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Labels and Respectfully Confronting Friends

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Labels and Respectfully Confronting Friends: Ask Joy

By Joy Eggerichs Reed

Hi Joy,

I have a dude friend who I really respect and appreciate, but who often complains about how lonely he is and how “all women suck.” It’s really frustrating to hear over and over again, but I’m not sure how to approach him. If I confront him at all he gets defensive.

On one hand, I can understand that he’s coming from a place of hurt and pain. On the other hand, I hate to hear him putting females down and not taking responsibility for his own actions. I really want to be respectful towards him, but every attempt seems to fail! Helpppp!

—Brittany

My Response:

You are a great friend, Brittany!

You’re seeking to understand how to graciously confront this guy, even when he probably doesn’t deserve your empathy after all his put downs towards females. (That’s the unnerving part of grace— giving someone a gift that they don’t deserve, but that gift can also be the thing that transforms a person.)

Communicating happens most effectively when we can get to the root of why someone is behaving a certain way.

When we find that pesky little talon buried in the ground, it can often lead to empathy on our end.

The root for this dude? His pain. I’m guessing he’s been burned by some ladies…

Sometimes when we’ve been wounded by people, it’s easier to put a label on them because it helps us make sense for why we feel so hurt.

When we give a label, we feel less confused… 

She may say, “Oh, of course he never called me back. That’s because he’s a lying lunatic.”

Or he might say… “Yeah, she couldn’t be trusted. Crazy is written all over that face.”

Sometimes we even take the more concerned approach to labeling…

Where she’ll say,“I mean, it makes sense— look at the family he comes from.”

Or he’ll ask… “You know what happened to her when she was younger, right?” 

I would even argue that labels like this can be beneficial for someone’s healing.

They can be the catalyst for someone getting help, and a starting point if they hear someone lovingly say, “You were abused.” “You were manipulated.” “You were betrayed.”

I think the gauge for figuring out if the label is right or wrong is to figure out who the label is for.

If the label is motivated out of a hope for genuine healing—for ourselves and for others—then the label is good.

If we label in order to make sense of our own pain, or to make us feel less crazy, less confused and more in control, then our motivation is wrong. That type of labeling can permeate our spirit if it goes unrecognized.

Recently my father said, “Bitterness is like taking a poisonous pill and hoping the other person will die.” He wasn’t the original person to say that, so when I googled it, I found similar quotes from Nelson Mandela and actress Carrie Fischer.

(I’m gonna go ahead and let Princess Leia get the credit.)

If labels don’t lead us to deeper grace and understanding, then they probably just do what you sense your friend is doing— putting the blame on others instead of taking responsibility for his own part to play.

He will get defensive if you challenge him because he probably feels safer staying upset. His generalizations of women help him feel justified in his hurt. If he let down his defensiveness for a moment, he might have to face his hurt and that scares him.

Now, do I suggest you read him the above paragraph and tell him he is scared of pain and on the verge of a break down? No.

You hold great power and effectiveness in how you challenge him.

So here is what I suggest:

1. Go to worst-case scenario—he may not listen to you. You may need to consider dropping it because he might not be at a place of receiving feedback. (Remember, he’s a free agent.)

2. 2 Timothy 1:7 is truth I cling to as a believer when I need to confront people on tough topics.

3. A pseudo scenario to play out in your head:

 “________, Can I talk to you about something I’ve been thinking about?”

(Give him a chance to say “yes” or “no.” If he says “yes,” then he already has a posture that invites your words, as opposed to you just stating your thoughts from left field.)

“I’m obviously your friend because you know I think so highly of you.  I respect how you _______, _______ and ______.”

(Insert acts of service you see him doing, his work ethic or how he treats his family or guy friends. Because remember, “respect language” is not respecting someone’s behavior, like grace, it’s a gift. Recognizing that many men respond to language like this can lead them to them to trust that you are really for them.)

“Because of the type of man I know you to be, and the man I assume you desire to be, I feel like you can handle me challenging you a little. I’m not sure you realize it, but you have been super negative about women lately. It feels like you think all women suck and in case you missed it, I am a woman.”

(Pause…)

“I know you’ve been burned by some of “my kind,” (smile, laugh or keep it light in a way that you guys are familiar with) but that attitude you hold towards women seeps through you. I appreciate you letting your guard down with me, but I think if others heard you they would see a misrepresentation of the man I know you to be.” 

(Pause… he might say something…)

“So my request and challenge is to maybe try and shift your perspective. Try looking at women through the lens of women like me, instead of the women who have hurt you. I think you will find that they might even become more attracted to you because they won’t get the impression that you think they suck as human beings. (haha.) I mean, who wants to date a guy who thinks all women are crazy?!?”

(And then just go crazy.)

End scene.

From my crazy-labeled heart,

Joy