Orthodoxy Today
Overcoming The Coercion Perception

Chaplain's Corner Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

Every one who is arrogant is an abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 16: 5).

There is a popular adage that many are quite familiar with: ‘Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.’ Just such a proverb applies as a stumbling block for individuals in their daily lives. Psychologically it is called coercion perception. The basic idea which engenders the coercion perception stumbling block is the belief, attitude or cognition that if an individual persistently insists or even recommends that I do something and I do it, this indicates that they are in command and control and I have lost out. If I should capitulate to someone else’s wishes this means I am worthless in some way. The only way to maintain my self-esteem and sense of self is to never do anything anyone tells me to do, that is to say, to do only what I have decided to do entirely on my own.

Spiritually, this stonewalling of suggestions from others even when they may be helpful is succumbing to the passion of pride. Our Eastern Church Father, St. Maximus the Confessor tells us: “The passion of pride arises from two kinds of ignorance, and when these two kinds of ignorance unite together they form a single confused state of mind. For a man is proud only if he is ignorant both of divine help and of human weakness. Therefore pride is a lack of knowledge both in the divine and human spheres. For the denial of two true premises results in a single false affirmation” (Philokalia II).

Instead of intelligently judging the content of a recommendation or suggestion made by others on its own merits, some people react by being oppositional. They frequently focus on what they consider the ‘audacity’ of others telling them what to do. Admittedly, others may not always communicate suggestions or recommendations in a respectful manner. Sometimes the tone of the suggestion is authoritarian, bossy or in a command voice. Frequently this shifts the attention of the listener from the content of what is being said to the tone of voice, the pragmatics of the language that is being spoken (Morelli, 2006c). In this case, the individual receiving the suggestion should act in an assertive manner (Morelli, 2006c,d) and inform the other, firmly but with kindness, that they do not want to be talked to ‘in such a tone of voice.'

We can learn to respond to others based on Godly "self-esteem." This means developing a true and honest appraisal of both one's strengths and weaknesses. In doing this, we can achieve a healthy, non arrogant Christ-like self-esteem close to the definition of humility Christ displayed Himself, that He asks us to imitate: “…learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart…” (Morelli, 2006a) St. Peter of Damaskos taught that, "… the signs of humility: when one possessing every virtue of body and soul, to consider oneself to be the more a debtor to God ... because one has received so much by grace" (Philokalia III). Centuries earlier St. Isaac the Syrian wrote: "The person who has attained to knowledge of his own weakness has reached the summit of humility" (Brock, 1997).


Brock, S. (1997). (Trans.). The Wisdom of Saint Isaac the Syrian. Fairacres Oxford , England : SLG Press, Convent of the Incarnation.

Morelli, G. (2006a, January 06). Self Esteem: From, Through, and Toward Christ. https://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MorelliSelfEsteem.php.

Morelli, G. (2006b, March 6). Asceticism and Psychology in the Modern World. www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MorelliMonasticism.php.

Morelli, G. (2006c, March 10). Sinners in the Hands of an Angry or Gentle God? https://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MorelliHumility.php.

Morelli, G. (2006d, July 02). Assertiveness and Christian Charity. https://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MorelliAssertiveness.php.

Palmer, G.E.H., Sherrard, P. & Ware, K. (1981). The Philokalia, Volume 2: The Complete Text; Compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain & St. Makarios of Corinth . London : Faber and Faber.

Palmer, G.E.H., Sherrard, P. & Ware, K. (Eds.). (1986). The Philokalia, Volume 3: The Complete Text; Compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain & St. Makarios of Corinth. London : Faber and Faber.

Fr. George Morelli

V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist.

Be sure to visit Fr. Morelli's new site Orthodox Healing  for the latest essays and information.

Published: December 15, 2009

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