Leader Pain S3: Do THIS When Your Pain Causes Problems

Sometimes pain can surface in negative ways in our lives. It may be embarrassing to us; it could be hurtful to ourselves or others. Sometimes the pain of our past, especially early childhood, can actually create barriers in the way we interact with others in our leadership opportunities. Usually, these things come to the surface when we are tired or stressed or at our emotional limits. They can manifest in all sorts of ways like moving away from people or passive aggressive behaviors or selfish actions. They usually come at the most inopportune times, usually as a result of some sort of pain in our lives. With this blog, I want to dive into more of what this looks like...and give you some simple and practical ideas for what you can do the next time it shows up.




It is not uncommon to find a pastor or a church leader who has a really high level of compassion. Many times, their love and care for people helps them embrace their call to serve in ministry. I was working with one pastor recently whose compassion was out the roof. The way he interacted on teams, his supportive nature, his ability to love and care for people – compassion was one of the greatest strengths of his ministry.


The people this pastor led could just sense and feel the amazing sensitivity he had for them. In fact, it attracted people to his church and to his leadership. That is, until it wasn’t there any more. It wasn’t like a regular light switch. It didn’t just randomly quickly flip off. It was more like a dimmer switch, a sort of gradual diminishing, then eventually the sensitivity was just gone. Passive aggressive behavior would come. Excessive worry would come. Sometimes it even led to him detaching from the people he truly loved so much.


Let me explain a little more. This pastor was a natural at compassion and empathy and caring for people. It was his natural wiring, and one of his greatest strengths. Under normal circumstances he wouldn’t even have to think about it, it just happened. Yet, sometimes, when the pressure was high, when he would be in a highly stressful time, things would change.


For him, it was usually relational stresses - having confrontations with volunteer leaders who weren’t doing their part or having to deal with a stressful marriage issue with church members. Especially when these things were added to any level of personal issues of his own, the combination would literally drain the energy from him, causing him to begin putting up defenses in his relational life.


During these tiring, stressful, depleting times, he would struggle to tell people hard things. This resulted in his becoming a little passive aggressive in his interactions with them. The people he led would begin to resent that passive aggression with which he was dealing with hard issues in their situation or in the church. In other times, he would often struggle to make a decision. Worry would begin to paralyze his decision-making ability. His fear of making the wrong decision would stall the process and progress of the church and the ongoing projects he worked on with his team. People would get frustrated and the stress would build. Things would just begin to snowball. Ultimately, he would resort to detaching and relationally moving away from the very people who were drawn to him because of his amazing interpersonal sensitivity.


Please understand, this was not a normal thing for him. In fact, people rarely saw this side of him. Perhaps his wife and family saw more of it than anyone else. Yet, on occasion it would happen and each time it would chip away at his effectiveness as a leader in the Kingdom of God.


As he and I dove into this together in executive coaching, he realized for the first time that some of his painful childhood experiences had created these responses. He was defending himself from those painful relational experiences in his past and didn’t even realize it. As he got tired and stressed and the right pressure was applied, he would do things to guard himself from getting hurt again like he had been hurt as a child. He learned as a kid in those circumstances if he used passive aggressive behavior or stalled in his decision making or simply moved away from people all together, he could avoid the pain that seemed inevitable.


So, without even realizing it, he would use these same defenses today to avoid the pain.

Now, I realize this is complicated stuff. I realize most people can’t receive a deep-level of healing without key people in their life, like a counselor or a well-trained executive coach or a combination of the two. I get that. However, if you are seeing these negative things or other negative things in your life at the first sign of relational pain, I want to give you a few practical things you can do to just begin moving in the right direction in your life.


1. Manage your energy levels.


Start working on a good rhythm of life. Get adequate rest. Set an appropriate work-life balance, giving yourself sufficient time to play, and of course, the needed spiritual balance as well.


If you’re struggling in this area, I encourage you to go check out my free Leader Life in Rhythm course on my website, churchleadermadesimple.com.


I promise it’ll make a difference in your energy levels. If your energy levels get better, guess what? Your responses will get better.


2. Raise your level of awareness.


Pay attention to what happens in your life during the times when you are most stressed and tired. It would be great to even keep of journal of any time you reach this point and document in writing what happens before, during, and after.


Another way of raising your awareness is to ask those who are closest to you to help you with this. However, you have to make sure you go into that conversation with a willingness to learn from their honesty. It’s quite easy for us to get defensive with people when they start talking about things in our lives we don’t really want to hear.

The third and final thing I’ll mention today after raising your awareness...


3. Choose to push against your grain.


If you find you are moving away from people during these times, or maybe even moving against certain people, make a decision to move closer to people.


Make the decision to push against the moodiness or the detachment or the people pleasing or whatever negative traits may be arising. Make the decision to push against your grain in these circumstances.


Revelation 21:7 says, “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.”


With the help of the Lord, I know you have it within you to overcome these things that may be holding you back. I guarantee if you will start with just these three things, they will make a significant difference in your ability to push against the negative effects of the pain in your life.


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