by Cynthia M. Braden, MFT
A dogmatic person in a relationship may be seen as being inflexible and stubborn. (Maybe like a dog with a bone, haha! "I'm not letting it go no matter what.")
Maybe it's you or your partner who tends to be more strong-willed about certain things in the relationship. But, there is an important distinction to make between just being obstinate overall with no particular dogma underneath, and having faith in a core ideology that compels the dogmatic person to encourage, insist or scheme so that family and friends follow a particular belief and/or behavior system.
Meanwhile friends, family, co-workers may feel pressured and don't like the Dogma at all and find it very difficult to get along with and/or love this person.
Relationship problems can occur when a dogmatic person feels that his 'dogma' or set of rules has authoritative backing such as a religious, moral, political. health, social, human and animal rights, environmental or other 'higher-purpose' ideology. His belief may be:
It is Essential for others to also adhere to the Dogma! ("...because it has a higher purpose, not because I say so!")
Extreme dogmatism is obvious in our global society as dogmatic factions have continued to inflict incredible harm on each other on a daily basis since the beginning of human civilization.
We as individuals are powerful enough to work with this problem on the micro level of our own families. The key to consider is whether or not someone believes they have the right to change the beliefs and/or behaviors of another person because of what may be thought of as a higher purpose.
And, if we are on the receiving end of attempted dogmatic indoctrination, how do we be more brave, honest and congruent?
A problem can occur in relationships when others are also expected to adhere to the Dogma or face negative consequences.
Religious Belief Systems
People often demand that their family, friends and loved ones to adhere to the same religion or ideology that they do. When a friend or family member doesn't believe in the same god or religious doctrine, there can be an incredible number of bad feelings and negative consequences...
...from scolding and disapproval to punishing, withdrawal of attention and affection, up to hostile criticism, withdrawal of financial support, loss of housing, shaming and passive aggressive manipulations.The dogmatic person has learned that these are useful for producing Guilt or Shame in another person, thereby inducing compliance in order to relieve negative emotions.
As we know, if subtler techniques fail, certain dogmatic individuals and groups may up the ante to attempt to change someone's belief and behavior more aggressively... up to incarceration, torture, murder and suicide can be used if you don't believe in the same god or adhere to a particular set of practices.
In relationships, extreme dogmatism can lead to anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. How do we deal with this dynamic?
To improve relationships and feelings of happiness and satisfaction within families, individuals would benefit from improving respect and acceptance of the beliefs and opinions of others. Accept the opinions of others as their opinions. Notice I didn't say agree, comply or obey.
Yes you disagree! And No, this person may not accept that! This person may dismiss or debunk your ideas and you may feel rejected and angry.
What to Do When You Disagree About Dogma
First and most important, Make sure you really understand what the other person is saying by using active-reflective listening and emotionally focused communication.
Third, if you feel that the situation is escalating and the dogmatic person is not letting you have autonomous control of your own mind, and you have decided to change the fighting dynamic, and the person is persisting or has been drinking right now, it's fine to excuse yourself from the conversation without pushing the abandonment button. "I'm sorry I have to go now, I'll think about what you said. We can talk more later."
You can create a more harmonious relationship with a dogmatic person by working with your own responses to create a more honest and respectful feedback loop. It depends on what you want your relationship to be: characterized by acceptance, patience, tolerance and love, or control, shame, blame, conflict and avoidance? You set the example, you be the leader if you are trying to have a pleasant and loving relationship with a dogmatic person!
Sexual Orientation, Animal Rights, Shopping and Other Social Issues
For some people, the ideology is too important to be flexible. For example if a son or daughter or parent comes out as LGBT, family members and friend may have historically reacted very negatively. There are ways to stay true to your own personal belief system and avoid conflicts if this type of situation is happening in your family.
If you want to have a happy family, It is important to practice acceptance and allowance of the free will of others even when you disagree with someone's choices. (If we are talking about young children, of course you are the parent making the decisions right now.)
I'm mentioning this because people can be so stressed out having to deal with family members over what we are having or not having for dinner. Many people have adopted unusual and/or restrictive dietary habits. If you can't agree on the food, focus on creating a pleasant and supportive experience of sharing meals together whatever you are eating. Keywords on this are: cooperation, communication, appreciation, acceptance, patience and flexibility. If you want to have a good time and build happy memories with your family, be flexible about Dogma around mealtime if others disagree.
You can still adhere to your beliefs and not compromise yourself while extending courtesy, good manners and helping others feel positive about themselves and their relationships. Appreciate those people that you have with you right now to help you enjoy your life. Don't be afraid to set a boundary with courtesy and respect. It is your job to honor yourself and tell the truth, and conduct yourself with dignity.
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