Coping with Challenging Characters in the Church Context

Dr. Charles McNeil, L.M.F.T
Retired UM Clergy, Psychotherapist, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and Adjunct Professor, Drew Theological School
Time:  9:30 am – 12:00 noon
Location: Ehinger Center, Room 109

Difficult people and challenging characters are everywhere: in the community (at work, church, school and social settings) and even at home among our extended families. Their names and faces are different, but their ways of being are readily recognizable (bulldozers, snipers, nit pickers, space cadets, and volcanoes, to name a few). It may be no surprise that some estimate 20% of the population has some form of personality disturbance, making up a large percentage of “difficult people” with dysfunctional styles of relating (and that’s not counting the rest of “us”). Perhaps some people feel an additional stress when dealing with these people who are “stress carriers” within a church context where they intentionally or inadvertently undermine ministry and create disharmony.

Perhaps you struggle with some “hostile aggressives” (those who bully, throw tantrums, or generally overwhelm); “complainers” (those who whine, but do nothing to change themselves or their circumstances); “silent unresponsives” (those who sap your confidence and drag things to a halt); or “know-it-all experts” (those who seek to win by intimidation). We will also look at the APA’s newly released DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, 2013) descriptions of personality disorders that are identified and demonstrated in challenging character’s long-standing patterns of impairment in interpersonal relationships by being odd or eccentric, dramatic and manipulative, or fearful and anxious.

Realizing that we can neither change others nor perpetually avoid them, we can recognize some strategies for dealing with challenging characters and difficult people: a) not taking their negative behaviors personally and, more importantly, b) learning and using helpful coping skills (both words and actions) that can neutralize their difficult behaviors. The result? We can work, play, and live together not only with less drama, resentment, and frustration, but with more neutrality, peace, and contentment.