Would you take an angry bear to the movies?
You know you have entered a dysfunctional system when all the people you meet seem to have lost their sense of humor all at once, people adopt a crisis-orientation to life, and even the smallest thing becomes deadly serious. Let me take a traditional office as an example. Imagine that you work at the headquarters of some big firm. You arrive at the office, cup of joe in your left hand, keys in the right, and a briefcase hanging from one of your shoulders. You greet your co-workers, as you always do, enter your office and settle into your workspace. This is your daily routine and you find comfort in your little rituals. It will be a busy day, but you really like your co-workers and find great satisfaction in doing what you do. Then, there seems to be a brief power outage because the lights flicker off and on for a second. You come out of your office and ask the coworker on your left, “Did your power just go out?” He looks at you with great intensity and says, “Don’t you see me working? Go bother someone else!” You become momentarily confused because this co-worker is usually jovial and quite likeable. “Perhaps he is having a bad day,” you think as you walk into the office across from his.
“Don’t you knock?” yells your supervisor as soon as she sees you enter. Then she adds, “How rude! What do you want?” You retreat with an apology and wonder when the open-door policy changed. Both interactions rattle you and you find yourself distracted throughout the day. A low-level anger is beginning to simmer in the pit of your stomach, and you are honestly confused about the changes you see in your coworkers. At lunch time, you notice that everyone is eating at their desk and three of your colleagues shush you as you make your way to the empty breakroom. You can hear two of them complaining that you walk around the building like a “bull in a china shop.” By now, you begin to think your colleagues are suffering from a mysterious case of mass grumpiness and you cannot wait until your day is over.
This is a silly case scenario. Dysfunction develops over time and it never is something that happens all at once, like lights going off and on. A most likely scenario is that the team dynamics changed at some point in the past, and the system has become dysfunctional over time. What is true in my scenario, however, is that newcomers are often confused and upset by what they encounter in these systems. I often hear jobs or families described as “Soul-crushing, lifeless, tense, and always in conflict.”
Experts tell us that job satisfaction has less to do with financial remuneration than it does with affirming and supportive relationships. A happy family life has less to do with financial resources than with high levels of love, compassion, and forgiveness. When administrators can convey a deep sense of caring, a high level of respect for all, and a jovial personality, they are often rewarded with loyalty and high productivity. This applies to families and marriages as well. When members of the family show appreciation, non-judgmental attitudes and behaviors, and loving service for the other, they are often rewarded with reciprocity, love, and care.
If you find yourself in a highly reactive, crisis-driven, angry system, I strongly recommend that you seek some help. If the dysfunction is at work, you may need to practice some emotional-detachment from the job-drama. Another way to say this is, “Don’t let it bother you!” You owe your employers your services and respect. You do not owe them your mental health. Do not allow yourself to become triangulated, do not share in the rumor-mill, and do not set others up for failure.
If the dysfunction is at home, I strongly recommend some form of counseling. Sometimes families stop communicating in a healthy way for so long that they need help finding their way back. Remember that serious things can remain serious without becoming deadly serious. Taking yourself too seriously often leads to rigidity, self-righteousness, and angry outbursts. Love can become disordered rather quickly and it often starts with the inability to laugh at the silly things in life.
I am praying for all of you during these stressful times of Pandemic. Please reach out if you need someone to listen to you in a non-judgmental way. In the meantime, do not take yourself too seriously. Remember, no one wants to take an angry bear to the movies.