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Posts tagged ‘avoiding codependency’

How to Set Boundaries with a Hostile Spouse

SOURCE: Dr. Henry Cloud

Amy and Blake had been married for eight years, and they loved each other. However, when he was angry or upset, Blake became moody and would withdraw from Amy and the kids, except for occasional outbursts of anger. When his manufacturing business was struggling, he would sit silently through dinner. Once, during this period, the children were arguing at the dinner table. Out of the blue, Blake said, “Amy, can’t you keep control of the kids? I can’t even have a quiet meal in my own home!” And with that, he stormed out of the kitchen into his home office, turned on the computer, and stayed there until the kids went to bed.

Amy was hurt and confused. But she had a pattern of “handling” Blake’s moods. She would try to cheer him up by being positive, encouraging, and compliant. “He has a hard job,” Amy would think. “Nurturance is what he needs.” And for the next few hours, and sometimes days, she would center the family’s existence around Dad’s mood. Everyone would walk on eggshells around him. No one was to complain or be negative about any subject, for fear of setting him off again. And Amy would constantly try to draw him out, affirm him, and make him happy. All her emotional energy went into helping Blake feel better.

Amy and Blake’s struggle illustrates the importance of the first law of boundaries: “The Law of Sowing and Reaping.” Simply put, this principle means that our actions have consequences. When we do loving, responsible things, people draw close to us. When we are unloving or irresponsible, people withdraw from us by emotionally shutting down, or avoiding us, or eventually leaving the relationship.

In their marriage, Blake was sowing anger, selfishness, and withdrawal of love. These hurt Amy’s feelings and disrupted the family. Yet Blake was not paying any consequences for what he was sowing. He could have his tantrum, get over it, and go about his business as if nothing had happened. Amy, however, had a problem. She was bearing the entire burden of his moodiness. She stopped what she was doing to take on the project of changing her moody husband into a happy man. Blake was “playing,” and Amy was “paying.” And because of this, he was not changing his ways. Blake had no incentive to change, as Amy, not he, was dealing with his problem.

What consequence should Blake have been experiencing? Amy could have said to him, “Honey, I know you’re under stress, and I want to support any way I can. But your withdrawal and rage hurt me and the children. They are unacceptable. I want you to talk more respectfully to us when you’re in a bad mood. The next time you yell at us like that, we’ll need some emotional distance from you for a while. We may leave the house and go to a movie or see some friends.” Then Blake would have to deal with the result of his actions: loneliness and isolation.

When you sow mistreatment of people, you should reap people’s not wanting to be around you. It is to be hoped that the pain of this loneliness would help Blake take steps to deal with his feelings. Sowing and reaping has to do with how spouses affect and impact each other’s heart. Amy and Blake had a problem in relational sowing and reaping. He was being hurtful and difficult, yet Amy took the consequences of his behavior for him.

In their relationship, the one who has the problem isn’t facing the effects of the problem. And things don’t change in a marriage until the spouse who is taking responsibility for a problem that is not hers decides to say or do something about it. This can range from mentioning how her spouse’s behavior hurts her feelings, all the way to setting a limit on the behavior. This helps place both the sowing and the reaping with the same person and begins to solve the boundary violation.

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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.

You Can Help Someone Without Becoming Codependent

SOURCE:  Henry Cloud/John Townsend

Amy called Tina late one night needing a friend.

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

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

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

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

Consider the following:

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

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

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