“I feel invisible,” Angelica’s face sunk with her words. “My husband doesn’t even see me. He’s so focused on his work, his ministry projects, what he wants to do. There’s no room for me in our relationship…”
After listening to her awhile, I felt like she was invisible! Really. My office was filled with his presence and empty of hers.
She kept talking about her husband — what he was doing, what his problems were, how he felt about things. I was trying to see and relate to her. So I kept reflecting her emotions: “You want him to notice your new haircut… It hurts you when he doesn’t ask about your day… You spent 4 days reading reviews to find the best clippers for men for him, and when you gave him the present, he barely acknowleged it… You’re tired of always doing what he wants to do… You’re afraid to say no to him…”
“He’s a steamroller. He just rolls over me. He always does whatever he wants. Like yesterday he…”
Every time I held up a mirror for her to see herself she looked away. She kept deflecting my empathy and putting the attention back on her husband. Unconsciously, she was spoiling my care (and God’s too).
Lots of pastors and people in ministry (women and men) are like Angelica — especially pastors’ wives. Saying yes and being pleasant, caring, and helpful all the time are part of the unwritten, but always expected job description, for a pastor’s wife.
Secretly people like Angelica feel resentful. They don’t want to admit it because it’s the last thing they want to feel. They’re nice. They always try to do what’s loving. They have such good intentions.
But everybody has wants, desires, and needs. If you don’t explicitly express your emotions and ask for what you need then you’ll do it unconsciously and people will feel frustrated, imposed upon, even manipulated.
Eventually, you’ll get angry about the unfairness. Perhaps it leaks out in critical comments, sarcasm, passive-aggressiveness (saying yes, but not doing it), or saying negative things to other people about the person who isn’t loving you well.
Nobody can always say yes to what other people want! Nobody can always be considerate and helpful to others all the time!
“Jesus would tell you to be unkind. He wants you to start being selfish.”
My words shocked Angelica because at face value they’re not true. But they were true emotionally for her, because to her it felt like being selfish and unkind to say no or to have needs. (I was using paradoxical communication, like Jesus telling us to hate our father and mother in Luke 14:26. Jesus would never tell us to be purposefully unkind to people).
I unpacked for her Jesus’ rarely noticed teachings on saying no and asking for what you want (Matthew 5:33-37; 7:7-11; 18:19; 21:22, 28-32).
Like Angelical, you don’t have to feel invisible or unimportant— even if people treat you that way! You can learn to bring your “self” into relationships by communicating your personal needs and boundaries and establishing your self-identity.
The place to start shoring up your self-awareness and self-worth is by practicing being vulnerable with an emotionally safe and strong person — someone who doesn’t give advice or flattery or get overwhelmed by your needs, but who is stable and gives you empathy and grace.
This is being “selfish” in a healthy way. It may feel “not nice” to acknowledge your limits and say no but sometimes you need to because your needs matter as much as other people’s.
Surprisingly, asking for what you want and not saying yes all the time helps you to be more loving to other people in the long run because you’re letting God fill up your own love tank.
Jesus and the Bible have a lot to say about good ways of being “selfish”. Bill unpacks this and more of Angelica’s story in his book Your Best Life in Jesus’ Easy Yoke. (See pp. 149-170)
Join Bill & Kristi as they vulnerably share in this post’s companion podcast episode from their own experience identifying and correcting this threat to harmony in their family.