There's this person in this church group I am nominally in charge of. If I say she sometimes seems to be made of glass, I don't mean that she is beautiful and delicate. I mean that it's like she got scraped raw by life and then rolled in broken glass, which stuck to the blood, and when she lets the cloak she covers herself with fall, no one can figure out how to comfort her in a way that will not damage both. There was a really bad meeting which ended with a lot of us trying to hold back tears because how on God's green earth do you show someone that wounded and broken and jagged that she is loved and liked and wanted? I knew things were bad when I found myself humming Nancy's song from Oliver. It's a good thing I only really know that first line, or I likely would have had the blasted song stuck in my head whole for weeks.
I got out the only available version of the Five Love Languages from my library (The 5 Love Languages for Children), but it wasn't really much help because it's aimed at parents and is about dealing with children. This person holds down a job she hates because it provides benefits, a paycheck, and a cushion to allow her beloved to do the less lucrative and somewhat seasonal work he loves. She is an adult.
When it was just occasional grumblings and the beginnings of a tendency to tell the same painful stories on endless repeat and hijack the conversation, I was able to redirect things, sometimes with subtlety and panache and sometimes with inartistic but effective bluntness. But when she said that she dreaded coming every week because it made her even more miserable and she only came because she knew her husband wouldn't want to come without her even though he adores the group, we were all at a loss. Most of us kind of enjoy the group and the time we spend together. We like her and her husband. We have no idea what to say to that kind of explosion of broken glass. We mostly just duck and cover to avoid the shrapnel.
We want to hug her and tell her we love her except she hates and loathes begin hugged and doesn't believe anyone saying they love her (with the possible exception of her husband, though I'm not sure). She gets even more savage when she thinks people are saying things to make her feel better, whether they are true or not. Sometimes I'm not sure she know how to feel not-miserable. I don't know if she ever did.
When I say I am the "leader," I mean I'm the secretary. I report back to the church, pass out the feedback surveys (when I remember), attend meetings for small group leaders, and pass info on to the small group from the church. Our church still isn't very good at this discipleship thing, and the role of small group leader is a voluntary one that carries no authority or spiritual responsibility.
I think probably this lady needs some really good spiritual counseling, but I think it would take a miracle for her to find someone who could be effective working with her the way she is now, trapped in negative thinking and stress and incapable of letting herself be loved. She and her husband have a close relationship with the counseling pastor and the social pastor at our church (a married couple), which is actually not a good thing because I'm pretty sure she couldn't bear being honest with those people in case it made them think less of her.
The psychologist in our group says we're in a tough spot, because we aren't treating her (and can't because that's not our relationship), so all we can do is redirect when she starts to hijack, ignore the negative outbursts as we have been--so she doesn't get attention for them--and encourage her on the super-rare occasions when she says positive things (even though that makes her prickly). Maybe next time she explodes, we'll have to be direct and tell her that it really hurts us when she says things like that, but we love her anyway. We may also have to ask what we can do to make her dread the meetings less or find out what it is about them that she dreads. I'm not sure she knows how to explain it, and I'm not convinced that scrutiny wouldn't drive her away. It's all so very fraught.