Seaborn Hall, 10/12/19, updated 10/13/19, updated 10/14/19
Relationships can be inherently difficult because parties are dealing with two different sets of presuppositions, conceptions, values, and perceptions. They can be complicated by differences in sex, age, culture, and race. The same thing is true when you are looking for the right church, but you can add ‘theology’ and the perception of what Scripture says and how to interpret it, and other expectations into the mix.
That said, there are some simple ‘red flags’ that should at least be warning signs that tell you not to enter or commit too fast into certain relationships.
The First Red Flag: Projection
Projection is a fairly complex psychological phenomenon that is difficult to spot or defend against for the inexperienced or untrained. It can leave even experienced actors with the feeling of having been ‘slimed’. Or, you may just walk away from the interaction or conversation with a confused, ugly feeling.
This is a basic summary of projection, according to Wikipedia:
Psychological projection is a defence mechanism in which the human ego defends itself against unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others. For example, a person who is habitually rude may constantly accuse other people of being rude. It incorporates blame shifting and can manifest as shame dumping.
The Wikipedia entry is interesting and gives two examples of projection from the Talmud and the New Testament. According to wikia.org, “Psychological projection (or projection bias) can be defined as unconsciously assuming that others share the same or similar thoughts, beliefs, values, or positions on any given subject.”
To simplify, projection accuses or labels someone with a problem or attitude or view that the accuser either has or has had. It slimes the object because it refuses to see someone as they really are – and it fails to take the necessary time to find that out. Projection seeks to feed the ego of the projector and to build itself up as the ‘insightful’ one or the authority figure. Unconsciously, or consciously, it attempts to put the object in an inferior, subordinate position.
Projection fails to see the real person in front of it and is therefore incapable of having or sustaining a healthy relationship.
Projection can be confronted by identifying it and standing against it. However, if the attacking party fails to see how they are interacting, it is best to take a big step back until responsibility has been clearly acknowledged and change is evident.
The Second Red Flag: Failure To Affirm You As An Adult Who Is Capable And Responsible To Make Your Own Decisions
This second red flag is a phenomenon seen in marriages, friendships or adult relationships that have some element of abuse inherent in them. The abuse can be physical or merely emotional. This phenomenon also shows up in the church quite a bit, because leaders love to build teaching or theology around themselves because it affirms them and feeds their identity. Many times the teaching can become a means of control rather than leading to strong, healthy believers.
This second red flag can also be expressed in an expanded way: it is the failure to affirm your feelings, your intuition, and your ability as an independent adult who is capable and responsible to make their own decisions about relationships and about life.
For the believer, this will always involve theological views and Biblical views and interpretive views because the believer wants to live a life guided by God. The big question here may become, “How do I know what God is saying?” Or “How do I know God’s will?”
Many times believers allow their own feelings, intuition, views, and choices to be usurped – taken over – by strong leaders who insist or maintain that they know best, Scripturally, or otherwise. This can lead to bad marriages or other faulty life decisions and then to bitterness or ill feelings towards leaders or the church in general.
Another way of saying this is that for the believer trusting yourself and trusting God in life and relationship decisions is largely the same thing. For the believer, trusting God is being able to trust themselves – and vice versa. If you can’t trust God you probably don’t trust yourself. Therefore, you will tend to look for ‘rules’ or ‘authority’ who can tell you what to do.
Giving up yourself in this way is not healthy or Biblical. According to the New Testament, “As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him. (1 John 2:27 NAS95)” This verse does not means that we don’t need teaching, only that any teaching we receive should help us depend more on God by the Holy Spirit, not on the teacher who is teaching. Any leader or church who cannot teach and affirm your own ability to hear and trust the Holy Spirit within you is likely not a leader or church to be trusted.
All of the above, of course, assumes that a believer’s decisions are being made in congruence with what the Bible says. This in and of itself will raise some complications in certain areas due to interpretive differences and issues, a complex area left for another time.
These two red flags have been addressed together because it is likely that if one appears, both will to some extent. People who project are more likely to be ‘directive’ and ‘authoritarian.’ The severity of your boundaries with these people should be relative to the severity of their behavior and whether they can take responsibility for it or not.
How does a believer navigate through life, submit to the community, but retain a healthy independence under God that is not co-dependent on the church or others around him or her? This is probably a more complex issue than we can address here – but it begins by recognizing simple red flags that signify an unhealthy relationship. It also helps to understand that life is a ‘dance’ that has its own rules and guidelines depending on the song being played, that is, the season of life and other circumstances that you may be in.
These are two red flags, which, if abided by, will help you find what your own intuition – or for the believer, the Holy Spirt – is saying to you and will begin to help you find your way through difficult life situations and decisions and build confidence in your self and your own ability to trust God.
For further reading:
Sheep In Wolves’ Clothing, McIntryre
Facing Codependence, Pia Melody
How You Can Be Led By The Spirit Of God, Kenneth E. Hagin