way and would ultimately hurt us as well as each other.
I lost something important to me. I lost my father, and then my whole family. And I didn’t go about trying to solve this problem in a loving way. I was angry and hurt and shamed to learn that people in my so-called FAMILY had LIED to others in my family about me, about what happened and about what they did. That people had been told, and BELIEVED, that I was the one wholly responsible for the fight the day after Dad died — when I was responsible for none of it.
I had been betrayed, lied about, to people who ought to have given me some benefit of the doubt, if they loved me — who ought to have sought me out, who ought to have cared about, asked about, and believed my side of the story — who, when told my side of the story, ignored it, and acted like it didn’t matter — one brother in fact told me I ought to have done things differently, when in fact the “differently” was EXACTLY WHAT I DID DO, and yet when apprised of that fact, that he had been lied to about what happened, that didn’t seem to change a thing.
These were people who beforehand claimed they WOULD do all these things — turns out all that bullshit talk about “cutting each other slack” was just so much hot air. I had, and have, absolutely every justification for being angry.
What they don’t have is justification for being defensive about what they did, for saying they “did nothing wrong”, for not sincerely saying they were sorry, for saying that my feelings didn’t matter, were wrong, for always trying to make me the one at fault. They don’t own what they did. And the reason — going back to the beginning of this post — is that it isn’t painful enough for them to do so. The loss of me as part of the family isn’t painful enough for them to change.
The other threats: facing up to the truth of what really happened when Dad died, who really did what, facing up to having been wrong all these years, having to admit to their little sister that they were wrong and have treated her so badly, facing up to the lies that were told about me by Susan and Joe — facing up to all that is far too painful for them.
In other words, they fear that whatever loss of “family” or loss of face that will result from actually addressing this issue will be so painful to them, that it’s hugely preferable to let me experience that loss and pain instead — e.g. the pain of losing my whole family.
And I guess I can understand that, but it still makes me the scapegoat one final time. It just doesn’t matter how painful it is for me. They choose to save their own skins and leave me to drown.
I suspect the reason Susan got so very angry the next day was rooted in her own loss of her father at a very young age. Fine, I can understand that, and even empathize with that. But you know what? You have a responsibility to work on your own shit, FOR THE VERY REASON THAT IT’S NOT COOL TO VOMIT IT ALL OVER SOMEONE ELSE TO MAKE YOURSELF FEEL BETTER. And if you don’t work on it, and you do take it out on someone else, you need to own up to that and apologize. And keep apologizing, sincerely and truthfully, until you have assuaged the hurt that you caused, and rebuilt the trust that you demolished.
“Major consequences for denying our angry feelings range all the way from psychophysiological disorders, such as headaches and ulcers, to character disorders, such as passive-aggressions, to the inability to work, to serious depression and panic. Any way you look at it, denying anger keeps one from getting problems solved.
“Another problem with denying anger is that it turns into bitterness and leads to a critical and unforgiving spirit. Instead of denying anger, we must own it and find its source. As we examine our anger, we can find out what we are trying to protect. Anger may be protecting an injured vulnerability or a will that was controlled. We may be under condemnation from someone and need to get out from under perfectionism. Whatever the source, anger tells you there is a problem, and it should never be denied.
“We may discover that our anger is protecting something bad, such as pride, omnipotence, control or perfectionism. Maybe we feel angry because we are losing control of another person. In either case, if we deny our anger, we can’t get to the source. Anger, then, is helpful because it is a sign something is being protected, either good or bad.”