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Archive for the ‘Co-Dependency Enabling’ Category

Don’t Be Afraid to Let Someone Struggle

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

I want to share a story with you on how NOT to be ruled by fear.  
 
“I know that I hold on to people too long, way past when I know I have to make a change,” a CEO told me. “I have always done that, and it costs me.” 
 
“What are you afraid of?” I asked. 
 
“I don’t think I’m afraid,” he said. “I just don’t want to hurt them, and I always try to protect them.” 
 
“What’s the fear?” I asked again. 
 
It took him a while to get to it, but underneath it all, he was afraid for others to have to go through a struggle. 

The problem is that the brain is wired to avoid pain and anxiety.

Over time, when you continue to avoid things that cause you fear or anxiety, such as this CEO’s fear of letting someone struggle, a pattern builds up, causing you to respond almost automatically to any situations that would cause you anxiety. But you cannot allow a pattern of fear and avoidance rule you.

If you are afraid of making a mistake, you will never make bold moves. If you are afraid of upsetting or disappointing people, you will never be able to deal with discomfort in relationships. You’ll be the one who continues to struggle and suffer. 
 
In my experience, many great people go through a three-stage process when it comes to facing their fears. First, they fear it and put it off. Next, they push through the fear, make the decision, and it is painful. And finally, they wonder why they waited so long to make it after the pain is gone and they have resolved the problem. As these stages are internalized, and they become aware of them, people find it easier to make these hard calls. But as long as you don’t confront those uncomfortable feelings, your emotions will control your actions. Grow past the fear! 
 
Look at what you are afraid of and get to the bottom of it. Is it failure? Is it loss of approval? It is fear of confrontation? Is it fear of causing someone distress? Is it fear of change?

And remember: You can have fears without being “fearful.” “Fearful” is when you let your fears make your decisions for you, so… don’t let fear make your decisions for you! Having fear is normal. Being “fearful” is dysfunctional. Fearful leaders – that is, those who respond out of fear – are the worst leaders, period. 
 
So, feel your fear, name it, accept it, talk it over with those you trust, and then choose to do the right thing, no matter how uncomfortable you feel.

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How to Stop People Pleasing and Focus on Your Own Goals

SOURCE:  Karl Shallowhorn/bphope

Learning to define and set your own goals can free you from other people’s expectations and allow you to go beyond your previously conceived limitations.

Growing up as a young child my mother used to reinforce the need for me to try to excel at whatever I did. “Even if you’re a ditch digger, be the best ditch digger there is,” she would reiterate. This regular kind of prodding produced a dual-pronged response. At first, I accepted her challenge eagerly, thinking that I did have the ability to be the best at whatever I attempted to do. As I got older I came to realize that being “the best there is” wasn’t always possible (if ever).

Then—at the age of 18—bipolar disorder hit. I went from a promising future to one that was very unclear in a matter of weeks. At that point, my hopes and dreams were dashed against the rocks. I was being told what I needed to do just to get better. Essentially, I was powerless.

This whole experience was difficult for my mom. She had such high hopes for me and seeing her only child dealing with such a disabling disease hurt her dramatically. Eventually, she could no longer bear seeing me in the hospital. It was just too much for her.

However, there were times early in my life with bipolar disorder that I had brief periods of remission when I was able to continue school and eventually earn my Bachelor’s Degree. I vividly recall my mom’s mantra during this time, “Either you go to school or get a job. But you’re not going to lay around the house on me!”

Say what you want about this, but it worked, and sometimes too much. During those years of transition, I struggled to meet the expectations of others—not only my mother but also family, school faculty, and even my therapeutic team.

It got to the point that I was trying to please others and failing to take into account my own aspirations (and limitations). I was still healing during this period and I felt the pressure to have to perform in some way or manner to satisfy others.

There were many times during this period that the stress of having to live up to the expectations of others caused me to seriously question what I was capable of. What I came to learn, the hard way was to set goals for myself. In traditional mental health therapy, treatment plans are often utilized for this purpose.

One way I learned later was to approach this using the SMART method of goal setting:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Reasonable
  • Timely

Setting SMART goals are great because they:

  1. Help one to be more objective
  2. Quantify what the goal is
  3. Allow for the individual to set a goal which requires effort and challenges one to go beyond their comfort zone
  4. Set a distinct time-frame in which to accomplish the goal

So what does this all have to do with expectations? By being clear on what my personal goals are I then have the capacity to understand the difference between what I want to accomplish versus what others want.

In recovery, I’ve strived to go beyond my previously conceived limitations. These are things that I want to do and not what others want me to do. This is the whole idea behind self-determination. I’m the one in the driver’s seat. It’s empowering to realize that I don’t have to live up to anyone else’s standards. Mind you, I work, have a family, and take on other responsibilities. I’m not saying that I just settle for what I need to do to just get by. Actually, it’s the opposite. I like to go a little bit further in what I try to achieve in life. Some would say that this means I’m goal driven—and yes I am. But these are my goals—not someone else’s.

If you find yourself questioning your ability to succeed in recovery, break your goals into small parts. Remember you don’t have to do it all at once. Even achieving small goals can be a huge victory.

The Necessary Endings For Marriage

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

It felt a bit like I was taking my work home, but I still found myself engrossed in an episode of “Hoarders” on TV last night. If you are not familiar with the show, it lets you see in great detail the struggles of people who hoard. Close up and personal, you get to see what happens to people’s lives, families, marriages, health, spiritual well-being, psyche’s and souls, when they are beset by one basic problem: the inability to let go of “stuff.” Whether it is memorabilia, toys, electronics, appliances, clothes, or whatever, the basic issue is the same. The person just cannot let it go. So, he or she keeps it around.

The problem is that life is not a one-stop shopping event. Reality is that as time goes on, we get even more stuff. We need and buy more clothes, sports equipment, toys for children, or gadgets for daily use. We take more pictures, collect more souvenirs, and keep up with changing trends and styles. Nothing wrong with that, and in fact we would question anyone today who was showing off their 80’s style. The problem is that as we are accumulating and gathering new “stuff,” we have to recognize that there has to be a parallel process of not only gathering the new, but letting go of the old and the broken as well. We have to make room for today and tomorrow by saying goodbye to yesterday.

The second principle is pruning. In the same way that a rose bush needs pruning to get beautiful roses, for us to have a healthy life, we have to continually prune as well. A gardener must prune a rose bush in three instances: First, the bush produces more buds than it can sustain and feed and there are too many buds taking the resources of the bush.

So, the gardener prunes the “good” ones, and keeps only the “best” ones so they can fully mature. Second, there are diseased branches that are not going to get well. Even after trying all that she can try to bring them back, they “refuse” and so are pruned away. Third, there are some branches which are long since dead and are taking up space that the healthy ones need in order to stretch out and grow. If all three of these pruning functions are done regularly and well, then the roses thrive.

Think what would happen if the hoarder did the same three things: 1) only keep the possessions that best add to their life, the life of the family, and other loved ones. (2) Get rid of what was broken beyond repair. (3) Toss out the pure junk that had no life left whatsoever. Then, they would get their homes and their lives back, and their children could thrive as well.

Put the two principles together, seasons and pruning, and you get a clear realization of how life was created: there are “necessary endings” that we must embrace to have the life that we’re meant to have.

In the physical world of hoarding “stuff,” this problem is easy to see. You can’t even walk through their houses, much less create happiness in all of that clutter. We can all see that and sometimes want to cast stones. But, let’s make it more personal to us. While most of us don’t have a hoarding issue that could make TV, we probably can all confess to the hoarding in some context of life.

Said another way, most of us avoid facing the fact that the season has passed for some aspects of life that we are still invested in, and we should let go of them. But, for a variety of reasons, such as not wanting to upset someone, guilt, or fear of the unknown, we hang on. Similarly, in terms of pruning, there are some areas of life that might be “good,” but are not “best” for us to be giving ourselves to. They are taking time and energy from the “best” things that we should be invested in. Or, some things in life are broken and not going to get better, and should be pruned just as the ones which are clearly dead. The idea here is that for you to be able to build the marriage, family and life that has called you to have today and tomorrow, there are always some things from yesterday that have to end. You have to say “no more,” or “good bye.” Here are some examples:

• A small group, or groups, which served you well in a particular season of your spiritual life, or marriage, is no longer doing so. Its legitimate season is past. But you are not free to find and invest in a group that is appropriate for this time of life because of fear or guilt. Or, you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.

• A group of friends or social circle (once important to you) is going a different direction in life, with different values than you wish to build in your marriage, family, or friendships. Spending time and energy there is keeping you from investing in the friends that are heading in the same direction and should get the best of your time.

• A good practice, such as every holiday at a parent’s house, may not always be best at every holiday because your own family needs some holiday traditions of its own as well. Yet, you are afraid of the conflict that may bring.

• An extended family member, with whom you have tried all you know to do, continues in their denial causing your marriage or your family unnecessary grief. Every time you interact with them, your own family suffers in some way as you are not as emotionally available for them in the aftermath.

• You attend a church whose season is past, or is toxic, or is not the best for what you, your marriage of family is being called to be. Yet because of some kind of fear, you are afraid to pull up roots and find what you need.

• You spend time on a hobby or other practice that, while good, might be keeping you from investing time and energy pursuing something that will build more life for you or your family.

• Your kids or family is simply overextended in too many sports, clubs, spiritual activities, arts, or social functions and as a result, the quality time that you need with each other doesn’t happen.

• You give financially or in service to help a person, or organization that is not being a good steward of your gift. Yet, you are afraid for some reason, usually guilt, to let go.

All of these scenarios are common to life. And I am not saying that we should just “throw away” all of our activities or relationships that are not “feeding us” in some way. That would be a selfish way to go about life, as we are called to commitment and redemption. But, I am saying that sometimes commitment and redemption are only served well when intentional stewardship is applied using the principles of seasons and pruning. We should be wisely choosing where we spend our time and energy, and pruning what does not fit. We are commanded to do so, and will be held accountable for our choices when we don’t.

These “necessary endings” are never easy. But, if we are going to have an abundant life and our families are going to thrive, we will have to recognize what seasons we are in, and always be pruning with courage and faith.

How to Set Boundaries Within a Dysfunctional Family

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

Look at your own life situation and see where boundary problems exist with your parents and siblings.

The basic question is this: Where have you lost control of your property? Identify those areas and see their connection with the family you grew up in, and you are on your way.

Identify the Conflict

Discover what dynamic is being played out. For example, what “law of boundaries” are you violating? Do you triangulate? Do you take responsibility for a sibling or parent instead of being responsible to them? Do you fail to enforce consequences and end up paying for their behavior? Are you passive and reactive toward them and the conflict?

You cannot stop acting out a dynamic until you understand what you are doing. “Take the log out” of your own eye. Then you will be able to see clearly to deal with your family members. See yourself as the problem and find your boundary violations.

Identify the Need That Drives the Conflict

You do not act in inappropriate ways for no reason. You are often trying to meet some underlying need that your family of origin did not meet. Maybe we are still entangled because of a need to be loved, approved of, or accepted.

Take In and Receive the Good

It is not enough to understand your need. You must get it met. You must humble yourself, reach out to a good support system, and take in the good. Do not continue to hide yourself (and your resources and talents) in the ground and expect to get better. Learn to respond to and receive love, even if you’re clumsy at first.

Practice Boundary Skills

Your boundary skills are fragile and new. You can’t take them immediately into a difficult situation. Practice them in situations where they will be honored and respected. Begin saying no to people in your supportive group who will love and respect your boundaries.

When you are recovering from a physical injury, you do not pick up the heaviest weight first. You build up to the heavy stuff. Look at it as you would physical therapy.

Say No to the Bad

In addition to practicing new skills in safe situations, avoid hurtful situations. When you are in the beginning stages of recovery, you need to avoid people who have abused and controlled you in the past.

When you think you are ready to reestablish a relationship with someone who has been abusive and controlling in the past, bring a friend or supporter along. Be aware of your pull toward hurtful situations and relationships. The injury you are recovering from is serious, and you can’t reestablish a relationship until you have the proper tools. Be careful not to get sucked into a controlling situation again because your wish for reconciliation is so strong.

Forgive the Aggressor

Nothing clarifies boundaries more than forgiveness. To forgive others means letting them off the hook, or canceling a debt they owe you. When you refuse to forgive someone, you still want something from that person, and even if it is revenge that you want, it keeps you tied to that person forever.
Refusing to forgive a family member is one of the main reasons people are stuck for years, unable to separate from their dysfunctional families. They still want something from them.

If you do not forgive, you are demanding something your offender does not choose to give, even if it is only confession of what he did. This “ties” him to you and ruins boundaries. Let go of the dysfunctional family you came from.

Respond, Don’t React

When you react to something that someone says or does, you may have a problem with boundaries. If someone is able to cause havoc by doing or saying something, she is in control of you at that point, and your boundaries are lost. When you respond, you remain in control, with options and choices.

If you feel yourself reacting, step away and regain control of yourself so family members can’t force you to do or say something you do not want to do or say and something that violates your separateness. When you have kept your boundaries, choose the best option. The difference between responding and reacting is choice. When you are reacting, they are in control. When you respond, you are.

Learn to Love in Freedom and Responsibility, Not in Guilt

The best boundaries are loving ones. The person who has to remain forever in a protective mode is losing out on love and freedom. Boundaries in no way mean to stop loving. They mean the opposite: you are gaining freedom to love. It is good to sacrifice and deny yourself for the sake of others. But you need boundaries to make that choice.

Practice purposeful giving to increase your freedom. Sometimes people who are building boundaries feel that to do someone a favor is codependent. Nothing is further from the truth. Doing good for someone, when you freely choose to do it, is boundary enhancing. Codependents are not doing good; they are allowing evil because they are afraid.

Saying No is Enough — You Don’t Have to Justify It

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

Psychologists spend an enormous amount of energy building psychological tests, assessments and the like, and then administering them to people to help them understand themselves. This practice is very helpful in many settings, from work to education, to couples and individuals. Insight into ourselves and others is really helpful for a number of reasons. I believe in good, validated testing.

But one of the best tests for our psychological well-being, the tenor of the family or work culture we live in, and the health of our relationships, is free and can be self-administered. All you have to do is monitor the internal response you have when you want to say the word “no.”

Let’s start with ourselves.

What happens when someone you love, someone you want to please or maybe even someone whose anger or frustration you fear, wants you to do something that you do not want to do? I do not mean the kind of need or desire that will call for sacrifice, effort or even discomfort from us, that we don’t “want to do,” but is something we still choose to do out of love, duty or the desire to help. That is life-giving and good. Great relationships, families, friendships, and businesses are only built when people can get beyond their own self-centeredness and sacrifice for the greater good and others.

The situations I am talking about are the ones where you truly do not want to perform that particular gift of time or energy. It is not something you truly want to give. It is a request to which your real, heartfelt answer, is “no.” What happens inside?

Here is the psychological test: when you know your answer is “no,” do you begin to scramble for a good reason to justify your “no”? Do you have an internal pressure to find a good, acceptable excuse? Like a parent’s note to the principal’s office?

The pressure to “justify” literally means the pressure “to show something to be right.” Think about that. Why does this person have that psychological authority over you, to see if your reason is “right” or “wrong”? Certainly, if a judge orders you to appear in court, she has the authority to do that, and if you are not going to be there, you do have to “justify” your absence, or there are consequences.

But in relationships, there supposedly is no “judge,” but only people who freely give love, time and energy to each other. So how is it that a simple “no, thank you, but I am going to miss that dinner,” can immediately internally marshal emotional resources to “look for a good reason,” to make it a “right” decision? Why do you have to “justify” your “no”? No is a complete sentence in its own right.

So, when you feel that kind of pressure, let that be a psychological or relationship assessment, or test. If the pressure to justify is there, it reveals a lack of freedom in the relationship at some level. Remember, I am NOT saying that we do not often do things that we do not “feel” like doing for the sake of others or a relationship. Sacrifice is key to any good relationship. What I am referring to is the freedom to say “no” to the sacrifices we do not choose to make. While bosses and governments have the authority to require a good excuse, love doesn’t ask for that. Love respects freedom. Love thrives in freedom. Love requires freedom.

In the best relationships, “no” certainly might be questioned, and it might reveal some problem, but usually is not “judged.” There is a big difference. When your “no” feels like it is subject to judgment, and you feel like you need a good “excuse,” let that be a signal that you might have a lack of freedom. Then, take the second step: do something with the test results!

When your doctor gets a test result that shows an issue, he or she has a discussion with you. So, in your relationships, it might be time for a good conversation: “Sometimes, I feel like it is not ok with you if I want to say ‘no’ to sex, or to some event or the way we spend our time or money. I don’t really feel free to say ‘no,’ like I truly have a choice. I want to talk about that to see if that is in my head, or really in our relationship because I want us to have the freedom to say ‘no’ to each other and have that be ok.”

The best families sometimes say things like these: “No, we won’t be there for that holiday this year. We are going to be spending that one at home.” “No, we have made a different choice which school he is going to attend.” “No, I don’t want to do that right now.” And in good relationships, the response is not one that requires some excuse to justify the “no.”

Instead, the response sounds more like: “Oh, really? Where are you guys going this year? Sounds great. We will miss you, but I hope it goes well. I am happy for you!”

Self-centered people say “no” to almost every request that will not feel good to them or will cause some sort of sacrifice. That is not good. When we never say “yes” to someone else’s wishes, there is something wrong in that relationship. But the opposite is just as troublesome: the inability to say “no” or the pressure to “justify” it every time you do. Remember, you are not there to judge each other, but to love each other and build something together. That does not require a “yes” to everything someone wants. But it does require the freedom to decide when to say “yes,” when to say “no” and the mutual respect that brings that freedom.

So, take the test. Monitor how much internal freedom you feel in your most significant relationships. Let the lab results tell you something….you may be in great health! Or, there may be a good discussion to be had with yourself, or someone else, like your kids, spouse, partners, extended family, in-laws or whomever. If they are not in a courtroom, wearing a badge or signing your paycheck, have a discussion about where each of you needs to be free to say, “No, thank you,” as a complete sentence.

Stop Overindulging Your Children

Advice on how to meet all their needs, but not all their wants.

SOURCE:  Adapted from Raising Unselfish Children in a Self-Absorbed World by Jill Rigby/Family Life

What do your children really need from you? Love, guidance, shelter, food, clothing, medical care, and an education.

That’s it.

Everything else is a want, a luxury: video games, gadgets, phones, the latest fashion—whatever new item their friends have.

Today, far too many parents fall for the “nag factor.” They know their kids are bombarded by ads telling them to buy certain products and that many parents are buying those products for their children. They know the pressure that comes from their children’s peers, and so they buy their kids far more “stuff” than they can even use, all in the hope that their children will fit in and be accepted by their peers.

According to a recent survey of youth commissioned by the Center for a New American Dream, the average 12- to 17-year-old who asks a parent for products will ask nine times until the parents finally give in. For parents of tweens, the problem is particularly severe—more than 10 percent of 12- to 13-year-olds admit to asking their parents more than 50 times for products they’ve seen advertised. Kids have learned if they nag enough for long enough, parents will give in.

Parents, stop falling for the nag factor.

Refuse to overindulge your kids

Sadly, our self-absorbed society has told parents to help their kids feel good about themselves, that it’s the parents’ duty to make their children happy. But underneath it all, kids don’t need parents who make them happy. They need parents who will make them capable.

Dr. Connie Dawson, co-author of How Much Is Enough, writes:

When parents give children too much stuff that costs money, do things for children that they can do for themselves, do not expect children to do chores, do not have good rules, and let children run the family, parents are overindulging.

Here are some other signs of overindulgence. As you read them, watch for your weak spot:

1. Giving them things or experiences that are not appropriate for their age or their interests:

  • Allowing a 5-year-old to dress like a pop star.
  • Allowing a 12-year-old to watch an R-rated movie.
  • Removing curfew from a 16-year-old with a new driver’s license.

2. Giving things to meet the adult’s needs, not the child’s:

  • A mom buying her daughter the trendiest clothes, because Mom believes it’s a reflection on her own style.
  • A dad giving his son the “stand out” wheels at 16, so Dad’s friends—as well as his son’s friends—will think he’s “the man.”
  • A parent giving his or her children the best of the best in order to make the parent look successful.

3. Neglecting to teach children the life skills they need to survive in the “real” world beyond their home:

  • Tying shoes and dressing 4-year-olds who are perfectly capable of dressing themselves.
  • Doing the laundry for teenagers who are more than capable and need to learn to do it for themselves.

I admit that I slipped into overindulgence in raising my sons in more than one area. It’s important to realize the harm this can do to our children. According to one study conducted in 2001, children who are overindulged are more likely to grow up to believe the following:

  • It is difficult to be happy unless one looks good, is intelligent, rich, and creative.
  • My happiness depends on most people I know liking me.
  • If I fail partly, it is as bad as being a total failure.
  • I can’t be happy if I miss out on many of the good things in life.
  • Being alone leads to unhappiness.
  • If someone disagrees with me, it probably indicates that the person doesn’t like me.
  • My happiness depends more on other people than it depends on me.
  • If I fail at my work, I consider myself a failure as a person.

So, for the sake of your children, stop overindulging them.

Instead, teach them the difference between a need and a want, and then make them work for their wants. For instance, rather than buying that new video game for your children, give them two options: Tell them they can place it on a wish list for a birthday or Christmas present, or they can do extra duties to earn the money to buy it themselves. If your children are willing to work for their “heart’s desire,” they’ll take better care of it, be more grateful for it, and think long and hard before turning a “want” into a “need” in the future.

Repairing the damage of overindulgence

Parents, you can begin to remedy the damage done by overindulgence by doing two things:

1. Help your kids cultivate patience. The truth is parents often prevent their children from learning patience. We’ve gotten just as caught up in our fast-food society as anyone else. We’ve forgotten that real life problems aren’t solved in 15 minutes, that it takes time to find solutions to everyday struggles. We’re the ones who try to speed things up for our kids.

So don’t be so quick to solve your children’s problems for them. A bit of a struggle is good for them.

2. Give children opportunities to develop responsibility and to feel valuable. Your children need your help if they are going to learn necessary life skills. They need you to give them regular chores or duties and to hold them accountable for taking care of those duties. In so doing, you will help your children become adults, not just grown-ups.

All children will at times engage in a power struggle when it comes to carrying out chores or duties. But if parents give in and don’t assign age-appropriate duties for their children, their kids will grow up to be irresponsible, which is heartbreaking for the parent and tragic for the children. No matter the age of the child, any duties you assign them should encompass these purposes:

  • Helping your child learn life skills.
  • Helping your child become a valuable member of the family.
  • Helping your child become a valuable member of society.

By giving your children opportunities to help and serve each other within the family, you’re preparing them to take care of themselves and go out and serve society.

Now that I’ve asked you not to overindulge your kids with their wants, I want to encourage you to overindulge them with love, real love. Love that molds and shapes them into the young men and women they are meant to become. Patiently help them develop patience, and with persistence and persuasion give them age-appropriate responsibilities. As you do these things, you’ll be preparing their hearts and minds to accept the responsibilities God has planned for them.


Adapted from Raising Unselfish Children in a Self-Absorbed World by Jill Rigby. Published by Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Copyright ©2008, Jill Rigby. 

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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