Monthly Archives: June 2014

How to Handle the Angry Volcano!

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Road rage (male)Most of us have seen a child throw a temper tantrum, and it’s not a pretty sight. What’s even more disturbing is to see an adult do so.

My dad was a volcano. He had a very explosive temper and often lost his temper while driving our family car. I’ll never forget how scared I was being in the car with my dad when he went ballistic. One Sunday, we were on our way to church when my folks got into a nasty argument. The madder my dad got the faster and more erratic he drove!

I was sitting in the front seat between my mom and dad. This was back in the 60s, and older cars didn’t have seatbelts, but even if they did, people rarely used them. Every time my dad would make an unsafe sharp turn or stop abruptly in his anger, my mom would use the “mommy seatbelt” (she would throw her arm across my chest) and yell, “George, you’re gonna kill us!”

They were yelling at each other, my mother was pummeling me, and I was starting to feel a little woozy. I get carsick very easily, especially in a big-boat-of-a-car driven like a formula one racecar. The next thing I remember is hanging my head out the car window as I was depositing my breakfast along the side of the car and road. This, of course, made my dad even more upset because he thought it was just in my head.

The typical twenty-minute trip to church only took about ten minutes that Sunday. Of course, as we walked into the church building, we put on our happy Sunday faces and pretended like all was well.

I’m sure none of you have ever fought on the way to church or used your car as a weapon of terror with your family. But some of you live or work with a volcano, and it’s scary!

What can you do with the person who is quick-tempered, explodes in anger, is unpredictable at times, and seems to have a chronic pattern of rage? How can you survive and help an angry person? Before we take a practical look at a few suggestions, let’s consider some common characteristics of a volcano.

Angry Man Steam Ears

The six most common characteristics of a volcano: 

  • They are emotionally unstable, and you are never quite sure how they are going to behave in any given situation.
  • They can be rude, nasty, insulting and offensive. Their tone, body language, and certainly their words can bite you like a pit-bull.
  • They are typically self-centered, and their world is pretty much all about them. A volcano rarely is concerned about the feelings of other people.
  • They are often cynical, sarcastic and skeptical. Generally, they believe the worst about people and their motives.
  • Much of what they do is guilt-driven, and they live in the land of “should-ofs.” They tell themselves that things should be different or they should be better. When life doesn’t go the way they expect, they get frustrated and infuriated. Volcanoes often hate themselves for their behavior, but this self-hatred leads to more guilt that eventually provokes the next eruption.
  • They are frequently overly sensitive to criticism of their competence or performance. Their own insecurities and guilt make them hypersensitive to any disapproval. Their fits of rage are a defensive mechanism they use to deal with perceived threats, fear or frustration.

It took my dad years to figure why he was so angry. In large part, he was the way he was because of the horrible relationship he had with his father (my grandfather). He never felt loved or accepted by his dad, and he lived with this overwhelming fear of rejection most of his life. This does not justify his actions, but it explains why when my mom or his boss or anyone would offer even a little constructive criticism, he read it as rejection and would defensively react with rage. The intent of his rage was intimidation. It was his way of saying, “Don’t go there!”

Angry Guys Mug

How to have victory with a volcano:

1.            Recognize what makes a volcano erupt.

See their hearts and not just what they do, but why they do what they do. What sets them off?

  • Is it fear?
  • Are they feeling unappreciated or taken advantage of?
  • Do they feel unimportant, insignificant or unheard?
  • Are they frustrated with something or someone, and what can you do to help?

I know it’s not easy to get past the hurt they cause you, but until you do, there’s little hope for healing in your relationship. Without understanding, you’ll just get locked into a cycle of emotional outbursts. They’ll hurt you and then you’ll hurt them in return . . . and on and on it goes.

The godly solution is to try and recognize what’s really going on. Once you understand, you can begin the work of relational healing.

2.            Respond rather than react.

Stopping to understand is the first part of responding rather than reacting, but then you can’t blow up or walk away in disgust. It never helps to react to their reaction! Reacting with your anger is like pouring gas on a raging fire. The best thing you can do is reduce your volume and intensity.

I love this wisdom found in Proverbs 15:1 (NIV), “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

3.            Declare a time-out.

Often, time will help the volcano regain control of their emotions. It will also help you compose yourself.

Again, here is the counsel of Solomon from Proverbs 29:11 (NIV), “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.”

A huge part of keeping oneself under control is knowing when to stop what’s going on and then redirecting your conversation to a better time and place. There’s no point in trying to be reasonable with a volcano when the adrenaline is still pumping! Let them know you care about them and their concerns and that you will listen when they have calmed down. Interrupt the explosion with a calm but clear statement, “I can see this is important to you and I want to discuss it, but not this way.”

Remember, they use their rage as a control mechanism, and they may want to shut you down or intimidate you into compliance. In a kind way, let them know that neither of those two things are going to happen.

Angry Timeout

4.            Take them to God in prayer.

Jesus knew what people can be like, and He had to deal with volcanoes in His life. And here’s what he told us to do:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  Matthew 5:43-45 (NIV)

The volcano in your life may not be “an enemy” in the truest sense of the word, but all too often they act like it and cause you as much grief and harm as any enemy could. Jesus said pray for those who persecute you. It’s my belief that praying for them is the best way to develop God’s heart and His love for that person who desperately needs unconditional love.

Living with or working with a volcano is really difficult. Everything in us wants to either fight back or flee from them as quickly as possible. God, however, has a radically different way for us to live. No matter what, we are called to function as children of our Father in heaven, and He is “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love” (Psalms 145:8, NIV).

Angry Pray

May I pray for you?

“Father, give us Your strength to love the unlovely. Give us Your grace to be kind to people who don’t deserve it and patient with those who hurt us. Give us Your heart, so that we might see the brokenness of others as you see them. And help us to be slow to anger and rich in love . . . just like You.”

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2 Responses to How to Handle the Angry Volcano!

  1. Such a timely post and something I needed to read today! Thank you for sharing your wisdom and insight. It is sauve to this hurting heart and reinforcing the perspective I having been struggling to have with someone. So blessed to call you my Pastor!

How to Handle the Control Freak!

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Control Freak CartoonNobody wants to work for or live with a hard-nosed, inflexible dictator. Whether it’s in the church, in business, or in a family—controlling behavior stifles and intimidates.

Once upon a time…in a far, far away place, I managed a customer support department for a bank. I had about twenty-five employees who were directed by three shift supervisors.

After just a couple of weeks on the job, I started to get anonymous notes and letters from what appeared to be several different people in my department. They all said the same thing, “Our supervisor is driving us crazy by her obsessive, demanding, and controlling behavior.”

I hate anonymous notes, but after receiving several of them I figured I needed to investigate. What I found was a supervisor that made Attila the Hun seem mild-mannered! If you know your history, you know that Attila the Hun is considered to be one of the most feared and notorious barbarians of all time. Definitely not the kind of management model you would want to emulate.

I tried to work with the supervisor. I wanted to help her see and understand what she was doing, but I failed. She refused to change, and I ended up letting her go.

Atilla the HunAt some point in your life you’ve probably felt like you worked for or lived with the “Hun” himself, and it’s not any fun!

So what do you do with people who can’t let go of anything, tend to be obsessive, demanding, and perfectionistic? What are some keys to understanding why they just won’t let go or let it be? What do you do with people so controlling that they squeeze the life out of you?

To begin with, it’s helpful to understand the anatomy of a control freak.

Here are five of the most common characteristics of control freaks:

1.            They are often driven by fear.

One of the most predominate qualities about them is that they are afraid of losing control, so they seldom like to take risks. They may not appear fearful on the outside, but on the inside they wrestle with huge anxieties or insecurities. In most cases they are not trying to hurt you; they’re just trying to protect themselves and their interests. This is one of the reasons why they often resist change because it introduces too many unknowns that they fear they won’t be able to control.

Control Freak Head

2.            They tend to be obsessive.

They might be obsessive about particular issues or standards. It could be about a procedure or a routine. They are often legalistic about doing things the right way and often the same way no matter what the cost to the people around them. They obsessively hang on to everything and refuse to delegate or release others to do anything significant. Again, this is usually tied to their fears.

3.            They are bossy and maybe even bully others.

Similar to the critic (see last week’s blog), they are typically very overbearing and dictatorial. The pecking order is paramount to them, so they tend to be oppressive to those under them. If they feel threatened, they will quickly pull rank and try to crush all opposition.

4.            Without a doubt, they are perfectionists.

Few things are ever good enough for control freaks. Their perfectionism manifests in more than just critical words—they are demanding and rigid with others and drive others crazy with their ridiculous standards and demands.

Control Freak Perfectionist

5.            Unfortunately, they are easily irritated.

When control freaks don’t get their way, they become extremely obstinate and pigheaded. Little things become big things, and they tend to lose perspective, and then they become irrational and hot-tempered. You’ll seldom see any real joy in their lives.

I have a friend who has a business partner who can be set-off by the most ridiculous things. He’s the proverbial “bull in a china shop” who causes all sorts of havoc and destruction because he’s emotionally unpredictable.

 Two things to do when coping with control freaks:

  •  Focus first on your character and their needs.

This relational principle is tough to practice but absolutely necessary. It’s tough because most of us tend to do just the opposite. We usually focus on our needs and their character.

Here’s what Jesus had to say about this in Matthew 7:3-5 (NIV), “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye (emphasis added).”

Jesus basically said, “Deal with your character and issues first (your 2×4 instead of their speck of sawdust) before you worry about the other guy!”

That doesn’t mean we ignore their issues, but we start with our hearts first. I encourage you to see your relationship with a control freak as an opportunity for your personal and spiritual growth.

  • Pursue peace without compromising truth.

King Solomon wrote in Proverbs 19:11 (NIV), “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.”

Remember, in most cases the control freaks are trying to protect themselves; they are not trying to hurt you. Their behavior is not a commentary about you as much as it is a strategy they use to deal with their own anxieties. Accusing them of being controlling will only make them more fearful and controlling.

Sometimes it’s wise to “overlook an offense” and move on. In other words, avoid any unnecessary battles with the person. Remember from last week the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:18 (NIV),  “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (emphasis added).” And he wrote in Romans 14:19 (NIV),  “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”

Again, I’m not suggesting that we pacify them or ignore what they do. However, before we engage them in confrontation, try to pursue the path of peace. Peace, in many ways, is the best antidote to fear and the best path to relational health.

Seek Peace

Some practical advice:

  • As we saw last week in dealing with the critic, it’s always helpful and wise to consider the why and not just the what. Why are they controlling? If it’s fear-based, what can you do to help them address that issue? One of the best ways to help them relax is to keep them informed. In fact, the more information a control freak has the better.
  • Another thing you can do is affirm and compliment them whenever possible. Frankly, control freaks do have an up side—they are often the glue of an organization or a family because they take responsibilities seriously, and they are dedicated and hardworking. Try to focus on the good and encourage them.
  • Here’s one more thing to try: If they’re just being bossy and perfectionistic, then attempt to negotiate your role by sitting down and calmly discussing with them who is best at certain tasks (them or you) and, therefore, who should control those tasks?

I once met with a couple that was having some major issues regarding managing their finances. The husband was the control freak who (because of his fears) couldn’t let go and trust his wife with any oversight of their family finances. As we talked about it, it became apparent that he had almost no skill in this area; she really was the best person for the job in their home. Once he saw this, it was easy to come up with a plan that worked for both of them and calmed his fears.

Control_freak Chains

If a control freak continues to be obsessive, rigid, mean-spirited and unrealistic, then loving confrontation may be required, but be sure it is the truth spoken in love.

One last thing I want to leave you with: Never underestimate the power of God and His love to transform people into His image. Pray for change in them and you, and practice patience.

Next week we’ll take a look at how to handle a volcano (someone with anger issues).

Volcano Eruption

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12 Responses to How to Handle the Control Freak!

  1. Excellent word! Thank you, Kurt, for your problem-solving help, written from an insightful biblical perspective. May God bless you and all who read this important post on relationships.

    • Good morning, Mary! Thank you, again, for your kind and encouraging words. You are loved.

  2. Great post, Pastor Kurt! I can’t wait for next week’s: How to Deal with a Volcano. I have one or two of those in our home. Now to let go of some of my perfectionist tendencies. I like to give control to God. It’s so much easier than fighting for it. 😉

    • Hi Alycia, thank you. I’ve worked with, lived with, OR I’ve been all of “those people” at times in my life. Writin’ from real experiences!:-) You are loved!

  3. I LOVE that you addressed the need to KNOW. That is honest truth there. With a just a few details, it helps eliminate worry for me. The more i know, the less I stress. I am working on the control freak part. It is very hard.

    • True for me too, Melinda. Thanks for joining the conversation and sharing so honestly. You are loved!

My Fathers Who Art in Heaven

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Father and Son Air Vertical

My fathers who art in heaven

I humbly honor your names

Without perfection and yet with love

You taught me of our Father above

You gave me life

You showed me joy

The path you walked

Made a man out of a boy

Though filled with struggle

And sometimes pain

The way you lived

Brought many gain

Your love for Jesus

And my love for you

Is all that matters

Until we meet in the blue

So thank you, my fathers

For being you

{I wrote this to honor the memory of George Bubna, Al Battles (my father-in-law), and Frank Mayo (my stepdad) who are now a part of that great cloud of witnesses.}

Father and Son Walking Sunset

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Four Keys to Getting Along with a Critic!

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Do you ever struggle with difficult people? Dumb question, right? Of course you do. We all have people in our lives that stretch the limits of our patience. Just about everyone has someone in their lives that’s an EGR (extra grace required) person.

I’m starting a new blog series that’s going to focus on how to get along with difficult people. We’ll be taking a look at four different types of people over the next four posts: the critic, the control freak, the volcano and the sponge. We will consider each of these four types of people and what we can do to make our relationship with them better and healthier.

Many years ago I had a boss who had just two employees, me and another guy. She loved him but hated me! To this day I don’t know why (what’s not to love here?). By nature, she was an extremely critical person. I rarely did anything right in her eyes and no matter how hard I tried, she was never satisfied with my work or me. The irritating reality in all of this was that I honestly knew my job far better than she did, yet every time I turned around she was nitpicking my performance and in my face about something.

Sadly, most of us have someone in our lives just like that. So what do you do with a person who constantly complains, is generally negative and critical, and often gives unwanted and mean-spirited advice? What do you do with relationships that seem to be more trouble than they are worth?

If you’re like me, your first reaction to a critic is fight or flight. You either want to punch them in the face or run from them as fast and as far as possible. However, unhealthy conflict or EGR avoidance doesn’t typically lead to life or relational health.

There is a better way…

1.    Decide to love them no matter what.

I know it seems rather simplistic to say, “love them”, but there is no greater call or greater force on the planet than the love of God shown through us. Nothing has more potential than love to bring lasting change in them and us.

The apostle Paul wrote quite a bit about love (his most famous enlightenment is found in 1 Corinthians 13). Here’s what he said in Romans 12:9, 14, 20: “Love must be sincere. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.”

Our first and last response to the critic must be sincere love, and love involves blessing rather than cursing. In fact, it goes as far as meeting the needs of even our worst enemy. By the way, we are able to love because God first loved us and empowers us to love one another.


2.    Endeavor to understand them.

Again, in Romans 12:15 it says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

To do so requires an understanding about what’s going on in someone’s heart and head.

  • Why are they doing what they’re doing?
  • What’s going on and how can I connect with them in the midst of it?
  • Is there an issue behind the issue that must be understood and addressed?

For example, critics tend to believe that any task not in their hands will fail. They generally don’t mean to be mean, they just live with some tragic false beliefs that deeply affect what they do and how they do it. They tend to be task-driven and are highly motivated out of fear to get it right and to avoid mistakes. All of this may be the result of personal insecurities cultivated by a parent they could never please.

My dad was a pretty harsh father who never seemed to be happy with what I did. As a kid, I rarely (if ever) heard him say, “Good job, son, I’m proud of you!” In his opinion, there was almost always something different, better, or more that I could have done.

When you live with ongoing negative influence—and it is the primary relational model you have—it’s real easy to grow up and become just like that (even if you swore you’d never be like your old man).

Taking the time to stop, to think, and to pray about that critic in your life will help you to understand them better. Understanding is necessary for health in every relationship!

Critic Dog-Are-You-Listening1

3.    Strive to listen to their words and their heart.

We all want to be heard and understood. Our tendency with a critic is to ignore or reject what they have to say because of the way they said it. But it’s important to separate the tone from the substance. Whether we like to admit it or not, often there are grains of truth and things we need to see that we haven’t seen. A wise person will accept the truth and reject falsehood.

Look again at Romans 12; in verse 9 it says, “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” And we are admonished in verse 16, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud.”

One of the greatest temptations with critics is to tune them out. But they may know something we don’t know or see something we don’t see. So don’t be proud, but do cling to what is good. One of the ways to “live in harmony” is to try to use their negativism constructively. Tell them, “Thanks for pointing out those problems so that we can come up with some solutions. What would you suggest we do?” In our relationships, it’s important to move from fault-finding to problem-solving. (Click to Tweet this!)

4.    It’s okay to draw healthy boundaries.

First and foremost we must love them like Jesus. We love them even when it hurts and it costs us to love them. Then we make every effort to understand them and to hear what they are saying.

But what if they are mean-spirited? Isn’t there a place for loving confrontation and correction? Do I just become a doormat and learn to live with emotional abuse? No, you do not. You can and should set some reasonable and healthy boundaries.

It’s perfectly okay to speak the truth in love and say…

  • When you talk to me like that, with that demeaning and angry tone, it’s hard to listen to you.
  • When you are overly critical and negative, I feel devalued and it’s like you are taking a sandblaster to my heart and soul.
  • When you treat me harshly, it deflates my spirit like a balloon that has just been popped.
  • When you are ready to have an adult-to-adult conversation, let’s talk; until then we’re going to take a time out.

Critic boundary_sand

Most of us hate confrontation. We’d rather eat glass or wear a speedo in public! But there is a time and a place to lay it on the table—not in anger or wrath or with malicebut speaking the truth in love. We must set reasonable and healthy boundaries to protect our hearts.

Be careful. Sometimes we react rather than respond and abuse back. Counter-abuse (aka: revenge or repaying evil with evil) is not God’s way. So it’s good to remember Paul’s very practical instruction at the end of Romans 12: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge.”

Living with or working for a critic is tough. Seeing it as an opportunity to grow is wise. Do your best, at least as far as it depends on you, to live at peace.

Stay tuned . . . next week we’ll take a look at how to live with a control freak.

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6 Responses to Four Keys to Getting Along with a Critic!

  1. Good stuff. Look forward to the next three editions. The four bulleted and italicized ways for speaking truth are well worded. Truth without strident tone.

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