Have you ever had an argument with your parents or siblings?
How do you know when to correct someone and when to not say anything at all?
How do you control your temper?
The answer to all of these questions lies in changing how we think about conflict.
“Note how each of these questions begin: ‘How?’ It asks for technique, strategies, methods,” explains Dr. Ray Guarendi. “Always asking ‘how’ is asking for frustration. If there is a ‘how’, then I can find it. If I can find it, I can apply it, then what I want to happen should happen.”
Modern psychology exists in the world of ‘how’. But Dr. Guarendi wants to go much deeper than ‘how’.
“My work involves finding ways to help someone, no matter what he’s grappling with,” he explains. “The search for ‘hows’ has reinforced for me the need for the will. Without the will, ‘How?’ is an intellectual exercise. Christianity understood this long before the arrival of modern how-to thinking.”
In his new book, Thinking Like Jesus, Dr. Ray Guarendi shares how to approach topics that often cause confusion and heartache with the mind of Christ.
Dr. Guarendi has decades of experience as a clinical psychologists. In this book, he offers short, accessible reflections that combine great spiritual advice with findings of modern psychology.
So what can we do as faithful disciples when we run up against hard situations? Here are three of our favorite tips from his new book.
Speak your mind, not your emotions
“If I could rewrite my life, one of the first chapters I’d edit would be those times I hurled harsh words out from raw emotion,” Dr. Guarendi writes. “I would put all of those I love, along with those I labor to love, into one long paragraph and write ‘I’m sorry, I take it back.'”
We’ve all been in a situation where we speak our mind, our reaction rooted in our hurt emotions.
“At peak emotion, judgement is impaired. When one is feeling accused, put down, or hurt, the mind and body react in tandem, Dr. Guarendi explains. “The mind says, ‘Defend yourself. Don’t let him get away with that.’ The body says ‘Here’s a rush of emotion to get you started.'”
In those heated moments, holding the four ounce weight of your tongue seems to be an overwhelmingly heavy weight to bear.
Then, check to see what you’re actually speaking. Are you speaking your mind, or speaking your emotions?
“Speaking my mind implies my thinking. Speaking my emotions may feel like what I’m thinking. All too often, away from the intensity of the moment, it isn’t what I’ve thought at all,” writes Dr. Guarendi.
Some things do need to be said, but context matters. Almost always, it’s wise to delay a response if you find yourself speaking your emotions instead of your thoughts.
“You never have to apologize for what you didn’t say,” Dr. Guarendi reminds his readers. “Catholics know, too: You never have to confess what you didn’t say.”
Realize that people have to want change
How many psychologists does it take to change a light-bulb?
Only one, but the light-bulb has to really want to be changed.
It seems like a cute joke, but “that old joke illuminates an unchanging law of therapy,” explains Dr. Guarendi. “No matter how competent the therapist, the client has to cooperate. He has to want to change.”
One thing in therapy that Dr. Guarendi admits that he hears all to frequently is the request to help change another person.
“Changing ourselves for the better may not change another,” he warns. “No matter how loving, how reasonable, how persevering, how forgiving we are, if another person sees no reason to change herself, she’s not going to.”
Often, what therapy and conversations reveal is that we’re frustrated with people’s actions because they’re not acting the way that we would in that situation. Most of the time, they’re not acting wrongfully, they’re just acting in a way different that ours.
So what can we do in these situations, keeping Christ in mind?
“A simple prayer popularly known as the Serenity Prayer entreats: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference,” Dr. Guarendi shares.
“Substitute ‘people’ for ‘things’ and you’ve got a good guiding prayer for easing your personal distress. You’ll also go a long way to easing what you were convinced were destined to be distressing relationships.”
Don’t be apology averse (and recognize why some people are)
Scripture lays it out pretty clearly: if we hurt someone, we’re called to admit that we messed up and ask for forgiveness.
But those two litte words, ‘I’m sorry’, are sometimes hard to choke out. Why is this? It could be because we tie our self-worth to our apologies.
“When self-worth is tied to ‘I’m sorry’, the words mean too much: ‘I’m a failure’ or ‘I’m inadequate’ or ‘I’m a mess’ or ‘I’m a jerk’ or ‘I’m a sinner.’ They don’t say, ‘I acted foolishly,’ but ‘I’m foolish.’ They don’t say ‘I acted badly’, but ‘I’m a bad person.’ They don’t say ‘I shouldn’t have done that,’ but ‘I’m the kind of person who does that,'” Dr. Guarendi explains.
If someone you love has hurt you, but fails to apologize, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that they’re prideful and arrogant. But the opposite is true. “The fewer the apologies, the greater the feelings of self-doubt,” he explains.
“Understanding this will lessen your frustration and another’s apology aversion. It will also soften you. It is easier to forgive those who struggle within themselves than those who sound pride-driven or superior.”
It’s also important to remember that honest apologies are never for just one person. They’re also apologies directed to the Lord. “You’re telling Him, ‘However many and repeated my flaws, I trust fully in Your forgiveness.'”
What to learn more about how to approach tough situations with the psychology of a faithful disciple? Pick up a copy of Thinking Like Jesus at your local Catholic bookstore or online through Sophia Institute Press.