The Self-Control of the Mean

In James’ first chapter of his epistle to the “twelve tribes of the dispersion,” he takes abusive people to task. Maybe you have never noticed this before. Often, a passage in scripture comes alive once you experience something of it.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger… 

James 1:19

We can all relate to these verses as we go about our selfish days. We can often be very quick to speak and quite speedy at becoming angry. Some of us really love to hear ourselves talk rather than hear others and their ideas and struggles.

Abusive leaders are often described as failing at verse 19. However, a strange thing about abusers is that rarely are they “out of control.” We may think that they are quick to become angry. Outwardly this is how it appears as they assault their victims. They seem out of control of their emotions.

However, abusive people are often exceedingly good at controlling their anger and words. It is because of that self-control that those who are not the targets of their violent speech are often surprised by accusations that so-and-so is abusive. These bystanders have only observed the abuser’s self-control and even kindness. “He isn’t abusive. He is one of the nicest guys I know!”

For a number of years, the abusive leaders of our organization held their tongues and were very kind to my family. We enjoyed vacations and special dinners with them and their public praise. However, others shared their horror stories of deceit, harshness, and authoritarian leadership experiences with us.

We would, in quiet and calming tones, pass on our wisdom: “The leaders are sinners just like us and will say mean things. Just give them grace.” We figured the treatment these victims received was due to their poor relational skills.

Then the leaders’ tongues were turned on us. Lies. Angry outbursts. Authoritarian orders out of the blue.

Suddenly, we understood what others had been saying for years.

Unhelpful Bystanders

This is the difficulty. Those who can stand up and support others suffering abusive leadership in the home or workplace do not have a clue because the abuser controls themselves with those with whom they need to control themselves.

In corporations or organizations abusive mid-managers will suck up to their bosses while making life nearly hell for their subordinates. Because, they know how to control their anger and tongues. These abusive individuals need to put on a good face for those upline in management. Then they can turn their withering tongues on those under them.

As a friend and I were discussing lately, this is why many make the climb up the ladder of organizations that are supposed to be “imaging” Jesus’ life. The church just shakes its head at the Mark Driscolls, Jerry Falwell Jrs., and Bill Heibels of this world. “How did they get so far up the ladder?”

Because they knew when to blow and when to be kind. They knew when to dismember and when to charm.

When that charming, well-spoken, talented leader is accused of abusive tactics with his subordinates, don’t be surprised. Hear the stories and do what you can to bring accountability.

One thought on “The Self-Control of the Mean

  1. Excellent post and very true! “Everyone” thinks abusers just need to learn self-control. They control themselves very well which makes it harder for the victim because they have to accept the fact that the abuse is not a lack of self-control, but intentional and calculated. Therapists and courts need to understand that, too. Abusers don’t need anger management skills. They need consequences, repentance, sanctification and accountability.

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