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September 22, 2007

Becoming Enough

Every organization has its dominant personalities. Some people simply have a need to control, whether it's the direction of conversations, projects, or entire organizations. Often, these are people with well-above-average skills and intelligence, so they have a fair amount to contribute that is valuable. Their minds work like lasers, cutting through vast amounts of material in a single swipe. While others may be stuck cogitating in a cul de sac of minutia, bright dominants can be the ones who create new paths forward.

It can be frustrating to be around co-workers on the extreme side of dominance. They tend to control their image at all costs and continually offer up whatever they've accomplished for display. They also tend to take up a great deal of emotional space, leaving others with precious little. Having worked with plenty of extreme dominants, I'm also familiar with the feeling of loss: loss of voice, loss of confidence, loss of self. It's as if big chunks fall away - sort of like an iceberg, sheering off its edges as the heat rises.

Of course, we have choices as to how we respond to dysfunction. My choice to feel bad about myself could be countered with another choice: I could recognize the person's over-the-top behavior for what it is and refuse to go to give myself over to self-pity and self-doubt.

Over-the-top dominants can be male or female. Yet, whether by nature, nurture, or both, women tend to be the more deferring and conciliatory gender. And as good as that sounds, a pattern of repeat disappearance in life - silencing one's voice, burying one's gifts, and obliterating one's opinions in order to avoid conflict - robs ourselves and others of what God crafted in us: a miraculous and unique self. Is this not at least part of the message of Psalm 139:13-16?

You made my whole being:
You formed me in my mother's body.
I praise you because you made me
In an amazing and wonderful way.
What you have done is wonderful.
I know this very well.
You saw my bones being formed
As I took shape in my mother's body.
When I was put together there,
You saw my body as it was formed.
All the days planned for me
Were written in your book
Before I was one day old. (NCV)

It is not easy to for any of God's children to live out God's unique calling; to say yes to God's sovereign crafting. Especially if we are dealing with dominant personalities who, for whatever reason, believe God created them as the model for all others - i.e., they are the ultimate expressions of God's creativity.

But, this holy task of saying yes to how God designed us is even more difficult if you happen to be female. The Psalmist may say that we have been put together in an amazing and wonderful way, but women are used to seeing themselves as never enough: not intelligent enough, strong enough, disciplined enough, tough enough, assertive enough, decisive enough, strategic enough?well, you fill in the blank.

How do you see yourself when you are in the presence of the ?ber-dominant? How do you see yourself as a woman as compared to the men in your life? If we say to ourselves that we are not enough, then what does this Psalm mean? When we're tempted to disappear, hide, or to denigrate our gifts, can we make another choice? Can we see ourselves and others as amazing and wonderful, and do so without guilt?


I'm a woman with an aggressive and uber-dominant personality. I have had to learn to reign myself in and let other people speak their ideas and let others have the space they need to communicate and be part of the group. I have learned that I don't always have to be right and that's okay.

It's oddly comforting to hear there are controlling individuals in many organizations, not just my church. Being under a controlling pastor has been devastating to me. I thought church was about people using their gifts together, and the job of leadership to equip people for tasks. Leading a ladies' retreat, I was criticized for a scheduling conflict instead of encouraged to keep stepping out. That's just a small example. And the culture of the church has been built so that disagreement with pastor equals rebellion. I know I need to make better choices on how I respond to the leadership culture in our church, but right now I feel pulverized and weak.


That's one of the most courageous blog responses I've read. Thank you. If we all took a hard look at ourselves and how we interact with each other...a more thoughtful approach...we'd save a lot of heartache and probably accomplish more when we're together. And that goes for those of us at the other end of the dominance spectrum. What are our passive aggressive responses to those who are dominant??

Good for you.

Wow, Jeanette, you hit the nail on the head here: "And the culture of the church has been built so that disagreement with pastor equals rebellion."

Yeah, plus a "nice" invitation to leave and look for another church if one disagrees with the pastor's decision or order.

At what point does a person become a "dominant" person? If a passive person begins to step out and use their talents (and that is recognized, and therefore others choose to feel intimidated), do they then become dominant? I struggle with this, as I toggle between what would be considered passive, and what would be considered dominant. I feel like I am shamed if I do (by those who choose passivity), and shamed if I don't (by not using my talents). This makes me feel like hiding because passive people despise me when I dominant, and I despise myself when I hide.

And the culture of the church has been built so that disagreement with pastor equals rebellion.

On the other side of this problem is pastoral accountability. The pastor needs to be open to constructive criticism and accountability because he or she is only human and will make mistakes and sinning. We would not have so many pastors burning out or choosing sinful relationships if this wasn't the predominant attitude in many churches. In the long run this attitude is just as harmful for the pastors as it for people like you that these pastors run over and beat into the ground. If the pastor is not acting Christlike then the elders/deacons or church board need to be holding the pastor accountable.

Becky's comments make me so sad AND feel so familiar!

The line between dominance and passivity can be far too easy to cross - particularly as women. We are often highly intuitive and have the ability to quickly gauge a situation, determining which personality trait will serve us (and often others) best in each particular context. And in the midst of that vacillating, we are exhausted not to mention hardly ever our truest selves.

What if we could forego the internal dialogue (and argument) of how and who we ought to be in a particular context and instead just choose to tell the truth - with heart and mind in union? That would be dominating - but in a way that could enable amazing change within us, not to mention the worlds in which we live, love, and work.

As always, Sally, good, good words. Thank you for being dominant in a graceful, kind, and beautiful way; a way that continues to invite conversation and transformation - our own and others'!

I really like this blog, because I can relate to the passive person. The sister that was our Leader in the past still wants to have the say so in everything I do-(now I am the Leader). And just about all the time the pastor just says we must keep her happy. She is also our Section Leader, but I think she just needs to worry about that.

I have struggled with a best briend who is dominant for years. In the beginning I looked to her as a mentor for many things in the church. Yet as I have grown, she does not respect my ideas or thoughts on any subject. It's as if she feels she is the only one who is right or could possibly have a good idea worth discussing.
This has over the last few years put a distance between us. She says she wants to know when I am feeling like she is treating me that way, but her actions continue even when I do confront her. I am very sad and feel the loss of our once close friendship.
I no longer wish to help in projects around the church if she is involved. I can only pray that one day she will really see what she is doing.

And the culture of the church has been built so that disagreement with pastor equals rebellion.

I have been going through the same problem of feeling rebellious if I go against or even just question my pastor. I have also been in a position where I have questioned the pastor about certain things. She is very traditional. I am not. The conclusion I came to is that if it's not spirit led and it does not line up with the word of God then I don't do it. I'm putting the ball back in the Pastor's court so to speak. Now she can decide if she wants me to step down or out. I have realized that Pastors are people to and we have to not idolize them in any way. Seek God in all you do. Remember that your spirit will bear witness to His spirit. You'll know what's right. And that my friend is not rebellion, but righteousness. Because at the end of the day who will we stand before?

It is very important in a living church for all people to be able to speak out, especially against authority, as Jesus did, for there is much imbalance in the world, in families, in churches, in relationships which comes from adherence to bad values and controlling behaviour! Jesus was exasperated with prominent people of his Jewish faith because their needs came above the needs of everyone else and mis-represented God and their faith. If we love God and we love each other as ourselves we can learn to take turns and share so that every church becomes a place of inclusion for all God's people, wherever they are at on their faith journey. 'If you love only them who love you what reward do you have?' Loud and aggressive people can learn to listen and speak more fittingly, just as others can develop confidence to speak out when it is necessary. God's world is for us all, if we truly are committed to loving God over all else and loving each other as Jesus taught us.

Wow, your article really struck a chord with me. A couple of months ago, I went through a tremendous depression because of the belief that I was not "good enough" - not a good enough wife, mother, Christian, worship leader, etc. The key to my recovery was exactly what you described - getting into the Word and finding out how God sees me. He adores me! He created me with exactly the right personality and all the abilities I would need to fulfill His plans for me this life. I AM good enough! No matter how others see me, or even how I see myself, I KNOW that God made me EXACTLY the way He intended. Psalm 139 confirms it!

Since that time, I've been amazed at how powerful and freeing this simple truth has been to the women I've shared my testimony with. Thank you for taking the time to write this article. I pray it will really make a difference in the lives of women who struggle with understanding their own self-worth.

This article really blessed me in a number of ways! Thanks for your insight. Also, I appreciate the honesty of every responder.

I am a dominant personality who was made aware of one of my less flattering tendencies by a mature Titus 2 women, which your article confirmed. Since then, I have come to believe that awareness of ones own strengths and weaknesses is key to navigating interpersonal relationships. When one knows his or herself, and is willing to submit those weaknesses and character flaws to the Holy Spirit, that person becomes all that God designed them to be. They become real instruments of reconciliation and peace as the spirit transforms those chinks in their armor into gems.

Regarding dominant Pastors, I too dealt with that over a span of 20+ yrs. and finally broke free last year. I am now fellowshipping in a church where freedom, grace, and sincere love reign. There, believers are empowered and taught how to identify and operate in their own giftings and to follow and be devoted to CHRIST, not any man or woman. This makes a HUGE difference and people want to serve and work together.

In the church I left nothing happens without the sanction or approval of the Pastor, even when they are absent. As a result, I believe, this Pastor's heavy-handed management style, and the elders unwillingness to challenge or call this Pastor to accountability has dealt a lethal blow to that congregation. I believe many have become complacent and disconnected because of this rigidity. Over the years, I have observed many who have either left the fellowship or cowered away from voicing valid opinions (positive or negative) or bringing forth God-inspired ideas because of it. Some have even stopped volunteering to serve because they refused to be subjected to the unrealistic high-demands.

Being away from the forest enables one to clearly see the trees and to that end, I pray that there is a real release of the Spirit there. I also pray that revival and revitalization break forth amongst the people, so the real transforming work of the Gospel can be accomplished and the inner and outer community can be changed, for God's glory!

Having been on most sides of these kinds of conflicts, this article and the blog comments have rung true to me. Thank you all!

Margaret Guenther has a useful take on this subject, I think. She notes that the primary "besetting" sin has often been identified as pride (shown in dominence?), but this is largely untrue for women. Her work in spiritual direction suggests to her that our primary "besetting" sin is self-contempt ( shown in hiding, passivity and non-engagement???). I read this years ago and it has stuck with me as profoundly true.

When I read it first, my heart was convicted. I realised my 'Humility" was, in fact, self-contmept - and recognised that treating anything, anyone, God made with contempt was sin.

Learning to soberly assess ourselves, as St. Paul directs, is a difficult, ongoing and very necessary discipline!


Defninitely, men should not be made aware of all this hand-wringing! They'll rescind the franchise and enforce the biblical directives for women to keep silent in church.

Please, Filbert, tell us more.

Makes me think of Martha and Mary in the Bible. Martha was too busy doing, doing, doing. Mary just sat at Jesus' feet and soaked it all in, but Martha complained that she wasn't doing "enough". Jesus said then and I think it's true today, that Mary had found that which He was giving her - and it was "enough". We all need to stop worrying and just do what we can and when the day is through, give it to the Lord who is more than able. We have our Redeemer to rely on, our bridegroom who did more than we could ever imagine on the cross, by being obedient to His Father's plan. WOW.

Marianne, I say "Amen and Amen".

I don't know if anyone is still writing to this post or not. But what I think is necessary here is balance and clarification. After reading Laura's post, it became apparent to me that we are talking about two different things. What Laura describes is an abusive, non-supportive friend (which is unhealthy)and she is wise and righteous to have wanted something better for herself. What I was describing is a person who is called to leadership, and may come across as dominant simply because of the content of their personhood as they were created by God.

I think as Christians, we need to be careful about labeling a person with a leadership personality, or a person who is finally successful at confidence and self actualization as being "wrongfully" dominant. There is a difference between someone whom we feel intimidated by simply because of their gifts from God (which may indicate a lack of understanding of the depth of your own value to the body of Christ), and someone who is abusive and controlling.

Personally, I've been deeply wounded by people who were jealous and judgmental of me at a critical point in my life, where I had finally for the first time step out in my full potential for God. I still feel bound by fear and isolation as a result of this, and I haven't been active in church for years since then. I could honestly use some prayer.

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