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Archive for the ‘Co-Dependency Enabling’ Category

The Process of Developing a Life-Controlling Problem

SOURCE:  Living Free

John and Becky are 50-year-olds who attend church every Sunday and on Wednesday evenings. To look at them on Sunday morning, it would seem they are a happy Christian couple; however, the police know their address very well. During the last two years, they have become regular visitors to this home.

There are two life-controlling problems in this home.

John has uncontrolled anger, and Becky, though frequently physically and verbally abused, covers for his violent behavior because she believes it is the Christian thing to do. This violent behavior and unhealthy cover-up have gradually worsened over the years. John, who was abused by his father when he was a child, has been abusing his wife for years, but it has escalated to the point where her wounds can no longer be covered up.

These mastering problems have not only trapped John and Becky, but because they have been covered up and not dealt with, their children have also been caught in this web of pain.

A life-controlling problem is anything that masters (or controls) a person’s life. Many terms have been used to describe life-controlling problems. Someone may speak of a dependency, a compulsive behavior, or an addiction. In 2 Corinthians 10:4, the Apostle Paul uses the word stronghold to describe an area of sin that has become a part of our lifestyle when he writes that there is divine power to demolish strongholds.

The easiest life-controlling problems to identify are harmful habits like drug or alcohol use, eating disorders, sexual addictions, gambling, tobacco use, and the like. Life-controlling problems can also include harmful feelings like anger and fear. The word addiction or dependency can refer to the use of a substance (like food, alcohol, legal and/or illegal drugs, etc.,), or it can refer to the practice of a behavior (like shoplifting, gambling, use of pornography, compulsive spending, TV watching, etc.). It can also involve a relationship with another person. We call those relationships co-dependencies.

The Apostle Paul talks about life-controlling problems in terms of our being slaves to this behavior or dependency that masters us. He writes in Romans 6:14, Sin shall not be your master. In 1 Corinthians 6:12b, he says, Everything is permissible for me ‘ but I will not be mastered by anything [or anyone]. According to 2 Peter 2:19b, A man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. Anything that becomes the center of a person’s life if allowed to continue will become master of that life.

Because we live in a world today that can be described as an addictive society, most people are affected in some way by a life-controlling problem — their own or someone else’s. Everyone has the potential of being mastered by a life-controlling problem. No one plans for it to happen, but without warning, an individual (and those who care about him) can be pulled into the downward spiral of a stronghold.

Addictions and Idols

Idolatry leads to addiction. When we follow idols, a choice has been made to look to a substance, behavior, or relationship for solutions that can be provided only by God. We have a felt need to serve a supreme being; if we choose not to serve God, we will choose an idol to which we will become enslaved. Jeffrey VanVonderen says:

Anything besides God to which we turn, positive or negative, in order to find life, value, and meaning is idolatry: money, property, jewels, sex, clothes, church buildings, educational degrees, anything! Because of Christ’s performance on the cross, life, value, and purpose are available to us in gift form only. Anything we do, positive or negative, to earn that which is life by our own performance is idolatrous: robbing a bank, cheating on our spouse, people-pleasing, swindling our employer, attending church, giving 10 percent, playing the organ for twenty years, anything!

Following idols, which leads to addictions, prevents us from serving and loving God freely. All kinds of substance and behavioral dependencies lead to enslavement because everyone who makes sinful choices is a candidate for slavery to sin (see John 8:34). Jesus states in John 8:32 that the truth will set you free. God spoke to Moses in Exodus 20:3, You shall have no other gods before me. Sin, when unconfessed, strains the relationship with God that is meant to be enjoyed by the believer (see Proverbs 28:13; Jonah 2:8).

A very controversial question arises: Is an addiction a sin or a disease?

Those who believe addictions are sin point to the acts of the sinful nature which include a substance (drunkenness) and behavioral (sexual immorality) problem in Galatians 5:19-21. Another reference to the sinfulness of addictions is 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 which shows that a definite change occurred in the lives of the Corinthian Christians: And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Those who believe addictions (particularly alcoholism and other chemical dependencies) are a disease state the characteristics are progressive, primary, chronic, and fatal. In the latter stages, the victims are incapable of helping themselves because there is a loss of control and choice. In the 1950s the American Medical Association voted approval of the disease concept of alcohol dependence. The term disease means deviation from a state of health (Minirth, 57).

When sin and addiction are compared, they show similar characteristics. Both are self-centered versus God-centered and cause people to live in a state of deception. Sin and addiction lead people to irresponsible behavior, including the use of various defenses to cover up their ungodly actions. Sin and addiction are progressive; people get worse if there is not an intervention. Jesus healed the man at the pool of Bethesda and later saw him at the temple. Jesus warned him about the progressiveness of sin: See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you (John 5:14). Sin is primary in that it is the root cause of evil. Sin produces sinners as alcohol causes alcoholism. Sin is also chronic if not dealt with effectively. Finally, sin is fatal with death being the end result.

Although addictions do have the characteristics of a disease, I must stand with the authority of God’s Word as it pronounces various addictions as being a part of the sinful nature (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:19-21). They are sinful because God has been voided as the source of the solution to life’s needs, and these choices often develop into a disease. A noted Christian psychiatrist says:

Physiologically, of course, some people are more prone to alcoholism than others, even after one drink. And often guilt drives them to more and more drinking. But then some people also have more of a struggle with greed, lust, smoking, anger, or overeating than others. Failure to contend with all of these is still sin (Minirth, 57-58).

Anything that becomes the center of one’s life, if allowed to continue, will become the master of life. If God is not the center of a person’s life, that person will probably turn to a substance, behavior, or another person for focus and meaning. David describes his enemy in Psalm 52 as one who did not make God his stronghold but trusted in his great wealth and grew strong by destroying others (v7).

The young, rich ruler described in the gospels (see Matthew 19:16-29; Mark 10:17-30; Luke 18:18-30) came to Jesus asking how to receive eternal life. When Jesus told him he would have to sell everything he had, give it to the poor, and follow him, the young man went away sad. This rich man’s stronghold was the love of money. Everybody, not only the rich, must guard against this greater love of the rich young man. Paul writes: People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Timothy 6:9-10).

This stronghold, the love of money, is the root cause of most addictions that plague our society. Although alcohol is a major cause of deaths, sicknesses, broken families, and relationships, it continues to be advertised with marketing strategies which appeal even to America’s high school and elementary-aged children. The demand for cocaine and other substances would soon cease if there were no profits to be made. Sexual addictions are fed by an $8 billion industry of pornographic materials, appealing television commercials, and provocative movies. Compulsive gambling is fed by state-run lotteries. I wonder how much the love of money contributes to eating disorders. Many young women starve themselves to sickness and even death because of a greedy society that promotes an unhealthy thinness as beauty through media appeal and modeling agencies.

As the creation of God, each of us has a need to be dependent. There is a vacuum in the heart of every human since the fall of Adam and Eve that can be filled only by Christ. After our first parents disobeyed God, they immediately recognized their nakedness. Without God’s covering, they hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden (Genesis 3:8). They soon learned they could not escape from God.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there (Psalm 139:7-8).

It is interesting that Adam and Eve hid among the trees. They hid there because of guilt. Idols, which are false gods, can also become hiding places. Isaiah writes: for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood [or false gods] our hiding place (28:15).

In a life where Christ is not the focus, a person is likely to center attention on a substance, behavior, or another person which will eventually become a god to them. David recognized the need to have God as his tower of strength.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior from violent men you save me (2 Samuel 22:2-3).

The disease concept of addictions should be approached with caution. Assigning addictive substances and behaviors to the disease model tends to overlook the sinful nature of mankind. Although it is popular to label every stronghold as a disease, the Church must warmly care for those caught in the web of deception with ongoing support. It takes more than a pat on the back to cure them of their stronghold. Sinful choices develop into lifestyles that are self-centered and destructive. The fall of man puts us all in need of recovery.

How the Trap Works
Addictions and dependencies generally fall into three categories: substance addictions, behavior addictions, and relationship (interaction) addictions.

1. Substance addictions (the use of substances taking control of our lives)

  • Drugs/chemicals
  • Food (eating disorders)
  • Alcohol Other addictive substances

2. Behavior addictions (the practice of behaviors taking control of our lives)

  • Gambling
  • Compulsive spending
  • Use of pornography/other sexual addiction
  • Love of money
  • Sports
  • Other addictive behavior

3. Relationship (interaction) addictions (You may have heard a relationship problem like this referred to as co-dependency. )

Everyone has the potential of experiencing one or more of these life-controlling problems at some time. Maybe you find yourself already involved in an addiction or another problem behavior that has taken over your life. Sometimes it is hard to identify a life-controlling problem.

Here are some questions that may help in that process:

Is my behavior practiced in secret?
Can it meet the test of openness or do I hide it from family and friends?
Does this behavior pull me away from my commitment to Christ?
Does it express Christian love?
Is this behavior used to escape feelings?
Does this behavior have a negative effect on myself or others?

These questions help us identify problems that have reached (or are in danger of reaching) the point of becoming life-controlling problems.

The next step is to look at the ways these behaviors and dependencies tend to progress in a person’s life. Researchers have identified a pattern that follows some very predictable steps. Most people get involved with an addiction to receive a feeling of euphoria. Alcohol or other drugs, sex, pornographic literature, gambling, and so forth, produce a temporary high or euphoria.

Vernon E. Johnson, the founder and president emeritus of the Johnson Institute in Minneapolis, has observed (without trying to prove any theory) literally thousands of alcoholics, their families, and other people surrounding them . . . we came up with the discovery that alcoholics showed certain specific conditions with a remarkable consistency. Dr. Johnson uses a feeling chart to illustrate how alcoholism follows an emotional pattern. He identifies four phases: (1) learns mood swing, (2) seeks mood swing, (3) harmful dependency, (4) using to feel normal. Many of the observations made by Dr. Johnson and others, including myself, can also be related to other types of dependencies although the terminology may differ.

We call it the “Trap” because it often snares its victims before they realize what is really happening.

Every person has the potential of experiencing a life-controlling problem. No one is automatically exempt. Even though no one plans to be trapped by such a problem, it can happen without a person’s even being aware.

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Material from Understanding the Times and Knowing What to Do
Copyright © 1991, 1997 by Turning Point Ministries
All Rights Reserved

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Setting Limits on Manipulative or Narcissistic Behavior

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

In the alcoholic home, if a spouse chooses not to limit her drinking, this is their responsibility. However, other family members can set limits on how they will be affected by it. If an alcoholic continues to drink, the other spouse can only limit themselves, not the other person. They can say, “I will limit my exposure to your behavior. If you continue to drink, the children and I will move out until you get sober.” You can’t stop your spouse from drinking, but you can stop yourself from being affected by it.

I realize this is one example, and there are many different situations and outcomes that affect this situation, but I want you to know that you still have control of the decisions and choices that you make for yourself. And making those decisions involves myriad details.

If we can’t set limits on ourselves, however, we need to enlist the aid of others. This is still taking responsibility. If we call the police and ask them to help limit our exposure, we are taking responsibility. If we call a friend every time we feel out of control in some area and ask them to counsel with us, we are taking responsibility for our own lack of limits. This tactic has worked for people with compulsive behaviors for years. They find themselves without limits, so they take responsibility for getting help in setting them.

Our limits are our fence around our property line. They define for us what we will allow and what we will not allow into our yard. The fence around our yard has an important function: it keeps the good things in, and the bad things out. Every one of us has different limits in different areas, and we must take responsibility for those individually. Here are some acceptable limits to set:

I will no longer allow myself to be with you when you are drunk. If you choose to drink, I will leave until you stop.

I will no longer let you undermine me. I will leave until you can treat me with respect and courtesy.

I will no longer be yelled at. I will not correspond with you until we can have an amicable conversation.

I will not let your narcissistic behavior affect me. I will create distance between us and choose not to respond to you until you show empathy.

I will no longer let you control me. I will say no when I want, even if you don’t like it. And I have support from my friends and family to back me up.

These examples illustrate ways of establishing one’s limits on what one will allow and what one will not. Establishing limits is essential in every relationship and is the basis for mutual respect and love. This does not mean that we will not forgive, or not continue to love and work on conflict. It does mean that we will require responsible behavior on the other’s part, for only then can the conflict be worked through.

How Some People Get Stuck in the Same Toxic Patterns

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

In my work as a clinician, a leadership consultant, and a fellow sojourner, I have found something to be true: in both our personal and professional lives, it is often the exact same issues that can hold us back, or even derail us. Find a control freak at home, and chances are that their co-workers have the same complaints that the spouse has. Or, if someone is an enabler in their love life, they are also a boss who doesn’t confront poor performance. In short, we usually don’t have personal issues vs. work issues. What we really have are “me” issues. And they show up wherever we are.

In both the personal and professional life, there are times when reality dictates that a person must stand up and “end” something. Either its time has passed, its season is over, or worse, continuing it would be destructive in some way. The situation requires someone to:

• Fire an employee who should be fired
• End a dating relationship that is not going to go where they need to go
• Shut down a product line or a business unit
• Get out of social ties and activities whose “season has passed”
• Letting go of a dream that is not going to materialize and moving on
• Leave a job or a career that they know is not right, or is even toxic for them
• End a marriage with repeated unfaithfulness that is not changing
• Admit that something is failing and waving the white flag
• Unplug from toxic friendships or family ties
• Give up on an addict who does not want to change

But too many times, with clear evidence staring them in the face, people find it difficult to pull the trigger. Why is that?

The reasons are varied, but understandable, especially in light of developmental psychology, our understanding of trauma, and cognitive mapping. Some people’s developmental path has not equipped them to stand up and let go of something. For example, if they did not develop what psychologists refer to as secure attachment or emotional object constancy, the separation and loss that ending a relationship triggers for them is too much, so they avoid it. In addition, in their development they may not have been taught the skills to confront situations like these.

Or, if they have had traumatic losses in life, another ending represents a replay of those, and they shy away or frantically try to mend whatever is wrong, way past reason. Or they have internal maps that tell them that ending something is “mean” or will cause someone harm. In any case, fears dominate their functioning, and they find themselves unable to do a “necessary ending.” See if you can relate to any of these fears or inabilities that can cause people to hang on or stay somewhere too long:

• You can’t tell if an ending is actually necessary, or if “it” or “he” is fixable
• Being afraid of the loss and the sadness
• Fearing the confrontation
• Fearing the unknown
• Lacking the skills to execute the ending
• You lack the right words to use
• You fear hurting the person
• You have had too many painful endings in your personal history and don’t want another one
• You’ve blown endings before, and don’t want to repeat it one more time

Probably all of us can relate to something on that list. But even so, here is the issue: endings are necessary. They are an essential part of life. Everything has seasons, and we have to be able to recognize that something’s time has passed and be able to move to the next season. And, everything that is alive requires pruning as well, which is a great metaphor for endings. Gardeners prune a rose bush for three reasons:

1. The bush produces more buds than it can sustain, and some good ones have to go so the best ones can have the resources of the bush
2. There are some branches and buds that are sick and not going to get well
3. There are some that are already dead and are taking up space

So, let’s apply that to life:

1. Over time, you gather more activities, relationships, work, interests, etc. than you can really feed with the best of your time and energy. You have to realize that you cannot go deep with everything, and figure out which ones you are going to invest in.

2. Face it, there are people who you have tried everything with to get them to “get it,” or businesses/strategies where you have also tried everything and there is no reason to keep throwing good money after bad.

3. And, there are people, places and things around which have been dead for a long time, and it is past time to let go.

Therefore, we have a dilemma: life and success require “necessary endings,” and we are afraid to execute them. That equals a conflict worth solving. So, what to do?

Let’s start with a few thoughts:

• Consider how you look at endings in general. Do you perceive them as natural? Do you have a world view that everything has its season and life cycle, or do you think that if something comes to an end it means that “something must be wrong?”
• When you see that you need to let go of something, or a person, what happens inside? What fears emerge? How paralyzing are they? What can you do to address them?
• Have you really thought about the fact that if you don’t do the pruning in that area that is needed, then you won’t get what you ultimately want? For example, if you keep that employee then that department will never perform well? Or if you stay in that dating relationship you will not find the one that fulfills? Play the movie forward a year or two and see if you like the results of not making a decision.
• If you are holding on to hope, what is the basis for that? Is it rational and objective? Or is it just a defense against facing the issue?

Endings are a part of life, and we are actually wired to be able to execute them. But because of trauma, developmental failures and other reasons, we shy away from taking the steps that could open up whole new worlds of development and growth. Take an inventory of the areas of life that may need some pruning, and begin to take the steps that you need to face the fears that are getting in the way. If you do, you might find yourself getting unstuck and entering into a whole new season of life.

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Necessary Endings

Use Boundaries to Help Someone in Need Without Codependent Habits

SOURCE:  Henry Cloud/John Townsend

People on the go often have dependent relationships that they don’t know what to do with. These are individuals who, for any number of reasons, have tremendous life struggles and challenges and often deal with grave problems. They are needy and ask for a great deal of time, energy, and support. You may find yourself functioning as someone’s life support system. For example, you may have a friend who is going through a divorce and calls often for advice and a listening ear. Or you could have someone who has lost a job and is trying to pick up the pieces. Sometimes a needy person has a long history of failure and crisis and has for years been dependent on others to take care of him.

A needy person is often a very good person who is not truly toxic at heart. He may simply be going through his own dark night of the soul, as do all of us at some point in life. Or he may have a dependent character issue that prevents him from being autonomous and in charge. Though a needy person may be good hearted, his impact on you and your aspirations may have the outcome of being toxic and a distraction from your path.

It is important to realize that most needy people truly need help, support, time, and encouragement. They often benefit greatly from a community that connects with them to give them safety and stability. We are all called to reach out to the needy and give back what has been given to us. That is a large part of what life is all about. So if you have a dependent relationship in your life, make sure that you are being generous, sacrificing, and caring for that person.

At the same time, however, be certain that what you are doing is actually what is best for him. It is easy to think that being totally available to struggling individuals is what they need. Sometimes that is true. For example, if you have a child who is very ill or has a serious problem, a great deal of life must go on the back burner so that you can give him the time and resources he needs. Or your friend in a marital nightmare may, for a season of life, call on you often to keep her existence together. Helping those with needs such as these can be right, loving, proper, and good. In fact, for some people, that ability to help the needy is their true calling. Mother Teresa is a wonderful example. Meeting the desperate needs of others puts those people in their right place. For others, helping the afflicted coexists with and is supported by their own desire to grow, change, and achieve.

But it’s important to be aware that sometimes a needy person needs more than we can provide. That is not his fault; it is just the reality of his situation. You may not have the expertise to meet his needs that a counselor, support group, or financial expert might provide. If that is the case, become a conduit for help, rather than the sole source of care. You may help that individual better by being a bridge to what is really needed. If your friend is hemorrhaging, it may not be your job to be the surgeon, but rather the ambulance that gets him to the surgeon. Also, bear in mind that in crises, the early stages are generally more demanding than the latter ones. In the beginning, you may need to spend more time and energy until your friend is stabilized and able to walk better on his own.

So do not turn your back on the needy. Be there for them in the best ways that you can help. And as you give what you can truly provide, be sure that you also guide them to resources and structures that can help them on their own path. And continue taking steps down your own path.

Ten (10) Truths Every Christian Needs to Know About Marriage

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

1. God designed marriage to be a loving and respectful partnership, not a slave/master dictatorship where one person dominates and controls the other. When one spouse seeks to gain power and control over the other and bullies or intimidates using words, finances, physical force, or the Scriptures, he or she is not only sinning against their spouse but also against God’s plan for marriage.

2. Every healthy adult relationship requires three essential ingredients to thrive. They are mutuality, reciprocity, and freedom. Mutuality means that each person brings into the relationship honesty, compassion, and respect. Reciprocity involves a give and take, where both people in the relationship share power and both people in the relationship share responsibility. Lastly, a healthy marriage needs freedom to express one’s thoughts, feelings and needs without fear as well as freedom to respectfully challenge someone’s behavior or ideas. When any of these three ingredients are missing we may be in a relationship with someone, but it is often difficult, unhealthy, and sometimes destructive.

3. All marriages experience angst, disagreement, and struggle. When a conflict arises mature people engage in conversations where they discuss, negotiate compromise, as well as respect one another’s differences, feelings and desires. They work on problem-solving, not attacking one another.

4. When a person is seriously sinned against, Jesus understands it fractures relationships. He provides instructions for relationship repair in Matthew 18. First, we are to go to the person who has sinned against us and speak to them about it. However, when that conversation does not result in repentance, no reconciliation of the relationship can take place, even if one-sided forgiveness is granted. Relationships are damaged by sin and are not repaired without repentance and restitution. Joseph forgave his brothers long before he saw them again when they came looking for food in Egypt, but he did not trust them or reconcile with them until he saw their hearts were changed (Genesis 44,45).

5. When a person or spouse respectfully speaks up against injustice and oppression in a marriage (or anywhere else for that matter), God is with them. When a spouse speaks up against the abuse and injustice in her marriage, Christians need to come alongside her, hear her, and provide church support and help. In practicing Matthew 18, she is seeking true reconciliation and is attempting biblical peacemaking. The church must not pressure her reconcile without any evidence of repentance or to be a peace at any price peacekeeper.

God does not care more about the institution of marriage than the safety and sanity of the people in it. .

6. If the abuser refuses to listen, refuses to repent or change, the blessings of a close marriage are impossible. Unconditional love does not equal unconditional relationship. God loves humankind unconditionally but does not offer unconditional relationship to everyone. Our sin separates us from God and repeated unacknowledged and unrepentant sin also separates us from one another. Marital intimacy, trust, fellowship, and warmth cannot exist where there is fear, threats, intimidation, bullying and disrespect of one’s thoughts, feelings, body, or personhood. A marriage with no boundaries or conditions It is not psychologically healthy, nor is it spiritually sound

7. One person in a difficult/destructive marriage can make the relationship better by not reacting sinfully to mistreatment, not retaliating and not repaying evil for evil, but one person in a difficult marriage cannot make a bad marriage good all by herself. It takes both people working together. Sometimes people helpers place an inordinately heavy burden on one spouse to somehow maintain fellowship and intimacy in a relationship while they are repeatedly being sinned against.

8. If the couple desires biblical change, Christian people helpers (pastors, Christian counselors, well-meaning friends) must not attempt to heal the couple’s serious marital wounds superficially by pushing premature reconciliation or promising peace when there is no true peace (Jeremiah 6:14) A Biblical peacemaker knows there is no quick fix to these difficult situations and walk this couple through the counseling stages of safety, sanity, and stability, until they reach security. There is no mutual counseling possible without first establishing some history of safety, not only physically, but emotionally and financially.

9. When trust in a marriage is broken (through deceit, infidelity, abuse, or unfaithfulness in various ways), the marriage is seriously damaged. The gift of consequences[1] can be a painful but potent reminder that the wrong-doer will not reap the benefits of a good marriage when they continue to sow discord, sin, and selfishness. Consequences may include legal ramifications, church discipline, and/or loss of relationship through separation when warranted.

10. Church and pastoral support and accountability are critical for a couple to heal from a destructive relationship pattern. Secrets destroy. An atmosphere of loving accountability and support along with zero tolerance for manipulation, abuse, or power and control over another individual, is the optimal environment for biblical peacemaking and relationship repair to take place.

You Can Help Someone Without Becoming Codependent

SOURCE:  Henry Cloud/John Townsend

Amy called Tina late one night needing a friend.

“He’s gone,” Amy said between sobs. “Dad passed an hour ago.”

Tina was heartbroken for her friend. Though offering condolences and prayers seemed appropriate, Tina wanted to do more for Amy. She couldn’t take away the pain Amy was experiencing, and she was busy with work and family obligations, yet she felt as though she needed to do more. This was one of her best friends.

Simply said, the way to comfort someone who is enduring a loss, going through a hard time or is recovering from addiction is to give them the support and structure they need to go through the process that is unavoidable.

Each of these instances requires a letting-go experience, a letting-go of defenses, control, the things that have been lost, emotions, niceties and the like. But to let go, someone has to be held up. The facilitator is the person who is the life support and the one who holds up the other person while they let go of their emotions and habits, and enter a very natural process. So, the facilitator’s job is to provide the comfort, safety and structure that helps allow that to happen.

Consider the following:

  • Use active listening and empathy. Give empathic statements that show that you hear and understand what the person is experiencing.
  • Be emotionally present with the person. Look them in the eye. Reach out and touch their arm. Show that you truly are with them.
  • Ask questions that require something other than yes or no answers, or factual responses. Instead, ask questions that allow them to talk: “What has this been like for you?” “I cannot imagine what you have experienced. Tell me how you have coped.” Open ended, process questions.
  • Watch for the ones who are too overwhelmed to process. Grief is good to express, unless the person is too overwhelmed to truly grieve. In that case, they need containment rather than to open up. If it is too much for them to express their grief, help them to feel safe and gain control. Tell them you will be there with them, and don’t try to get them more into what they are feeling at that time.
  • Don’t offer pat answers or platitudes.
  • Offer practical help that restores the structure of life. Do they need a ride somewhere? Do they need a meal? Do they need errands taken care of? Do they need help with insurance forms? These things are of great comfort and restore the structure of life.

Here’s something to always keep in mind: The biggest comfort you can give is the fact that you are there and you care. Don’t worry about having all the answers or solutions. Your presence and care is the biggest support you can offer. The biggest help is to give them a time and a place to talk. Do not try to sidestep the process that they feel, with all its different emotions, or try to make it tidy. The healing process has to make its own path.

Practicing Boundaries: Love vs. Enabling

SOURCE:  John Townsend

We all want to care and help those in need. But how do you know when you are being loving with someone, or are actually enabling them? When you are faced with a request for your time, energy or money, how do you know if the right response is to say “yes” and provide it, or “no” and decline?

The Bible teaches, over and over again, that we are to help others:

And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. 
— Hebrews 13:16

We are designed to love others in word and deed. Also, for most of us, it’s much easier to say “yes” than “no”, for a number of reasons:

• We feel compassion for the person’s struggle
• We remember our own difficult situations
• We don’t want them to feel disappointed and discouraged
• We wonder if God has placed us in their life for this situation
• We think we may be the only solution for them

At the same time, however, our provision for someone can actually make the situation worse for them, because we may be preventing them from experiencing some consequence for their behaviors, and not learning to change how they operate in life. This is the process of God’s disciplining us, so that we grow up and mature:

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. — Hebrews 12:7

The process of experiencing consequences is key:

• A child in a 5-minute time out begs to get out in 3 minutes
• A teen asks not to be grounded for bad grades
• A friend who has had several failing jobs asks for a loan
• A spouse with a drinking problem asks their spouse to give them one more chance before requiring counseling

In all of these examples, it’s unsure what the right thing to do might be. There is just not enough information here. So back to the question: how to tell if you’re being loving, or if you’re enabling? Here are 5 questions to ask yourself as a sort of filter, and you will find the answer to the issue when you engage with them. You will probably answer some as a “yes” and some as a “no”, and don’t worry that the answers for all agree. You’ll see the balance to help your decision.

#1. Are they unable? We are called to have compassion and help those who have not, and also can not. They simply do not have the capability or resources to solve their problem. For example, a tribe in a developing country has no water wells. Or a homeless man has nowhere to sleep but under a freeway. Or a young businesswoman needs a mentor to help her grow in her leadership. We all are to be mindful to

carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. — Galatians 6:2

However, to be unable is very different than to be unwilling. Something may be difficult or inconvenient, and that’s just life. For example, a young adult who is living at home and doesn’t want to work, go to school, or do house chores, is more unwilling than unable.

#2. Are you resourced? Do you possess what the person is asking for? That might include the finances, or the time, or energy required. So often, I see people giving what they can’t afford to give, and then not being able to meet the demands of their lives. I have had to work with pastors whose families suffered because while Dad was helping everyone in the church, he wasn’t around to be a parent and husband. Here are some sobering words:

Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.— I Timothy 5:8

We need to make sure we are resourcing ourselves for the priorities we have been tasked to do.

There is certainly always a case for sacrificial giving, as in the example of the woman who gave her last two coins (Mark 12:41-44). So pray, and make sure you consider if the sacrifice is one that God has surely called you to do.

#3. Do they have skin in the game? In other words, are they also putting significant effort into solving the problem? This might involve going to job interviews, starting one’s own microbusiness, putting a small percentage of money into an initiative and doing homework after a coaching session:

The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat. — 2 Thessalonians 3:10

When a person who is struggling simply receives that help passively, it tends to foster increased passivity and what psychologists call “learned helplessness.” Learned helplessness is a sense that we don’t have choices that matter, so we simply give up and don’t take initiative or agency to solve our challenges. But when our efforts are part of the solution, we are strengthened and grow.

#4. Will you feel cheerful or will you feel reluctant or under compulsion? This question is based on Paul’s words about giving:

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. — 2 Corinthians 9:7

Our emotions provide information for us. If we feel cheerful, then that’s a sign that you are happy you made a good choice. If we feel reluctant (grudging) or under compulsion (guilt-ridden), that’s a sign that you might need to rethink all of this.

#5. Is the outcome gratitude and autonomy, or entitlement and dependency? This last question is based on your history with the person. What have been the results of your providing for them? Are they thankful and able to bear their burdens more? That’s a good thing, and a positive sign that you may be doing the right thing. Or do they become entitled and demanding for more of your resource, and is their dependency on you increased? Not a good sign. Pay attention to the outcomes, or the fruit:

A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. — Matthew 7:18

If you have no giving history with the person, ask others who know them for their feedback.

Use these questions to clarify what the loving, but not enabling, path should be for yourself in your situation. Be sure to pray and ask safe friends what they think.

Finally, finally finally: if, after you have used this system, it’s still murky, and you’re unsure, then it might be best, in this particular situation, to default to grace. It’s always the best place to be.

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For more information, read the Updated and Expanded edition of Boundaries, published by Zondervan, and written Henry Cloud and myself, which has just been released. It also has a fresh new chapter on how to set boundaries in today’s digital age! God bless you.

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