by James Rudy Gray
It is not unusual for a counselor or pastor to be faced with helping or dealing with a strongly vigilant person. This type of personality style can be frustrating to work with and can leave the counselor with a sense of impotence. However, there are certain key factors that can help when relating to this type of person.
Vigilant-type people have a strong drive to feel in control of themselves, their situations, and their destinies. Self-defense is their most likely coping technique and they usually see the world through the eyes of distrust. They can appear cold and rigid and typically will prefer working with projects or things rather than people.
Some keys that characterize this style are: the need for respect, a long memory (they can be both vindictive and unforgiving), distrust (not indifference), emotional reserve, competitiveness, a tendency to blame and a resistance to accepting blame, and reluctance to take the initiative in social settings. They are very independent, cautious in their dealings with others and place great value on loyalty and faithfulness. One word to describe this style is “survivor.” They appear tough-minded but are actually sensitive to criticism even though they may not be intimidated by it.
If this style goes too far, paranoid personality tendencies become evident. When this occurs they will often be hostile, distrustful, stubborn, uncooperative, and hypersensitive to what they perceive as the tiniest slight. They can be defensive, sarcastic, cold, argumentative, critical, and envious. Paranoid personality tendencies almost always mean trouble in relationships.
Because the issues of control and power in a relationship are so important to them, they may be inwardly devastated when there is disappointment, failure, or destruction in a relationship. They may feel that they are losing control of their destiny.
How can we help these persons move to healthier living? The key is to start with their strengths. They are usually good listeners and good observers of what is going on around them. If they are Christians, they can and should learn to see the world from the perspective of God’s sovereignty. This thought alone can give them permission to relax—something that is very beneficial to a strongly vigilant type.
Instead of holding to negative feelings and perceptions, they can be taught to consider alternatives and learn to take responsibility for their contributions to problems, arguments, etc. Since they have a strong tendency to rely on blame to cope, they can be taught that blame is built into our human condition since the fall of man. That does not excuse it but it does give a person the opportunity to see it more objectively than subjectively.
Then, a counselor can help them see that no one or nothing can make them feel anything. It is a choice they make. This may be tough for them to grasp and a helper does not want to engage a vigilant person in an argument. Instead of pushing the issue, it would be better to assure them and let them know you take seriously their worries.
Since the vigilant type are thinkers, they can likely benefit from applying several different verses of Scripture that teach them their responsibility as it relates to God’s control of all things. 1 Peter 5:7 is a good example: “casting all our anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” The tendency of the vigilant person is to do everything but that. When he or she can learn to let go and rest in the control of God, he can feel a deeper sense of control because the idea of control is then tied to God’s character and not his feelings or perceptions.
Vigilant type people can be challenging. But God’s Spirit working through God’s counselor, who is accurately applying God’s Word, can provide the kind of assurances they need to adjust, adapt, and form better attitudes.
James Rudy Gray, who pastors Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C., is certified as a professional counselor by the National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors.