The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Help for Aggressive Critics: Why You Need to Verbally Trump Others


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Are you one of those argumentative Christians who is always looking for a chance to shut someone down with your version of God’s truth?  Do you listen in on other people’s conversations, hoping that someone will show some ignorance on a subject that you feel you’re an expert on so you can barge into the conversation and pound that fool into the ground with your brilliance?  Do you find yourself getting all agitated and flush-faced when someone makes a comment about God which you believe is wrong?  Are you quick to break out a mocking tone and condescending language as you’re explaining your view to someone else?  Do you inwardly panic when someone points out a major flaw in your argument that you don’t know how to counter? Do you understand why you’re such a dominating pill in verbal conversations?  You have your reasons.  Humans always have reasons for what they do, and those reasons make sense to them. 

Having to be right all the time makes for a lonely life.  Since you’re such a verbal bully, people really don’t enjoy talking to you.  Can you blame them?  You certainly wouldn’t put up with you if the shoe were on the other foot, because you can’t stand to be wrong, and you feel very threatened going up against someone who is as dominating as you are.  When you troll the field looking for someone to verbally assault, you’re intentionally picking fights that you think you can win.  You’re like the bully in the school yard who targets the wimpy kids and steers clear of the aggressive fighters.  When you listen in on other people’s conversations, you’re listening for a certain level of ignorance—one that allows you to jump in and release a volley of your best zingers.  You’ve got a well-rehearsed approach.  You’ve got a whole arsenal of clever comebacks, and you’re never going to admit defeat, even when you can see you’re dead wrong.  So why are you like this?  Well, whenever you’re trying to figure out why you’re engaging in some self-destructive behavior, a good place to start is to identify what specific rewards you are after.

Think about your whole jerky routine.  When does the high happen?  When you win the argument.  When your opponent openly admits defeat.  It’s seeing them conquered at the end of the debate that gives you your rush. Along the way, you get a spike of pleasure every time you see them stumped by one of your brilliant comebacks. What’s going on here?  Well, you’re on a power trip.  You’re using verbal debates as a way to gain power.  Every time you feel like you’ve dominated someone—no matter how briefly—it gives you intense satisfaction, and that satisfaction is what keeps you coming back for more.  You’re essentially addicted to the rush that being in the power position gives you.

Now let’s talk about your method.  If it’s power you’re after, why not use your fists?  Well, verbal warfare is safer, easier, and longer lasting.  Using physical domination is not only an easy way to get in trouble with the law, but it has a relatively short shelf life.  As you age, you get weaker, thus the number of people you can physically dominate shrinks.  If you’re not a strong person to begin with, then you have no chance of succeeding in this arena as often as you need to.  Going with words allows you to compete and win over a much larger spectrum of humanity.  If you get physically injured, you can still shred them with your words.  So you’re choosing a method of domination that you feel has the best chance of keeping the highs coming for the long haul.

Now everyone enjoys being right.  Having others agree with you is very validating.  But aggressive critics are not able to take turns at being right.  They need to be right all the time.  They panic when they’re not right, and this is where we come to the next key step in understanding what motivates self-destructive behavior: identifying fears.

The rewards you’re chasing after are directly linked to your core fears.  Because rewards are a positive concept, they are easier for people to face, which is why they’re the best place to start when you’re trying to understand yourself.  No one enjoys talking about their core fears.  We humans work hard to distract ourselves from the things we’re really afraid of.  We pile on lies and coping methods in order to protect ourselves from having to face our fears head on.  And yet facing our fears is a critical step in ending self-destructive behavior.

The need to verbally dominate people is a fear driven activity.  It’s a dysfunctional coping method—something you’re doing in order to try and put a patch on a deeper issue.  The problem with dysfunctional coping methods is that they don’t work, which is why you have to keep using them over and over again.  It’s rather like putting a bandage over an infected gash on your arm.  The sight of the gash greatly upsets you, so you hide it with a bandage.  Simply having the thing hidden from sight brings you a very real degree of relief, so it feels like a good idea.  But at the same time, you know that your wound is infected, and you know that the infection is only going to worsen over time, so your internal stress load continues to grow even though you’re now walking around with the bandage.  The bandage isn’t really bringing you the relief that you need, but the longer you wear it, the more afraid you are of taking it off and seeing how much worse things have become. This is the vicious cycle people get trapped in once they start using dysfunctional coping methods.  The coping methods give them a way to not have to directly face their core emotional wounds.  Yet those wounds still exist, and the longer they go untreated, the worse they become.  To keep yourself distracted from that gnawing feeling that your underlying issues are growing worse, you have to spend more and more resources on coping methods that don’t really work.  It’s a very frustrating cycle, and one that is guaranteed to end in immense frustration and emotional burnout.  The good news is that you have choices.  You don’t have to remain enslaved by your coping methods.  You can choose to take that bandage off and start treating the underlying wound, at which point you’re going to discover things are far more solvable than you thought.

Life really isn’t some scary, dangerous, cruel monster that is just waiting to rip us apart. When we’ve been very wounded in the past, it’s easy to feel this way, because the very fact of being wounded skews our view of reality.  Take the woman who is terrified of water.  When she looks at a pool, she sees one option: she can drown.  She has accepted the premise that if she steps into that liquid, she’ll be doomed to relive the same sequence of events that happened to her the last time she was in a pool.  Now as long as our woman believes that drowning is her only option, she’s naturally going to avoid that water at all costs.  But suppose she starts having new options given to her?  What if we give her a set of floats and a life jacket and a paddle board? There are a lot of things our woman can do to prevent herself from sinking, and once she realizes this, she will start to feel less threatened by the pool.

So what do you learn about yourself by realizing that you argue with people in order to gain a sense of supremacy over them?  You learn that you feel pretty powerless on a core level.  Consider how aggressive your style is: how you are constantly searching out opportunities to verbally conquer someone.  You’re acting like a man who is desperately rifling through every cabinet in his kitchen, looking for something he can eat.  A man who behaves this way demonstrates how intense his hunger is.  He’s not someone who can take or leave a candy bar.  If we offer such a man food, he’ll instantly devour it and then want some more.  In the same way, we can see how powerless you feel by watching the way you leap upon every opportunity to seize power.  You bust into conversations uninvited, just to verbally sock it to someone and see them fall.  You get off on people looking flush faced and stupefied by your brilliant comebacks. You love the feeling of shutting someone down.  You don’t care at all about the feelings you’re damaging—you want the power.  When people don’t like the abuse you’re dishing out, you tell yourself that their hostility just proves what idiots they all are.  You interpret their attempts to draw boundaries as a sign of weakness. Anyone who runs from you is a coward in your book.  You can’t see yourself as the jerk, because you need to like yourself.  You’ve got to be the superstar, the guy who has it all figured out, the top dog.  Of course if your self-image wasn’t so fragile, it wouldn’t need constant propping up.  If you weren’t so frightened by your own vulnerability, you wouldn’t have to be putting all of this effort into maintaining this pretense of confidence.  And if you weren’t so threatened by someone criticizing you, you’d be able to let someone come close to you and actually start gathering friends.  But as it is, people so intensely threaten you that you are keeping them at a distance you feel comfortable with.  Then you compensate for your loneliness by going around blasting random strangers in order to try and convince yourself that you’re not as weak as you know you are.  So is your bluff working?  No.  We humans know when we’re lying to ourselves.

So how did you get yourself in this situation?  Well, the common scenario is that somewhere along the line you felt intensely dominated by someone else.  That domination came paired with world-shattering terror.  This is the boy whose father beat the tar out of him.  This is the girl who was viciously bullied at school.  This is the kid whose siblings played endless cruel pranks on him.  When we get stomped on in life and feel completely at the mercy of folks who seem to delight in destroying us, it’s terrifying.  When we depend on our attackers for basic necessities, or when we feel physically trapped and unable to escape the reach of our tormentors, the resulting fear causes us to associate the feeling of being dominated with a life threatening situation.  When this trauma goes unaddressed, we end up carrying these fears into adulthood.  Every time we sense someone moving into a position of power over us, it flips deep panic buttons and we strike back with everything we’ve got.  Often in these cases, the slightest criticism can feel world shattering, because having any flaw or failing pointed out to us makes us feel like we’re being dominated, and being dominated makes us flash back to those times when we felt like we were in true peril.

Trauma essentially causes part of our mind to remain stuck in the past.  Whenever something happens which reminds us of the initial trauma, it’s like our mind says, “Red alert!  That terrifying sequence of events that nearly killed me before is starting to happen again!  Attack, attack!”  And here is where you verbally blast whoever it is that’s making you feel threatened.  When that person then reacts by cutting ties with you, you feel a mix of relief and sorrow.  No one likes being shunned.  We all need social interaction.  But when you’re terrified of sharing power with others, you end up concluding that human relationships are too expensive to go after.

So how do you get freed up from this need to keep verbally stomping on other people?  The first step is to face why you’re doing it: because you’re feeling dangerously short on power and way too vulnerable to being injured by others.  The second step is to ask God to show you how you came to this conclusion that you’re such a sitting duck, and that’s going to be a matter of identifying past experiences which made you feel threatened and helpless.  The third step is to ask God to help you identify and release the core lies that you’re clinging to as an adult because of what happened to you.  Today you have options that you didn’t have back when you were being assaulted.  Today your circumstances have changed, and the fact that someone disagrees with you about something doesn’t mean you are really in a dire crisis.

In cases of unprocessed trauma, the threat only exists in our minds, not in our actual circumstances.  Take Jack—a guy who was nearly mauled to death by a dog.  For Jack, simply being in the presence of any dog makes him feel like he’s in serious danger.  But is he?  No.  Most of the dogs Jack encounters have no interest in harming him, they just want to be petted.  When Jack sees a dog trying to come over to him, he needs to realize that the dog he’s dealing with today is a totally different animal than the dog who attacked him last year. He needs to start separating past from present, or he’ll end up spending the rest of his life anticipating a crisis that will probably never happen to him again.

As someone who feels an intense need to verbally conquer people, you’re in a similar position as Jack. You’re mentally throwing everyone you meet into the same category as the few people who severely hurt you in the past.  Before you even say hello, you’ve decided someone is a threat to you, and you try to aggressively dominate them as a way of trying to prove to yourself that you’ve got the situation under control.  The problem is that the people you’re blasting could have been potential friends and allies.  You’re not giving positive relationships a chance to happen because you’re stereotyping everyone based on a few bad apples.  Such a system will only leave you feeling miserable and depressed.

The truth is that there are a ton of really nice people in the world.  Sure, there are a lot of jerks, too.  There are also a lot of guys like you—guys who go out of their way to attack others while they assume the worst about total strangers.  But there are also people who would rush to your aid just to help out a fellow human being.  There are people who see value in you.  There are people who would like to get to know you better.  There are people who look for the positives.  Don’t be content to keep writing off the whole human race because a few people really stuck it to you.  Humans have great potential to be wonderfully kind, compassionate, and gracious.  When you are willing to face the true motivations behind your aggressive behavior and when you’re open to God helping you work through your unprocessed pain, you end up feeling a lot less fearful in life.  You feel released from the immense burden of needing everyone to think like you do or be in the same place with God that you’re in.  You end up respecting people’s God-given right to make different choices than you without having to condemn them for it.  When we focus on our own baggage and stop trying to take our pain out on everyone else, we end up feeling calm, free, confident, and joyful.  The man who feels secure in his own relationship with God doesn’t need to have the last word, he doesn’t need to barge into other people’s conversations, and he doesn’t need everyone to understand who he is and what he’s about.  God frees us up from feeling controlled by other people while simultaneously being able to love them more than we ever thought was possible. Ask God to help you and He will.

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