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16 Oct '10

Don't get enmeshed in the issues of others

Posted by T.J. Addington in conflict, emotional intelligence (EQ), relationships
One of the hallmarks of good emotional intelligence is that we are able to empathize with others without getting enmeshed in their issues. This does not mean that we do not care, provide counsel, pray and support. It does mean that we don’t allow the issues of others to become “our” issues.



A key to this is what I call “keeping my own counsel.” Everyone has a perspective on issues but they are not always accurate or fair. It is their perspective. This is especially true in relationships. I often hear negative things about others. In line with keeping my own counsel I seek to listen and when appropriate ask questions but ultimately I must make my judgments based on my own personal experience rather than on the perspective of others. It is not wise, fair or healthy for me to simply take on the opinions of others when my experience does not line up with theirs.


This leads to the second key to staying out of enmeshment. I cannot solve other people’s issues for them. I can encourage them to resolve their issues with whomever they have those issues. I can offer to mediate a meeting between them for resolution. But ultimately I am responsible for my issues and others for theirs. All manner of relational chaos is caused when I take up the offense of others without firsthand knowledge and based on their information alone.


In fact, getting sucked into the issues of others is often a ploy of the evil one to take what is a relational breakdown among two people and to multiply it among others who were never part of the original breakdown and who have simply taken on the stuff of others rather than keeping their own counsel. This is often the stuff of church splits and conflict. What was an issue between two parties becomes an issue between multiple parties and what was a small issue now becomes a major issue. What was complicated now has become exceedingly complex. What might have been resolvable is now often not resolvable.


Matthew 18 is clear that when I have an issue with another I am responsible for seeking to resolve it. If I cannot resolve it I bring another to help resolve it. What I don’t have the luxury of doing is going to others and pulling them into my issue, nor of picking up the issues of others and taking up their cause in the absence of first hand information. These Biblical principles are violated among Gods’ people all the time to the detriment of His reputation.


There is a final principle that is both Biblical and reflective of good emotional intelligence. When I have an issue with another I always have the choice as to whether I draw others in and seek to influence their opinion of the one I have issues with – unhelpful and sinful behavior – or whether I keep my own counsel, seek to resolve but not to influence the opinions of others. It is not my place to hurt the reputation of others but to ensure that my own behavior is healthy and biblical. Once we have done what we can do to resolve our issues, we leave the rest to the Holy Spirit whose counsel is always right, fair and accurate.