It's a Sticky Situation
By Kathy Gissler
Chestnut CAP Counselor
How often have you found yourself saying those words after encountering a particularly difficult appointment with someone in your office? Unfortunately, churches are not immune from the painful, uncomfortable, and difficult situations of life. In fact, sometimes it feels like the church attracts people who are difficult on many different levels. Often, those people end up in your office.
So, how do you handle these difficult people? It begins with having healthy personal boundaries. There is a great book called Boundaries by Christian psychologists Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend that discusses this principle in depth. It is a great resource, and provides many helpful ideas on establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries with others, as well as within our own personal life. While healthy boundaries may be difficult to set and maintain, the benefit is a much more balanced life.
Two difficult personal traits that we often deal with are manipulators and aggressive or passive-aggressive people. These people try to guilt others into doing their bidding by pushing past the other person’s boundaries in subtle (or not-so-subtle) ways. When responding to these types of people, never engage in an argument or try to justify your position. Instead, try using the Broken Record technique. Restate their request, and follow it by stating your boundary. Here’s an example: “I understand that you want me to ___________, but I’m not able to do that at this time.” The other person will probably come up with a multitude of reasons why you should do what they ask, and may even resort to personal attacks, but it is important to stick to your position. “I understand that you think a ‘good pastor’ would be willing to do this, but I’m not able to do that at this time.” “I understand that you believe that the children need _________, but I’m not able to do that at this time.” They may become frustrated or even angry with you, but maintaining your healthy boundaries is an important lesson for both you and the other person to learn.
Another difficult person to deal with is the sexualized person. With these people it is imperative to establish and maintain healthy boundaries from the outset. First and foremost, never meet with this type of person alone if at all possible. Have a trusted staff member, spouse, or church leader in the office with you. If you must meet alone with them, leave your office door cracked and have someone stationed outside your office door at all times. Be careful to avoid physical contact with the sexualized person. A brief handshake before entering your office may be appropriate, but avoid any other types of physical contact. Placing a physical barrier between you, like a desk or table, is a very good idea. If the sexualized person even begins to flirt or come in for a hug, follow the example of Joseph in Potiphar's house and flee the situation by cutting your session short and referring them to a licensed counselor.
When dealing with difficult people, remember that it is always appropriate to refer them to a licensed professional counselor. It is not a failure on your part to refer them elsewhere. In fact, it is often the best mode of treatment for them.
For more information on how to handle Sticky Situations, please contact the CAP at 1-800-433-7916 to schedule an appointment with a counselor.