Is There a Terrorist in Your Life?

Ann Spangler
Ann Spangler
2016 10 Nov

a heavy wooden mallet is poised above an egg

Some of us live under the rule of terrorists—people who will do their best to make our lives miserable if we don’t do what they want us to (and even if we do). These kinds of terrorists often start young—think of the toddler who throws nonstop tantrums or the child who whimpers whenever she’s displeased. Adults, of course, can be the worst terrorists of all. Think of chronic complainers, whiners, controllers, and “cling-ons,” as well as those who are verbally and physically abusive. Emotionally immature, they create an atmosphere that can poison the peace of anyone in their orbit.

When such people are at work, sabotaging an organization, Edwin Friedman calls them pathogens, identifying them as people who

are invasive of other people’s space by nature;

lack the ability to regulate their emotions and behaviors;

cannot learn from experience; and

have lots of stamina.1

Dealing with such people can be extremely difficult. If you are in an abusive situation, you will need outside help to stay safe. But the best way to deal with the ordinary, run-of-the-mill terrorists is to address their behaviors by changing yours. Stop allowing yourself to get sucked in every time they throw a fit. Find ways to create space in the relationship. Set boundaries you will not allow them to cross without appropriate consequences. Decide that you will stop overfunctioning so they can stop underfunctioning. And don’t forget to pray for them while you’re at it.

  1. Drawn from David W. Cox, “The Edwin Friedman Model of Family Systems Thinking: Lessons for Organizational Leaders” (essay, 2006), accessed October 27, 2016,