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Archive for the ‘Co-Dependency Enabling’ Category

How Boundaries Give You Choices Against Toxic People

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

When I was still doing my radio show, a woman called into our program and said that she was going to visit her family for Christmas. She was depressed because she knew her grandfather would make things miserable, just as he always did. She dreaded hearing his criticism of her and her lifestyle. We asked her why she had to listen to that, and she responded, “I just have to, that’s all. I have no choice. That is what he does.”

This woman lost her freedom the minute she walked in the door of that family gathering. She didn’t realize that no one can take away your freedom: she chose to give it up. She was letting her grandfather have power over her, but what she didn’t realize is that she didn’t have to give him permission. She felt that the pressure from her family to just “take it” was so strong, that this is the place where she lost her choices.

As we kept talking, we quickly thought of several choices she could make:

  • She could choose not to attend.
  • She could choose to accept that he would be who he is, but she could give up the desire for his approval. That would empower her to ignore his remarks.
  • She could empathize with him, “Grandfather, it seems like it’s frustrating to you to have me be like I am. That sounds hard.” She did not need to get hooked into convincing him of anything.
  • She could steer clear of the grandfather at the gathering.
  • She could call a friend throughout the gathering and give reports on how crazy he was, and they could laugh it off together.
  • She could call him beforehand and ask if he planned to put her down this year as he had before. If he said yes, she could inform him that she might just go in another room when he started his put-downs. She wanted him to understand this beforehand, so he would not be surprised at her action.

The caller actually began to feel relief. Just the reminder that she did always have choices made her feel better.

We were designed to be free, and in some ways, life is a continual struggle to gain, regain and live out our freedom from internal and external forces that would take our freedom away.

Find out where your circle of freedom ends and take steps to enlarge it until you can feel free, no matter where you care, by remembering one thing: you always have choices! Ultimately, no person, or no circumstance, has control of you – that control belongs to you and only you.

Are You Helping or Enabling Your Spouse?

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

Does your spouse want or need to change something in their life? If so, it’s critical to know the difference between helping and enabling them through that change.

The change they want or need could be something serious like an addiction to prescription drugs, alcohol, food, or pornography. Or it could be something simpler like eating healthier, exercising more, or changing an annoying habit. They may talk about it, they may whine about it, they may pretend it doesn’t exist, but being their spouse, you see it better than most anyone.

In general, helping your spouse is doing something right and healthy for them that they cannot do for themselves. Enabling is doing for them what they can and need to do for themselves, allowing them to live an irresponsible life.

A recent reality show my friend was watching about a severely obese person illustrates both helping and enabling. A woman needed to lose hundreds of pounds or she would die. Her relatives had been going to the store for her every day (since she couldn’t go herself), but they bought only the unhealthy food that was killing her. That was not helping; that was enabling her obesity. Later, the relatives saw the reality of what they were doing, moved in with her, and helped her change her eating and cooking habits by cooking only healthy foods for her for several months. That was helping. She learned to choose healthier options, and successfully lived alone again, with a radically different lifestyle and weight loss that gave her hope.

Here’s what enabling looks like:

  • You do for your spouse the things they can and should do for themselves.
  • You cover up for your spouse when their issues create problems for them and others.
  • You make excuses for their behavior with others.
  • You lie to them, to yourself, and to others about the extent and eventual consequences of their issue.
  • You protect your spouse from the normal consequences of their problem.
  • You ignore your spouse or their issue altogether. Ignoring is enabling.
  • You blame others or indulge your spouse blaming others, for their issue.
  • You make empty threats related to the consequences of their choices and don’t follow through.
  • You avoid being around your spouse. Sometimes, this is necessary for a dangerous situation but usually, it only allows the spouse to wallow in the problem.
  • You repeatedly get your spouse out of the trouble their issue creates, usually at a high cost to yourself.

Here’s what helping looks like:

  • You do for your spouse the things that they cannot do for themselves.
  • You are honest with them about the consequences of inaction.
  • You don’t lie for them, and you don’t lie to them.
  • You don’t create excuses to others to cover up for their problems or issues.
  • You don’t clean up the messes their struggles or issues create.
  • You love them unconditionally, just as they are, yet you also love them enough to hope they choose to change.
  • You help them focus on the goal, without dwelling on any missteps or failures along the way.
  • You cheer them on and celebrate even small steps towards their goals.
  • You accept that you cannot change them, that they will not change unless they want to change. This may feel like giving up, but accepting this truth gives them freedom to own the change.
  • You refuse to take responsibility for their bad choices.

These are just some of the ways you can check yourself to see if you are truly helping them or enabling their destructive choices. But these are not exhaustive checklists. Don’t delay to seek out professional counsel for yourself if you have a serious situation. Don’t give up hope, but don’t give in to the temptation to indulge them in keeping the peace. And remember, your spouse can only experience true change when they want true change.

Marriage/Relatonships: Does Love Cover A Multitude Of Sins?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick/AACC

A woman struggling in an emotionally destructive marriage once asked me, “Doesn’t love cover a multitude of sins? (1 Peter 4:8).  She continued, “Who am I to hold my husband’s sin or blindness against him?   The Bible teaches us, ‘It is good for us to overlook an offense’ (Proverbs 19:11).  Shouldn’t I just keep quiet and minister to him, and pray that he will see God’s love in me?”

Many counselors working with those in destructive marriages struggle with this same question.  Jesus makes it clear. We are not to judge or condemn anyone (Matthew 7:1,2).  God instructs all his followers to forbear with and forgive one another.  We know we all fail one another (James 3:2), and we know that Jesus tells a person to take the log out of their own eye before attempting to deal with the speck in someone else’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5). To bring up each and every offense in any relationship would become tiresome indeed.

Love does cover a multitude of sins but not all sins. Paul tells believers that we are to distance ourselves from those who claim to be believers yet live immoral and destructive lives (1 Corinthians 5:11). He instructs us to warn those who are lazy (1 Thessalonians 5:14), and that we ought not participate in unfruitful deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5:11).  Paul also encourages believers to restore someone who is caught in a trespass (Galatians 6:1) and James exhorts us to bring a brother back who has wandered from the truth (James 5:19), When someone deeply offends us, Jesus says we’re to go talk with them so that our relationship can be repaired (Matthew 18:15-17).

Yes, we ought to forgive and forbear, overlooking minor offenses hoping others will do the same for us. And, we are to speak up when someone’s sin is hurting them, hurting others, or hurting us.

Serious and repetitive sin is lethal to any relationship. We would not be loving the destructive person if we kept quiet and colluded with his self-deception or enabled his sin to flourish without any attempt to speak truth into his life  (Ephesians 4:15).  Yes, we are called to be imitators of Christ and live a life of love, however, let’s be careful that as Christian counselors we do not put a heavy burden on someone to do something that God himself does not do.  God is gracious to the saint and unrepentant sinner alike, but he does not have close relationship with both. He says our sins separate us from him (Isaiah 59:2; Jeremiah 5:25).

When someone repeatedly and seriously sins against us and is not willing to look at what he’s done and is not willing to change, it is not possible to have a warm or close relationship.  We’ve at times misrepresented unconditional love to mean unconditional relationship. Jesus’ conversations with the Pharisees are examples of him challenging their self-deception and pride so they would repent and experience true fellowship with him (Matthew 23). He loved them, but they did not enjoy a loving or safe relationship. Jesus never pretended otherwise.  Let’s not encourage our counselees to pretend and placate. Jesus never did.

A marriage or relationship that has no boundaries or conditions is not psychologically healthy nor is it spiritually sound.  It enables a repeatedly destructive spouse to continue to believe the lie that the rules of life don’t apply to him and if he does something hurtful or sinful, he or she shouldn’t have to suffer the relational fallout. That kind of thinking is not biblical, or healthy, or true.  It harms not only their marriage, it harms everyone involved.

For the welfare of the destructive person and his or her marriage, there are times we must take a strong stand.  To act neutral in the matter only enables the person’s self-deception to grow unchallenged. Scripture warns, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper” (Proverbs 28:18).

The destructive person desperately needs to see God’s love, but he or she also desperately needs to see himself more truthfully so that he can wake up and ask God to help him make necessary changes. It’s true that we are all broken and in desperate need of God’s healing grace.  The problem for the destructive person is that he or she has been unwilling to acknowledge his part of the destruction.   She’s been unwilling to confess or take responsibility or get the help she needs to change her destructive ways.  Instead she’s minimized, denied, lied, excused, rationalized, or blamed others.

Confronting someone and/or implementing tough consequences should never be done to scold, shame, condemn, or punish. As Christian counselors we have one purpose—to jolt someone awake with the strong medicine of God’s truth or the reality of tough consequences.  We hope that by doing so, they will come to their senses, turn to God and stop their destructive behaviors for the glory of God, their own welfare, and the restoration of their marriage.

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Leslie Vernick, M.S.W., is a popular speaker, author, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and relationship coach with a counseling practice in Pennsylvania. She is a best-selling author of seven books, including The Emotionally Destructive Relationship and her most recent, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage. Leslie currently serves on the Board of Directors for Lighthouse Network, a Christian mental health outreach ministry. She received her Master of Clinical Social Work degree from the University of Illinois and has taken postgraduate training in biblical counseling and cognitive therapy.

 

3 Common Mistakes of Addicts’ Families

SOURCE: Taken from an article by 

Families of addicts feel desperate to help their loved ones stop abusing drugs or alcohol. However, if their desperate, though understandable, responses to their loved one’s behavior are not informed by biblical principles, they will unwittingly and sometimes tragically do more harm than good. Here are some of the common mistakes families of addicts make, followed by tips on how to help families become aware of what they need to change.

Mistake #1: Trying to control the addict

Sometimes families try to control the behavior of an addicted member by limiting that person’s access to funds, monitoring his or her time, or keeping constant tabs on the addict’s whereabouts.

Unfortunately, this approach frustrates the addict and becomes an excuse for him or her to entrench deeper into drug or alcohol abuse. Though trying to control a loved one’s addiction is counterproductive, it is understandable. Families are desperate to keep their loved one from taking illegal drugs or drinking alcohol. And they may experience a small measure of peace when they know their loved one isn’t getting into trouble. But such a high level of control is impossible to maintain in the long term. Plus, exerting so much control stresses out family members who end up becoming more aware of all the many things they can’t control while trying to police their loved one. Dr. Joseph Troncale, medical director at Retreat Premiere Addiction Treatment Centers in Lancaster County, PA, says, “Family members with addicted loved ones would do well to consider becoming familiar with Al-Anon1 principles: (1) you didn’t CAUSE the addiction; (2) you can’t CONTROL the addiction; and (3) you can’t CURE the addiction.”

Mistake #2: Enabling the addict

Trying to love the addict, some family members enable that person to continue his or her destructive behavior. “They’re trying to please this family member and make him or her happy, and they do so in ways that are just encouraging sin. Rather than taking a stand and reproving, they’re encouraging the sin to take place,” said Dr. Mark Shaw, executive director of Vision of Hope in Lafayette, IN, and an ordained minister, biblical counselor, and certified drug and alcohol abuse counselor.2

The family may also enable out of fear of losing the relationship (e.g., a child has threatened never to speak to his parents again if they don’t pay his rent) or of violent retaliation (an addict may lash out violently if kept from her drug of choice). If fear for one’s safety motivates an enabling situation, you should address this first.

Mistake #3: Ignoring the needs of other family members

Often, families ignore the needs of other family members by focusing all their attention on caring for the addict. When this happens, those who are ignored can become bitter toward their parents or their addicted family member because the addict receives all of the attention, time, and resources. Siblings become bitter because their college funds are used to fund rehab. Spouses give up on marriages because their partners are consumed with their child’s addiction. Children who would excel in school don’t because a parent’s addiction robs them of the support and encouragement they’d typically receive. Neglected family members are often tempted to turn to unhelpful ways of coping with the pain and instability caused by living with an addict.

How to help the families of addicts recognize the effects of their actions

While it may be clear to you that the family is hurting their loved one or that they are not acting in his or her best interest, the family members may not be aware of this. In fact, they may believe that their approach is wise, is in the best interest of the family, and keeps the loved one from living on the street. So how do you get them to see what they’re doing wrong?

One of the best ways to do this is to ask them questions that help them see the effect their behavior is having upon their loved one. Author, counselor, and CareLeader.org’s own Dr. Jeff Forrey says that questions should elicit facts that help loved ones see the consequences of their actions.

He also points out that while it is important to help people understand the impact of their choices, it’s also important for family members to realize what’s not happening as a result of their choices. For example, ignoring the actions of an addicted family member may keep the peace, but the addict does not learn how his or her behavior is affecting others, and family members do not learn how to deal with conflict. Devoting hours to controlling behavior may not seem detrimental to the mother of an addict until she is led to realize how other family members are being neglected.

Guiding families to wiser responses

Once family members become aware of the immediate consequences of their behavior, you can also help them think through the long-term implications of their behavior. Once they realize the futility of their actions, here are a few truths that you may want to guide families of addicts to realize.

Truths for those who tend to control
Help family members realize there is so much that they can’t control. Consider reminding the family that God is the one who is ultimately in control of the situation and that He is able to rescue and work all things for good. Philippians 3:21 reminds us that His power “enables him to bring everything under his control.”

Families attempting to control an addict often fear the consequences of addiction. Remind them that God has a history of using bad things—even the consequences of sin—for good and, ultimately, His glory. This is a difficult truth for family members to accept, especially because ultimately it means wrestling with the idea that God could use even the death of their loved one for His purposes. Even the most mature believers may struggle to be at peace with the simultaneously heartbreaking and comforting realities of God’s sovereignty. So be patient with families struggling to embrace the idea that God is in control.

You can also explore other possible motives family members may have for trying to control the addict. A desire to keep others from finding out about the situation can be problematic, for example, when it is rooted in the family’s desire to protect its own reputation.

You can explain to families that the addict is worshipping the substance: the alcohol or drug has become his or her god, and no amount of human control can break the bonds of spiritual slavery at play.

As you suggest new ways family members can interact with the addict, a simple verse like Proverbs 3:5 can help family members: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Encourage family members to pray and trust that the Holy Spirit will help them learn to embrace God’s ways of responding to sin and not trust their instincts.

Truths for those who enable
Remind families with tendencies to enable that protecting the addict from experiencing the consequences of the behavior shows a wrong understanding of how God loves His children. The family members may think they are showing God’s love, forgiveness, and mercy, but forget that God still allows His children to reap what they’ve sown. When dealing with an addict, Christians can and should allow people to experience the consequences of their behavior.

Proverbs 3:12 reminds us of another side of God’s love: “The LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” And Ephesians 5:11 states that Christians are not called to hide but to bring to light the sins of others: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”

When counseling an addict’s family, help them consider whether their response is somehow facilitating addictive behavior. Disciplining an adult child, spouse, or other adult family member may not be possible or appropriate. But you can help them see that taking steps to stop destructive behavior (not enabling, but allowing people to experience the consequences of their behavior) is consistent with God’s character.

Marriage: When Trying Harder Becomes Destructive

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick, LCSW (AACC)

Christian women in troubled marriages who have gone to their pastor or a Christian counselor seeking help are often encouraged to work on themselves and try harder to be more submissive, more caring, more attentive to their husband’s needs, more respectful, and less demanding.

In many marriages this might be wise counsel.  When one person starts to try harder it often begets a reciprocal response in the other person. He begins to try harder too.  Amends are made and the relationship is repaired.  This is a good start and when the marriage stalls, someone needs to get some movement forward. However, in certain kinds of marriages it is not a good idea and can actually make the marriage worse.

Briefly, let me explain why, in some marriages, trying harder to accommodate one’s husband, do what he wants and needs and to be more compliant and submissive to what he says becomes destructive not only to her but also to her husband as well as their marriage.

It Feeds the Lie

Some men do not want to be married to a real woman who has her own feelings, her own needs, and her own brokenness. Instead they want a fantasy wife.

A blow-up-doll wife that continues to bounces back with a smile even when he knocks her down. He wants a wife who always agrees, always acts nice, always smiles and thinks he’s wonderful all of the time no matter what he does or how he behaves.  He wants a wife who wants to have sex with him whenever he’s in the mood, regardless of how he treats her.  He wants a wife that will never upset him, never disagree or never challenge him, and never disappoint him. He wants a wife that grants him amnesty whenever he messes up and never mentions it again.

The more a woman colludes with her husband’s idea that he’s entitled to a fantasy wife, the more firmly entrenched this lie becomes.  She will never measure up to his fantasy wife because she too is a sinner. A real wife will disappoint him some times. She won’t always be able to meet every want or need. A real wife also reflects to him her pain when he hurts her and God’s wisdom when she sees him making a foolish decision.

In a healthy marriage where both individuals are allowed to be themselves, couples must learn to handle disagreements, differences and conflicts through compromise, mutual caring, and mutual submission.  Sacrifice and service are mutually practiced in order to love one another in godly ways. When we fail (as we will) we see the pain in our partner’s face and with God’s help, make corrections so that damages are repaired and love grows.  In an unhealthy marriage when real wife and fantasy wife collide, it’s never pretty.

Therefore, how do we counsel wives in destructive marriages? We must help her gain a vision for God’s role as her husband’s helpmate. According to the Bible a helpmate is not an enabler, but rather a strong warrior. It means she will need to learn to fight (in God’s way) to bring about her husband’s good.  She will need to think and pray about how God can use her to meet her husband’s deepest needs, not just his felt needs.

I often give women in these situations this challenge. Ask God what are your husband’s biggest or deepest needs right now.  Is it to continue to prop him up, indulge his self-centeredness and self-deception or does he need something far more radical and risky from you?

I encourage her to prayerfully and humbly ask God to show her how best to biblically love her husband. It may be to stop indulging his selfish behavior and speak the truth in love. It may be to reflect back to him the impact his behaviors have on her and their children.  It may be to set boundaries against his misuse of power under the guise of headship so that he doesn’t remain self-deceived. It may mean exposing some of his sins to the leadership of the church so that they too can act as a reflective mirror so that he has the best opportunity to look at himself from God’s perspective and repent.

That kind of love is indeed risky, redemptive, and sacrificial as she does not know what his response will be to this kind of love.  But if he wakes up and repents of his demand for a fantasy wife that would be a positive change for her, for him, and for their marriage.

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Leslie Vernick, M.S.W., is a popular speaker, author, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and relationship coach with a counseling practice in Pennsylvania. She is a best-selling author of seven books, including The Emotionally Destructive Relationship and her most recent, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage. For more information, visit her Web site at www.leslievernick.com.

The Abuse Epidemic: Silent No More

      SOURCE:  Rick Warren

I said . . . ‘I will not say anything while evil people are near.’ I kept quiet, not saying a word . . . But my suffering only grew worse, and I was overcome with anxiety. The more I thought, the more troubled I became; I could not keep from asking: ‘Lord, how long will I live? When will I die? Tell me how soon my life will end’”

(Psalm 39:1-4 GNT).

The first step in breaking free from abuse, whether it’s sexual or physical or verbal or emotional, is sharing with someone who can help you break free.

Jesus said in John 8:32, “The truth will set you free” (NLT, second edition). Freedom comes when you open up and admit your pain to someone else.

In a study of 10 nations, it was discovered that between 55 to 95 percent of women who have been abused by their partners have never told anybody, and men are even less likely to talk about it or get help.

Abuse is often called the silent epidemic because it’s the big, pink elephant in many marriages that nobody wants to talk about. People suffer in silence.

If anyone in the Bible understood abuse, it was King David. He was the king who wrote most of the book of Psalms and who also spent much of his life dealing with abuse, because there were people who wanted to hurt, kill, abuse, defame, and ridicule him — all kinds of abuse.

In more than 100 passages in the book of Psalms, David expresses his hurt, frustration, and anger at his enemies. He uses the word “enemies” nearly 100 times in the New International Version. He talks about the abuse that they heaped on his life.

But one of the things David modeled for us is this: Don’t hold it in. In Psalm 39:1-4, David explains what happened when he tried to keep his struggles a secret: “I said . . . ‘I will not say anything while evil people are near.’ I kept quiet, not saying a word . . . But my suffering only grew worse, and I was overcome with anxiety. The more I thought, the more troubled I became; I could not keep from asking: ‘Lord, how long will I live? When will I die? Tell me how soon my life will end’” (GNT).

This is a classic response to abuse. David was afraid to talk about it in the presence of his abusers, but his silence only made it worse: “I kept quiet, not saying a word . . . But my suffering only grew worse, and I was overcome with anxiety.”

If you are experiencing this right now, I want you to know that God cares about you. I care about you. And there is hope. You don’t have to stay in that cycle of pain, anxiety, and fear.

But first you’ve got to stop being silent. You’ve got to speak up and tell someone you trust. You’ve got to bring it into the light so that God can begin to lead you to healing.

Self-Image: Three Questions

SOURCE:  Taken from the book by Ed Welch

So much of life comes down to the following three questions:

  • Who is God?
  • Who am I?
  • Who are these other people?

You might not wake up in the morning with these questions on your mind. In fact, you might never have asked these questions. But, as a human being, those questions are part of your DNA. You will find them sneaking around in your anger, happiness, contentment, jealousy, sadness, fear, guilt, cutting, sense of purpose, life meaning, decision making, moral choices about sex, friendships, school, work, and so on.

Notice, for example, how jealousy answers these questions.

Who is God?

“He is someone who should give me what I want.”

Who am I?

“I deserve better—better looks, better athletic ability, a better boyfriend or girlfriend.”

“I am a judge who is authorized to stand over others.”

Who are these other people?

“They are below me. They have things that I deserve more than them.”

 

Sadness or depression? Listen and you will hear their answers too.

Who is God?

  • “He is far away and doesn’t care.”
  • “He is someone who didn’t give me what I wanted.”
  • “He could never forgive me for what I have done.”

Who am I?

  • “I am nothing, literally nothing. It isn’t that I am trash; I am just nothing.”
  • “I am needy, and I haven’t gotten what I need.”
  • “I am alone.”
  • “I am God. I deserved something and I didn’t get it.”

Who are these other people?

  • “They are my life. I put my hope in them, and they let me down.”
  • “They don’t care, so I am trying not to care about them, but it isn’t working.”
  • “They can’t be trusted.”

You can see what’s happening. You already have answers to these questions. You just have to uncover them. You might know some right answers, such as “I am a child of God.” But our hearts are complicated. The right answer is rarely your only answer. Instead, you usually have at least two sets of answers: those that are “right,” and those that actually guide the way you live. To discover your real answers to these questions, watch how you live. In particular, track your emotions. Look for what makes you upset, depressed, angry, and anxious, or what makes you happy, calm, excited, and peaceful.

Once you settle into one of your less comfortable moods, who do you say God really is?

  • Angry
  • Far away and not aware of what you are doing in secret
  • Far away and uncaring about what is bothering you
  • Picky
  • Unfair

What about other people? Who are they?

  • Objects you manipulate so that they serve you
  • Protectors
  • Threats
  • Jerks
  • Things that can make you feel really good or really bad
  • Idols that you worship

And you? Who are you? Try to capture your view of yourself with a picture. If the picture is “child of God” don’t stop there. Find some others.

  • I am alone, living behind thick walls. I can see out, and everyone else looks normal, but I am isolated.
  • I am a leper who has to live with other lepers far away from everyone else.
  • I am the black sheep—unwanted, standing out in a bad way and not fitting in.
  • I feel like a baby bird, vulnerable, needy, waiting to be pushed out of the nest.
  • I am a piece of a puzzle, happy to fit in but not stand out.

Any you would add?

When it comes to being controlled by the opinions of others—the fear of man—there is one image that fits most of us: a vessel, cup, bowl, or some kind of container. Listen for words such as need, want, and empty. They hint that we want to be filled with something that only other people can give us. Ever feel empty?

Any thoughts on what you think would fill you?

Picture a cup, something like the animated walking teacups of Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. There is already something in it; call it self-esteem for now. Some people have more, some less, but no one feels like they have much. You waddle around, hoping that no one bumps you so hard that everything spills out. You also hope that someone close by is in the shape of a pitcher so you can be filled.

What would cause a spill?

  • “Loser!”
  • “We decided not to hire you.”
  • “We regret to inform you that you weren’t accepted to . . .”
  • “Can’t you do anything right?!”

What would fill you up?

  • “Nice outfit.”
  • “Awesome game!”
  • “Good job.”
  • “I love you.”

“I love you” fills you up best. Sometimes it is enough to hear it from a parent. More often, parents can’t fill you with their words of affection, though they certainly can cause you to spill all over the place with words of rejection. The job of filling you is usually reserved for your peers. Get an “I love you,” or even an “I really like you,” from the right person, and life is wonderful. You feel great. Full. Who cares if someone bumps into you? “I love you” is high-octane fuel for your self-esteem.

If you don’t get filled, bad things happen. You wander around with a case of the blues, though you might not even realize it. Some people try to fill themselves with other things: achievements, sex, drugs, music, video games, Internet porn, and fantasy. But none of it really works. Even if you receive love it doesn’t work for too long. It is like a drug that fills you for awhile—about an hour or so—and then you need more. And there will be days when you feel so bad that even “I love you” won’t make any difference. Either your cup has a leak in it, or you weren’t intended to live like a cup. Which one do you think it is? (Both answers are correct, so you don’t have to worry about getting the wrong answer.)

Do you have any ideas why life as a love cup doesn’t work?

There is nothing wrong with wanting love. It would be positively inhuman not to want it. The problem comes when we desire it too much—when our desire for love becomes the center of life—which, when you think about it, makes us the center of our own lives. The problem is when we want to be loved more than we want to love. If only life could be a little bit less about us.

Then it gets worse. When we live as love cups, we will get hurt. There is no doubt about that. We can never get filled enough. When the hurts pile up, we feel ashamed and protect ourselves. We hide behind masks. You can’t let others see you or really know you. You try to spruce up your facade with grades, thinness, or some other accomplishment, but you never feel covered up enough. When other people are staring, it’s as if they can see through the mask. So you move on to something less revealing—if masks won’t work maybe walls will. But walls have problems of their own. Have you ever experienced the transition from love cup (or approval cup or success cup or . . .) to mask to walls? We all have, so what was it like for you?

What masks do you wear the most?

  • Intelligence
  • Athletics
  • Popularity
  • Creativity, being different

One problem with masks and walls is that, though their purpose is to protect you from hurt, they hurt you even more because they don’t allow relationships. You can’t have a deeper relationship if you won’t allow yourself to be known. All this leads to a dead end: if you allow people to know you, you get hurt; if you protect yourself from people, you get hurt. It ends in misery. But there is another way. This better way allows us to be open and honest and part of a community where we don’t have to put up self-defensive walls. Ever been there? Have you ever had the pleasure of being open with another person?

Think about it. What’s better than having relationships that let you be yourself? If you have ever experienced that, be sure to thank those people.[1]

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[1] Welch, E. T. (2011). What do you think of me? why do i care? answers to the big questions of life. Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press.

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