Relationships are hard. I'm talking real relationships — family (parents, siblings, etc.), close friends (not casual acquaintances), marriage, etc. — any relationship that takes work and is supposed to stand the test of time. And they can be difficult for a lot of reasons. But to simplify a really complex issue, the foundation for most difficulties is baggage. Baggage is anything from our past that negatively colors how we perceive our world and relationships, and negatively affects our behavior in our world and relationships — a very simplified view of the complexity of fallen people in a fallen world.
Some people have more baggage than others, but everyone has some. And now you have two or more people trying to navigate a relationship without tripping over their own and each other's baggage. And what makes it worse, a lot of the time we've been carrying or burying our baggage for so long we don't even realize we're lugging it around. We've just learned to cope the best we can, and sometimes that means assuming roles we think we're supposed to, or even worse, have to play.
We all know or know of that person who would be much better off if a specific relationship were to end. And sometimes it does, only for that person to be sucked into another relationship where the dynamic is the same. Other times, the relationship is with a family member and there seems to be no way out of it or any way to change it. And then we resign ourselves to the status quo. We accept (and for some, embrace) the role we perceive is ours to play. It doesn't matter the role — the doormat, the victim, the wimp, whatever — it's "who we are."
But it is acceptance of these roles that concerns me. We either don't expect to or even seem to want to change. We just find a way to cope with this perceived role. We get comfortable in our discomfort, afraid to change for fear of failing or the unknown. Let me encourage us all that as believers in Christ, we are not called these roles.
Second Corinthians 5:17 (NIV) says, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" But the psychological aspects of our human nature (as well as our sin nature and Satan) often work against who we are in Christ. We are creatures of habit and experience, and usually something happened in our pasts that created in our minds these specific roles. When it happened repeatedly, it reinforced the picture...both in our minds and in those who treat us that way.
But a lot of the time, negative feelings such as anger, bitterness, and resentment build. And surprisingly, this is a positive thing! Not that these are good in the long run, but in that our spirits are not happy in the roles we've come to accept! When people treat us according to our roles, righteous anger is not a bad thing. It is not how God wants us to be treated, and I suggest these feelings are the simmering of 2 Timothy 1:7 (NIV): "For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline."
Satan wants us to remain in our roles. If we are too timid or beat down to speak up for ourselves, we will not be able to speak out for Christ. Satan is the master manipulator, taking what happened in our pasts and his knowledge of how our human minds and emotions work to keep us convinced that we are our roles and there's no hope of change. But we have the Holy Spirit in us. He is always with us, ready to help us and guide us. The key is learning to listen to Him instead of Satan or our own sinful thoughts.
Jesus says in John 10:10, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." Learning how to cope is a defense mechanism — a survival tool. Coping in essence steals the joy we should have as followers of Christ. God does not want us to just survive this world, He wants us to thrive! Christ came so we could live life to the full! Life will never be perfect or easy, but when we live for Him, our lives can be full of joy despite the hard times and trials. A good verse during those hard times is Romans 8:28 (NIV): "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Even our pasts and these periods in our lives when we've accepted our specific roles...God will work them for good. Breaking free from the negative mindset and overcoming the patterns that have been built in our lives isn't easy. But we are not alone! We have Christ and the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.
The first step to living the life of joy we are called to is prayer. Pray for strength to overcome the negative mindset and strength to resist Satan's constant attacks. Second Corinthians 10:5 is an excellent memory verse. Whenever negative or sinful thoughts start creeping up and overtaking your thoughts, just start reciting it over and over. After a few times it ends up just being the last part of the verse: "...we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." When I first learned this technique, I had to recite it often and for long periods of time. Over time things began to change, and the negative thoughts that nagged at me became much less pervasive.
Pray for strength to stand up for yourself when treated with disrespect. Realize standing up for yourself does not have to be aggressive. Simply state, without emotion (as much as possible), "I do not appreciate being treated this way and will no longer accept being treated this way. I do not yell at you/demean you/say things to purposely hurt you/use you (whatever applies in your case), so I know it's not asking too much to not be treated that way. From now on, whenever you do x, I am going to excuse myself from the room (or whatever works for you). This will give us both the opportunity to think about the issue so we can address it calmly and respectfully with each other." Every situation is unique, but this is a starting point that can usually be adapted to most situations.
Pray for the people in your life who have treated you according to this role. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you recognize which relationships are healthy and which aren't. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you their baggage. While baggage is never an excuse for negative behavior, understanding is often helpful when it comes to healing and forgiving (this includes forgiving ourselves). If they are people who do not need to be in your life, ask God to give you discernment of which relationships to end and how. If they are relationships that cannot be ended, ask for guidance to handle interactions correctly in the future. Sometimes avoiding interactions or separating temporarily from a relationship is the best immediate course of action, and after you've grown stronger in your walk and gained confidence in how to deal with others who are disrespectful or mistreat you, you can again interact with those who are your greatest concern or hardest to deal with.
Second, get in the scriptures. Start reading and truly learning who you are in Christ. He came and died for you...that alone means you should not be treated as a doormat, victim or wimp, nor feel like that is your permanent role. As you read the Scriptures, you will grow and become more like Him. And there are so many verses to remind you who you are in Him:
– You are complete in Him Who is the Head of all principality and power. (Colossians 2:10)
– You are free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2)
– You are born of God, and the evil one does not touch you. (1 John 5:18)
– You lack nothing for your God supplies all of your needs according to His riches. (Philippians 4:19)
– You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. (Philippians 4:13)
– You are God's workmanship, created in Christ unto good works. (Ephesians 2:10)
– You are an overcomer by the blood of the Lamb and the word of your testimony. (Revelation 12:11)
These are just a few verses. Ask the Spirit to reveal to you the verses that you need to help you overcome your negative role and grasp His strength.
Finally, seek out a mentor who can help you through this. Yes, Christ and the Holy Spirit are always with you, but we were created to be in fellowship and "bear one another's burdens" (Galatians 6:2). I encourage us all to keep pressing on until we each become a great witness for Christ through our testimonies of overcoming.