It seems like you are best friends one day and total enemies the next. We all have those people in our lives—friends, family members, co-workers, bosses, you name it—who lash out at us and then pretend like nothing ever happened. Although this Jekyll and Hyde type of personality is not uncommon, it can still be difficult to know how to handle gracefully.
Theology of the Body reminds us that, in all things, the Christians’ responsibility is to love others; that is, to work for the good of other people. That remains true even when it’s hard or costs us personally to do it. The Jekylls and Hydes in our life don’t like to be called on their behavior, but we aren’t being loving–that is, we aren’t working for their good–if we just play their game and pretend that nothing ever happened. Bearing wrongs patiently is the right thing to do IF an offender recognizes what they have done wrong and are trying–on their own–both to take responsibility for their actions and get the help they need to make real changes. In these cases, to call further attention to their bad behavior is to just to rub salt in their wounds. But when a person refuses to acknowledge that they have done anything wrong, or worse, wants to pretend nothing ever happened so that they can keep acting that way, it’s time to use a different spiritual work of mercy and admonish the sinner. Even if the verbally abusive person would rather just ignore what they have done, we have a responsibility, in love, to gently, but persistently insist that they change their unacceptable behavior.
Here are three More2Life Hacks for dealing with those Jekyll and Hyde personalities in your life:
1. It’s Not Over Until YOU Say It Is–As we mentioned earlier, Jekylls and Hydes want permission to lash out whenever their feelings get the best of them but then pretend that nothing ever happened when they feel calmer. Just remember, they can only get away with this if you let them. The fact is, no conversation is over until YOU feel that your needs and concerns have been adequately addressed. It doesn’t matter that the other person doesn’t want to deal with it. You have a responsibility to be loving–to work for the good of others–even when it is hard. Assuming you are not fearing for your physical safety (in which case, you need to be making plans to get yourself to safety) the most loving thing you could do when the abusive person comes back to you is to say, “I’m glad to see that you are in a better place, but we’re not ready to move on until you can tell me how you are going to handle the times you get upset with me differently because unless I know that you have healthier ways to manage your anger, you aren’t a safe person to be around.” They won’t want to hear it, but that doesn’t matter. Insist, in love, that they be willing to address their problem behavior with you and get whatever help they might need to make it stop for good.
2. Don’t Settle for the Magic Words–Many people who struggle to hold Jekylls and Hydes accountable feel obliged to accept even the most poutily offered, “I’m sorry, alright?!?” as a genuine apology. They know that the verbally abusive person doesn’t mean it, but they feel like it would be mean to hold the abusive person responsible once they have said the magic words. This is nonsense. A genuine apology requires that your offender be able to empathize with how badly they hurt you, they they acknowledge that you have a right to expect that they do better (instead of trying to tell you that the REAL problem is that you’re just too sensitive) and, most importantly, that they are willing to sit down with you to make a plan so that the offending behavior doesn’t happen again. If the verbally abusive person in your life is unwilling to do any of these three things, they aren’t really sorry and you cannot let them off the hook. Don’t settle for the magic words. Keep working for their good and the good of your relationship by insisting that they be willing to work with you to make a real plan for change.
3. Get Support–It can be hard to hold a verbally abusive person accountable. They will try to make you feel guilty. They will try to turn the tables on you and say that it’s REALLY your fault. They will accuse you of being unforgiving and unchristian. If you feel your resolve flagging in the face of these attacks, don’t give in. Get help. Reach out to a trained pastoral counselor who can help you be loving, confident and firm in your effort to set appropriate limits with the Jekylls and Hydes in your life. The fact is, we teach people how to treat us. If you are not satisfied with the way people are treating you and you don’t know how to change the situation, you need to get help to learn what to do differently. Verbally abusive people CAN control their behavior when it suits them. Learn how to be the kind of person it takes to let the Jekylls and Hydes in your life know that they need to be on their best behavior around you.