Emotional Viruses (Harry Currie)

Over the years I have done a lot of reading, research, study, and done workshops on Churches as Emotional Systems.

In the last year we have heard a lot about viruses and so I want to make the point that emotional viruses appear in families, groups and organizations such as churches.

Anxious people in a congregation often act like viruses and invade emotional space, break boundaries and try to control in a number of ways:

  • accuse someone without reasonable cause or without initially talking to the accused;
  • find “living tissue” (other people) in which to grow their gossip, rumors or careless talk;
  • disregard guidelines, policies, and procedures;
  • humiliate people, publicly or privately;
  • use verbal pressure to intimidate;
  • hold others hostage by threats or demands;
  • enlist others to attend secret meetings, distribute petitions for signature to discredit others, or send unauthorized messages containing disparaging information about someone;
  • ignore or neglect others, as if they don’t exist, for no other reason than the others hold different views;
  • Get upset easily over minor things, or try to turn an issue into a big crisis.
  • Say inappropriate things qualifying it with something like: “I am just telling it like it is” or “I am using my freedom of speech.”
  • hide their real agenda by appearing harmless, maybe even beneficial: “We’re only concerned for the good of everybody”;
  • break an agreement not to talk publicly about a matter until a later date;
  • withhold affection, approval, and appreciation to demean another;
  • label others with emotionally-packed words;
  • speak on behalf of others, as if they know what the other is thinking;
  • tell different accounts or share different information, depending on the hearers
  • attach fear to any issue in order to control others.

May I be so bold as to say that in a healthy church, healthy people and a healthy leadership act as an immune response. They do not listen, nor give support to, nor buy into the reactivity and inappropriate behavior.

They remain calm. They do not react or get upset. They provide clarity. They know when things are intrusive and are breaking boundaries. They refer people to the church’s proper procedures and its laws.

Remember in the Presbyterian Church in Canada it is our policy that people will be safe. That is not just physically, that is emotionally as well.

Healthy people and healthy leadership encourage the enforcement of healthy boundaries. With proper boundaries, love is possible.

The Reverend Harry Currie
Interim Moderator, Westmount Presbyterian Church