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Archive for the ‘Co-Dependency Enabling’ Category

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.


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.


Can Separation Help Reconcile A Marriage?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Today’s Question: Can separation help reconcile a marriage? If you are physically separated, how could the marriage be worked on?

For the past year, my husband has just ignored me, stonewalled me, refused to get counseling or fix the marriage.  Basically, he is living like a bachelor, comes and goes as he pleases and acts like he has no wife and kids. I have told him repeatedly that I cannot live this way anymore and that we both need to change and work on those things that keep causing issues in our marriage.

After refusing to move out for so long, he has now decided to move out. Even with all that he has done (lying, deceit, treating the kids and me very badly, anger issues, control issues, emotional affair issues), I still love him as my husband and wish that we can reconcile and fix everything but the condition is that behaviors must change and he refuses to take accountability for his actions.

I know that I brought my own baggage too into the marriage but at least I admit them and I am seeing a therapist to fix my own insecurities. Based on our marriage history, he is the type to try and sweep things under the rug until the point that it gets forgotten because everyday life takes over. He is also the type that when he is angry with someone, he can harbor that anger for a very long time and I know that I have hurt him a lot with things I have said and I know that he is very angry with me.

So if he moves out now, how can there be opportunities to fix the marriage? Can a separation really be a catalyst to repairing a marriage? All the advice I have gotten from Christians and non-Christians is to just let him go and move on with my life and let the kids grow up without such a bad father figure.

But for me, it doesn’t sit well with me to just cut all ties without trying to salvage the marriage. I just feel so crazy sometimes because I don’t know what to do.  One minute I think it’s okay to let him go and then I feel such heartache and despair the next minute at the thought of him leaving us. Help.

Answer:  You are not alone. There are so many women struggling with the very same feelings and questions that you have expressed.

Your first question was “can separation help reconcile a marriage?” And the answer is that it definitely can sometimes.  Your next question was how? If you are physically apart, how does separation help?

Initiating a physical separation is a tough decision for most women to make. It feels very scary to finally draw a line in the sand and say, “I will not live this way any longer.” Separation is a strong boundary that can function as a splash of cold water that wakes up a destructive individual to the consequences of his sin. But your bigger question is how can you work on the marriage if you are living apart.

There are lots of ways to do this starting with his ability to accept your “no more” and respecting your boundary of separation without whining and manipulating. He can also show you he’s working on changing his ways by being honest with you, by taking good care of you financially even while separated and showing his children that he’s more patient and loving than in the past.

I’m sure the two of you have some marriage problems to work on, but his deceit, anger, abuse of your children and emotional affairs are not a statement about the marriage. They are a statement about his character and his own emotional and spiritual maturity. He needs to recognize he has a problem and he needs help before one bit of authentic change will occur.

A person cannot change something he does not see or will not admit. Marital separation affords the opportunity for your husband to take a good hard look at himself and the reason you left the marriage. No guarantees he will do it, but separation can function like a whiff of strong ammonia – meant to jolt him into consciousness.

I think it’s great that you want to salvage your marriage. But you cannot do it alone. It takes two to truly reconcile a broken marriage. From what you wrote, your husband has no interest in talking about things or working on himself to change. In fact, from what you wrote, he is the one leaving. Why? Because he wants to do what he wants to do and live how he wants to live with no responsibility and no flack from you. That’s not realistic or healthy. And despite your great grief and ambivalence around letting him go, you cannot hold someone a prisoner who doesn’t want to be with you.

If he was willing to stay with you, it sounds like his terms are that you have to agree to sweep everything under the rug and pretend everything is fine, even as he lies, cheats, and hurts the kids. That’s a pretty high price to pay for you and your children. Do you think that what is best for you? For him? Your marriage? Or for your children? I don’t think it is.

I’m glad you said that you were in individual therapy. It’s time for you to work on you. To get strong and healthy and less dependent on him so that you are not as afraid of losing him.

A healthy relationship is made up of two separate, healthy individuals who are perfectly capable of taking good care of their own selves while they demonstrate genuine love for each other. 

It sounds like you have been overly dependent on him and that has given him a lot of power over you to treat you any way he wants knowing that you’d be too afraid to leave. Now is your time for you all to grow into full adulthood. That means that you are not afraid to be alone or take care of yourself and your children and you are capable of doing so. That doesn’t mean you don’t still want to be married or don’t work towards reconciliation when a relationship has been broken. However, now you are not seeking reconciliation just because you are too afraid or not capable of being alone or taking care of yourself.

Your Family Voyage: Codependency – Characteristics

SOURCE: Adapted from Your Family Voyage by P. Roger Hillerstrom

Codependency is sometimes defined as a tendency to have compulsively unhealthy relationships. Originally the term was used to describe the condition of spouses of alcoholics. These people had developed a living pattern that was not only unhealthy for themselves but actually promoted the alcoholism. They were obsessed with “fixing” their partners; without someone to rescue, they had no direction or purpose in life. Being emotionally dependent on their chemically dependent partners they were “codependent.”

Today we have a much broader understanding of this condition. The term codependent is used to describe an individual who is so preoccupied with others that his or her own life suffers or becomes unmanageable. Codependency is a futile attempt to deal with internals – fear, hurt, anger, insecurity – by trying to control externals – people, events, objects.

Compulsion is an old, familiar term rooted in the verb compel. A compulsion is a behavior we feel compelled to perform, repeated behavior patterns that are extremely resistant to change even though they cause numerous personal difficulties. Symptoms of an internal, emotional struggle, compulsions may take a variety of forms: gambling, criticizing, excessive shopping, nail biting, arguing, excessive hand washing, and lying are some examples.

Characteristics of Codependency. Having these problems does not mean we’re bad, defective or inferior. Some of us learned these behaviors as children. Other people learned them later in life. We may have learned some of these things from our interpretations of religion. Some women were taught these behaviors were desirable feminine attributes. Most of us started doing these things out of necessity to protect ourselves and meet our needs. We performed, felt, and thought these things to survive – emotionally, mentally, and sometimes physically. We tried to understand and cope with our complex worlds in the best ways. We have done the best we could.

However, these self-protective devices may have outgrown their usefulness. Sometimes the things we do to protect ourselves turn on us and hurt us. They become self-destructive. Many codependents are barely surviving, and most aren’t getting their needs met. These characteristics are typical of codependency:

1. Discontentedness. The codependent lives with the sense that something is missing in his or her life. This chronic discontentment is the driving force behind much of his or her behavior.

2. Blame. The codependent consistently looks to others as a source for his or her own happiness. The resulting unmet expectations amplify discontentment. The codependent often feels like a victim and blames others for his or her circumstances.

3. Guilt. The codependent is inwardly self-critical and frequently feels guilty. Never feeling quite “good enough”, he or she minimizes or rejects compliments or praise. Nevertheless he or she has a low tolerance for criticism and is defensive when corrected. The codependent attempts to bolster his or her low self-concept by helping others.

4. Over-responsibility. The codependent takes unreasonable responsibility for others and feels compelled to solve other people’s problems. He or she is attracted to needy people and often feels empty without a problem to solve or someone to rescue.

5. Control. The codependent is consistently worried about and preoccupied with situations beyond his or her control. Control is a major motivation in the codependent’s life, and he or she attempts to control others through manipulation, blame, guilt, helplessness, threats, coercion, or directives. The codependent feels frustrated and angry when his or her attempts to control fail, and he or she in turns feels controlled by others.

6. Approval. The approval of others is very important to the codependent. He or she has a deep fear of rejection and abandonment and as a result says yes when meaning no, over commits and neglects his or her own needs. The codependent may compromise his or her values and preferences to avoid disapproval.

7. Extremes. The codependent’s lifestyle and relationships are a series of extremes, frequently involving other compulsions. He or she vacillates between love and hate, hoarding and spending, hot and cold, up and down. He or she may lack a sense of healthy balance in one or more life areas.



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.


Necessary Endings


How Codependency Sabotages Your Life

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

Codependency is something that often needs to be addressed because it can be a huge obstacle in your life, and learning to say no is crucial to removing this obstacle.

Codependency is most simply defined as a tendency to take too much responsibility for the problems of others. While it’s good to care for, help and support people, the codependent crosses a line in the relationship – the line of responsibility. Instead of being responsible to others, the codependent becomes responsible for them. And, unless the other person is your child or someone whose care is entrusted to you, the line of responsibility between the to and the for can become quite blurred. The result is that instead of caring and helping, you begin enabling and rescuing. Enabling and rescuing do not empower anybody. They only increase dependency, entitlement, and irresponsibility. Love builds up strength and character, whereas codependency breaks them down.

Codependency unchecked can take you right off the rails of what you want to achieve in your life, get in the way of goals and sabotage your dreams. And it’s all too easy to be completely unaware of it. This is because while distractions, toxic people and worthy-but-untimely things are outside of you, codependency is within you. Sometimes it’s just too close to see. But it is there, at least in small part, in most of us.

For example, you are late to your night class in the MBA track because a co-worker drops the ball and asks you to work late to bail him out. Or you want to take flying lessons, but your wife doesn’t like to try new things and prefers to stay at home. Since she feels lonely when you are gone, you stay home, which actually ends up being worse for the both of you. Or perhaps you feel guilty for the fact that your efforts at online dating are paying off, while your girlfriends are moping and complaining about their lack of prospects. So you hid your success from them, or even slow down the process.

Most of the time, the problem caters on the unhappiness of the other person. Since we care about them, we don’t want them to be sad, hurt, disappointed or unhappy. And that kind of care is a good thing. However, no one has ever yet made an unhappy person happy. You can’t take the emotions of another person and change them. You can help, love, accept, empathize, advise, challenge, confront and support. But at the end of the day, their feelings belong to them. So you must say no to enabling and rescuing behaviors. Life gets better and people become more successful when they are able to shoulder their own responsibilities.

When you start saying no to your own codependency, however, you will also find yourself saying no to people you have been rescuing. So be ready for some twinges of guilt. You may feel like the bad guy or fear that the other person will think badly of you. These feelings are normal; consider them part of the price of reaching your dreams. Just remember to stay loving and caring while respecting the line of responsibility. The guilty feelings should resolve in time, and you will become a freer person.


10 Things You Need to Know About Codependency

SOURCE:    / PsychCentral

Codependency is often misunderstood. It’s not just a label to slap on the spouse of every alcoholic. It encompasses a wide-range of behavior and thought patterns that cause people distress to varying degrees. I hope this article will help clear up some of the misconceptions about codependency and help you to understand codependency better.

  • Codependency is a response to trauma. You probably developed codependent traits starting in your childhood as a way to deal with an abusive, chaotic, dysfunctional, or codependent family. As a child in an overwhelming situation, you learned that keeping the peace, taking care of others, denying your feelings, and trying to control things were ways to survive and cope with a scary and out of control home life. For some people, the trauma was subtle, almost unnoticeable. Even if your childhood was fairly “normal”, you may have experienced generational trauma, meaning your parents or close relatives passed some of their trauma responses down to you.





Codependency and Parenting: Break the Cycle in Your Family

SOURCE:   Kathy Hardie-Williams, MEd, MS, NCC, LPC, LMFT/

There are some common misunderstandings about what codependency is. It used to be that when one heard the term codependency, it was associated with being in a relationship with someone addicted to drugs or alcohol. The term codependency is now more commonly associated with being emotionally dependent on others in relationships. While we are all emotionally dependent on others to some degree, when we make decisions that go against our value system in order to avoid rejection and anger, we are creating a codependent dynamic within the family system.

As parents, we want to avoid family dynamics that perpetuate codependency. Research (1999) indicates that patterns within the family system can be passed down through generations. Parents need to be aware of codependent patterns within the family system so that they can recognize when it’s necessary to break the cycle. If the cycle continues and is passed down as codependency patterns within the family system, the children may be likely to enter into codependent relationships and pass codependency patterns down to their children as well.

Some behaviors for parents to be aware of in order to recognize and avoid perpetuating codependency patterns include:

Being too rigid: When parents are so controlling of their children’s behavior that children don’t have the opportunity to explore their own choices, parents send a message to their children that they aren’t responsible for their choices and that someone else has all the power. Their children may then be more likely to choose relationships where they feel powerless.

Using your child to get your needs met: Parents need to ensure that they get their own needs met in other areas of their life such as hobbies, work, and relationships so that they don’t live vicariously through their children. Parents who live vicariously through their children risk sending their children the message that they must have their parents’ approval. While it is normal for children to go through a phase where they seek their parent’s approval, the need for parental approval could carry on into adulthood.

Acting on the desire to solve their problems: When children talk about their problems, parents need to listen more without offering advice as opposed to becoming reactive and/or trying to rescue children from their problems. If given the opportunity through a safe place to explore their feelings and options, children may be more successful at learning how to solve their own problems. Parents can provide support to encourage their children to be creative in finding ways to solve their problems.

When parents come up with a plan of action instead of allowing their children to develop a plan of action, they are interfering with the opportunity to develop problem solving skills. Children then receive the message that they are not capable of solving their own problems and that someone else needs to solve their problems for them. As adults, they could potentially be more likely to enter into relationships where they are told what to do.

How Can Parents Avoid Perpetuating Codependency Patterns Within the Family System?

In order to avoid passing down codependency patterns within the family system, parents need to facilitate children in developing a strong sense of self. By implementing some of these practices, parents can be proactive in helping their children develop a solid and healthy sense of self-esteem:

  • Be mindful of their safety, but give children the freedom and opportunity to solve their own problems.
  • Don’t emotionally neglect children.
  • Don’t be overly controlling or overly pampering. Doing so may result in some children creating a dependency on others and an inability to make independent decisions, while other children take on too much responsibility and are forced to give up their childhood.
  • Be mindful of your own patterns of behaviors such as passive-aggressive comments, giving children the silent treatment, disrespecting children’s boundaries, or being dependent on children for emotional support.
  • Encourage positive self-talk.
  • Teach children that value doesn’t come from pleasing a parent.
  • Parents need to practice self-care and ensure they are taking care of their own needs. This will help a parent avoid building resentment that often gets turned inward.


Burris, C. T. (1999). Stand by your (exploitive) man: Codependency and responses to performance feedback. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 18(3), 277-298. Retrieved from


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