How to Take an Emotional Stand

Photo: Jon Eben Field (CCA 2.0)

For the first three decades of my life, I had difficulty taking an emotional stand. I define that as being able to say what I feel, what I believe, in a non-anxious way. I would just stuff my feelings. I thought it was no big deal, but what happened was at some point I would blow my top. All the pent up feelings would come out in a fit of rage.

The anger wasn’t necessarily directed at the people who deserved it because it was an accumulation of things. My boss did something to make me angry and I stuffed it. A family member did something to make me angry and I stuffed it. A clerk in a convenience store gave me poor customer service and I stuffed it. Unfortunately, it was usually my wife or one of my children that triggered the blow-up. They weren’t the reason for all the anger. But I would unload on them. It’s always easier to unload on those closest to you, even in unhealthy ways.

Why does this matter?

I’ve found that in families, churches and organizations, people have a hard time taking emotional stands.

This is unhealthy. When people aren’t able to articulate how they feel and what they believe in a healthy way, it results in the kind of outbursts that I described. Or passive aggressive behavior. Or blaming and conflict. It makes it challenging to communicate in healthy ways.

In the church, it is almost impossible to lead change, unless you, as a leader, can take emotional stands in a healthy way.

Here are four suggestions to help you do it better.

Say what you believe, using “I” statements.

This is communication 101. By saying “This is what I believe. This is what I think we should do. This is how I feel about it,” you are taking responsibility for yourself. In family systems theory, we call this self-defining. If you can’t do this, you are sunk.

Don’t blame others for the situation or how you feel.

The opposite of taking responsibility for self is blaming others. This usually comes in the form of “You” statements. “You always get in the way. You don’t understand how I feel. You are SO inconsiderate.” In family systems we call this defining others. Somebody may have made a mistake, may have hurt you or may even be in the wrong (at least in your opinion), but blaming is counterproductive. It will only make the other defensive and will lead to a hardening of their position.

Give the other person the freedom to disagree.

The point of taking an emotional stand is NOT to convince the other person to agree with you. That can lead to conflict and defensiveness, just like blaming. Nobody likes to be told what to do. If you define yourself, but require the other to agree with you, explicitly or implicitly, then you are trying to define them, as well. By saying, “This is what I believe. You may feel differently, but that’s how I feel,” you give people the emotional space to deal with their own feelings. You’re not trying to define them, just yourself. This is healthy. People who are emotionally healthy will appreciate that. They may not agree, but they will have a conversation. People who are not as healthy will react in unhealthy ways called sabotage, but that’s for another post.

Keep your anxiety in check.

I don’t consider it an emotional stand if you are yelling and screaming. And it’s certainly not when you are blaming. When you can’t check your anxiety that’s how it usually comes out. Of course, you can also deal with your anxiety by not saying anything and stuffing it, but we’ve already shown why that’s not a good thing.

By defining yourself in non-anxious ways, you help keep the entire conversation in a better place. You may feel anxious inside, but if are aware of it, you can do something about it. I have found that role-playing the conversation in my mind or with others is helpful. This helps to anticipate the rough spots and to be able to act less anxious when taking an emotional stand. It doesn’t mean you won’t face anxiety from the other, but it does mean you will be better prepared to keep your own anxiety from causing a problem.

I believe it is the responsibility of a leader to be able to do this. Leadership is about influence and inspiration. This is how to lead in a healthy way that helps your family, church or organization grow or change. It starts with you.

Questions for Reflection:

How do you deal with your own anxiety?

What do you do when you need to take an emotional stand?

What can you do to get better?

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