Part 2 is here, enjoy!
The Victim Mindset
People who do not understand this concept of self-control feel powerless and, like Rocky’s son Robert, believe themselves to be victims of their circumstances. While some people do become victims of circumstance in an outward sense, the reality is that they still have a choice about their inward response to those circumstances. It maybe difficult to hear, but even those who suffer from the most horrendous crimes—such as rape, the murder of a loved one, torture, and so forth—must face the reality of their personal responsibility to choose their response and their ability to choose either hatred, anger, and bitterness or love, mercy, and forgiveness. This is certainly not an easy choice, and I in no way intend to undermine the pain of victimization. Yet the fact remains that we all have a choice, no matter our circumstance or struggle.
Viktor Frankl, an Austrian Jewish author and psychiatrist, suffered in the Auschwitz concentration camp of Nazi Germany. During that time, as all he valued and based his identity upon was stripped from him, he came to a powerful realization, which he writes about in his book Man’s Search for Meaning:
A person is not an object among other objects. Objects determine each other’s path. A human being, on the other hand, is graced with the power of self-definition. His path and his destiny—of course within the framework of his abilities and environment—he decides himself.
In the concentration camps, in that living laboratory, we saw some of our comrades behaving like pigs and others behaving like saints. Both alternatives are hidden in a person; and which will be realized depends on decisions and not on conditions.
Though Frankl was outwardly a victim of Nazi brutality, inwardly he realized his ability to be powerful and chose to walk in forgiveness toward his captors.
Regardless of circumstances, people who feel powerless and who do not operate in self-control will refuse to take personal responsibility for their lives. They will continually play the blame game. They will blame a sin nature, the devil, those tempting women, their parents, and so forth. Only when you understand that only you are in control of yourself, can you fix your problem. You were powerful enough to choose sin; therefore, you are powerful enough to choose not to sin. You are not a victim; you are not powerless. No, you are powerful. You are powerful because you are the only one who controls you. Nothing and nobody outside of your skin can cause you to sin. Self-control means that you are responsible for your own choices, feelings, actions, and reactions. Either you have self-control or, like Robert Balboa, you are playing the victim and allowing everyone else to run your life.
Taking Responsibility for Freedom
Self-control is essential to personal freedom. If you want to live in freedom, you must take responsibility for your life by choosing to be self-controlled and powerful. Imagine a red- faced man who is angry and yelling. Imagine him getting up in your face, poking you with his finger, and cursing you out. Imagine he’s attacking your character, accusing you of being dishonest or greedy or stupid. How would you respond? Would you get angry and yell back? Would you emotionally withdraw and walk away feeling hurt and bitter? Would you try to appease him with excuses and blame-shifting? Or would you act like a powerful, self-controlled man who knows he’s his own boss and is responsible for his own decisions? When you have self-control, you can calmly listen to the angry man, hear his heart, and thoughtfully respond. Without self-control, you become controlled by and afraid of his anger, and you live a reactive life. God gave you self-control so that you would always be free to respond under your own power rather than living reactively.
Powerful People Are Assertive
Being a self-controlled person who takes responsibility for his life is the first step to freedom. The second step is understanding how powerful people deal with their inward lives in order to remain emotionally and relationally healthy. People who are not self-controlled usually have dysfunctional relationships and fear true intimacy. Because they do not believe that they are the only ones who have control of their lives, they fear that transparency will enable others to control them. Thus they create facades and play control games. As powerless people, because of hurt or fear, they compulsively hide. However, Second Timothy 1:7 says, “...for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” Powerful people choose to open their hearts and share their feelings.
As terrifying as it may seem, the most powerful thing you can do is be open, honest, and vulnerable. The apostle Paul, as a powerful person, modeled this to the Corinthian church and exhorted them to also open their hearts to him:
We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange— I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also (2 Corinthians 6:11-13)
Made for Intimacy
As humans, we are made for intimate and transparent relationships. I’m not speaking of sexual intimacy, though that is part of intimacy within marriage; rather I’m speaking of intimate and transparent sharing of thoughts and emotions—letting another person “see into” us. Not only did God make us for intimacy with Himself, but also for transparent relationships with each other. We are at our best when we have a safe environment in which we can be vulnerable. However, most people have had hurtful experiences that associated transparency with fear or rejection or pain. Because of this, they become self-protected and emotionally disconnected. Though they long to be transparent and to experience intimacy because it is part of their design, they hide from it because of fear. Many attempt to fill their relationship void with things rather than people; this counterfeit intimacy is called addiction—an emotional bond with an object or substance (which they can control) rather than a person (whom they cannot control). The irony, of course, is that ultimately such people give the control of their lives to the object of their addiction.
As part of the decision to be powerful people, we must embrace intimacy, which is a crucial aspect of the freedom of self-control that Jesus purchased for us. Healthy intimacy and freedom cannot be separated. Among powerless people, the goal of communication is to convince others, to control them by forcing agreement. As powerful people, we understand that we cannot control others, but only ourselves. The flip side of this is the liberating realization that others cannot control us, which means that we do not need to fear intimacy. We are free to share our hearts because we know that we will not be controlled by other people’s responses. Thus, the goal in communication becomes understanding and connecting. Because we are self-controlled, we are able to seek to understand what is going on inside of another person without feeling the need to control that person in order to protect our own emotions.
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love (1 John 4:18)
The intimacy and safety of perfect love (of which self-control is a part) casts out fear. The converse is also true. Fear will cast out love and disable intimacy. As powerful people, we choose not to fear other people and their responses. We know they can’t control us, and we know we can’t control them. Rather, we choose to act in love by opening our hearts and seeking to establish healthy connection.
The differences between healthy, powerful communication and unhealthy, powerless communication are outlined in the four standard communication types: Aggressive, Passive, Passive-Aggressive, and Assertive. The first three are dysfunctional and powerless; only the fourth, Assertive, provides an emotionally healthy option. Here is a simple way to define these based on the unspoken motto of each type:
Passive—“You matter. I don’t.”
Aggressive—“I matter. You don’t.”
Assertive—“You matter. So do I.”
Passive and Aggressive are complementary to each other. Passive people are afraid of rejection, of the accusation of selfishness, and of conflict. Therefore, Passive people simply give way to the people around them; often they do this in the name of “laying down their lives for others” just like Jesus did. Let me be clear. Jesus did not passively allow others to walk all over
Him. The Bible says that no one could take His life from Him, but that He chose to lay it down because it was His Father’s will (see John 10:17- 18). At no other time during His earthly life did Jesus “lay down” before the demands of others. Rather, He consistently made powerful choices based on the Father’s will and not on popular opinion.
Passive communication in the name of Jesus is simply spiritualization of fear. The reality is that people who communicate passively are unable to experience intimacy because they allow no one to know what they really believe or feel. Unfortunately, over time this communication style often creates people who feel used, neglected, disrespected, powerless, and resentful. Passive people are the quintessential victim, believing themselves subject to the whims of others. In order to find freedom, they need to acknowledge their power to choose, and they need to take responsibility for the dysfunction they contribute to relationships through their refusal to open their hearts in intimacy.
The Aggressive communication style pairs well with the Passive because Aggressive people are very efficient at invalidating the needs of the people around them. They don’t trust anyone and never open their hearts to others. Rather, their bottom line is getting what they want, often through control and forcefulness.
Passive-Aggressive, as the name implies, is a combination of the first two. Passive-Aggressive people pretend to care about others, resembling the Passive, but they still make sure to get their way through subtle manipulation, including sarcasm, innuendo, double meanings, and unclear communication. Sadly, this communication style is often the most acceptable attitude within the Church.
Each of these three communication types promotes anxiety, guardedness, and selfishness. Relationships founded on one or more of these styles will lack trust, connection, safety, and nurturing because the people involved are not self-controlled, but are reacting in various ways to fear of transparency.
In contrast to these is the Assertive communication style. Assertive people value understanding and mutual respect; thus, they hold themselves responsible to maintain respect levels and to protect healthy communication. They value both their own feelings and the feelings of others, creating a dynamic in which there are no victims and no opponents, but rather fully-valued humans in conversation. This type of communication creates a safe place for vulnerable sharing of emotions, including being gut-level honest about hurts and fears. Such people make the powerful choice to listen to others, to sincerely care about how they feel, and to endeavor to understand. They also choose to act powerfully by courageously sharing from their hearts. Thus they are sources of strength and comfort, leading to true biblical intimacy. Clearly, as people who are self-controlled and powerful, we have only one acceptable communication style—Assertive.
When we do open our hearts, we form connections with other people. As we do that,
we must learn to understand and protect those connections.6 Though for many people, the primary goal in relationships is to protect themselves from being hurt, as powerful people, one of our primary goals must be protecting the connections we form with others. Those connections in Scripture are called harmony, which is translated from the Greek word sumphonea, which literally means “to sound together.”7 It is often also translated as “agreement” or “concord.” From sumphonea we get our English word symphony. Most of us have heard at the very least a portion of a recorded musical symphony, yet we may not realize that one of the distinguishing characteristics of symphonies is their length and the complexity and variety of sound. When applied to other areas of life, symphony can be simply defined as “something with harmonious complexity and variety.”
Applying this word to our connections, we can see that powerful relationships are characterized by an appreciation of complexity (depth) and variety (differences). In harmonious relationships we do not try to force agreement or assimilation, but are able to savor our uniqueness and the ways our various “sounds” (personalities, opinions, passions, and so forth) flow together to make something beautiful. Of course, the beauty comes only as we express our individuality within the harmonious structure. In other words, we have to maintain respect and love through self-control and powerful communication.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited (Romans 12:14-16 NIV)
In Romans, Paul commands us to live in harmony with one another, yet as we have seen, this is not simply the absence of fighting. Harmony indicates a strength of relationship, an intertwining. Harmony is a symphony of people in healthy, powerful relationships. Such harmony—which really is like the masterful coordination of sounds and instruments that creates a beautiful composition—must be nurtured, cultivated, and protected in order to be sustained.
Many people live in complete disharmony with their friends and spouses because of fear. They feel controlled by outside forces, and fear keeps them from opening their hearts and powerfully communicating their feelings and needs. They fear how others will respond, so they close their hearts. This is not how we have to live. No matter how many times we have been hurt, we still have choices. We all have the opportunity to walk in harmony in our relationships and to be connected heart-to-heart, but we must choose to walk through the fear of opening our hearts and being assertive. That is the powerful choice that will lead to health and harmony.
Let’s examine a practical example of how the communication types play out. The patriarch Jacob and his birth family aptly illustrate the first three communication types (see Gen. 25-30), and the unexpected end of their story demonstrates the redemptive power of Assertive
communication. Their story’s dysfunctions and powerless power struggles are similar to many of ours. Isaac, Jacob’s father, takes the Passive role. Though he is the head of the family, he fails to reprimanded Esau for being aggressive or Jacob and Rebekah for being manipulative. Instead, he seems to be pulled along by the current of events created by the other members of his family. The counterpart of Isaac’s Passive style is Esau, the Aggressive eldest son (see Gen. 27:41). Not surprisingly, he is the favored son who has his father “wrapped around his little finger.”
Struggling against the Aggressive domination of Esau, we find Jacob, the younger brother, and Rebekah, their mother. In classic Passive- Aggressive style, Jacob and Rebecca enact a series of manipulative tactics to usurp Esau’s place of control. First Jacob manipulates Esau into giving him his birthright (see Gen. 25:29- 34). Later, Rebekah directs Jacob to manipulate Isaac through disguising himself as Esau (see Gen. 27:5-17). Jacob then deceives the blind and dying Isaac into believing that Jacob is actually Esau, and as a result, Jacob steals Esau’s
blessing from his father (see Gen. 27:18-38). Finally, Jacob manipulates his uncle Laban (who also demonstrates Passive-Aggressive tendencies) in order to claim the strongest and healthiest of Laban’s flocks for himself (see Gen. 30:25-43). Jacob’s relationships were a big, powerless mess.
But along the way, Jacob encounters God, gaining a revelation of himself that changes everything. After deceiving Laban, Jacob and his household travel back to their home in Canaan. On their way, they have to pass through the land where Esau now lives, and Jacob fears that his brother will take revenge on him. The night before he must meet Esau, Jacob pleads with God to deliver him. He also sends ahead presents for Esau in hopes of appeasing him (which is still a manifestation of Passive- Aggressive behavior). In the night, however, the angel of the Lord comes to wrestle with Jacob, and through that encounter Jacob receives a new name—Israel—and a blessing from God (see Gen. 32). Though not many details are given, I think it is safe to assume that wrestling with God all night would have changed Jacob’s
perspective on many things. Certainly, he would have come to the conclusion that, considering he could hold his ground in a divine wrestling match, he could begin to live a powerful, responsible life.
The next morning, the dreaded encounter with Esau occurs. Yet instead of the anger or blaming or manipulation we might expect, the two brothers communicate with sincerity and openness, even embracing and weeping in each other’s arms. There is no mention of the past offenses, but only warmth and generosity. Rather than running or manipulating, they face each other directly, which is an unmistakable display of Assertive communication (see Gen. 33:1-16).
As evidenced in the life of Jacob, Assertive communication is the only healthy option, the only powerful option. And it requires opening the heart and risking vulnerability, knowing that even if others hurt you, they cannot control you. It looks like caring about the needs of others rather than trying to control them. Bottom line, powerful and assertive people value intimacy,
and they are willing to risk getting hurt in order to create healthy connections. The three dysfunctional types of communication create separation, whereas Assertive communication opens the heart and shares vulnerably about hurts and fears. This leads to great connections.
Many have become paralyzed in anger, hurt, or fear, which has kept them from opening their hearts and being assertive. What has hurt us or scared us? What has kept us from communicating assertively with those we love? As powerful and self-controlled men, we must learn to walk in Assertive communication in order to manage our inner lives and maintain healthy relationships.
(End of Chapter)
Write at least five answers to the following questions on a separate sheet of paper
I feel powerless when: (For example...my boss is upset at me, etc.)
I feel controlled when: (For example...my wife speaks to me aggressively, etc.)
I blame others when: (For example...I am scared, etc.)
Now take the scenarios that you wrote in tool 1 and write out a powerful decision for each scenario such as
I will choose to be powerful: (by taking responsibility for my actions to my boss)
I will choose self-control: (by speaking assertively in love to my wife when she is being aggressive)
I choose that rather than blaming: (I will take responsibility. I will apologize. I will be assertive, etc.)
In looking at the four communication types identify the following
In the past I have been: (circle one)
Aggressive : Passive : Passive/Aggressive : Assertive
Take the time to explain these four types to your spouse or a close friend (if you are single). Ask them which of the four they have seen in you and to give you examples.