Monday, January 4, 2010

Truisms worth remembering during times of acute anxiety

All systems experience episodes of acute anxiety but systems manifest it differently. Relatively stable, resiliant and high-functioning systems seem able to respond to episodes of acute anxiety. In contrast chronically anxious systems which lack resilience will tend to be reactive in the face of acute anxiety. That is, they have little tolerance for challenges, lack capacity for self-regulation or imaginative responses to handle times of acute anxiety.

While it is more helpful to assess the emotional process at work at the systemic level it can be helpful to obserse how symptomology is being played out in the individuals in the system. When facing reactivity at the systemc level congregational leaders will need to respond to how it affects the individuals in the system. Needless to say, those individuals in the system who have a low capacity for self-differentiation and for managing their own anxiety will tend to be the ones most symptomatic (i.e., the ones who "act out").

Here are some truisms worth remembering when dealing with reactive individuals in a system going through acute anxiety:

  • Some people just need to be mad. They want their pain.
  • It’s a waste of time to try to dialogue with an angry person.
  • Some people just need to be “right,” regardless of the cost.
  • The Enneagram is a very handy tool for insight into personality and functioning. Its accuracy is uncanny.
  • Some people will surprise you with their capacity to step up to leadership.
  • A chronically anxious system in the grips of acute anxiety has a tremendous capacity for self-sabotage. There will be no lack of volunteers willing to lead the way.
  • Anxiety spawns triangles—-even over distances.
  • Anxious people lose the capacity to practice grace and will believe the worst of others in an instant.
  • Persons who are "stuck" will believe what they want to believe. No amount of earnestness or data will convince them otherwise.
  • It only takes one willful anxious person to kick up the reactivity in an anxious system if the healthier ones in the system do not respond.
  • A leadership vacuum leaves a system with little resource for self-regulation or vision.
  • Anxiety spreads like a virus in a system that lacks immunity provided by leadership.
  • During times of acute anxiety emotionality trumps rationality, even in a system full of “smart” people.
  • Immature people will take any opportunity to work out their unresolved issues if given a forum.
  • Trust is a gossamer thread; once severed it’s almost impossible to regain.
  • Systems that are in reactivity tend to lack a capacity to hear the message or follow the leaders it needs.
  • People are hooked on the myth of information—the notion that if one has all the information it will make a difference to what needs to be done; or that more data will bring insight.
  • Information reduces anxiety (but for anxious people, so will misinformation).
  • Chronically anxious systems facilitate regression if unchecked.
  • No matter how hard you think you’ve tried to communicate process, most people will not hear most of it.
  • When people give in to paranoia, guilt by association carries more weight than observable facts.
  • When people lack data, they’ll fill in the blanks.
  • Perception is people’s reality. And most people will see things only from their frame of reference and from their position in the system.

For more on anxious systems see Jeffrey Millers work on The Anxious Organization. It may be that you will recognize your organization of church within its pages.

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