Emotional Levers: Guilt


A man calls his mother in Florida.  “Mom, how are you?”

“Not too good,” says the mother. “I’ve been very weak.”

The son says, “Why are you so weak?”

She says, “Because I haven’t eaten in 38 days.”

The man says, “That’s terrible. Why haven’t you eaten in 38 days?”

The mother answers, “Because I didn’t want my mouth to be filled with food if you should call.”

Emotional manipulators use guilt-aversion as a lever to control the behavior of others. In the joke above, the mother has many options for dealing with her lonely empty-nest feelings. She could reach out to other empty-nesters, or make herself useful to friends and neighbors. When she wants to talk to her son, she can call him. She can give him incentive to call her by being pleased and happy when he calls: “It’s great to hear your voice! How are you? What’s going on?”—courting his attention as she would with any valued friend. She might even open up and confide to him that she’s having a hard time moving on to the next stage of her life.

The mother doesn’t take steps to solve her problems because, subconsciously, she believes she needs those problems as levers of control. Guilt mongers tend to view themselves as uninteresting and unloveable. Their only claim to fame is that they’ve suffered more than others and so deserve extra consideration. Therefore, they need to preserve a veneer of misery to use whenever they want to wring something out of someone. They are “victims with intent.” [Read more…]

Assertive or Aggressive?

The words “Assertive”  and “Aggressive” are sometimes used interchangeably, but we shouldn’t ignore the profound differences between them. As far back as the 1920’s (according to my dilapidated Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary) the verb “assert,” meant  ”to affirm, state positively,” or “to maintain; vindicate a claim or title to.”

By contrast, the verb “aggress” meant, “To commit the first act of hostility or offense; begin a quarrel or controversy.”

In recent decades, the field of psychology has adopted “Assertiveness” as the label for a confident style of communication that neither dominates others nor surrenders to aggression. [Read more…]

The Donkey Launcher

donkey_launcherI’m a people-pleaser. I hate to disappoint anyone. When folks have conflicting expectations, I’ll twist myself into a pretzel to avoid taking sides. Sometimes I try to prevent conflicts by guessing, in advance, what people are going to want. This doesn’t work very well. It can even lead me to abandon a perfectly good plan because of imagined criticism that hasn’t happened yet.

When I was telling my husband about my latest fiasco, he began imitating the sounds of rocket-propelled warfare: a high-pitched whine followed by an explosive splash.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“A donkey launcher,” he replied.

“I beg your pardon?” [Read more…]


persuasion“Time to go in!” called the preschool teacher. The youngsters left the playground and straggled toward the building. All except little Bobby. He sauntered in the opposite direction, glancing over his shoulder to see if the teacher was watching.

I saw this as my chance to be useful. As a new preschool aide, I was eager to prove my worth. I walked towards Bobby, planning to take him by the hand. He giggled and ran away. I broke into a run, but he took off with surprising speed. [Read more…]

Bearing the Wrong Cross

Consider four imaginary scenarios involving patience:

  • Anne gently answers the same questions over and over while caring for her mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s.
  • Brian is chronically late to work because his carpool buddy, Zack, is never ready when Brian arrives to pick him up. Zack doesn’t know the meaning of the word “hurry.” He’ll spend ten minutes finishing his breakfast while Brian nervously glances at his watch. Brain wants to tell Zack that his tardiness is a problem, but the guy is a non-stop talker, which makes it hard to find an opening to bring up the subject. [Read more…]

Who is Your Gatekeeper?

When my daughter was in training to manage a fast food restaurant, she was surprised to learn that a sudden rush of customers doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to open more cash registers. Why? Because taking orders faster does no good, if the kitchen can’t keep up. Nothing frustrates customers more than to be stuck waiting around after they’ve already paid for their food. If there’s going to be a bottleneck, it should happen while they’re still free to leave, before they’ve put down their money.


This is a good analogy for the yes-or-no choices we face every day in our personal lives. Wanting to be generous with our time and energy, our impulse is to say “yes” every time we’re asked to step up and take on a worthwhile responsibility. We think it’s virtuous to overextend ourselves. “Giving our all” means taking on more than we think we can handle and then relying on God to come through with the power to get the job done. Right?

Wrong! God expects us to be good stewards of the time and talents he has given us. Good stewards deploy their resources carefully. Good stewards count the cost and make the hard choices—saying “no” to some things so they can say “yes” to others. [Read more…]