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Archive for the ‘Co-Dependency Enabling’ Category

Five Good Reasons to say “No!”

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Sarah came to her coaching call astonished that it has taken her fifty years to finally learn how to say “No”. “I’ve always put everyone else first,” she said. “Now I see that I’ve only enabled my husband’s and children’s self-centeredness to flourish.”

One of my relatives recently shared a similar story. At 74 years old, she wired up her courage and said, “No” to her overbearing sister. “Stop telling me what to think, or to do,” she said. “I am my own person and have my own thoughts and my own ways of doing things.” She said it felt really good to say no.

One of the reasons that many of us find it so difficult to say no to people is that we genuinely don’t desire to hurt anyone’s feelings or have them upset with us. Therefore, we’ve learned to please, to placate, and to pretend so that we don’t make waves.

In addition, many of us have been taught that as Christians we should go the extra mile, do more, submit to authority, and always think of others before we think of ourselves. Therefore, whenever we do say no, we feel guilty and selfish.

Yet the Bible tells us stories of people who said “No”. One of my favorites is Queen Vashti. If you don’t know her, she was Queen Esther’s predecessor. Queen Vashti refused to allow herself to be treated as a sexual object for her husband’s drunken friends to ogle. When her husband ordered her to parade herself before them, she said “No.” (See Esther 1 for the story.)

Abigail was another brave wife who did not go along with her husband’s foolish decision. Instead of submitting, she overruled him by taking charge when her family faced the fiery wrath of David and his men (1 Samuel 25).

Earlier in Jewish history we find two midwives who said “No”. They refused to obey the Pharaoh’s orders to murder Hebrew babies (Exodus 1:17).

Jesus himself said “No” when Peter asked him to return to his house and continue healing the sick who had camped out there overnight. Jesus told Peter he needed to move on to Jerusalem to preach. (Read Mark 1 for the story).

Here are five good reasons to say “No”.

  1. Saying “No” acknowledges both to you and to others that you are a finite, limited person. You cannot do two things at the same time or be in two places at once. Jesus couldn’t say “Yes” to Peter’s request and also preach in Jerusalem. He had to choose. All of us have limited resources of time, energy and money. If we say “Yes” to one thing, it means we are saying “No” to another. When we say yes because we’re afraid to say no, we often allow good things to take the place of God’s best. 
  2. Saying “No” to others, especially early in a relationship helps you discern fairly quickly whether the other person can be respectful of your time, your needs and your priorities. Try it. Next time you’re on the phone with someone and you’re busy, be honest. Tell him or her, “I can’t talk right now, I have to go.” Pay attention to her response. Does she hear you? Or, is she so focused on her own needs that she totally ignores what you said? Or perhaps he may pressure you to stay on the phone longer, or make you feel guilty for not having the time to talk right now. Noticing these particular patterns early on can help us weed out manipulative and toxic individuals before we get too close to them. 
  3. Saying “No” to people, even those you dearly love, helps them not become overly dependent on you to meet needs that they should be capable of meeting on their own. When we do too much for people they grow lazy, self-centered, and self-absorbed. They also begin to adopt an entitlement mindset rather than being grateful.

  4. Saying “No” to sin, injustice, and abuse, is not simply sticking up for yourself, it’s standing up for what’s good, right, and just. Jesus always stood for what was right and against what was wrong. He confronted the legalistic views of the Pharisee’s and healed on the Sabbath, even when it angered the religious rule keepers. Jesus taught that the law of love always comes first. 
  5. Saying “No” to foolishness can rescue a person from the error of his or her ways. Abigail not only saved her own life, she saved her entire family’s life. She also helped David come to his senses when she challenged his decision to repay Nabal’s foolishness. James reminds us “if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (James 5:19).

When have you been too afraid, too nice, or too passive to say “No”? What has it cost you or others?

Ask God to give you the courage to say “No” when necessary for your good, for another person’s good, or for His purposes and glory.

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You’re Never Responsible for Your Parents’ Feelings

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

Micah had taken an overdose of drugs. At 24, he had dropped out of school and was living at home.

Since his parents were “good Christians,” his behavior was very upsetting to them. It tarnished their image to their group of friends, so they brought him to therapy.

As Micah and I began to explore why he was suicidally depressed, I discovered that his parents were having serious marital problems. They would get into screaming fights and then wouldn’t speak to each other for days. They would bring Micah into conflict. Micah’s father would ask Micah to ask Micah’s mother something, and vice versa.

At other times, Micah’s parents would both confide in him about the other person, instead of confronting each other directly. Micah’s mother told him that she could never stand to be left alone with his father. If Micah left home, they would divorce. If that happened, she said, she would commit suicide, implying it would be “Micah’s fault.”

Micah wanted to move out of his parents’ house and get on with his life, but he was afraid that his moving out would cause his parents’ divorce and his mother’s suicide. He felt he had no choice.

After months of hard work in therapy, Micah learned that he had another option. He learned that he wasn’t responsible for his parents’ feelings toward one another, nor was he responsible for his mother’s depression if she got divorced.

I will never forget the day in a family session that Micah gathered up his strength to confront his mother.

“Mom, I’ve been thinking. I think it’s time for me to finish school. I want to get a job.”

“But the family needs you here. Your father and I are still …”

“No, Mom,” he interrupted. “What you and dad do is up to you. I’m 24, and I’m going to get on with my life.”

She started to cry.

“Mom, you can turn off the tears, because they aren’t going to work anymore. Every time I have ever tried to do something for me, you cry, and I change my mind. I’m not going to do this again. If you are sad about me leaving home, and you and dad are going to fight, that’s your problem.”

Micah had learned what his mother had never learned: each of us responsible for our own feelings. Trying to change the way someone else feels is like losing the ability to steer our car.  We are out of control.

Q&A: Am I Empathetic Or Enabling?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: I would like to have you explain what “enabling” the emotionally abusive person means? The balance of walking the Christian walk, being empathic and caring and submitting to my husband but not enabling is a very difficult line for me to draw. I don’t think I enable, and my husband is not physically or verbally abusive, but he is emotionally abusive without knowing it, even though I have tried to raise his awareness of it. The Christians I confide in say that I am an enabler, but I do not like that term…and I don’t feel I am. Can you clarify?

Answer: It’s difficult to hear people tell us something about ourselves we don’t believe is true. And you’re right, sometimes it is a fine line. It might be helpful for you to ask them what they see in you that makes them think you enable your husband’s emotional abuse. But let me give you four red flags that might indicate enabling behavior.

1. Do you ever lie, cover up, or make excuses for your husband’s emotionally abusive behaviors? You might have a very good reason like you don’t want to embarrass him or disrespect him by calling it what it is, but right now, just be honest with yourself.

Sometimes we think that this is our duty or responsibility as a submissive wife or godly person to cover up sin, but I don’t believe God wants us to exchange the truth for a lie or call evil good.

The apostle Paul says that we are to have nothing to do with the unfruitful deeds of darkness but rather expose them (Ephesians 5:11). When abuse remains hidden and secret, it flourishes.

2. Do you do regularly change your behaviors, stuff your feelings, or guard what you say just to keep the peace, prevent an argument, or make him happy?

Again in any marriage, there is a fair amount of give and take and at certain times for good reasons we might do any of the above. But when we are the one who is doing most of the accommodating or significantly changing who we are or stuffing how we feel then the relationship is unhealthy.

For example, perhaps your husband is insecure and jealous. For those reasons he does not want you to work, or go to bible study, or even go to the mall without him. To accommodate such controlling demands actually enables his insecurity and jealousy to flourish, not to change and heal. That’s where the fine line between submission and enabling starts to blur. Do you submit to your husband’s demands to stay home all the time or is it actually better and healthier for you, for him, and for your marriage to challenge them?

3. Are you doing things for your husband that he should be doing for himself? Again in marriage, there are times spouses do extra favors for one another. But when you are the one doing the most of the work and your spouse is not sharing those responsibilities, you are enabling him to be selfish, lazy, and indifferent.

4. Are you taking the responsibility or blame for things that you are not responsible for? For example, when your husband loses his temper and says “if only you were more organized, or more submissive, or cooked better, or didn’t upset him” do you enable him to blame shift and make you responsible for his bad behaviors?

Now in each of these things, you cannot change your husband. You may be doing all you can and he still may be emotionally abusive. You can’t make him help you, or take responsibility for his own emotional outbursts, or be more secure and less threatened.

I don’t know your particular story or what your spouse is doing that you feel is emotionally abusive, but you can and must look at the part you play to see if you are enabling his behaviors to flourish and grow without protest or consequence.

Q&A: Have I’ve Done All That I Can Do Or Has My Marriage Died?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Today’s Question:  How can I be confident that I’ve done all that I can do and nothing is going to change in my marriage? When will I have enough evidence that it’s time to leave? My husband says lots of “right” things, but his belief system, which drives his actions, reveals that for the most part, he doesn’t really care for anyone but himself. 

Answer: I’d like to rephrase a common myth. The myth is that it takes two to break a marriage. That’s a lie. One person can kill a relationship effectively all by himself or herself.

The truer reality is that one person cannot keep a marriage together all by herself. It always takes two people to keep a relationship alive or to put a marriage back together especially once it has suffered broken trust.

A marriage is more than a legal agreement or a piece of paper. It is a living relationship that needs regular maintenance and sometimes, repairs. 

I was talking to a man this week at a business meeting I attended and he told me how unsuccessful he’s been in marriage. The problem was that he hadn’t found the right person yet.

I asked him what he meant and he said he’s been divorced three times and when he finds the right person, he’ll know. Meaning…the right person will make it easy for him to stay married long term.

I challenged his thinking. I said, “If you built a brand new house – one that you loved and thought was amazing, and you never maintained it, never took out the garbage, never cleaned it, never repainted the walls, or cut the grass or weeded the yard, or only did those things once in a blue moon, how would that house look and feel in 10 years? 30 years? Horrible! Like a stinky dump.” He agreed. Then I went on to add…

“A house needs more than regular maintenance. It also usually needs repairs over time. What if you ignored the leaky roof or the black mold growing in the bathroom, or the infestation of termites? How would it feel to live in that house?”

YUCKY!  TOXIC! Exactly.

This man lived with a mindset that if love is real, or I find the right person, then keeping the relationship alive will be easy. I shouldn’t have to work at it. But that’s not true.

Therefore, I’m curious about your mindset. I wonder if you believe that if only you do more, somehow you should be able to change your marriage into something enjoyable and safe.

From what you wrote, it sounds as if you’ve been doing the heavy lifting of maintenance and repairs in this relationship with dismal results. You’re tired and worn out. You feel scared because you see the marriage dying and you’re worried that maybe you haven’t done enough.

How do you know?

Your question reminds me of ER professionals who work hard to save a person who’s had a heart attack or was brought in after a terrible automobile accident. As hard as they try, at some point, they have to accept that they’ve done all they can do.  When that time comes, they don’t try harder. They stop and call the time of death. They accept their limitations. They cannot save everyone. Nor can they always bring someone back when seemingly dead, no matter how hard they try, because the patient is really dead.

As Christian women, we’ve often been blamed and blamed ourselves when our marriage feels dead. “What else could I have done?” we ask. “How can I do more to get my spouse to see? To change? To repent? To stop doing destructive things.” And the truth is, there are some things you can do to open his eyes to the dying marriage problem. But only he can decide to change.

Here are some things you can do. Speak to him about your feelings and concerns.  You’ve probably done that hundreds of times over the years. He gives you back the right words, but over the years there has been no meaningful change. Some people will never wake up with words alone. That takes you to the next step.

You allow your spouse reap what he sows (Galatians 6:7-9). In other words, he doesn’t get the perks of a happy wife and good marriage when he sows abuse, indifference, deceit, selfishness, and/or other destructive behavior. Often times that consequence is separation, whether an in-house separation or asking him to move out. But understand this: even with painful consequences, some people still refuse to wise up or change.

Proverbs 1:28-30 says,

“Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge
And did not choose the fear of the Lord,
Would have none of my counsel,
And despised all my reproof,
Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
And have their fill of their own devices.
For the simple are killed by their turning away,
And the complacency of fools destroys them;

You don’t know the future. All you know is the past and present and those are pretty good predictors of someone’s future behaviors. God doesn’t expect you to be omniscient and know everything. He is asking you to walk in truth and faith, not fear and condemnation.

Please don’t put your hope in your husband changing his ways since the past and present show no indication that’s going to happen. You trying harder will not get him to change because you have no power to get him to change no matter how hard you try.

Trying harder to love him more, forgive him more and enduring more destructive/abusive behavior only feeds his entitlement. It feeds the lie he believes that he is so special and wonderful, so unique, he doesn’t have to do the regular work ordinary people have to do to maintain and repair relationships. He believes he’s entitled to a loving partnership even if he behaves in selfish, unloving ways.

Trying harder doesn’t help him face the truth. It also doesn’t help you, nor will it help your marriage to get better.

So you have three choices.

You can keep doing what you’ve always done and getting the same results, which is the definition of insanity.

You can decide to stay well, which means you let go of your desire to have a loving, mutual relationship, and live your life as best you can with a selfish man.

Or, you can decide to leave well, and say, “I don’t think God is asking me to lie and pretend we have a loving marriage when we don’t. I’m going to work on me, to get healthy and strong, and I invite you to do the same.” And then see what he does.

Probably he will do what he always does by giving you empty promises, but as you get stronger, you won’t fall for them as quickly. John the Baptist wisely challenged the religious leaders of his time when he said, “Prove, by the way you live that you’ve repented of your sin and turned to God” (Luke 3:8).

Help Your Adult Children Without Enabling Them

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

Being a parent doesn’t stop just because our kids reach a certain age.

Many of us find that our love for our children is wrapped up in our desire to protect our kids and make sure their basic needs are taken care of, and that can go on well past any given age for a lot of parents. Helping our kids feels really good in the right situation, and sometimes we’re the only place they can turn to when they’re trying to make a positive change in their lives. But we’re also the place they’re most likely to turn when the going gets tough, and sometimes struggling is necessary for our development.

When do you think it’s a good idea to support your adult child directly? Not just moral support or love, but financially?

Every parent-child situation is different, but let’s say that all parties agree that you’ve found a fair way to provide support for your adult child and that you have the means to be able to help them while they work toward a goal.

When you help your adult children, you’re a resource. All resources can be depleted, and it’s important that your kids understand that. While earned success is the best and most rewarding way to demonstrate the effectiveness of one’s efforts, living up to an agreed upon standard of accountability is the right way to conduct this kind of support.

You’re saying: I believe in your future enough to invest in it with my hard-earned money. You have my faith in your ability and desire to accomplish your goals, and I have a strong wish for you to have a wonderful life.

Making this situation work is about connecting the resource that you’re providing them with to a commitment to making progress in their goal. Failure to progress needs to have appropriate consequences attached to it. If your son or daughter lacks seriousness about accomplishing his or her goal, or gets lazy, or loses interest, you have to be ready to pull your financial support. Something to keep in mind though is that not all failures are equal.

There’s a saying in business — Fail fast, fail often. The lesson here is that we can learn our best lessons from our failures and that we can utilize that knowledge to improve our future attempts to achieve our goals. Failure doesn’t mean that progress has stopped, it means we’re about to learn something hard. What we do with that knowledge defines our character.

Someone Else’s Feelings Aren’t Yours to Own

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

Our feelings, whether good or bad, are our property. They fall within our boundaries. Our feelings are our responsibility; others’ feelings are their responsibility. If other people feel sad, it is their sadness. This does not mean that they do not need someone else to be with them in their sadness and to empathize with them. It does mean the person who is feeling sad must take responsibility for that feeling.

Sandy was confused about her boundaries because she felt responsible for her mother’s feelings. She felt like she had to change her mother’s anger to happiness by changing her own behavior. This puts Sandy’s mother’s anger in control of Sandy’s life.

If we feel responsible for other people’s feelings, we can no longer make decisions based on what is right; we will make decisions based on how others feel about our choices. If we are always trying to keep everyone happy, then we cannot make the choices required to live correctly and freely. We can’t determine how successfully we are living our lives by who is unhappy with us. If we feel responsible for other people’s displeasure, we are being controlled by others.

Many people are stuck in the stage of development where they think they can control others by getting angry or sad. This tactic often works with people who have no boundaries, and it reinforces the controlling person’s immaturity. When we take responsibility for our own disappointments, we are setting clear boundaries. When we take responsibility for others’ feelings, we are crossing over their boundaries.

Some of you may think that this approach to boundaries is mean and insensitive. Please hear something loud and clear: We should always be sensitive to others’ feelings about our choices, but we should never take responsibility for how they feel. Taking responsibility for someone else’s feelings is actually the most insensitive thing we can do because we are crossing into another’s territory. Other people need to take responsibility for their own feelings. If they are mature, they will process their own disappointment and own it. If they are not, they will blame us for their disappointment. But dealing with both their disappointment and their blaming is their responsibility. None of us gets everything we want.

 

Q&A: Can I Have Good Boundaries And Be Compassionate?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Today’s Question: Where is the line between understanding and having compassion for your emotionally abusive spouse and protecting your own healthy emotional boundaries and beginning the healing process?

Answer: This is an excellent question. People usually fall in one of two categories. On the one side, you have so much compassion and empathy for someone that you have no boundaries. Instead, you enable and/or excuse destructive and damaging behavior that’s directed towards you and continue to suffer believing that God calls you to do just that. You say to yourself, he came from an abusive childhood, therefore you allow him to mistreat you because he was mistreated himself.

But would you think that same way with a two-year-old? Yes, you have compassion that your child is tired. He didn’t get his nap. He doesn’t feel well. But he bites you or kicks you or hits his baby sister. Do you allow it and make excuses for his behavior because you feel bad for him? I hope not. You can have compassion with firm boundaries. “I know you’re tired, or don’t feel well, but hitting mommy or your sister is not allowed and if you don’t stop, you will have a time out.”

When we don’t couple firm boundaries with our natural compassion our children grow up under a lie. The lie is, “I’m allowed to behave poorly when I feel bad or I’m unhappy, hurt, or angry.” Those lies underlie entitlement thinking. The belief that says everyone and everything should revolve around meeting my needs, feelings, wants, and desires and when they don’t, watch out. You will have a price to pay.

The opposite mistake you may fall into is hard-heartedness. You’re done. You feel only disgust, contempt, and hatred towards your abuser. There is zero compassion for his or her struggle or any pity for the sad human being he or she has become. We may start to retaliate, call him names, turn away in disgust, and sometimes in our own anger, we turn into someone we don’t like very much.

Neither place is Biblical or healthy. God calls us to love even our enemy. But that doesn’t mean God would expect you not to have any boundaries with an enemy. Precisely because Jesus uses the word “enemy” and not “stranger” he knows that an enemy is dangerous and has caused you harm in the past.

Loving your enemy isn’t a command to change an enemy into a friend. Its goal is to help you not be filled with hatred towards your enemy which would turn you into someone just like your enemy.

So your question of what exactly does it look like won’t be the same for everyone because everyone’s situation is a little different. However, to accomplish both goals, means you have to learn to walk in and stay in CORE Strength.

Two of the steps in CORE are the R step and the E step. The R step means you will be responsible for yourself and respectful towards your spouse without dishonoring yourself. It’s your job to steward your own physical, emotional, spiritual, sexual and financial well-being.

This is your Biblical responsibility as an adult. So often we don’t fully mature and instead rely on others to do our thinking for us, make our decisions, take care of us or rescue us from our unhappiness or problems. This is not the posture of a healthy or godly woman (or man).

It’s now time to stop focusing on your marriage or your man and spend time on your own healing and growth so that you can become the woman God called you to become. This requires you to detach yourself from NEEDING your spouse to love you, take care of you, validate your choices, or meet your needs.

That doesn’t mean you don’t have needs, but right now you will learn to take responsibility for your own needs. If your spouse chooses not to voluntarily meet those needs, you will detach yourself from begging, pleading, threatening or feeling victimized because he refuses or he can’t. As you do this you will grow to trust God in a deeper way with what you need right now. You can be kind while not demanding he do or change anything. If you aren’t able to detach safely while living together, then separation might need to take place.

But detaching doesn’t mean disregarding someone else or being cruel towards him (or her). That would not be of God and we forfeit the E step of CORE, which states: I will be empathic and compassionate without enabling destructive behaviors to continue.

If your spouse and you can live together in a compassionate, respectful way, while you both do your own growth and healing, it may be possible to live together. This would require you both to be able to commit to being responsible to mutually care for the house, the children and the finances without power plays or abusive behavior. However, by your question, it sounds like your husband is not as committed to his growth as you are to yours. Therefore his destructive behaviors continue while you are working on getting healthier.

You haven’t described what kinds of abusive behaviors he engages in, nor have you gone into details about the impact they have had on you. Not every person is the same, not everyone has the same threshold for pain or ability to handle toxic people.

This is where the church makes some crucial mistakes in their advice to victims of abuse. “If name calling wouldn’t hurt me, it shouldn’t hurt you.” Or, “There is something flawed about you if this bothers you, you’re too sensitive.” Or “That’s not abusive, if I don’t see it as abusive.”

But what one person can handle, perhaps another person cannot. For example, if you are highly sensitive to smoke, you may have a boundary that says, “I can’t drive with you if you smoke in the car.” If your husband refuses to honor that boundary, you can have compassion on his addiction, but you still may choose not to get in his car or let him in yours if he refused to respect your right to steward your health. If he continued to smoke in the house and it impacted your health, you may have to live elsewhere. Not because you didn’t have compassion on his addiction, but because you are responsible to steward your health, and if chooses not to care about your health, you must.

In the above example, I would hope a church leader would talk to her husband for being disrespectful towards his wife and the effect his smoking has on her. Sadly, with emotional abuse, it’s often the woman or abused who gets chastised because somehow she (or he) is supposed to be able to “take it” without any thought to the consequences to their body, soul, or spirit.

So you can have compassion and have firm boundaries at the same time. Even with someone who is brain injured and dangerous because he or she isn’t thinking properly. Of course, you would have tons of compassion for the injury he or she suffered and the impact on their thinking and personality. But if they were coming at you with a knife, or setting the house on fire, or doing other dangerous and destructive things to you or your children, it may not be possible to live in the same house.

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