Category Archives: Psychology

The Benefits of Meeting in Person

I have heard a number of people saying how wonderful it is that life has carried on as it has, and how once this is all over (all is a long way away) we don’t need to travel as much as we can do all our meetings by Zoom (other video conferencing apps exist).

I want to challenge this. I believe that we have been able to do it so far because we are living off relationships which already exist. I know there are stories of couples dating on Zoom and then getting together, but I believe that there is a fundamental difference between meeting with someone online who you already know, and forming a new relationship in that way.

This applies to both personal relationships as well as professional ones. The personal ones are perhaps more obvious with the obvious lack of touch, but I believe the professional ones also need physical presence, at least some of the time.

For example, my daughter is returning to work next week after maternity leave, and will be working from home for the foreseeable future. She will be managing staff she has never met before, as well as those she managed before she was off. There is no doubt in her mind that the former will be much harder.

Another issue that I foresee, although one which might now be a fact of life, is the “small stuff”. Twenty years ago the company I then worked for tried out video conferencing, and it did save a significant amount of travelling. However, personally I missed the conversations that took place because I was physically with someone, conversations that weren’t worth making an effort to have, but which when we were face to face cropped up. They were the times I discovered how well our service was working – it might have been well enough not to be complained about – but there were issues which if not addressed would come back to bite us. Similarly, when visiting a site I would speak to lots of different people; video conferencing it would just be the person on the call.

So, yes, when this is over lets look to change things, but please let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater and lose the personal interaction.

Additional grief in lockdown

There is an interesting article about the additional problems of dealing with grief in lockdown on the BBC News website, and tonight (Tuesday, May 10), Rio Ferdinand talks about how he and his children have coped with the grief of losing his wife, their mother, from cancer. You can see Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad at 11.45pm on BBC1.

The increased effects of grief at this time is something that Wendy Edwards, Licensed Lay Minister in the parish, has been considering and she shares her thoughts below:

What I think may be happening for some people, maybe quite a few people, who are grieving the death of a loved one, is that extended periods spent in your own home, often with reminders of your loved one all around you and an inability to have the normal tactile comfort of cuddling or kissing your other family members due to lockdown, are increasing your sense of loss and sadness.

This makes perfect sense in psychological terms but is difficult to experience. You may like to know about this if you wonder why you are struggling more with grief, if you are  – and you may not be, we are all different.

Grief is felt not just when a loved one dies. It is also felt in all sorts of other circumstances. These are all causes for grieving in older adults just now: –

  • Loss of mobility or worsening senses of hearing, eyesight, taste etc or worsening health generally – you grieve for your mobile self or your healthy, hearing, seeing self;
  • Pain- you have lost your pain-free self and you grieve for pain-free days which you did not realise you needed to appreciate as pain -free!
  • Loss of a job or role in life, homemaker, breadwinner, carer of your loved one all cause grief, if you do not have these roles any more;
  • Separation from family members for other reasons, maybe due to distance or disputes or arguments – you have lost the happy close connection you once had with them and there is real grief to work through;
  • Ageing – none of us can stop the passage of time and we can all grieve for our seemingly lost younger selves (I think we contain all the ages we have ever been);
  • Inability in lockdown to see your friends and family, to hold or kiss them;
  • Inability to escape the confinement of your home or the confinement of your grief.

The list could go on, but I hope you see my point. If you are getting on with things and keeping busy, as many of you are, that’s great. Your grief may be held at bay for a while, but it will likely surface at unexpected moments.

Grief can be held down but, like a jack-in-the-box whose lid has been held down, it can spring up when you least expect it. It takes energy to hold grief down and when it is released (hopefully in tears but not all of us can cry) there is healing in tears.  We may feel anger or frustration, remorse, or guilt in grief too, or any human feeling really.

At these times, if you are suffering, please do not despair. We all have increased grief in the lockdown and those who have lost a loved one will be feeling it worse. It will pass in time. It can take three to five years to heal from the worst of grief over the death of a close family member and sometimes longer. Some losses are more painful for different reasons. It is no cause for shame or concern if your grief is taking longer or feels worse now.

Reach out as much as you feel comfortable to trusted friends or family and your support network. Or indeed reach out to your GP also, if you feel you need to. They are available for consultation regarding emotional, mental, or physical health matters, over the telephone or online. Or  I am available to discuss  your feelings in confidence on 01252 406772 or 07740 082460 or at  llm.wendy@badshotleaandhale.org. Please do not hesitate to call me.

With all good wishes, Wendy Edwards LLM

 

Some thoughts on conflict

At St George’s we have been having a series of ‘Vision Hours’ where we consider many things to do with the life, work and mission of our church. At the most recent session we thought about conflict as we have experience some of it recently! Conflict in churches can often feel frightening because we don’t expect it – we expect churches to be peaceful and tolerant, when they aren’t we are surprised. Moreover, most people of faith are deeply passionate about the things to do with faith – the beliefs, the community, the buildings, the mission, the words we use, the music we play, the way we do things. Hence, conflict in churches can feel more highly charged than conflict in other arenas.

However, conflict in the church is as old as the church itself. God in God’s wisdom decided to make us all different, and hence we all have different priorities and ideas. Sometimes these things complement each other and sometimes these things cause tension. In every age the church has struggled to recreate itself so that it can be relevant to the community that it serves. Communities never stay the same and neither do churches. However, change is invariably uncomfortable and leads to conflict.

A group called Bridge Builders have a great deal of wisdom on the subject of conflict. They help churches when conflict becomes painful and destructive. Over the years they have developed an understanding of helpful conflict and unhelpful conflict:

Unhelpful Conflict Helpful Conflict
1. Conflict viewed as wrong and sinful 1. Conflict viewed as inevitable and evidence of involvement
2. Members spiritualise conflict – equate their own view with that of God 2. Members draw from spiritual resources – listening, confession and prayer
3. Members blur issues and people – relationships suffer, people given a cold response. 3. Members separate issues and people – relationships maintained with those who disagree and differ.
4. Leaders discourage expressions of difference and plead for harmony. 4. Leaders encourage expressions of difference and they too can disagree with others.
5. Indirect communication flourishes – talk about people, not to them 5. Direct communication is maintained and clarification sought.
6. Members hoard up hurts and offences. 6. Members keep short accounts with each other.
7. In the stress of conflict, a few vocal people are heard, intimidating the other people. 7. In the stress of conflict, many voices are heard and people are energized by debate.
8. Members react explosively or defensively to the views of others 8. Members interact thoughtfully to the views of others.
9. Discussions focus on positions and people get stuck in their own position. 9. Discussions focus on the process and the problem and only later on possible solutions.
10. Low tolerance of uncertainty and members want issues over and done with. 10. Members able to move calmly through inevitable periods of uncertainty.
11. People repress inner conflicts caused by past experiences and continually project them into the church conflict. 11. People are consciously aware of their past hurts or unresolved conflicts and take responsibility not to project them into the current situation.

 

It might be a surprise to find that conflict can be helpful, but more than being helpful, it is in many cases essential. Conflict forms community and builds intimacy. It is one of the stages of community:

Four Stages of Community

A well-known psychologist, M. Scott Peck, says that any group of people who previously don’t know each other who come together form a community that goes through four stages:

Pseudo-community

People want to be loving and kind. It is a pleasant place to be. In order to achieve this, people withhold some of the truth of themselves. Differences are minimised or ignored.

Chaos/Conflict

Eventually, some differences will appear. This is a shock. It is no fun. It is uncomfortable and unpleasant. We want it to go back to the niceness and comfort we knew before. Eventually, we can bear it no more, we look at who is to blame and the blame is attached to a variety of things until it rests on the leader who bears the brunt of the anger of the community.

From here the community can find its way back to psudo-community or they can walk the painful path through emptiness and grief:

Emptiness/Grief

Members empty themselves of the barriers to communication. They become honest and within each member mini deaths occur – preconception, expectations, projections, ideology. Members start to share their own brokenness, fears failures and defeats.

True community

True community embraces the light and the darkness. The joy and the reality of human failing. A genuine peace descends. When people speak others listen without trying to fix. The community becomes a place of incredible healing.

Emotionally Intelligent Churches

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is a concept that was made popular by a man called Daniel Goleman, who wrote a book with that title. Decades of research have shown that it is the key requirement for success in every sphere of life. I recently read an article that analysed data from a million people show that these eighteen habits or qualities are prevalent in people with a high EQ:

  1. You have a robust emotional vocabulary
  2. You’re curious about people
  3. You embrace change
  4. You know your strengths and weaknesses
  5. You’re a good judge of character
  6. You are difficult to offend
  7. You know how to say no (to yourself and others)
  8. You let go of mistakes
  9. You give and expect nothing in return
  10. You don’t hold grudges
  11. You neutralize toxic people
  12. You don’t seek perfection
  13. You appreciate what you have
  14. You disconnect from technology sometimes
  15. You limit your caffeine intake
  16. You get enough sleep
  17. You stop negative self-talk in its tracks
  18. You won’t let anyone limit your joy

Reading this list made me wonder what an Emotionally Intelligent Church might look like. It would be a place where mistakes are allowed, offence is not taken, forgiveness is offered and thankfulness is central. There wouldn’t be grumbling or complaining, and change would be seen as a good thing. Toxic people would not be allowed to dominate, but instead they would be encouraged to understand their feelings. Self-control would be exercised, and people wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the jobs because they could say ‘no’. The church would serve the community joyfully and expect nothing in return.

Does this sound good? It does to me, although I think the only refreshments that would be served would be Chamomile or Peppermint tea!

Giles Fraser on Helplessness

The talk that most moved me last year at Greenbelt was this one by Giles Fraser on Freud and Augustine. As it happens I’m not a great fan of Augustine and have mixed feelings about Freud. But anyway, if you don’t have time to watch it, the crux is this:

We can’t fix ourselves. This is central to what Augustine is saying and Augustine’s ‘original sin’ is a way of talking about fundamental human brokenness. As an example, the church is like Alcoholics Anonymous – we turn up and the first thing we do is acknowledge our vulnerability, our need for help and our helplessness. We can’t fix ourselves.

Freud says that the trauma of our helplessness as a child is so extreme that we spend the rest of our lives working this out. The trauma of childhood is that we are unable to be in control of the sources of own  satisfaction. He goes on to say that Christianity is a way of avoiding our helplessness – having a big Daddy in the sky makes us feel less helpless.

To overcome this feeling of helplessness, human beings have two possible coping strategies:

  • Deny that we have unmet needs – ‘I don’t need you’. We sometimes sabotage our happiness by pretending that we don’t want others. We become incredibly well defended.
  • Acknowledge our needs and then bully others into satisfying our needs. We are profoundly frightened by our original helplessness so we need to be in control.

We can even become phobic of our own desires in case they become unmet desires – we are scared of going on retreat because we might want a coffee and not be able to have one. We can’t bear desiring something and not having it – hence the joy of consumerism and instant credit.

And how do we feel about those who meet our desires? We feel ambivalent. The person who satisfies us may also frustrate us – we will have an ambivalent relationship with our partners, parents and God.

Being human means being vulnerable, being dependent upon each other. The road to wholeness requires us to express our need, we have to express our vulnerability. And Giles says that Christianity, far from running away from helplessness embraces helplessness in the idea of grace. We bear with our needs in prayer, we find that it is okay to sometimes have our needs not met, we find that it is okay to have our needs not instantly met. He says that helplessness is not a curse, it is a gift, our fragility as human beings is a gift.

Happy are those who know their need of God – the kingdom of heaven is there.