TL;dr: My name is D.S. Leiter, and I’ve been there, done that, and have the T-shirt when it comes to conflict and spirituality. (I’m not even kidding. I ordered the T-shirt from a fabulous place called Sudara and it reads “Stronger than Fear.”) I also have a PhD in Communication, and study and teach about stress, trauma, and conflict communication.
I would love you to join me on this quest to figure out healthy ways of dealing with the sh- –er, stuff–often involved with these complex topics, but expect you to practice the assertive spirituality principles we’re discussing as you join in. Sign up for my mailing list to receive a free PDF and cool updates or come hang out with me on the Assertive Spirituality page on FB. I’m also over on Twitter at @AssertSpirituality.
I hope this project will grow into something bigger. Get involved with helping me figure that out! In the meantime, read on if you want more than the TL;dr version.
My Credentials and Story
My name is D. S. Leiter, and I have a PhD in Communication. I study stress, trauma, and conflict communication. I’ve been teaching communication courses at the university level for a decade (currently I teach at a university in the Midwest).
I grew up as a pastor’s kid in a denomination somewhere on the border between evangelical and mainline Protestant denominations. I’ve spent much of my life in and around an ecumenical group of Christian organizations. I hang out with people from a wide range of creeds and political orientations, etc.
From the outside, then, one would think I’d be ideally placed to open up the kinds of honest conversations we’ll be having here about stress, trauma, conflict communication, and spirituality.
But I’ll admit that for a long while I had impostor syndrome about starting this endeavor. After all, I’m not a theologian or pastor. I’m not a trauma therapist or counselor. (I don’t even play either of those things on TV, though I do make referrals as needed.)
But at risk of sounding like one of those motivational speakers many of us love to hate, the more that I studied stress and trauma and how they affect our communication, the more I realized that stress and trauma are associated with a felt lack of control. And that a lot of us fear conflict because we don’t have the tools to deal with it successfully. We can’t control it completely, but we can have influence over it. And we feel better when we do what we can to increase and use that influence in ethical ways.
Then I really did have my lightbulb moment, which was real and messy and also patently headdesk-style obvious: I had been helping students learn and use the tools of assertive communication for a decade.
I knew they didn’t all get it, of course. The surface level of this stuff is pretty easy to grasp, but our inner understanding is often in conflict with it, so it takes time to sink in properly. But there was outside evidence that what I’d been communicating had hit home in key ways.
Students were thanking me that they’d finally confronted toxic relationships they’d had and realized they needed to do what they could toward them, which sometimes involved seeking counseling. Others said they felt so empowered by the material I introduced them to and thought through alongside them that they said everyone in the world should have to take my courses. So I knew I must have been doing something right.
And as I was studying and teaching these things, I was also progressing along my own life journey trying to practice what I taught. During my own rough times in recent years, I’ve been infinitely grateful to have the education and practice in collaborative meaning making and influence I’ve been privileged with.
A good part of my growth along the way has involved combating my own unhealthy conflict patterns that got bound up with spirituality in my life and faith. I know I’m not alone in puzzling through that maze. And I know I’m not the only one that’s been hurt by the personal and systemic issues associated with conflict and spirituality.
This blog is one piece of an endeavor to guide others through this challenging territory as I continue to figure it out myself. I can’t promise everything will be perfectly clear to you without effort, but I’ll try to be real and do my best to communicate well if you’ll let me know if you’re confused and where you have questions. In the spirit of the blog, I promise to make space for assertive disagreement as well. I hope to post here at least once per week minimum, so feel free to call me to account if I don’t.
Whether or not you define yourself as Christian or associate yourself with a faith tradition, I hope that we can all use the discussion here to improve our practice of assertive spirituality. For more on what that means, check out the What Is Assertive Spirituality? post for a primer.
As we discuss together, do message me over at the Assertive Spirituality FB page or over on Twitter at @AssertSpirituality if there’s any way I can help you with your goals surrounding that, both within the blog or outside of it (as a warning, I’m wayyyy less active on Twitter!). I hope to make this into a broader community and endeavor. I want to hear your needs and ideas about that.
*NOW OUT! You’ll an exclusive “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” to all who sign up for my newsletter after you’ve confirmed your subscription. The guide combines my experiences with the best research to help you deal with difficult conversations both online and off.*
(Oh, and just to be clear, my views expressed here are my own, and not those of the public university where I teach.)