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Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A., Editor
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Five Types Of Necessary Coping Relationships
Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.
- The ability to cope with trauma is dependent on numerous factors. Perhaps the most
important area to consider is the relationship dimension of trauma.
- The importance of a healthy and diverse range of relationships is especially
critical during pastoral crises. Though not often recognized under "normal"
conditions, crises clearly and unmistakably reveal the strengths (or weaknesses) of
"normal" relationship patterns. Perhaps the greatest value of conflict is that
it creates an opportunity to see which relationship areas need to be developed for
healing, recovering and dealing with future trauma.
- Effective coping relationships which assist one through trauma and crisis are dependent
- 1) on the breadth and depth of relationships, and
- 2) on the relative generality and specificity of the relationships.
- The Five Coping Relationship Types
- Type I: Relationship Generality (Not Conflict
- This relationship dimensions refers to the general broadness and diversity of
relationships. Many of these relationships are not generally considered
"essential" for normal functioning. Indeed, most of these may be considered
slight acquaintances. One may not know even know their names.
- However, this broad and diverse range of Type I relationships give one a subjective
reference of general approval or disapproval in our relationship world. In general,
individuals function best when they perceive that the world in general is positively
disposed toand approving ofthem.
Type II: Relationship Specificity (Not Conflict
- This relationship dimension includes a very small number of trusted people with whom we
associate every day. Composed of those "significant others," this category
refers to those deeper relationships (e.g. family members, spouses, and long-term close
friends and confidants) that one enjoys on an ongoing long-term basis.
- It is important to note that these relationships were generally not formed primarily
during crisis, focused on crisis, or formed in reaction to crisis. Instead, these
relationships grew largely as a result of shared personal preferences, mutual sharing,
need, personality "chemistry" and the like.
Type III: Conflict Relationship Generality (Conflict
- This dimension, like its sister dimension, Conflict Relationship Specificity,
recognizes that relationships change during conflict. Betrayal, side-changing, and degrees
of loyalty and trust all occur during conflict with surprising--and sometime
tragic--results. Indeed, conflict is just as great a generator of community as it is a
destroyer of community.
- Conflict Relationship Generality refers to the general level of perceived support from
the general masses during the conflict. Support by these individuals will not be intimate,
regular, or necessarily "substantive." However, such individuals will cheer the
leader on from the sidelines with their prayers, acceptance, and occasional encouragement.
Type IV: Conflict Relationship Specificity (Conflict
- Conflict Relationship Specificity refers to those relationships which beginor are
intensifiedin response to conflict. Given various individual responses to crisis,
these relationships may or may not include those normally considered "significant
others." Indeed, spouses, family and once-trusted leaders may not have the strength,
motivation or ability to be effective supporters during the heat on intense on-going
- Those most likely persons fitting into this category may be those members of the
congregational staff or lay leaders in which one places almost unconditional trust.
Obviously, great care must be taken to ensure trust levels with those individuals
connected with the congregation. Mistakes or misjudgments here can be extremely costly.
Jesus maxim for identifying prospective Conflict Specific relationships in a
congregation is certainly applicable:
- Those who can be trusted with little can be trusted with much. Those who cant be
trusted with even a little cant be trusted at all at this level.
- Others who may fit into this category are individuals outside of the congregational
structure including other pastors (within and outside of ones denomination),
denominational officials, consultants, seminar presenters, small group facilitators,
professional counselors and personal and family therapists.
- After the conflict issues subside and are effectively dealt with these relationships may
or may not persist
sometimes causing intense pain and grief. This is especially so if
circumstances (e.g. financial issues, death or transfer of the individual, pastoral
transfer, et al.) cause the premature aborting of one of these critically important coping
- Whatever happens with these "Lone Ranger"-like relationships, their essential
help, support, prayers, and intervention will never be unappreciated or forgotten. The
sense of profound gratitude will forever be a part of our long-term healing.
- Some Observations
First, this paradigm underscores the necessity for pastors
and professional ministries to continue developing and diversifying relationships at all
levels both in and out of the church.
Second, ones sense of self-esteem is dependent not only
on "significant others" but on the perceived general consensus of those with
whom we are associated. It certainly is normal that a perceived (or actual) loss of
support or enthusiasm from the congregation in general can deteriorate our
Third, those in our relationship depth dimension (e.g.
spouse, confidants, friends) may or may not necessarily be availableemotionally or
physicallyduring crisis. Seeing the grief of one they love and care for may push
their own personal coping mechanisms "over the edge" causing further drain on
the pastor's relationship coping mechanisms. This is a major source of the loneliness of
Fourth, especially during crisis, it is of vital importance
for the pastor to avoid isolating himself from the congregation. Instead, as hard as it
may be, it is important to adopt an intensive seelsorger (i.e.
"soul-caretaker") mode and begin a membership visitation mode. Members will
appreciate the care given by the pastor and, unknowingly, may help to enlarge the
pastors positive Type III relationships.
Fifth, when all four relationship dimensions are functioning
well, the pastor will enjoy a strong sense of confidence needed to deal effectively with
typical conflict-related congregational issues: vision setting, reconciliation, morale,
etc. (cf. Glenn Daman's article, Raising Morale In The Small Church, found in MH Reprints and
Sixth, perhaps the most important relationship dimension for
coping in crisis are those relationships of the Type IV variety. When pastors do not
seekor do not receivenecessary assistance and intervention from denominational
sources, from their ministry brothers, or neglect (or refuse) professional assistance
(including counselors, therapists, medical doctors, psychiatrists, etc.), they are doomed
to failure. Both pastors and denominational leaders should take note of this. Individual
and denominational responses in crisis may be the most influential factor as to whether
pastors resign or recover from the crisis experience.
Seventh, when any dimension of one's relationship network
fails, the potential for mental illness and the addictions and compulsions which may
appear, increases. This tendency toward mental illness is incremental and almost
imperceptible except to trained professionals. Thus, seeking professional assistance and
support is absolutely essential and should be initiated in the early stages of crisis.
Assessing Coping Relationships
- In general, the more relationships one has in each of the four dimensions discussed, the
greater your ability to cope with crisis and the greater your morale.
- A simple way of assessing the broadness is to make a Joharis Window (cf. below)
with each square labeled with its respective type of relationship dimension. In each box,
list a first name of all who fit into each dimensional type. Do not duplicate
names. In the general categories, a general number or percentage of congregation, will
Five Types of Coping Relationships
||Not Conflict Related
Plenary Spiritual Connection
(Under Girds And Supercedes All Other Relationships)
- Type V: Plenary Spiritual Relationship
- The most important relationship of all, however, is the "Type V" relationship.
This is our relationship with God. As illustrated in the illustration above, the Type V
relationship is the necessary and essential foundation for coping relationships. Human
relationships and ties may be broken or betrayed. The connection with God is permanent and
immovable. Like Types I and III, this relationship recognizes that "in Him we live
and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). In this sense it is general.
- It is also specific in that, through Christ we are "in Him." Thus this
relationship is "plenary" or completely permeating of our being and situation.
This is true whether we are in crisis or not. Type V is perhaps best represented as an
overlay over the entire Johari Window represented by the double border.
- Without a vibrant spiritual faith-base which transcends simple forms, formulae,
doctrinal constructs and rigid ritualism and tradition, one is vulnerable to the
unexpected crisis in life.
- No, one does not need to become immersed in mysticism to endure trial. Neither should
one simply cast aside those familiar aspect of spiritual life and worship. Indeed,
familiar spiritual items (e.g. hymns, prayers, liturgy, Scripture verses, etc.) may be the
most comforting and spiritually therapeutic aspects of coping in crisis.
- However, unless ones connected-ness with God is regularly nurtured and
strengthened, unless it goes beyond a sterile "formal" faith, pastors can be
caught off-guard and unable to cope with the profundity and depth of the crisis
experience. Indeed, such connected-ness is what enabled Job to declare, "The Lord
gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!" (Job 1:21).
- For us, such connected-ness may extend Jobs words to an even more profound
understanding and acceptance that sometimes the Lord gives by taking away!
- Such connected-ness will remind us that we can trust Gods power to know that after
every flood theres a rainbow, after every storm theres a calm, after every
crucifixion theres a resurrection, and for every thing in creation theres a
gracious restorative re-creation.
- When Jesus ascended into Heaven, He comforted His disciples, "Lo I am with you
always, even unto the end of the world." This was not just a promise. It was also a
Type V coping mechanism by which Jesus gave the disciples unbridled and unprecedented
cause for confidence in His authority over all things (Matthew 28:18). The ascended Lord
also gives us the same confidence and power to cope in all circumstances.
- May God enable you to seek out, build and enhance all types of relationships to support
you in all times and circumstances of your ministry.
- Thomas F. Fischer
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was revised on:
Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:04:32 PM