Have you ever had a disagreement with someone that ended with you feeling like less?
I recall a situation not too long ago between me and a colleague. This person became extremely upset, and began to speak down to me. Instead of responding by speaking up, I let him continue to berate me. I drove home that night questioning what was wrong with me, and why I felt incapable, stupid, and used.
I used to struggle with the idea that as a Christian, we must be overflowing in mercy in all interactions with others. Submission, humility, meekness – these are all words that cross my mind when I am thinking of how to love best in a conflict situation.
What Does Meekness Look Like?
Meekness attempts to leave room for others and learn from them. To be meek is to be patient with others, practicing restraint and selflessness. What meekness is not is allowing others to hurt us, or choosing to stay in a harmful situation.
And as much as others may say hurtful things to us, I’m willing to bet that we say more hurtful things to ourselves. In fact, it’s easier for us to be compassionate towards others than towards ourselves.
We Have Dignity
We are all dignified and constituted with value by virtue of Christ’s incarnation. All of us carry the responsibility to honour human dignity – including our own. Reverend John J. Coughlin outlines this in his article “Pope John Paul II and the Dignity of the Human Being”:
God’s forgiveness of humanity, which is expressed in the Son’s perfect self-sacrificial love, serves as a testament to the highest degree of human dignity both by revealing the love of God for humanity and by demonstrating the fullest possibility for the human person. (2003)
God’s sacrifice demonstrates the fullest potential for the human person, which means that the only appropriate response to one another is love. Unconditional, self-sacrificial love. Now we know that we cannot love perfectly, but we have a calling to participate in that love to the degree that is possible for us. If we don’t, we risk undermining the dignity of all human beings.
John Paul II writes that the human person cannot live without this love. In the absence of the “revelation” of love, the human person remains “incomprehensible” to self” (Coughlin, 2003).
Understanding that preserving human dignity requires love, how do we train ourselves to respond with love?
Some important things I learned in therapy:
- Managing your thoughts can be a way of protecting yourself. We can begin to change the negative thoughts and emotions we have about ourselves during times of conflict and stress. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) was, and continues to be useful in mind management.
- Setting boundaries is a way of honouring human dignity. It is, in fact, necessary that we do so to protect and uphold our own dignity. This can look like learning to say “no”.
- Like most important life skills, setting boundaries must be practiced. As any healthy relationship takes time/effort, so does our relationship with ourselves. We must love our neighbours as ourselves after all.
Responding to yourself with love is not allowing others to use or demean us in any way. It means not allowing others to walk all over us, or take their anger out on us. As women on the receiving end, this behaviour may even become normalized, which tends to result in lower self-esteem and higher negative self-talk. We need to have a loving relationship with ourselves in order to extend our hearts genuinely to others. In the context of a conflict or confrontation, it is okay to pick yourself.
Picking yourself can look like:
- Suggesting you have the conversation at another time, when you will be in a better headspace.
- Walking away if you don’t like the way you’re being spoken to.
- Telling them that you will not continue the conversation if they continue to disrespect or call you names.
- Choosing to stay silent, and listen rather than speak.
Although this may not be new information for us, a reminder never hurts. Sometimes it takes more than once to draw your boundary. If we do not show up for ourselves mentally, physically, and spiritually, we will struggle to show up for the people in our lives – this we know! Be patient with yourself, and above all remember that we love because He first loved us.
John J. Coughlin, Pope John Paul II and the Dignity of the Human Being, 27 Harv. J.L. & Pub. Pol’y 65 (2003-2004). Available at: https://scholarship.law.nd.edu/law_faculty_scholarship/494