The Avoidant Leader

This month’s newsletters will be about How We Love as Leaders.  In my office, I see many Christian leaders, lay and professional who cover the range of attachment styles.  This series is dedicated to helping understand what each attachment style looks like and how they can improve as leaders within the Kingdom of Christ.  The thoughts that follow were in response to a letter from England from a pastor’s wife.

Q:  Milan, why is my pastor husband, who seems to be warm and loving to his flock, so emotionally distant and unavailable at home?  Ruth in U.K.

A:  Hello Ruth, thank you so much for your great question about what I will call the “Avoidant spouse or Pastor.”

When a person is in a leadership pastoral role, they can tend to always have their “pastor’s hat” on.  They are always in the “up” or authoritative position.  They are continuously ministering to people in the “down” or under position. As such, they are not used to ever going to someone else for help in which they are in the “under” position.  Sometimes they even have an aversion to it.  Thus, they begin to loose touch with reciprocal relationships and what it is like to be an equal.  As a result, gradually they become emotionally avoidant by default often without realizing it.  The result is that they have no place to go where they can be honest, vulnerable and transparent.

Without vital reciprocal emotional relationships and the bonding that results, they hold in all of their feelings and thoughts and have no place to share them.  This build up can become toxic and they can become depressed and anxious and then can seek to reduce this internal pressure through addictions and other illegitimate means.  They are also particularly vulnerable and prone to affairs in the counseling mode when a person with whom they are intimate begins to share and a connection is made.  Because they do not have reciprocal connections elsewhere, this new “connection” in the counseling office begins to feel good and exciting which creates a tremendous temptation.

Emotionally avoidant adults become this way because within their families of origin, no one ever really asked them to share their internal feelings and thoughts.  The parent in that situation may be emotionally or physically unavailable and the child is encouraged (often in unspoken rules) to be independent and master things on their own. Mastery brings approval because the parent isn’t needed, but rather the child’s self sufficiency is relieving to the parent.  The child also has no where to go when he or she is lonely or distressed and learns to isolate in pain.  They never get used to going to anyone for help.  They learn to suffer alone.

But they do tend to master things such as medicine, theology etc… When they become adults, they have learned to perhaps give and please others but not be well developed in their ability to be vulnerable and receive emotional help from someone else.  When one is a doctor, a pastor a psychologist or a counselor, it is “safe” for them because they are not the needy one.  They have mastered a discipline of study and others applaud this which feels like home to them.  Thus, it is not only pastors but also the other professions that I mentioned that can attract avoidant people.  I’m sure you’ve heard on this show how many pastor’s wives call in saying that they are not close to their husbands.  It is sad.

Dr. Archibald Hart, a psychologist and professor at Fuller Theological Seminary recently reported that only “1 in 5 pastors and missionaries finish well.”   These are poor statistics.  In my humble opinion, emotional avoidance and a lack of ability to bond and connect with others is one of the contributing factors to this dismal statistic.

I hope that some of these thoughts are helpful. Thank you for your interest.



Next week:  The Pleaser Leader