This is a guest post from Jackie Knapp. We were privileged to have Jackie work at our church as the Associate Campus Ministry Director for three years. Before that she was a Resident Director at The Master’s College. Be sure to check out her new blog.
You know you’ve lived a weird life when during an average work day, it’s more normal than not to get a crying phone call or panicked text from a student. Needless to say, spending lots of time with high school and college girls in the last decade, this has become my normal. I remember one staff meeting at URC a few years back when a girl literally burst in the the room, weeping. All of the pastors’ eyes turned to me, and I said “Okay, I’ve got this one guys.” (Although if any team of men can handle weeping girls, these men can!) It’s not anyone’s favorite thing to deal with an emotional, sobbing girl.
Whether you are a parent, a youth worker, a boyfriend, husband or friend, at some point, you will encounter a dramatic female, unless you become a hermit, I suppose. But that’s a different issue altogether. As a recovering drama queen myself, I’m allowed to say some things here that may come off “insensitive” if someone else said them. I’m incredibly thankful for all of those who have and continue to love me well during my dramatic moments. And I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had to love all of these girls, even in the craziest times.
In this post, I’ll talk more about the big picture of caring well for girls in the midst of dramatic reactions to life. Tomorrow, we’ll discuss more tangible, practical ways to help. What do I mean by dramatic reaction? There are many different expressions, but what I’m referring to is extreme reactions, whether blowing up or shutting down, impulsive decisions, or irrational thinking about any given situation. I’ve had girls chase each other down the hallway in anger, run away from home, randomly break off engagements, and drop out of school. Others love their friends, hate their friends, gossip about their friends, and love their friends again all within the hour.
How do we love these girls? Here’s the main point for today: there is a reason for the drama, and to care for this girl, you need to patiently dig to find that reason. It may be easier to want to shake her and yell “Why are you crying? Stop crying! Get over yourself! Now!” And although this tough love may become necessary at points, you aren’t ever going to have a real relationship with her if this is your only tactic.
Instead, we have to think well about the reasons behind the drama. What is the sin and suffering happening here? We can easily see sin, often immense self-absorption, and lack of seeing others’ perspective or needs. Girls can be nasty to each other, often in conniving and manipulative ways. But in most cases, there is suffering too. There is something real and hard that happened in her life, even if you don’t perceive it as an actual hardship. There is fear and insecurity, shame and panic, perhaps abuse or mistreatment.
Everyone has a story. Even if you know this girl well, you might not know the inner workings of her heart as well as you think. I don’t say this to take away the responsibility of her sin. But an alarming amount of the girls I have dealt with have been raised in families that did not have functioning, loving relationships or good communication. Many others have been treated poorly or abused by someone who was supposed to be trustworthy. While neither of these challenges are an excuse, they do deeply impact a person’s ability to communicate without fear or extreme emotional reactions. Many don’t know how to handle a situation in godly ways, they only know how to do what they see their mothers, friends, or celebrities do when life gets hard. And as seen on TV, drama is what our culture does best.
Part of your role is to take the time to find out what is going on behind the drama. For whatever reason, God has you right in the middle of this messy situation to help her learn to work through hard things. As you try to sort through the information she is telling you, here are three simple questions to ask. What are the facts? What are her feelings? What are her fears?
The facts and feelings may take some time and tears to get to, but with patience, these will come to the surface. Understanding her fears and how these impact her may take more time. Most girls struggle on some level with one or all of these fears: what people will think of her, that what she looks like isn’t good enough, and that no one loves her. If there has been been abuse or rejection, these are intensified. The more she struggles with insecurity, the more she will use drama to draw attention to herself. The more you talk and build trust, the more clearly you will see the reasons for the drama.
I’ll leave you with a bit of hope. At a recent reunion with a bunch of girls, we were laughing as everyone recalled their biggest breakdown during college. The stories were pretty outrageous, and I’ll leave the details for another time. But the amazing thing was to see how distance and perspective changes things, how these girls have become women who love the Lord and have learned to deal with their fears. They aren’t perfect or drama-free, but I am continuously thankful for how they have grown and fought for faith when life has been hard.
See part 2 of “How to Love Dramatic Girls.”