Caring for Leaders in Erotic Entanglement, Part Two

This week, Rachael Clinton and Dan Allender continue unpacking the weighty, complicated category of erotic entanglements as part of our conversation about caring for leaders.

Rachael: “We’re talking about dynamics where there is a power differential, a leader and someone that they serve coming for care in relationship, in community. And we’re also usually talking about contexts of care. And good care is one of the most arousing things in the universe—arousal not just sexually. When you receive good care and kindness and support, it arouses desire for more—that desire to be healed in places where love was failed in relationship.”

In the last episode, Rachael and Dan talked primarily about the reality that we will work with people who turn to us to meet their deep, vulnerable needs for intimacy and healing. But this dynamic goes both ways; as leaders, we must also be aware of the ways in which we lean on the people we serve to meet our own emotional needs.

We’re all in erotic demand. We’re also in a life hunger to find a sense of goodness in the presence of others.

Dan: “We cannot deny the mess that we are unhealed, fragmented people, and in many ways highly unnamed in our own internal world. […] To anyone who leads in any context, people will erotically come to expect and demand that you will fill some emptiness and be able to bear their rage. And am I not doing that with the same people who are doing that to me? That’s countertransference. And in not addressing it, you’re setting yourself up for profound accidents.”

Rachael shares about her experience of coming to The Seattle School to be trained in pastoring others, and having someone ask her if she wanted to deal with her codependency. Rachael thought that was crazy—that it was enough to say “I just want to love people.” But she came to realize that her sense of self was found in relating to people who needed her, while not letting herself need others in return.

Rachael: “You didn’t become a good healer, a good pastor, a good teacher in a vacuum. That was all developed in a context. What kind of people do you need to be in relationship with to be able to hold onto a sense of identity?”

Dan: “It is not wrong to have desires or needs that, in the engagement with people whom you’re ministering to, actually bring goodness to yourself. I think, often, one of the greatest ills in ministry is people who offer to others what they’re not willing to receive from them. […] That absence of ability to receive from people actually disempowers and dishonors them.”

Dan and Rachael explore some of the questions that may help us explore the dynamics that grow out of our own needs and desires: Who are you drawn to working with? Who are you typically in conflict with? Who do you need, and who do you fear and avoid? These are categories that help us begin to address the unaddressed.

Dan: “What we’re inviting a leader to is: Will you let the work of the Spirit of God expose the raw parts of your heart that often get touched in the context of using people to meet those legitimate, deep, good desires that now come to be even harder to acknowledge? The more you hide, the more you defend, the more you explain, the more likely this is going to become a kind of earthquake that’s just going to shatter.”

So affairs, destructive emotional relationships, and harmful pornography habits come to fruition because seemingly subtle erotic dynamics are not addressed early on. To address those dynamics, we don’t only need self-awareness and insight in the moment, we also need the presence of attuned, insightful others who can help us discern how particular dynamics are shaped by our stories and past relationships.

Rachael: “Maybe there’s a possibility that Jesus actually wants to bring a deeper healing to long, old, familiar wounds that will then free your heart to love people with more integrity, more honor, more containment, more attunement, and yet also differentiation.”

Dan: “There’s no leader, ever, who does not need the growing presence of the work of Jesus bringing those broken parts of our own heart into some kind of cohesive whole.”