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Archive for the ‘Boundaries’ Category

How to Handle Toxic and Critical People

SOURCE: Leslie Vernick

We all have encounters with difficult people who leave us rattled and shaken. A co-worker undermines us in front of our boss; our friend puts us down and says she was “just kidding.” Our spouse rages and then turns everything around to make us think that it’s our fault.

Most of us would prefer to minimize our contact with people like this but sometimes it’s just not possible. We may work with them, be married to them, or have some other connection that keeps us in regular contact with toxic individuals. For a long time, Christians have been taught to forbear and forgive. While Biblical in essence, most of us aren’t exactly sure how to live it out in real life.

We know that Jesus tells us that we’re to love our enemies and pray for those who mistreat us but actually doing it is much more challenging. The apostle Paul counsels us in these instances not to be overcome with evil but instead, to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). But honestly, there are times when evil feels stronger and we are not sure how to stop it from getting the best of us.

Below are 5 specific steps I have found helpful in putting these Biblical truths into practice, especially when dealing with a toxic or destructive person.

1. Press Pause: As soon as you feel that poisonous dart, take a deep breath and pray for God’s help. The words or behaviors of another person have just knocked you off balance and will infect you with its toxic effects if you don’t quickly apply an antidote.

2. Don’t panic and overreact or be passive and under-react. Stay calm and don’t fall for their bait. Try not to take what they have done or said personally (which is very tempting to do). Remember, the way someone treats you, whether it be good or bad, really has little to do with you. It reveals something about who they are.

3. Ask yourself this question: What in this present moment do I need to learn (or change) in order to become the person I want to become? Here are a few examples of things I have found I needed after I asked myself this question.

Courage

Humility

Generosity

To speak the truth in love

To set firmer boundaries

Patience

Not to worry so much what others think of me

Let go of my desire to make everyone happy

Not to let this person get the best of me or to make me act crazy

Believe me, it is very tempting in the moment to defend yourself, feel responsible for someone else’s feelings, become totally intimidated and overwhelmed, or strike back with your own attack. None of these responses will help you move forward with a toxic person. However, God does promise to use these painful moments for our good. Therefore, learn what you can and let go of the rest.

4. Teach yourself to respond out of who you want to be rather than how you feel at the moment. We already know how to do this when we act responsibly and get out of bed to go to work even when we want to sleep in or when we patiently work with our child on their homework even though we’d rather be doing anything else. If you must respond to a provocative situation, speak calmly, truthfully and firmly especially when you have to set a limit or say “no”. Refuse to engage in arguing, defending yourself, or circular conversations that go nowhere.

5. Practice (and this takes time) looking at this difficult/destructive person in a different way than you have in the past. Instead of meditating on his or her faults or sin against you, search for her goodness, his humanness, or his/her woundedness. When we can see a person in this new way, it’s much easier to allow God to fill us with His love and compassion for this pitiful person who would be so blind as to treat us (or anyone) in such a sinful way. Having this change in perspective doesn’t excuse the toxic person or give him or her license to continue to do damage, but it does help us not to judge and empowers us to forgive him/her, even if we can’t reconcile the relationship.

We can honestly pray God’s best for this person and leave him/her in His capable hands. We all encounter evil situations and difficult and destructive people, but by practicing these five steps, we can learn to overcome evil’s toxic effects in us with good.

Adult Children Dealing With Toxic Parents

SOURCE:  Based on an article at Psychology Today/Karyl McBride, Ph.D

Recognizing, understanding and overcoming the debilitating impact of maternal narcissism.

The most frequently asked question from adult children of narcissistic parents is whether or not to remain in contact with that parent and/or the rest of the dysfunctional family nest.

It goes deep and is difficult to know what’s best.

Your family roots, your very beginnings, and subsequent history are all a significant part of you. We are who we are based on where we’ve been. Juggling decisions for sound mental health can be packed with arduous cognitive and emotional machinations that create distress. Sometimes these imminent decisions become paramount to every day life. Our hearts can be wrapped with it. The question and the struggle are not to be underestimated.

In loving recovery with self, decisions can be made that feel right to the heart. Without recovery work, however, those decisions may steer in wrong directions. If you simply detach and remove yourself from your narcissistic parent without doing your own work, you will not diminish your pain and your true self cannot emerge to the peacefulness that you desire. As Dr. Murray Bowen reminds us in Family Therapy in Clinical Practice, “Less-differentiated people are moved about like pawns by emotional tensions. Better-differentiated people are less vulnerable to tension.” If you take yourself out of the situation without completing your internal growth, you have accomplished less and can remain troubled.

It is important for adult children of narcissistic parents to know that there are truly some parents who are too toxic and are what I call the “untreatables.” If someone is abusive and cruel and continues to be without remorse or empathy, it cannot be healthy for anyone to be around that person. That’s ok and important to know. Full-blown narcissists do not change, do not realize the need to change, are not accountable or receptive to input from their children.

Because narcissism is a spectrum disorder on a continuum, there are many people who have narcissistic traits but are not full blown narcissists. Many of these people can move in therapeutic directions if they choose. Your decision regarding contact with the toxic untreatable or the highly-traited narcissist can best be made by working your own recovery and taking adequate time to allow the healing to happen. When developing my five-step recovery model, I found that the decisions about contact should not be made until step four. That means you are working acceptance, grief, separation, and building a stronger sense of self before deciding what kind of contact you will continue to have with your narcissistic parent. The five-step model can be found in Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers and is too complicated to fully explain in a blog post.

In short, however, I usually recommend taking a temporary separation to work your own recovery first. This means you simply explain a need for some space from the parent so you can sort out the issues and keep the clear focus on self. When you get to step four, you will know if it is best to make a decision of Therapeutic Resolution, No Contact, or Civil Connection with that parent.

Let’s take a look at each possible decision.

Therapeutic Resolution:
Some parents with less narcissistic traits are open to family therapy and this can be very effective with the right therapist. It can only be done if the parent is accountable and wants to work through family issues and childhood pain. For those who are lucky to have parents like this, a seasoned family therapist can provide wonderful healing for the entire family.

No Contact:
The decision to go “No Contact” is a big one but is made when the parent is too toxic and never accountable and continues to be abusive to the adult child. It’s a sad but necessary solution in many cases. This decision can only be made in sound mind when the adult child has really worked the internal recovery model. Without this internal healing, guilt may be over-burdensome to the adult child and pain not diminished. Sometimes, with recovery, the decision becomes a desire for a civil connect instead.

Civil Connection:
A decision to have a civil connection is really the most common. This is an educated place where the adult child knows and accepts that the connection with the narcissistic parent will not be an emotional bond or relationship. It will be civil, polite, light, and not emotionally close. Because of the internal work done by the adult child, this place of understanding allows the superficial relationship to be ok without expectations. Because the adult child has completed separation, acceptance and grief, and has developed sound boundaries, it is possible then to be “apart of and apart from” at the same time. It is possible to keep your solid sense of self and not get sucked into the family dysfunction that has not changed.

If you are struggling with contact decisions regarding your narcissistic parent or family, please know that recovery does work and makes it all so much easier.  We are accountable for our own growth and it takes time and effort to accomplish. As the late child psychiatrist, Margaret Mahler points out, “Insofar as the infant’s development of the sense of self takes place in the context of the dependency on the mother, the sense of self that results will bear the imprint of her caregiving.” That imprint of maternal or paternal narcissism can be re-drawn when the authentic self is brought to the surface and given proper nourishment for re-parenting and growth.

What could be more important? This newfound self is what we joyfully give back in the form of true love. The legacy of distorted love is then uprooted and authentic unconditional compassion takes its place. I remain a “hopeaholic” for the sisterhood and brotherhood out there.

Love restored that begins within is worth the journey.

How to Not Lose It on Your Kids After a Stressful Day at Work

I shudder at the times I’ve acted irritably toward my kids because I was still stressed from work.
How do we come home as the loving parents we want to be?

Any working parent knows the struggle of bringing frustrations from work straight into the house at the end of the day. Most of us have been guilty of this.

Sliding from work to home carrying baggage is too easy to do—it’s the default mode of operation. I shudder thinking of the times I’ve acted irritably toward my daughters when it was really a work problem irking me.

So how do we consciously interrupt our thoughts and come home as the engaging, loving, calm parents we want to be?

1. Maximize your commute time by using it as a “third space.”

Adam Fraser coined the term “third space” to describe the transition between work and home. He says your third space doesn’t need to be a physical location, but a mental shift. Fraser suggests giving closure to your workday by contemplating the high point and low point of your time at work. Then consciously deciding what kind of attitude you want to bring home.

Use this time to pray for patience as you enter your home. Pray for excitement when you greet your children. Ask God to provide you the ability to shift your mind and attitude away from one priority to another.

“How you show up determines what sort of evening you have,” Fraser said in a Ted Talk. “And how you transition home determines how you unwind, relax, and socialize—or obsess and worry about the day.” Another way to transition in a healthy way is to listen to inspiring podcasts, worship music, or thought-provoking audio books during your ride home to shake off any lingering concerns about work. If schedule allows, a trip to the gym could serve this purpose also.

2. Maintain boundaries by leaving work at work.

Most people would agree that spending your entire day at the office texting your spouse, browsing social media, or shopping online would be an egregious abuse of your employer’s trust and time. Plus, using your hours for personal matters is a waste of a workday because you would not be accomplishing a thing for your company.

In the same way, spending your evenings responding to business emails or tackling work projects is an egregious abuse of your family’s trust and a waste of your precious (and few!) hours with them. Leave work at work so you can be fully present with your family! Our time is the very best gift we can offer our kids and spouse.

My husband confronted me about this early in our marriage. I frequently picked up my Blackberry (remember those?!) after dinner to respond to emails for my nonprofit job. One night when he asked me what I was doing on my phone, I told him I was dealing with an emergency—without even looking up from my device.

Calmly and lovingly he responded with, “Leigh, the police handle emergencies. Emergencies involve 911, the law, and sometimes blood. Is that what you’re dealing with?” Talk about perspective! That really stuck with me.

Sometimes we have busier seasons at work that require putting in supplemental hours at home. On those occasions, I talk to my husband about it in advance. If we communicate, we can make a plan that will allow me to steward my responsibilities at work well without totally neglecting my family. This plan usually involves him taking our girls out for ice cream so I can knock out my project undisturbed and efficiently. And they still feel cherished!

3. Make a plan.

The evenings I know what we’re doing for dinner and am aware of our evening extracurricular activities are much less chaotic than the nights I try to “wing it.” As much as I wish I loved cooking, I’ve accepted that it doesn’t come naturally to me or “spark joy,” in the words of Marie Kondo. However, I still try to serve my family by having some kind of plan for dinner—and one that’s easy to execute.

I’m a fan of one-dish meals and my crockpot. I’m an even bigger fan of kids-eat-free nights at our favorite restaurants. We also have a whiteboard on the refrigerator where I write down our evening commitments one week at a time. We post our soccer game times, homeowners association meetings, and everything else to keep us all straight and set expectations for our time outside of work. I include our dinner plans on the whiteboard, too.

4. Keep the house tidy.

love coming home to a neat house. Dirty dishes, papers, and toys strewn about make me tense. We try to get our home in order before we leave for the day.

I’d be lying if I said this happens every single morning. But my husband and I try to stay on top of things and ask each member of the family to participate in this effort. One way we set ourselves up for success in this area is by straightening up, starting the dishwasher, and packing lunches before bed the night before.

One final thought: Give grace.

Give it to yourself, your colleagues, and your family.

None of us are perfect.

We all have days that require us to stretch. Try to be honest and communicate when it’s “been a day” and you may need an extra measure of that grace.

Your family will thank you!

CODEPENDENCY: STEPS TO A SOLUTION

SOURCE:  June Hunt

The primary problem with codependency can be called “idolatry”—giving a greater priority to anything or anyone other than God Himself. Our God is the One who created you and who has a wonderful plan for your life. He is the Lord who loves you and knows how to fulfill you.

If you are in a codependent relationship:

• Your excessive care causes you to compromise your convictions.
• Your excessive loyalty leaves you without healthy boundaries.
• Your excessive “love” allows you to say yes when you should say no.

However, our Maker and Master has the right to have primary rule in our hearts and over our lives. Any other substitute is simply idolatry. The Bible says …

“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)

Key Passage to Read and Reread

Notice two thoughts in this passage that seem to be in opposition to one another:

“If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.” (Galatians 6:1–5)

Does Scripture Contradict Itself?

Verse 2 says, “Carry each other’s burdens,” and verse 5 says, “Each one should carry his own load.”
Since these two clear-cut directives seem contradictory to each other, which one is true? When you carefully analyze what is being said, there is no contradiction.

• Verse 1—Gently encourage another person to change from negative behavior, but beware of your own temptation.
• Verse 2—The Greek word for “burden” is baros, which means “weight,” implying a load or something that is pressing heavily. When you help carry what is too heavy for someone else to bear alone, your caring response fulfills the law of Christ.
• Verse 5—The Greek word for “load” is phortion, which means “something carried.” Clearly, when you carry what others should carry, you are not wise. You are not called by God to relieve others of their rightful responsibilities.

CONCLUSION: Those who are codependent try to get their needs met by carrying loads that others should be carrying. To move out of a codependent relationship, both individuals need to quit trying to be the other person’s “all-in-all” and instead encourage each other to take responsibility for their own lives and to live dependently on the strength of God.

KEY VERSE TO MEMORIZE

No other verse in the Bible is better at helping us set our priorities straight, put our relationships in the right order. We must put “first things first” or else we, in our relationships, will never have the fulfillment that God has planned for us.

“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)

RECOVERY STEP #1: Confront Your Own Codependency

Codependency does not flow from an unchangeable personality flaw or some genetic fluke. A codependent relationship is rooted in immaturity, a fact that should give great hope to those caught in its addictive cycle. While change is never easy, growing up is always within the grasp of anyone who desires to move from immaturity to maturity.

Any of us can move from codependency to a healthy, mutual give-and-take in our relationships. The key to change is motivation. What kind of motivation? When your pain in the relationship is greater than your fear of abandonment, the motivation for change is powerful. Moving away from the pain of codependency then becomes a matter of choice and commitment. If you feel that the relationship you are in is more a curse than a blessing—when it brings more death to your soul than life—this is motivation for change.

“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you … may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.” (Deuteronomy 30:19–20)

• Confront the Fact That You Are Codependent.

▆ Admit the truth to yourself. Before you can be free from the grasp of codependency, you must be honest with yourself about your emotional addiction to another person.
▆ Admit the truth to someone else. Identify the beliefs and behaviors that have perpetuated your emotional addiction and share them with an objective, trusted friend.
▆ Admit the truth to God. Realize that your emotional addiction is a serious sin in the eyes of God. Choose now to confess it to Him.

“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16)

• Confront the Consequences of Your Codependency.

▆ Accept responsibility for how your past experiences and reactions have hurt your adult relationships (such as your becoming manipulative, controlling, possessive, or angry).
▆ Accept responsibility for the pain you have caused yourself because of your codependency (such as your becoming jealous, envious, selfish, or obsessive).
▆ Accept responsibility for the ways in which your codependency has weakened your relationship with God (such as a loss of quantity time, quality time, and intimacy with the Lord).

“He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)

• Confront Your Painful Emotions.

▆ Understand that you will have pain no matter what you choose. If you leave the codependent relationship, you will hurt, but if you stay, you will hurt. However, the only hope for future healing is leaving the codependent lifestyle.
▆ Understand that when the intensity of the relationship diminishes you will experience emotional “withdrawal” from the exhilarating highs.
▆ Understand that you will need the support of others to get you through the initial pain of withdrawal and to help you avoid anesthetizing your pain with a “secondary addiction.”

“Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel.” (Proverbs 27:9)

• Confront Your “Secondary Addictions.”

▆ Recognize that, in an effort to numb the emotional pain of the relationship, codependency often leads to other addictions, such as a chemical dependency, sexual addiction, compulsive eating, or excessive spending.
▆ Recognize your “secondary addictions”; then seek counseling and spiritual support to overcome them.
▆ Recognize that recovery from a “secondary addiction” is dependent on recovery from your primary addiction.

“The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out.” (Proverbs 18:15)

• Confront Your Current Codependent Relationship.

▆ Acknowledge your codependent role in the relationship and cease relating through codependent patterns.
▆ Acknowledge your destructive behaviors. (Write them down.) Then replace them with constructive behaviors. (Write them down.)
▆ Acknowledge the natural pain of emotional withdrawal (common to the healing of addictions) and focus on God’s supernatural purpose (conforming you to the character of Christ).

“Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Romans 8:29)

• Confront Your Codependent Focus.

▆ Stop focusing on what the other person is doing and start focusing on what you need to do in order to become emotionally healthy.
▆ Stop focusing on the other person’s problems and start focusing on solving your own problems (those resulting from your neglect of people and projects in your life).
▆ Stop focusing on trying to change the other person and start focusing on changing yourself.

“The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception.” (Proverbs 14:8)

• Confront Your Codependent Conflicts.

▆ Do not allow yourself to become trapped in heated arguments or to become emotionally hooked by the bad behavior of the other person. Instead, say to yourself several times, I will not argue—and then disengage from the conflict. Decide ahead of time that, when agitation begins, you will distance yourself.
▆ Do not defend yourself when you are unjustly blamed. Instead, say only once, “I’m sorry you feel that way. That doesn’t reflect my heart.”
▆ Do not be afraid to leave if the conflict continues. State, “I will be gone for a while.” Then calmly walk away.

“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.” (2 Timothy 2:23)

• Confront Your Codependent Responses.

▆ Remind yourself that “problem people” have the right to choose wrong. Don’t react to their problem behavior—they are independent of you.
▆ Remind yourself not to return insult for insult—refuse to raise your voice.
▆ Remind yourself that your Christlike role is to respond with respect—even when others are disrespectful.

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. … But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:9, 15–16)

• Confront What You Need to Leave in Order to Receive.

▆ Leave your childhood and your dependent thinking. (I can’t live without you.) Then enter into healthy adulthood. (I want you in my life, but if something were to happen, I could still live without you.) That is reality.
▆ Leave your immature need to be dependent on someone else and embrace your mature need to be dependent on the Lord, who will make you whole within yourself.
▆ Leave your fantasy relationships (thinking, You are my “all-in-all”) and instead nurture several balanced relationships of healthy give-and-take.

“Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (Proverbs 27:6)

• Confront Your Need to Build Mature Non-Codependent Relationships.

▆ Establish several interdependent relationships—not just one exclusive relationship. You need mature relationships in which your codependency issues can be resolved and your needs can be met in healthy ways.
▆ Establish emotionally balanced relationships without being needy of the extreme highs and lows of codependent relationships.
▆ Establish personal boundaries in all of your relationships, saying no when you need to say no and holding to your no.

“Let us … go on to maturity.” (Hebrews 6:1)

RECOVERY STEP #2: Look at Your Past Love Addictions

One effective way to confront codependent love relationships is by using the “written word.” Spelling out your thoughts, feelings, and actions will actually distance them from you so that you can look at them. Putting your relationships on paper helps paint a more complete picture, which in turn enables you to gain insights and devise a recovery plan. Putting your life on paper is not easy, but until you are ready to take a close look at your love addiction, you cannot expect to change it.

Write down the history of your codependent love relationships. First ask the Spirit of God to bring to mind what you need to know and then to teach you what you need to do. He will give you both understanding and wisdom to know how to free yourself of the fettered addictions and how to live in His glorious freedom.

“He who gets wisdom loves his own soul; he who cherishes understanding prospers.” (Proverbs 19:8)

Make a list of every person with whom you have had a codependent relationship. Think through your family and friends. Put each name at the top of a separate page and then answer the following questions for each relationship:

1. Write out …

• How did you meet and how were you attracted to this person?
• How did you pursue and draw this person to you?
• How did you feel and what did you fantasize about this person?

Conclude by answering …

• How do you think God felt about your choices?
• Realize that the Lord is ready to meet your deepest emotional needs. Yet, when we live with misplaced priorities, the Bible says we commit spiritual adultery.

“I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me, and by their eyes, which have lusted after their idols. They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices.” (Ezekiel 6:9)

2. Write out …

• How did the relationship progress through various stages (Fascination, Fantasy, Fog, Fear, Forsaking, Fixation, Frenzy)?
• How did you feel in each stage?
• How did you act during each stage?

Conclude by answering …

• How did you fail to involve God in your life during each stage?
• Realize how ready the Lord has been to intervene.

“When I came, why was there no one? When I called, why was there no one to answer? Was my arm too short to ransom you? Do I lack the strength to rescue you? By a mere rebuke I dry up the sea, I turn rivers into a desert; their fish rot for lack of water and die of thirst. I clothe the sky with darkness and make sackcloth its covering.” (Isaiah 50:2–3)

3. Write out …

• How did you become preoccupied with the relationship?
• How did you start neglecting yourself and start focusing on taking care of the other person?
• How did you come to expect that person to meet all of your needs?

Conclude by answering …

• How did you start neglecting God and when did you stop relying on Him?
• Realize how ready the Lord has been to make you fruitful.

“I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?” (Jeremiah 2:21)

4. Write out …

• How has this relationship replicated your painful childhood experiences?
• How were you mistreated in the relationship and how did you react?
• How does the relationship impact you today?

Conclude by answering …

• How is God replacing (or wanting to replace) your self-destructive, love-addicted patterns with constructive, healthy, holy patterns?
• Realize how ready the Lord is to “re-parent” you in order to meet your deepest needs and heal your deepest hurts.

“Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.” (Psalm 27:10)

5. Write out …

• How have you experienced fear, envy, jealousy, abandonment, and anger in the relationship?
• How did you assign a higher priority to this person than to everything else?
• How have you made the person the focus of your thought life?

Conclude by answering …

• How can you appropriate “the mind of Christ” in order to overcome destructive feelings and to live out of your resources in Christ?
• Realize how ready the Lord has been to give you His thinking.

“We have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:16)

6. Write out …

• How do you feel about the person and the relationship now?
• How has your perspective changed?
• How did things, people, and circumstances become factors in changing your perspective?

Conclude by answering …

• How do you think God has been involved in changing your perspective?
• Realize how ready the Lord is to complete His perfect plan for your life.

“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

RECOVERY STEP #3: Get on the Road to Interdependent Relationships

We all love to see pictures of babies and then to see their stair step growth into young adulthood. Built within little, immature children is the ability to grow to maturity. Why should it be any less for immature adults? They too can move from their immaturity and develop mature relationships.

Once we understand the goal of each developmental stage for reestablishing healthy relationships, we can set out to accomplish those goals—without the aid of earthly parents. Many have done this by “taking the hand” of the heavenly Father and allowing Him to “re-parent” them. You too can do this by having a plan and then working your plan with the caring support of others. It is an enormously important journey with enormously gratifying rewards. This is the journey God intended for you to take from the beginning.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

• Make it your goal to develop an intimate relationship with God and to form interdependent relationships with significant people in your life.

▆ Commit to becoming actively involved in a group Bible study and in group prayer.
▆ Commit to reading God’s Word on a daily basis and memorizing Scripture.
▆ Commit to finding an accountability group and a Christian “relationship mentor” who will be available to you, spend time with you on a regular basis, be honest with you, and coach you in your relationships.

“Let us not give up meeting together … but let us encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:25)

• Make a plan to move toward maturity in your relationships.

▆ Ask God to help you discern where you are stuck in the relationship developmental stages.
▆ Ask your mentor or another wise person to help you identify your relationship needs (for example, sharing, problem-solving, listening, negotiating).
▆ Ask your accountability group to hold you accountable to establish appropriate goals in order to meet each of your relationship needs.

“Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4)

• Make your relationship with your parents complete.

▆ Choose to resolve any unhealthy patterns with your parents. Break any unhealthy bond and, if possible, establish mature, adult bonds with each parent.
▆ Choose to not be emotionally enmeshed, needy, or controlled by your parents. If necessary, separate yourself emotionally until you can respond in a healthy way with “no strings attached.”
▆ Choose to identify and process your “family of origin” problems, forgive your offenders, and grieve your losses. Say, “That was then; this is now.”

“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)

• Make a vow to be a person of integrity in thought, word, and deed.

▆ Learn to free yourself of any family secrets—refuse to carry them any longer.
▆ Learn to listen, to say no, to set boundaries, to give and receive, and to ask for what you need from people. Then practice, practice, practice these new, healthy patterns.
▆ Learn to feel your feelings, to express hurt, and to withdraw and think about what you need to do or say. Write out your action plan; rehearse it; then do it.

“Prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.” (1 Peter 1:13–15)

• Make a new job description.

▆ My job is to discern the character of a person and to respond accordingly with maturity.
▆ My job is to be a safe person for my friends and family and to be present and attentive in my relationships.
▆ My job is to take care of myself and to be responsible for myself without hurting, punishing, attacking, getting even, or lying to myself or to others.

“I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live.” (Job 27:6)

• Make a new commitment to yourself.

▆ I will let go of the “old,” self-centered me because I am growing into a “new,” Christ-centered me.
▆ I will exchange the lies I’ve believed about myself for God’s truth about me according to His Word.
▆ I will no longer betray myself by making immature choices, and I will redeem my past, bad choices by making good, mature choices.

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

• Make maturity, not emotional relationships, your highest goal.

▆ Focus on forming friendships in which you are free to learn, grow, and mature, not emotional attachments that lead to roller-coaster relationships.
▆ Focus on any potential relationships that might trigger your codependent tendencies and guard your heart from the emotional highs and lows.
▆ Focus on building relationships with trustworthy, mature Christians whose goal is Christlikeness.
▆ During a severe time of trial, David’s dear friend, Jonathan “helped him find strength in God.” (1 Samuel 23:16)

RECOVERY STEP #4: Find the Road to Freedom

When you are behaving in a codependent way, you are trying to get your needs met through a drive to “do it all” or to be another person’s “all-in-all.” However, you can “travel the road to recovery” by releasing your desire to control or to change the person you love.

RELEASE

RECOGNIZE that you are overly dependent on a person and instead place your dependency on God.

Admit that your codependency is a sin.

• Pray that God will give you the desire to put Him first and to please Him in all your relationships.
• Determine to look to the Lord to meet your needs for love, for significance, and for security.
• Realize that God did not create you to meet all the needs of another person.

“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)

EXAMINE your patterns of codependent thinking.

Don’t believe that pleasing people is always Christlike.

• Don’t think that you should always assume the role of peacemaker.
• Don’t fear losing the love of others when you allow them to suffer the consequences of their negative actions.
• Don’t say yes when you really believe you should say no.

“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” (Psalm 51:6)

LET GO of your “super responsible” mentality.

Confess that you are trying to be like God in the life of another person.

• Trust God to be actively working in the life of your loved one.
• Realize that you cannot make another person be dependable or responsible.
• Rest in God’s sovereign control over all people, events, and circumstances.

“What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.” (Exodus 18:17–18)

EXTEND forgiveness to those who have caused you pain.

Reflect on any type of abuse you have experienced in the past—verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual.

• What has been unjust and painful in your life?
• Whom do you need to forgive?
• Would you be willing to release this person and your pain to God?
• Choose to forgive again whenever your angry feelings resurface.

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13)

APPROPRIATE your identity in Christ.

Learn to live out of your resources in Christ Jesus.

• Know the truth: “I can be emotionally set free because Christ lives in me.”
“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

• Believe the truth: “I can change my dependency on people through the power of Christ in me.”
“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

• Appropriate the truth: “I will nurture only healthy, godly relationships because I have been given Christ’s divine nature.”

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Peter 1:3–4)

SET healthy boundaries.

Communicate the necessity for change.

“I realize that I have not been responding to you in a healthy way. I have been far too dependent on you to meet my needs. And I have sought to meet all of your needs. I am committed to having healthy relationships and to putting God first in my life. I know that I have had negative responses to you, and I intend to begin having positive responses by making decisions based on what is right in the eyes of God.”

• Establish what you need to ask forgiveness for.
“I realize I was wrong for _________ (not speaking up when I should have, not being the person I should have been in this relationship, etc.). Will you forgive me?”

• Establish what your limits of responsibility will be.
“I feel responsible for _________. But I am not responsible for _________ (making you happy, making you feel significant, etc.). I want you to be happy, but I don’t have the power to make you happy.”

• Establish your limits of involvement.
“I want to do with/for you, but I don’t feel led by God to do .”

“The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.” (Proverbs 27:12)

EXCHANGE your emotional focus for spiritual focus.

Make God and your spiritual growth your first priority.

• Attend an in-depth Bible study in order to learn the heart of God and to grow spiritually with the people of God.
• Memorize sections of Scripture in order to put God’s Word in your heart and to learn the ways of God.
• Redirect your thoughts to the Lord and take “prayer walks” (talking out loud to the Lord as you walk regularly in your neighborhood or on a trail).

“Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight. Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.” (Psalm 119:35–37)

The cure for codependency is rooted in developing an ever-deepening relationship with the Lord. Your increased intimacy with Him will naturally conform you to His character. When you let the Lord live inside you, you can live in His power. This means that because Christ was not codependent, you have His power to overcome codependency.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

PRAYER OF FORGIVENESS
“God, You know the pain
I experienced in my past.
I don’t want to keep carrying all this pain for the rest of my life.
I release (list hurts) into Your hands,
and I ask You to heal my emotional pain.
Lord, You know what (name of person) has done to hurt me.
As an act of my will, I choose to forgive (name).
I take (name) off my emotional hook
and put (name) onto Your emotional hook.
Thank You, Lord Jesus, for setting me FREE.
In Your holy name I pray. Amen.”

CODEPENDENCY PRAYER
“Lord Jesus, I renounce as a lie
the thought that I could ever be
truly abandoned or alone.
Thank You that You will
never abandon me
or leave me without support.
Thank You that no matter what I do
or what my circumstances,
no matter who is in my life
or not in my life,
You will be with me and
provide for my needs.
Thank You that Your plans for me
are for my good and that
You will carry them out.
Thank You that You are not
dependent on anything or anyone
other than Yourself to bring about
Your good intentions toward me.
I trust in You and You alone
to give me meaning and purpose and fulfillment in life.
In Your holy name I pray,
Amen.”

Help for an Unhealthy Relationship

Releasing You
Releasing is not to stop loving you, but is to love enough to stop leaning on you.
Releasing is not to stop caring for you, but is to care enough to stop controlling you.
Releasing is not to turn away from you, but is to turn to Christ, trusting His control over you.
Releasing is not to harm you, but is to realize “my help” has been harmful.
Releasing is not to hurt you, but is to be willing to be hurt for healing.
Releasing is not to judge you, but is to let the divine Judge judge me.
Releasing is not to restrict you, but is to restrict my demands of you.
Releasing is not to refuse you, but is to refuse to keep reality from you.
Releasing is not to cut myself off from you, but is to prune the unfruitful away from you.
Releasing is not to prove my power over you, but is to admit I am powerless to change you.
Releasing is not to stop believing in you, but is to believe the Lord alone will build character in you.
Releasing you is not to condemn the past, but is to cherish the present and commit our future to God.
—June Hunt

My Commitment Because of Christ in Me
Because Jesus lives in me … I will conquer codependency.
Because Christ was not a “people-pleaser” … I will not be a “people-pleaser.”
Because Christ refused to compromise … I will not yield to compromise.
Because Christ kept healthy boundaries … I will keep healthy boundaries.
Because Christ stood up to pressure … I will not cave in to pressure.
Because Jesus lives in me … I will conquer codependency!
—June Hunt

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

——————————————————————————————————
Hunt, J. (2013). Codependency (june hunt hope for the heart). Torrance, CA: Aspire Press.

Three reasons why panic attacks happen

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

There is more to look at and work on than just “waiting for the panic attacks to go away.” Usually, in panic disorder, there are significant issues that need to be faced.

First, there can be underlying isolation. If someone is significantly isolated inside, panic comes when this isolation and aloneness are close to being felt.

Secondly, there can be issues around boundaries and freedom. These are the most common in my experience.

Panic attacks usually have some dynamic involved when a person feels powerless in some significant area of life, especially significant relationships. He/She feels like their choices are controlled by someone else or by guilt, and freedom is limited. So, at various times he/she feels the panic that comes from being powerless. Good boundary and assertiveness work can help this dynamic dramatically.

Thirdly, there are often patterns of perfectionistic or “all or nothing thinking.”

Someone interprets his performance or experience in extreme forms, and severe anxiety accompanies that process. He has to learn to look at his thinking patterns and change them. And then there are often autonomy fears and fears associated with independence and adulthood. Sometimes family-of-origin issues need to be examined to get past those dynamics.

With the combination of good medical advice and good counseling, I have all the hope in the world that panic attacks can be helped. I have seen it happen successfully over and over again.

When to Say NO as a Mom

SOURCE:   Jill Savage/Family Life

 

You can’t do everything. Here are nine strategies to help you set some boundaries.

I was supposed to bring dinner to Amanda, a new mother at the church.  On the day the meal was to be delivered, Austin came down with a fever.  I left him at home with his homeschooled sister while I attended a parent-teacher conference for our son Kolya.  Then I dropped off a couple of boxes to be mailed, and stopped by the store to pick up a few things we needed. Once home, Erica needed some help with her schoolwork and Austin just wanted Mom to sit on the couch with him, rub his back, and watch a movie.  When my husband, Mark, came home, I was quite proud that I actually had dinner in the oven, considering the craziness of the day.

When we sat down to eat, Mark’s words stopped me in my tracks, “Jill, this is a great meal.  Is this what you took to Amanda’s family tonight too?”

I choked on the food I had just put in my mouth as I gasped in horror.  In the midst of everything that had happened, I had completely forgotten to take the meal to the new mom!  I was horrified as I pictured them sitting there waiting for me to bring their dinner, which should have been delivered well over an hour ago.

I rushed to the phone and dialed Amanda, apologizing all over the place and offering to order them a pizza that would be delivered to their home.  This sweet young mom was so gracious and reassured me that they had so many leftovers from the other meals brought that they had already warmed up some food and eaten.

I felt like such a failure.  How could I forget something I’d promised to do for someone else?

When I evaluated that incident over the next few days, I came to realize that it had nothing to do with that particular day, but it had everything to do with how much was on my plate in general.  I had enough going on that week that I had no business saying yes to bring a meal.

I needed to set some boundaries, and then I needed to abide by them.

Following Jesus’ example

Jesus said no when His mother and brothers tried to use their relationship to pull Him away from the people He was ministering to (Matthew 12:46-50).  Jesus said no to Peter and the disciples who thought Jesus should be a political king or military warrior rather than a Savior who would go to the cross for us (Matthew 16:23).  He said no to King Herod when he requested a miracle just for the purpose of entertainment (Luke 23:8-9).

Following His example, we know it’s perfectly okay for us to learn to say no as well.  As a mother you can’t do everything people ask you to do.  So here are several suggestions for setting boundaries that will help us follow Jesus’ example:

1. Keep in mind that you know what is best for you and your family.  With many mothers working outside the home, there are fewer school, church, and community volunteers available during the day.  Therefore, you are likely to be asked more often, simply because you are perceived to be more available.  Remember, even with church activities, that our families are our first ministries.

2. Never say yes on the spot.  Always tell them you will call them back after you’ve had time to pray and think about it.  This keeps you from making an on-the-spot decision you may regret later.  You can say no immediately if you know that the position or responsibility is wrong for you.

3. When considering a time commitment, make sure you take into account preparation time.  Most of us underestimate the time it really takes to do a job.  If you have been asked to bake five dozen cookies, look at the calendar and determine whether you truly have that much free time available before the cookies need to be delivered.  If it looks too busy, say you’re sorry, but you can’t do it.

4. Carefully consider the “brain space” this responsibility will require.  Have you ever been listening to your children, but really thinking about a new project or the hundreds of things you need to do?  When your mind is cluttered, you are not mentally available to your family.

5. Remember every minute of your day does not have to be scheduled!  If you have a doer mentality, you will think of a spare hour or two as a way to fit in one more yes.  Yet we need some time to do nothing.  If you need to, schedule in downtime each day.  Write it on your calendar and say no to anything that would fill that time.

6. Ask for accountability.  Ask your husband, a close friend, or your Bible study group to hold you accountable for the number of commitments you will carry.  Be open to their insight.  If you have trouble saying no, ask them to help you during the first few months while you get things back in balance.  When you tell someone you will call him or her back, check with your accountability partner first before answering.  Sort through your schedule with her.  Eventually you won’t need the partner’s help, but it can help you while you are learning to say no.

7. When you do say no, don’t feel that you need to give a long list of excuses.  You know what is best for your family and for yourself.  If you feel you need to give an excuse, simply say that it would not fit into your schedule at this time.

8. Keep in mind that you do not have to say yes simply because you are capable.  You may have strong leadership skills and will most likely be asked to lead most anything you will be involved in.  That doesn’t mean you have to say yes to those responsibilities.  You should say yes only after considering your time availability, other volunteer responsibilities, your family commitments, and what you might need to give up to properly do this job.  Of course, above all, you should say yes only after praying and seeking God’s will.

9. Remember that saying no allows others the opportunity to say yes.  Don’t take service opportunities away from others.  Don’t forget to make time to have a friend over, take your kids to the park, write a letter, or go on a date with your husband.  We don’t usually schedule these kinds of activities, but they are the first to go when we are overcommitted.

Remember that saying yes to some activities outside the home will be important to your sanity.  Moms of young children need to get out of the house to socialize and think about something other than diapers, bottles, and coupons.  Contrary to popular belief, your brain will not turn to mush—it will just feel like it at times.  We need to carefully choose those activities we will be involved in so that our time will be used wisely.  You will be amazed at the patience you will have with your family when you find balance in your activity schedule.


Adapted from Real Moms … Real Jesus ©2009 by Jill Savage. Published by Moody Publishers.

8 Signs of True Repentance

SOURCE:  Jennifer Greenberg

“I’m sorry,” I remember my dad saying. “I’m sorry, and I love you.”

He didn’t say what he was sorry for. He didn’t mention the hand-shaped bruises aching up and down my small 11-year-old body. He didn’t seem to understand how afraid and devastated I’d been. But that was the first time I’d ever heard my dad say sorry, and the relief it brought felt like rain after a drought.

In the back of my mind, a little voice said, Don’t trust this. He’s only apologizing because Mom threatened to tell Pastor Jim if he didn’t. I shoved that voice down. I smothered my doubts. I had prayed for so long that Dad would change. I had tried to be a good daughter who reminded him of Jesus.

His apology, however vague, was hope and a sign that God was working. Or was it?

Cruelty of False Repentance

Around a decade would pass before I’d hear my dad apologize again. Initially, I didn’t assume sincerity. By that time, I’d already blown the whistle. I’d told our pastor everything. Dad was under church discipline. His marriage was imploding. He had nothing to gain by lying, did he?

And then something strange happened. As I began sharing my story with pastors, family, and friends, my dad would admit and apologize for things he’d done, but then weeks or even days later, claim he didn’t remember any of it. He’d say he didn’t recall beating me, throwing me down on the stairs, or even his recent apologies for those events. He didn’t remember his sexual comments, throwing a knife at me, or threatening to shoot me. He’d apologize, then retract. Remember, then claim to forget. Back and forth this went for maybe a year, until I felt like I was losing my mind.

“I don’t know what to think,” I told him over the phone one day. Huddled on the kitchen floor, I spoke between sobs. “I can believe either you’re crazy and didn’t know what you were doing, or you’re evil and you understood completely.”

“I’m not crazy,” he replied calmly. “You’re just going to have to accept that I’m evil.”

Analyzing Repentance

I’ve had a lot of experience dealing with unrepentant people: multiple abusers spanning two decades of child abuse, domestic violence, and sexual abuse. All of this was reinforced and compounded by psychological abuse, which continued well into my 30s. Because of my background, I’ve accrued some practical wisdom. Because of my faith, I’ve turned to the Bible for guidance when distinguishing real from fake repentance.

There are stubborn sinners who refuse to apologize, liars who claim to be sorry when they’re not, and hypocrites who may truly believe they’re sorry yet lack sympathy or understanding of biblical repentance. So what are the attributes of genuine repentance? Here are eight signs I’ve gleaned, from life and from God’s Word.

1. A Repentant Person Is Appalled by Sin

Horrified by what they’ve done, they’ll humble themselves, grieve the pain they’ve caused, and be cut to the heart in their conviction. As the prophet mourned in Isaiah 6:5, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.”

2. They Make Amends

In Luke 19:1–10, we read the story of Zacchaeus and the generosity he demonstrated as part of his repentance. A tax collector, thief, and oppressor of God’s people, Zacchaeus made amends: “Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (v. 8). And Jesus confirmed the authenticity of Zacchaeus’s repentance: “Today salvation has come to this house” (v. 9).

3. They Accept Consequences

A genuinely repentant person will accept consequences. These may include losing the trust of others, relinquishing a position of authority, or submitting to worldly authorities such as law enforcement. When the thief on the cross repented, he said to his companion, “Do you not fear God? . . . We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve” (Luke 23:40–41). And Jesus commended his repentance by assuring him of his salvation: “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

4. They Don’t Expect or Demand Forgiveness

Often I’ve been told by my abuser, “If you don’t forgive me, God won’t forgive you.” But this threatening posture indicates insincere repentance. It’s unloving, manipulative, and implies the offender doesn’t accept or comprehend the gravity of what they’ve done. When Jacob approached Esau and repented, he didn’t expect mercy, let alone compassion. In Genesis 32, we read he felt “great fear” and “distress” (v. 7). He anticipated an attack (v. 11) and considered himself unworthy of kindness (v. 10). In fact, so certain was Jacob of retribution that he separated his wives, children, and servants from him, lest Esau’s anger fall on them too.

5. They Feel the Depth of the Pain They’ve Caused

A repentant person won’t try to minimize, downplay, or excuse what they’ve done. They won’t point to all their good works as if those actions somehow outweigh or cancel out the bad. They’ll view even their “righteous acts” as “filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). They won’t shame the offended party for being hurt or angry. They won’t blame their victims or other people for making them sin. Rather, they’ll take responsibility, acknowledge the damage they’ve done, and express remorse.

6. They Change Their Behavior

A truly repentant person will realize they need God to sanctify their heart. They’ll proactively work to change their behavior and take steps to avoid sin and temptation. That may mean seeing a counselor, going to rehab, or asking friends, pastors, or law enforcement to give them oversight and hold them accountable. Consider the stark contrast between the church persecutor Saul before salvation and after. Acts 9 tells us that even though some Christians were understandably hesitant to trust him, his character had already altered dramatically.

7. They Grant Space to Heal

The fruit of the Spirit includes patience, kindness, grace, and self-control (Gal. 5:22–23). A truly repentant person will demonstrate these consistently. They won’t feel entitled to trust or acceptance; rather, they’ll be humble, unassuming, and willing to sacrifice their own wants and needs for the benefit of the injured party. They won’t pressure us to hurry up and “get over it” or “move on.” Rather, they’ll understand our distrust, acknowledge our grief, and honor the boundaries we’ve requested.

As an abuser, they loved their sin more than they loved you. As a repentant sinner, they should love you more than their sin and pride.

8. They’re Awestruck by Forgiveness

If a person feels entitled to forgiveness, they don’t value forgiveness. When Jacob received Esau’s forgiveness, he was so astounded he wept: “To see your face is like seeing the face of God, for you have received me favorably” (Gen. 30:10). Jacob realized that forgiveness is divine miracle, a picture of the Messiah, and a sign of the Lord’s mercy. Though Jacob and Esau hadn’t spoken for 40 years, Jacob knew God had enabled Esau, by grace, to forgive him.

Repentance and Forgiveness Are from God

When these eight signs of repentance are authentically present, we are blessed. Our offender has forsaken evil, and the God of peace is glorified. But what do we do when these signs are not present? What do we do when someone lies about being sorry to avoid consequences, or uses our goodwill as an opportunity to hurt us again?

For more than three decades, I begged God to call my abusive dad to repentance. Instead, like Pharaoh, his heart only hardened. His pretenses at change turned out to be a strategy he used to enable his wickedness. My own love and trust were weaponized to betray me.

Eventually, I had to accept that my dad didn’t want to get better. And no matter how much I loved him and wanted him to repent, change, be a good dad, love me, and love Jesus, salvation is God’s work, and I couldn’t fix my dad. Sometimes the most loving thing we can do for a person is to not let them hurt us any longer.

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