You Change First!—What To Do If You’re Caught In The Blame Game

“I would be fine if they would just stop talking to me like that!” Sound familiar?

It’s extremely frustrating when we feel as though someone else won’t allow us to be calm, to be solution focused, or to be the person that we want to be. But often when we feel frustrated that another person’s actions have this kind of influence over us, our response is to try to change them first so that we can then be okay.

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Are you getting caught in conflict?

Check out How to Heal Your Marriage (and Nurture Lasting Love)

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The scenario I just described is a classic case of being caught up in the blame game. The key to escaping it is anticipating your tendency to fall into it in the first place and make plans for avoiding it before you start a difficult or typically triggering conversation. The dynamic I described is what happens when our brains become “flooded” with stress chemicals which causes our cortex (our thinking brain) to essentially go off line. At that point, our limbic system (our emotional brain) takes over and attempts to “solve” our problems by making us fight, flee, or freeze. This is exactly what occurs each time we find ourselves getting stuck in the kind of unhealthy cycle that occurs when we find ourselves caught in a blaming/reactionary conflict. When this happens, our brain works to distance us from the problem but prevents us from actually doing anything to solve the original problem.

The first step is increasing increase your awareness of when you start to become “flooded” with stress chemicals. What signs occur in your body—i.e. your shoulders tense, your face becomes flush/hot, you clench your fists? When you first start to notice these signs, take a step back, take a deep breath, send up a quick prayer and ask God to help you find solutions that will glorify him, and be the loving person he needs you to be—even in conflict.  Then, focus on something that will help you drain those stress chemicals from your brain and bring your thinking brain back online. In moments such as these I like to reflect on the verse from 2 Timothy: 1-7 which states, “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

When we get caught in the blame game, our focus becomes fixated on changing, fixing, or controlling the other person—to get them to do what we want/need them to do. While this may not be the intention, it is how we tend to operate when we are in a blaming centered conflict. This reminder from 2 Timothy demonstrates to us that we are not capable of, nor is it our responsibility to control or change another person. Our responsibility lies solely in our ability to practice self-control and model the behavior we want to see in the other person. How do you wish the other person would behave?  Make sure you’re doing that first.  If that doesn’t get things back on track, pick a time when you’re not arguing to discuss things you both need to do to make each other feel taken care of when you disagree. 

Be aware of your signs of stress, pray, and breathe. Take a step back until you are able to respond in a calm and solution focused manner. Be a model of the behavior you want from the other person, and proactively discuss ways to better take care of each other when conflict heats things up.

 

If you would like additional resources to help you stop the blame game in your relationships, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

Fire! Fire!—What To Do When You’re Feeling Burned Out

People often say they feel “burned out” by their struggles with anxiety, but most are unaware of the deeper truth behind this metaphor.

Imagine soaking your hands in bleach for several hours, even days. You would get a chemical burn that left your skin severely raw and irritated. Even brushing up against something afterward might hurt tremendously. In a similar way, the chemicals (glucocorticoids) produced by the brain’s fear response are caustic. When persistently stressful or traumatic events trigger prolonged or too intense exposure to these chemicals, they create something like a chemical burn on your amygdala, the CEO of fear/protection system. At the very least, this can cause us to feel every stressor more acutely. Making it harder to respond in a calm. Rational way. If anxiety persists, the amygdala blasts chemicals at another part of the brain called the hippocampus, which stores emotional memories.

If the amygdala is the CEO of your fear/protection system, the hippocampus is the board secretary. While the amygdala is triggered in the presence of a threat, its the hippocampus’ job to “take notes” and remember that a particular event was anxiety-producing the past. The next time you encounter that same event, or even something remotely similar, the hippocampus triggers the amygdala and reminds you that you “should” feel anxious—even if there is no practical immediate threat present.

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For more on understanding and overcoming your anxiety

Check out:

Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety

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Calming down this threat system in our brain is an important aspect to overcoming burn out and finding peace.

Here are three ways to recover from burn out:

Be aware of your physical signs of stress—Stress shows up in our body (i.e. tight muscles, sweaty palms, wrinkled forehead) before our brain is willing to admit to itself that it’s stressed (i.e. feeling stressed/overwhelmed/anxious). Be conscious of these physical signs and when you start to notice your muscles tensing, or your breath becoming shorter/your chest feeling tighter or heavier. Focus on relaxing these physical responses to stress through rolling out your shoulders, stretching your neck, or taking slow deep breaths in order to decrease the stress chemicals in your brain before they take over your feelings.

Take breaks—Taking breaks from stress to do things that occupy you mentally and physically is a great way to decrease anxiety. Go for a walk while counting how many runners or cars you see, engage in a brief exercise break like doing 25 sit ups or 15 pushups, or take deep breaths as you say a short prayer. These breaks are not about finding long escapes from stress, but instead focus on taking down your anxiety in your environment.

Focus on Controllables—Increased anxiety often leads to a sense of powerlessness. We often focus on what we can’t control or what we wish we could do which leads to greater anxiety due to a heightened sense of a perceived threat in our brain. Focusing instead on what we can control—such as our responses, our breathing, our next step towards a solution—we are able to decrease the level of perceived threat and subsequently decrease our anxiety.

If you want more tips or greater support for overcoming your anxiety, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

Home For The Holidays—What To Do If Your Holidays Are Looking Different This Year

It’s been a year full of change. Some good, some difficult, and some we may still not be sure how to process yet. But one way or another, the holiday season has arrived.

While many of us have gotten creative about connecting with loved ones throughout the year, the holiday may bring some extra challenges for those of us who are unable to spend time with family or celebrate in the ways we have in the past.

So how do we still make our holiday special and enjoyable even if they’re looking different this year?

Here are a few tips:

Find connection to what you usually do—In times where everything is different and there is a lot of uncertainty, it’s important to do what we can to cultivate a sense of normalcy. Do your best to honor your traditions. Just because your gatherings may be smaller or in a different place doesn’t mean you can’t eat your special foods or decorate your space even if you’re the only one who will see it. Whatever you typically do to celebrate the holiday, make an effort to do those same things now.

Try something new—Just as it’s important to connect to the things we normally do during the holiday season, this year gives us space to try new things or create new traditions. Get ideas from your family about what changes would make this season special.

Validate your experience—Whatever you’re feeling—good, bad, or all of the above—your experience is valid. Give yourself permission to feel whatever you’re feeling, and be gentle and with yourself and your loved ones. Focus on taking care of yourself and encouraging others to take care of themselves as well, giving each other the space and freedom to do the things that help you all feel safe, healthy, and cared for.

Whether you intend to celebrate as much as you can or you find yourself grieving or struggling through the changes, it’s okay to feel whatever you’re feeling. No matter what, your experience is valid. Just remember to make the holiday what you need it to be and be intentional about making some memories. Just because the holidays are different doesn’t mean they aren’t still meaningful and important. Be intentional about doing what makes this holiday season meaningful and important to you.

If you would like additional support this Holiday season, be sure to visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.

Quarentine Blues: How Can Your Family Cope While You’re All Cooped Up

By: Dr. Greg Popcak

 

Beyond the obvious challenges we all face in dealing with the pandemic, many households are experiencing real shock as the activities that used to fill our days suddenly come to a grinding halt.  Schools are closed. People are working from home.  Life as we know it has been upended.

On the relational front, “sheltering in place” is guaranteed to ramp up your family dynamic at least 10 fold. When you’re around each other 24/7, you can’t avoid little irritations and personality conflicts as easily as you can when you’re running in a million different directions.That can be intimidating, but you can make it work to your advantage if you keep a few tips in mind.

1.Make a Routine & Stick To It.

When our schedules get thrown out-of-whack, we’re tempted to let our routines go out the door. All of a sudden we start getting up and going to bed at different times.  Mealtimes become a free-for-all. Chores may or may not get done. That can be fine for vacations, but for times like this, maintaining routines are critical for managing expectations and cultivating a sense of normalcy.

You don’t have to maintain the exact same schedule you did when the kids were in school and you were going to the office, but it would be a good idea to create a schedule and stick to it.  Get up the same time every day. Get dressed.  Eat meals together at regular times. Pick specific days for laundry, cleaning, and other chores. Go to bed at the same time every evening. Sticking to a routine can feel a little arbitrary when the school bus isn’t coming and your boss doesn’t see you coming in late, but do it anyway. The fact is, kids and adults need routines to feel safe, cared for, and connected. When we’re going through chaotic times, stable family routines help your household become a little island of sanity in a world gone mad.

2. Manage Your Relationships

When we’re following our normal schedule, we’re used to finding ways to connect (and stay out of each other’s way) as we move from thing to thing. But when the normal schedules are kaput, everyone’s expectations for the day—and each other–inevitably begin to clash. 

Now is the time to become more intentional about managing your relationships. If you want to function like a real team, you’re going to have to start planning for it.  Break up the day into chunks.  At breakfast, have a short conversation about what you all need/want to do with your time until lunch. At the same time, discuss little things each family member can do to take care of each other over the next few hours. Are there times when you will especially need quiet for a conference call?  What can everyone do during that time? Are there certain chores that really to get done?  How can you work together (or divide and conquer) to make them happen? Discuss how the next few hours between breakfast and lunch are going to go.  Have the same conversation about the time between lunch and dinner, and dinner and bedtime.  

Instead of letting your family devolve into an every-person-for-themselves dynamic, manage your time and expectations. Become the  team you’re meant to be.

3. Work Together

Do at least one chore together as a family every day.  It doesn’t matter if you usually do X chore yourself.  When you’re talking about how the day is going to go, choose a chore that you can all do together.  The kids might groan at first, but put on some music (let the kids take turns picking something appropriate), and do your best to keep a playful attitude while you all pitch in to get the job done.

Working together cultivates a strong sense of team spirit as you pull together to maintain a more orderly household and start getting used to counting on each other to show up–not just for the fun times–but the other times too.

4. Play Together

Don’t forget to have a little fun together everyday. Don’t let the kids play video games all day while you obsess over the headlines on social media. Dust off those boardgames and card games.  Read a book aloud to each other. Play catch. Just waste some time together—on purpose. Remind each other how fun it can be to be around each other. Maybe, when life gets back to normal, you won’t be in as big a hurry to spend so much time apart again.

5. Pray Together

Now, more than ever, let’s make an extra effort to pray as families. Take a few minutes every day to gather together and intercede for a quick end to this pandemic, for people’s health and safety, for the restoration of the economy, and for our own intentions.  While you’re at it, make sure to praise God for the times when he has led your family out of past difficulties and for the little blessings of each day. When we’re stressed, it’s important to remind each other that God has always been present and that he still is right here, right now, guarding and guiding us.

Though the witness of  Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection, Christians have been given the gift of seeing that it is possible to draw the greatest blessings out of the darkest times. Although we all hope for a speedy end to this global tragedy, I pray that you and yours will be able to use this time to rediscover the blessing your family has been meant to be all along. And I pray you will spark a connection that will bless you for years to come.

Dr. Greg Popcak is director of CatholicCounselors.com, a Catholic tele-counseling practice.

It’s the End of the World as We Know It (A Gospel Reflection for the Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time)

“…do not be terrified; for such things must happen first”

 
These words from Jesus, spoken in the midst of truly unsettling, apocalyptic-seeming predictions, are at once calming and baffling. He tells us all about the many awful things that will happen throughout human history – war, betrayal, natural disaster, the destruction of those things which our societies hold most sacred – and then basically tells us that we should relax anyway. Is He telling us merely to trust Him? Is He just insensitive to our plight?
I think it goes deeper than either option. In actuality, Jesus wants us to focus on the right things, regardless of what else is going on. Remember, he’s speaking to an audience ringing their hands over whether or not the liturgical salad fork is in the right spot. This is a people easily distracted by the pettiness of life, and Jesus is basically saying, “buckle up, fam. If this stresses you out, it’s gonna get a lot worse.”
But Jesus isn’t just trying to scare us straight, so to speak. What Jesus wants us to focus on instead, it seems, is the person right in front of us. How many of us, like the Lord’s audience in this Gospel, fret over trivial things while forgetting about what matters right now? We ask, “What if my kid doesn’t turn out right?” But Jesus asks, “How does your kid need to be shown love right now?” We ask, “What if I never get what I need from my spouse?” He asks, “But how can you show more love to your spouse right now?” We ask, “Will I be stuck in this dead end job forever?” He asks, “How can you use your dead end job to love somebody right in this moment?” To Jesus, it doesn’t matter what’s on the news or what’s falling from the sky or even what evil lies in your neighbor’s heart. What matters to Jesus is loving right now.
His words remind me of my favorite line from The Avengers“Until such time as the world ends, we will act as though it intends to spin on.” Or my favorite REM song: ‘It’s the End of the World as We Know it (and I Feel Fine)’. In a world where every message from the radio, the TV, and even unfortunately the pulpit tells us to worry about something that’s going to supposedly kill us sometime over the next 2-50 years, let’s listen to Jesus instead and ask ourselves: how can I love the person right next to me just a little better right in this moment?

Jacob Popcak, M.A., L.P.C. is an award-winning Catholic artist and a counseling associate of the Pastoral Solutions Institute. He can be contacted through CatholicCounselors.com.

Authentic Optimism – How Do We Actually Make Our Lives Better?

Sometimes it feels like it’s hard to be optimistic in the midst of stressful situations. But often this is due to a misunderstanding of what true optimism really means.

Theology of The Body reminds us that optimism isn’t rooted in wishing our problems away or telling ourselves pretty lies about how things aren’t really as bad as they seem.  TOB explains that our optimism is rooted in the fact that at the beginning of time, God had a plan for the world and that–in spite of sin thwarting that plan in the present–God’s plan will be restored through grace at the end of time.  The fact is, as St Paul reminds us in Rom 8:28 all things work to the good for those who love God.

A study by Boston University School of Medicine found that optimistic people live up to 15% longer and are up to 70% more likely to live to at least age 85.

This study demonstrated that optimism isn’t so much a trait as it is a skill made up of three qualities:

-Goal orientation: Rather than “thinking positively” optimistic people acknowledge that bad things are bad, but they ask. “What can I make of this?”  (c.f. Rom 8:28).

-Gratitude: Optimistic people intentionally recall their blessings, strengths, and skills as a reminder of what they have to work with in responding to life’s challenges.

-Gregariousness: Optimistic people maintain a sense of community and actively work to find ways to be a blessing to others even when they are struggling.

So how do we become more optimistic in our daily lives?

1. Keep the Big Picture in Mind–Joy requires us to be able to step out of the chaos of everyday life and remember who we are and what’s important. This requires us to stay connected to God–to be able to see things from his point of view. Find ways to bring the present moment to God no matter how crazy it is. Ask him, “What do you want this moment to look like? How can I respond to this in a way that glorifies you?” Then re-engage the situation from this more graceful perspective.  Keeping the big picture in mind helps you remain connected to what’s important

2. Be Kind–True joy comes from seeking little ways to be a gift to others all day long.  As you go about your day, consciously ask yourself how you can make a difference in this moment?  Is there something you can do to make this person’s day even a little easier or more pleasant?  Is there something you can do to take down the tension in this situation?  Is there some way you can surprise someone with a small thoughtful gesture or little act of service? You don’t have to be a martyr about it.  In fact, it’s better if you aren’t.  Just look for those little ways to be a gift or create caring connection while you’re passing by or passing through.  These little acts of kindness increase your joy by helping you see all the ways you are making a positive difference in your world and in the lives of those around you.

3. Stay In School–Research shows that joyful people are eager students in the “school of life.”  Joyful people are always open to seeing things from a new perspective, trying a new experience, and growing in ways that help them be stronger, healthier, more well-rounded people.  Joyful people aren’t shy about sharing what they like.  They know who they are and what they stand for, but they are open to discovering all the ways God is revealing himself to them through the people and the world around them.  And the more ways we open ourselves to this experience of God the more his grace makes us joyful. So, be yourself, but don’t be afraid to be more, learn more and grow more.

 

For more on increasing authentic optimism in your life, checkout God Help Me! This Stress is Driving Me Crazyand tune in to More2Life, weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXm 130!

Finding Peace Amid The Storm

Some days it can feel as though stress is coming at us from every direction. From family life, to work life, to the ongoing influx of news and social media, it can seem very difficult to find peace among the storm of stress. Thankfully, increasing the peace in our lives can be easier than we tend to think!

Here are three More2Life Hacks for increasing peace in your daily life:

Don’t Confuse Quiet & Peace–When things are going badly, we have a tendency to want to escape, to just ignore the problems and runaway. The temptation to do this is understandable, but it’s problematic because it assumes quiet and peace are the same thing. They’re not. Quiet is just the absence of conflict. That doesn’t SOUND like a bad thing, but if all we do is avoid conflict, eventually the problems pile up and cause even more stress, worry, and anxiety.  St Augustine said that peace is actually “the tranquility that results from right order.”  If we want peace, we have to work for it. We have to actively address the problems in our lives, address the conflicts, and make a plan for handling our responsibilities. Peace does not come from running away or pretending things are OK when they’re not. It comes from doing what’s necessary to make sure our relationships are genuinely loving and that we are being responsible for maintaining our corner of God’s kingdom.

Find Your Center–Peace is not just what happens when all our problems finally go away. That’s called “death.” But here’s the good news. You don’t have to wait for the end of your life to find peace, you can actually find it right now, even in the middle of the crazy. Peace doesn’t come from outside us. It comes from maintaining your center in the middle of the storm. How do you do that? You hold on to God. You reach out to the people who love you. And you work hard to remember what it means to be your best self in this moment. If you want to increase your peace when your stress temperature is starting to rise ask yourself three questions. 1) How can I know that God loves me right now and how can I draw closer to that love? 2) What do I need to do to remember that the people in my life love me and how can I draw closer to their love? 3) What would I need to do to love myself by acting more like my best self right now– even if I don’t feel like it? These questions will help you find your center and claim your peace even when Satan and the whole world seems to be aligned against you.

Practice Surprise-Proofing–We often lose peace because we underestimate our capacity to be surprised by the same goshdarn problems happening over and over again. We pretend that that thing that irritated us yesterday is gone for good, and then we’re SHOCKED!  Shocked I tell you, that that same problem had the audacity to show up again. Peaceful people practice surprise proofing. They make a note of the things that didn’t go according to plan. They assume that those things are going to happen again. They make a plan for how they are going to learn from their experience and handle it even better next time. And finally, they mentally rehearse their plan in the times before those problems are most likely to occur.  No, we can’t plan for everything. But we can learn from our experience and often, that’s enough. Being mindful in this way allows us to anticipate problems, see them as opportunities for growth, and then head them off at the pass instead of allowing the same problems to bushwhack us again and again, making us feel foolish and incompetent.

For more on how to increase your peace, check out God Help Me! This Stress Is Driving Me Crazy! and be sure to tune in to More2Life—weekdays, 10am E/9am C—on EWTN, SiriusXM channel 130!

Be Still My Anxious Heart

Anxiety comes in all shapes and sizes. It can be a creeping whisper or an overwhelming feeling. No matter how it presents itself, the feeling of anxiety can be intrusive and disruptive to our daily lives. So how do we calm our anxious hearts?

Theology of the Body reminds us that anxiety is not God’s will for us. Before the Fall, even though Adam and Eve were completely vulnerable, they were confident in God’s care and their love for one another. Only AFTER the Fall, when they were separated from God, each other, and themselves did they feel exposed, ashamed, and ANXIOUS. Confronted by the bigness of the world and their own sense of smallness and insufficiency when separated from God they hid cowering behind the bushes. How often do we feel that way. TOB reminds us that while worry and anxiety are common enough experiences in the modern world, the answer to our worries is to recenter ourselves in the loving arms of ABBA, daddy, the Father who loves us, cares for us, and shelters us from the storms of life–especially when we feel alone, scared, and helpless.  That’s why Pope Saint John Paul II, was constantly reminding us “Be Not Afraid.” Yes, the task before us is great, but God’s love and providence is greater. In the face of life’s battles, let our battle cry be, “ Jesus I trust in You!”

Here are three More2Life hacks for combating anxiety:

Focus on the Right Target–Resist the temptation to think that your anxiety is caused by all the things going on around you or happening to you–the overwhelming amount of work that has to be done, the weight of all your responsibilities, the problems that you face. Yes, these are real things that need to be taken seriously, but they can’t cause anxiety in and of themselves. Anxiety is created in us when we let external events distract us from the need to maintain our internal sense of wellbeing. If you are feeling anxious, it is not because you have too much to do or too many problems to face. It is because you are forgetting to take care of yourself in the face of those responsibilities and problems. Instead of focusing exclusively on all the external things that need to be addressed, ask yourself, “What do I need to do to take care of myself while I handle these situations?  How will I pace myself?  How can I approach these challenges in a way that will allow me to stay reasonably cheerful and connected to the people that I love? How will I face all the things I have to deal with in a way that allows me to be my best self–mentally, physically and spiritually?” Don’t brush these questions aside and say, “I can’t worry about that. I have too much to do!” It is exactly that tendency that causes anxiety. Remember, you can’t solve any problem or accomplish any task well if you are allowing yourself to get rattled, sick, hostile, and stressed. The MOST important job you have to do is make sure you are keeping your head and health about you even while you handle all the things life is throwing at you.

Tame the Tornado–When we’re worried and anxious, our mind spins between “I have to get control of this!” and “There’s nothing I can do!” Tame this mental tornado not by focusing on the ultimate solution, but merely the next step. What is the next tiny step you can take that nudges you toward a satisfying resolution, gathers new resources, and enlists more support? If you can refocus enough to identify the next step, then the next, and the next, God will help you tame the tornado in your mind and help you find the answers–and the peace–you seek. Don’t try to solve the whole problem at once. Focus your mind on addressing the next tiny step in front of you and then celebrating that small success. The more you concentrate on breaking big problems down into bite-sized pieces and celebrating the little successes you achieve along the way, the more your peace will increase.

Recall God’s Mercy–We often get anxious because we allow the stress of this moment to obliterate our memories of all the other things we’ve been through, all the other times God saved us, supported us, and carried us even though we thought we were overwhelmed, doomed, or done for. Before throwing yourself into this next pile or problems, take a moment to remind yourself of all the past times in your life when you felt overwhelmed, stressed, defeated, and not up to the task and remember how God helped you make it through all those past times, even when you weren’t sure how you were going to do it. Chances are, at least some of those situations turned out really well. At the very least, you made it through. In both cases, God was present and he provided for you. Remind yourself that this time isn’t any different. God loves you. He has demonstrated his love to you by delivering you from your troubles and overwhelming responsibilities time and time again. Bring that love with you into this latest challenges. When you start feeling anxious, take a moment to close your eyes, thank God for all the times he has carried you through your past worries and ask him for the grace to face the challenges in front you with courage and peace. The more you remember to intentionally recenter yourself in God’s mercy, providence, and grace–especially in the middle of all the craziness–the more your peace will increase.

For more on how to calm the anxiety in your heart, tune in to More2Life—weekdays 10am E/9am C on SiriusXM 130 or check out God Help Me This Stress Is Driving Me Crazy!

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Coming Tues 5/7 on More2Life Radio: SERENITY NOW! The Quest for Peace.

COMING TUES ON More2Life–SERENITY NOW!  We all want peace in our hearts and in our relationships.  But peace is hard to find and we often settle for quiet.  There’s an important difference between the two, however, and mere quiet can never satisfy our hunger for true peace.

 

Today on More2Life we’ll look at the quest for peace.   We’ll explore what peace really is and what it takes to create it in our hearts and in our lives.

 

M2L FB Q of the D:  Where would you like to have more peace in your life and what is keeping it from you?

Call in from Noon-1pm Eastern (11am-Noon C) at 877-573-7825 with your questions about creating a more peaceful life.

 

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How Do We Respond to Moral Failures?

Over on the Patheos Atheist Channel, Dan Fincke of Forward Thinking asks an interesting question….

How and when (if ever) should we take it upon ourselves to punish someone in our lives for a moral failure? How does this vary depending on various possible relationships we might have to the the morally guilty party? Consider, for example, how or whether we might punish our friends, our partners, our parents, our colleagues, strangers we encounter, etc. What sorts of values and principles should guide us when we presume to take it upon ourselves to be moral enforcers?

For the traditional Christian (as opposed to the po-mo Christian, for example) the answer is love.  We have absolutely no right to “punish” people for moral failings (c.f., Matt 5:7; 7:1).  “Punish” comes from the Latin root, “punire”  meaning, “to inflict pain.”  It is simply not our place to inflict more pain on a guilty person than they are already experiencing in their guilt.

That said, we do have a right, and even an obligation rooted in love (defined as the commitment to work for the good of others) and justice (defined as the virtue that ensure that each person receives what is rightfully theirs), to hold people accountable to themselves (if their moral failing hurts them) and/or to us (if their moral failing has damaged us or our relationship.

But holding someone accountable–in the classical Christian context–simply means seeing that the person is committed to healing the damage caused by their actions and, ideally, giving them the skills to not make the same mistake again. This is the heart of the principle of “restorative justice” which has deep roots in Catholic Social teaching and forms the basis of the Christian response to both personal and social failings.  But what does all this look like in practice in your life and relationships?

The old Ignatian practice of “charitable interpretation” can be helpful here.  Rooted in the idea of loving the sinner bur hating the sin, Charitable interpretation doesn’t mean making excuses for bad behavior.  Traditionally, it means attempting to interpret another person’s behavior in the most reasonably generous way possible, while still being willing to address any issues/problems that stem from the behavior.

One way to apply the principle of Charitable Interpretation is to assume that every behavior, even the obnoxious, irritating, frustrating, sinful, and destructive behaviors, represent someone’s flawed attempt to meet an otherwise positive intention or need.  If I can work with someone to figure out what they were trying to do, and give them more efficient, more respectful ways to meet that intention or need, the bad behavior should go away. It isn’t always quite that easy, but even in more complicated situations, the process is fairly straightforward.   Generally speaking if you help someone find a more efficient, less offensive, way of meeting their needs, they are more than willing to take it.

For instance, if a dad  tends to yell at his kids, often it’s because he doesn’t have a better way to get them to behave.  If someone can help that dad find a more effective way to parent that doesn’t involve yelling, he can stop yelling.  Or, if a friend indulges in some offensive habit, it’s usually to meet some need (cope with stress, bid for help or attention, etc.)  If I can help my friend identify the need and help him find a more efficient, less offensive way to meet the need, the obnoxious habit should stop.

Again, it’s rare that things are ever this straightforward and I talk about how to apply these principles at some length in my book, God Help Me, These People Are Driving Me Nuts!  Making Peace with Difficult People.  But the bottom line is that the Christian can do a lot more good by helping an offender find more efficient and godly ways to meet the needs that underlie moral failings than we can by inflicting pain on the offender.   It’s all part of the way we cooperate with God’s grace as we seek to create a healthy peace between us and others.  A peace that is grounded in justice and love.