Living Behind the Veil

I'm often asked what I wear in Afghanistan and what it's like to wear a veil. It's freedom. Freedom to have a bad hair day, freedom to arrange my chadar to conceal the curve of my breasts and backside, freedom to not be an expatriate for a little while. It means freedom to hide even on the street from the Afghan men's eyes which seem to strip me naked.
When I relax my shoulders and walk less purposefully, less confidently, my eyes downcast and covered by sunglasses, I pass for an Afghan woman. I hear the men whisper in Dari, "Is she a foreigner or local woman?" I chuckle but am silent. On the street, I'm also a free target....freely exposed to groping, sexual innuendos whispered to me as a man bicycles by, free to have stones thrown at me, freely seen as no one's wife, daughter, sister, mother, friend, or boss. I step inside my gate, and remove my chapan and chadar. Now I'm someone's boss, motherhood returns to me as little steps run to greet me, and I receive a kiss from my adoring husband. Now I'm free to his loving and gentle eyes which know and enjoy my curves, free to once again be under the protective umbrella of being a wife, mother, friend, colleague, boss, niece, sister, daughter, woman.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Emotionally Immature People in Risk*

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    Emotionally immature people have a difficult time coping in the high stress and pressures of the cross-cultural risk situation.  They have a hard time sharing vulnerably and transparently with others in risk, but risk brings a lot of emotions to the surface.

    So it is important for leaders to be equipped so they can choose how to respond with compassionate understanding to those who they are shepherding in risk.  God is at work in these situations and in His sovereign plan, desires to help people grow spiritually and emotionally in risk even as non-believers are watching.

    First, we want to have a baseline, or starting point in identifying those who are emotionally immature by understanding what is emotional maturity. 

    Emotional maturity has been well studied and defined.

    It means:
    A person is capable of thinking objectively and conceptually while sustaining deep emotional connection to others. People who are emotionally mature can function independently while also having deep emotional attachments, smoothly incorporating both into their daily life. They are direct about pursuing what they want, yet do so without exploiting other people. They've differentiated from their original family relationships sufficiently to build a life of their own. They have a well-developed sense of self and identity and treasure their closest relationships. 

    Emotionally mature people are comfortable and honest about their own feelings and get along well with other people, thanks to their well-developed empathy, impulse control, and emotional intelligence. They're interested in other's people inner lives and enjoy opening up and sharing with others in an emotionally intimate way. When there's a problem, they deal with others directly to smooth out differences. 

    Emotionally mature people cope with stress in a realistic, forward-looking way, while consciously processing their thoughts and feelings. They can control their emotions when necessary, anticipate the future, adapt to reality, and use empathy and humor to ease difficult situations and strengthen bonds with others. They enjoy being objective and know themselves well enough to admit their weaknesses." 

    I discussed emotionally mature people in risk earlier. But here are the

    Traits Associated with Emotionally Immature People in Risk:

    1.  They are rigid and single-minded.
    In terms of relationships in risk, they are narrow minded to other ideas, thoughts, and feelings in risk because their mind is closed.  People who only have "one right answer" in risk, especially a spiritualized answer, are truly unhelpful in risk and shepherding people for whom the answers are not clear.

    2. They have low stress tolerance.
    "Their responses are reactive and stereotyped. Instead of assessing the situation and anticipating the future, they use coping mechanisms that deny, distort, or replace reality." The problem in risk is that living in it is stressful, mistakes may be made and often are. It's easy to blame others who are also stressed and trying to do the best they can. Risk requires one to regulate emotions and not overreact. 

    Those who consistently overreact, even at low ebbs of risk, really are not suited for the risk environment until they can grow in emotional awareness and develop appropriate internal coping mechanisms.  Unhealthy mechanisms used to numbify, narcofy, medicate, or otherwise entertain themselves out of the situation demonstrate their lack of awareness and positive soul-renewing skills.

    Questions to ask potential folks: 
    • When was the last time you overreacted to something and how did you handle it?
    • What do you do to offload stress?

    3. They are subjective, not objective.
    Risk requires both logical and emotional analysis. Only paying attention to what feels true will not lead to a balanced risk assessment and mitigation. This may increasingly be a problem with the current climate that what is true is "what I say is true" or "what feels true."

    A consistent analysis of the correct data sets, a dispassionate analysis of what is happening currently and what historical trends have been is difficult for subjective folks to engage in. These types of folks find it difficult to thrive in high risk situations.

    4. They have little respect for differences.
    They defend their view, without humbly apologizing for overstepping bounds or for acknowledging different ways and perspectives of viewing risk without judgment or presumption. We see two extremes within risk by field workers: one tends to deny the risk level while the other extreme is to demonstrate no trust and find everything a crisis.

    5. They are Egocentric.
    This means they tend to lack joy and openness, and are self-preoccupied with their anxiety, insecurity, and pursuit of validation. They react instead of respond, because they feel defensive. However, they do not see themselves as insecure or defensive, but their spouse or leadership can tell. This is magnified in the pressures of risk.

    6. They are Self-Preoccupied and Self-Involved.
    "Anxious self-preoccupation is a quality all emotionally immature people share." They constantly evaluate how others have offended them and they tend to demand respect from others.  Their self-esteem rises or falls depending on how they perceive they are viewed by others. They have fundamental core doubts about their worth because of the level of anxiety they experienced during childhood.

    7. They are Self-Referential, Not Self-Reflective.
    In their interactions with others, they think about how "they did," but don't try to gain insight or self-understanding. It's more thinking about themselves as the center of attention. In conversation, the topics always come back to them. They don't assess themselves or their impact on others. They have low social emotional intelligence.

    8. They Have Low Empathy and Are Emotionally Insensitive.
    "Impaired empathy is a central characteristic of emotionally immature people, as is avoidance of emotional sharing and intimacy. Being out of touch (and afraid) of their deeper feelings, they are astonishingly blind to how they cause others to feel."

    Empathy is beyond sympathy. Highly skilled empathetic people have imagination or mentalization, which means they can grasp other people's viewpoints and overall inner experience. They can imagine and resonate with other people's feelings. Lack of empathy suggests a lack of self-development and awareness.

    People are or remain emotionally immature because they had to develop tough defenses to survive emotional loneliness early in life. For them, lack of empathy is "normal." They have not developed into integrated natural people, and sadly don't realize they are emotionally immature because they believe their way of feeling and seeing is the reality for everyone else as well.

    "If you don't have a basic sense of who you are as a person, you can't learn to emotionally engage with other people at a deep level." (p.39).  This is especially detrimental in marriage.

    In cross-cultural risk, however, their lack of empathy impacts how they respond both to other team members and the community (judgment or condescension to under-performers or those experiencing fear), or defensiveness towards authority (team/regional and higher leadership).

    9. They are Often Inconsistent and Contradictory.
    They have inconsistent reactions to stressors, especially in risk, so it makes them difficult to understand and predict. While being highly emotionally reactive, they have a paradoxical relationship with emotions. The world of deep emotions is extremely threatening.

    10. They fear feelings. 
    "They have learned to link their most personal emotions with judgments of being bad, so they do not acknowledge those feelings, especially those related to emotional intimacy. As a result, they anxiously seek to inhibit their genuine reactions, developing defensive behaviors instead of their letting themselves experience their true feelings."(p.42).  In risk, it's hard to ascertain what they are really feeling and their overall mental health because they deny or distort their feelings, especially in front of leadership. There is a "moving bar" of what they state is needed in the risk environment to help them thrive.

    11. "They Don't Experience Mixed Emotions.
    The ability to feel mixed emotions is a sign of maturity. If people can blend contradictory emotions together, such as happiness with guilt, or anger with love, it shows that they can encompass life's emotional complexity" (p.45).

    12. Difficulties with Conceptual Thinking.
    While elsewhere I've discussed the need for balance between conceptual and situational thinking, in this case, it is unhelpful to be unable to simultaneously engage in both situational and conceptual thinking when under the pressure of risk.

    Emotionally immature people have intense emotions and anxiety that decrease their ability to think at a higher level. They are only focused on the situation and unable to reflect on the big picture. They are often at the mercy of these strong emotions and fall apart or shut down under stress. Because they are unable to engage in self-reflection, they are unable to think about their thinking, so they fall into black-or-white thinking that rejects complexity or precludes any cross-pollination of ides.

    Emotionally immature people who are otherwise intelligent can think conceptually and show insight as long as they don't feel threatening emotions in the moment. Their intellectual objectivity is limited to topics that aren't emotionally arousing to them.

    In this case, tools that help the person engage conceptually include asking them to imagine themselves back at headquarters and how would a board member view their current situation? What would the risk situation look like to a partner engaged in a normal middle class life? How would it look like if their risk situation were factually described in a news report by a non-Christian reporter? This may help them move to a more conceptual view of their situation and diminish the strong emotions impeding a conceptual analysis of the current risk situation. 

    In risk, we often have strong emotions about what we are willing to die for, or what our calling is, but also can experience deep fear and incredible rage.  How we gain and maintain perspective is impacted by our emotional maturity or immaturity.  It takes work to maintain a spiritual perspective of all we are going through and be able to self-calm and sooth our emotions appropriately.  Without conceptual thinking ability while experiencing strong emotions, we are emotionally and mentally unstable.  This results in a lack of ability to thrive-with-joy in risk.

    13. Prone to Literal Thinking.
    Emotionally immature people talk factually, and are unable to engage or explain their feelings in light of what the facts say.  It is challenging to draw them out or get them to engage with their heart. Things stay on an impersonal and intellectual level.

    Ask the person in risk to listen to their own conversation for a 24-hr period and jot down the times they mention or consider their feelings or their impact on others (empathy). The lack of times should be a "flag" to them to take down to engage with feelings and analyze them. Those who say they don't "feel" as a general life experience should be encouraged to reconsider how "in touch" with their feelings they are, as Jesus demonstrated a humanity engaged with feelings on a continual basis.

    Awareness of emotions and lack of maturity is the first step to both discernment and emotional maturity.  Those who are aware they are emotionally immature are in a great place, even in risk, because they are teachable and on the beginning journey to emotional maturity, which is probably part of why God has them on the journey and in that particular risk situation. They are to be commended for their awareness.

    (PDF Download)

    Go To: 
    Emotional Mature People in Risk

    *Much of this article is paraphrased or quoted from Lindsay Gibson's writings and described through the lens of cross-cultural risk.

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