Great Leaders Know: To manage conflict, begin with your own!

Have you ever heard people say, “Hurting people hurt people”? As Christian leaders, conflict will come our way through our life experiences and through the people we work with. By facing our own struggles, we are more equipped to lead effective teams in ways that help rather than ways that hurt. 

Jami Golden grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, and graduated in the Spring of 2016 from Samford University. Upon graduation, her battle with sepsis changed her life completely. She had already committed to pursue a master’s degree in social work, but she had no idea the struggles she would face as she started that program in the fall.

At a Christian Women’s Leadership Luncheon on May 1, 2019, Jami shared about her personal challenges and how God is using them to help others manage conflict.

Drawing from her experiences and what she gained through her studies, she shared what she learned about pain and hurt and how they impact oneself and others:

HURTING PEOPLE HURT PEOPLE

Conflicts arise with hurting people. Being more attuned to your own struggles and the struggles of others can prevent potential conflicts and prevent current conflicts from escalating. Hurting people hurt people, intentionally or not. Because they are holding in so much hurt, they want others to hurt too. 

We will all go through difficult times. These moments can be made up of circumstances that can immediately push us down or ones that build up. Unfortunately, life keeps moving on despite whatever pain we are feeling.

The sun will still shine the next day,
even if we feel the deepest darkness.

Healing is not always linear. Healing is a continuous process, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Sometimes healing can come in loops and be cyclical in nature. Sometimes healing needs more than just time.

  • I mourned my independence. When I was made aware of the battles I had to work through, I mourned my independence. I did not understand that I had to learn how to walk again, that I could not return to the summer camp job that I dearly loved, and that life as I knew it was forever changed. My fingers and toes were black due to poor circulation. I would eventually lose parts of those extremities.
  • I reacted harshly to friends and to family. Over the months and years I would respond bitterly when I was unknowingly provoked by feelings of loss of a life I no longer had. This would cause conflicts with friends, family, and people with whom I worked. It is difficult to lead and minister to others when you are neglecting yourself. If you do not recognize your own pain, it will fester and you will continue to hurt yourself and others.

Hurting people hurt people when their emotions are displaced. Those emotions often show up to friends, family, and co-workers. These emotions tend to spill over because particular words, actions, or circumstances can touch or trigger past wounds.

People are often insensitive to others because their own emotional pain limits their capacity for empathy as well as their capacity for self-awareness. They find it difficult to serve others if they feel they have nothing to give.

HURTING PEOPLE CAN ALSO HURT THEMSELVES.

  • I’ve learned to acknowledge each emotion I have. There were many dark days in my healing emotionally. Not only did I not believe I looked like myself, I struggled to feel like myself.
  • I wanted to hide. Usually energized by groups of people, I found myself mustering up the courage to get out the door. I wanted to hide. There were multiple reasons for this. I was anxious about what people would think about my impaired feet and bandaged fingers. I was afraid of being asked questions, even if they were well meaning. I didn’t want to see people. 
  • I wanted to be normal. I only welcomed a few people into my heart to really show them how broken I felt. This was very difficult on those who loved me because I shut down and did not discuss my emotional issues with those who could help me. This impeded my ability to focus in school, at work, and in social settings because I had so much bottled up.

Hurting people can hurt themselves by isolating themselves from others. This can take on many forms. People can busy themselves in work—staying busy and compartmentalizing. At its worst, people can try to cope through substance abuse.

HOW CAN HURTING PEOPLE ADDRESS THE PAIN AND THE HURT?

First of all, it is OK to not be OK. Your emotions are valid. In fact, emotions are immediate and may be outside your control. However, it is what you do with those emotions that is important. 

  • Sometimes the first step is to admit to yourself that you are struggling and that you need help. If you negate what you are feeling, those feelings can intensify into shame and guilt.

  • The second step is staying in truth. God may seem like the only constant in your life. The future can seem scary. We forget that God did not promise us an easy life or a life without pain. Many people in the Bible, such as Joseph and Job, faced trials. But in John 16:33, Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (NIV).

    Jesus tells us that we will face trials and tribulations, but that we can have hope because through Him we already have spiritual victory.

    Long before I got sick, there was victory in my story because of Jesus. First Peter 1:3 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (NIV). When Peter refers to our hope as living, he means it is undying and permanent. It’s solid. The hope this passage is talking about is Christ and the promise He brings. There are few sure bets I can make in the next few weeks, months or even years when it comes to my future. But I can place all my trust in Christ. And knowing Christ helps me believe in the hope He brings. I may not know what my future will bring, but I know who holds my future.

    I have hope in knowing that a life with Christ means that I will have a much more valuable and joyful life than one without Him. And for me, there is freedom in knowing that I do not have to succumb to society’s standards for me. I have worth because God made me.

    Even without some fingers and toes, I am not a mistake. There are still days that I struggle with my emotions. It is really hard to believe that I am beautiful. My red-splayed hands and my misshaped fingers and toes really challenge these notions. But I choose and I get to fall on written truth.
  • The next step was admitting my struggles to others. I learned I needed to be vulnerable with those I love and admit to them that I was not OK. The biggest battle for a while was getting out of the hospital. But it was after all this that I wanted to retreat. 

    Even though I’d come so far in my healing physically, I needed help emotionally. I wasn’t used to needing my friends and family in such a physical yet emotional way. Friends changed my bandages. Many FaceTime sessions and phone calls were made because I felt disconnected from those I loved. It dawned on me that asking for help and recognizing I needed help actually made me strong, because I recognized that I could not do it on my own. And why would I? We were made for community.

    Ecclesiastes 4:12 states, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (NIV). I would not have healed as fast as I did if it weren’t for the strong social support system around me. I have been able to recharge and allowed to be genuine in how I perceive current situations. I’m reminded that when tribulations or hardships come, it’s important to have a community who will uplift and support you.

  • The fourth step was accessing my community of resources. I relied on God, but I also believe that God gives us resources to utilize. I went to my doctor’s appointments even when I didn’t want to. I sought out people in ministry to help me with the hard questions I had about faith and my sickness. It is OK to ask challenging questions and to really know why you believe what you believe. Because if you don’t take a stand and be firm in what you believe—you will fall.

    I also went to counseling. Mental health is not always talked about in the church. But if you struggle with hard emotions, it doesn’t mean that you’re not a good Christian. Rather, you recognize that despite your emotions, God is greater than all of what you are feeling and going through. God gives us experts to help us muddle through those emotions.

  • Lastly, if you are aware that you have caused issues due to your pain, you should make the effort to apologize. You may have hurt someone. That person may have already forgiven you, but one should always seek to redeem relationships. As Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (NIV).

HOW CAN YOU HELP THOSE WHO ARE HURTING?

It can be difficult to be the friend or co-worker of someone who is hurting, especially if we have been on the receiving end of some displaced anger, sadness, etc. It can be frustrating. But it is always good to take a step back when there is a conflict. It is never a good idea to react to attacks with an attack or even a major defense. It is in this step back that we can better recognize the hurt in other people.

If we remind ourselves that we are all broken, imperfect people, we can better sense their pain and respond in love. “I understand that you are upset with me, but if you’re trying to encourage or spur me to be more efficient, this isn’t the best time, place, way (etc.).” This lines up biblically as, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1 ESV).

What’s difficult about loving people who are hurting is that they may not be ready to seek help or find resources when you think they should. But don’t abandon them.

However, you are not ultimately responsible for their healing or actions. It is here where you should be praying for them. (See 1 Thessalonians 5:17; Luke 6:28.)

Conflicts often arise out of hurt and anger. We have talked about recognizing the hurt in ourselves and others. When faced with these conflicts, we need to be aware that with these emotions there tend to be an underlying cause.

If you know someone who is lashing out in this way, think about ways you can help them instead of engaging in their same tactics for conflict.

Recognizing the hurt doesn't mean you excuse their behavior. However, in that recognition you will understand not to engage in their hurt and anger. Instead, help them identify the real problem. Be aware that the conflict they are starting with is a distraction from their real problems.

Don’t let your hurt keep you isolated, afraid, or resentful. Instead, reach out for help and let God transform your pain into compassion for others. 


 Jami Golden earned a Master of Social Work degree from Samford University and is a member of Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Watch a video of her story at Shades Stories.