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Posts tagged ‘maintaining healthy boundaries’

How to Avoid Codependency When You Help Someone in Need

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

Challenge Codependency occurs when we don’t have an accurate awareness of our boundaries and behaviors, and we allow someone else’s needs to control and take over our lives.

Solution You may be inclined to jump in and “save the world.” But there are better things you can do for that individual that will improve their quality of life and spare you from the toxicity of a codependent relationship.

“I’ve been in an accident,” Bethany whimpered. Her voice was filled with pain-staking fear. “I’m ok, but can you come get me?”

I assumed she meant the hospital. She was sitting in jail.

My blurry, tired eyes adjusted to the harsh glow of my cell phone as I looked at the time. If I left within the next few minutes, I’d have a head start on morning rush hour.

As I pulled up outside the Metro Detention Center, I saw Bethany waiting on the sidewalk for me. She stood there looking down at the ground with a defeated look on her face, perhaps still hungover. Her arms were crossed over her torso, clinched tight around her frame.

My door locks clicked. She got in my car, never lifting her head. Her disheveled hair draped over her eyes as if to hide her embarrassment. I didn’t even make it to the first traffic light before her face fell into her hands. Bethany let out deep sobs with diaphragmatic breaths. I offered a napkin from my center console.

“I hit a pole,” she quivered. “No one else was involved, but I think I have a drinking problem, and I honestly have no idea what to do right now.”

When you watch a friend or loved one struggle with pain in their life, your first response may be to do whatever it takes to ensure they don’t have to endure any more than they have to.

Why?

Although you care for that person, what you’re witnessing is uncomfortable for you, so you may be inclined to jump in and be the hero. But there are better things you can do for that individual that will improve their quality of life and spare you from the toxicity of a codependent relationship.

1. Show empathy
Though I had never been in Bethany’s situation, I knew what it was like to experience sadness. I was all too familiar with hurt, and I understood what it meant to feel shame. Bethany didn’t need me to tell her what she had done wrong. She knew, and if I spent time telling her what I think she should have done, it would have closed the door to trust.

2. Set and maintain boundaries
Bethany was in need of emotional support, and the circle of people she trusted was small. She was having trouble processing her feelings and was having anxiety over the legal consequences she’d have to endure. She called frequently, all hours of the night, and while I was at work.

After a few days, I had to let her know I couldn’t always answer the phone, so I sent her a text. “Hey, Bethany. I’m sorry you’re experiencing this right now. I can’t talk at the moment but let’s set aside a time later this week, and I’d be glad to listen to you.” It may have hurt her feelings, but it saved my sanity.

3. Remember it’s not your battle to fight
Bethany had lost her car, her job and her dignity. She was facing more jail time, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to watch her struggle. Part of me wanted to help her make everything go away, but I couldn’t step in and offer to pay her attorney or her court costs.

I knew that what was happening in her life was part of her journey, and if I disrupted the course, I would be denying her the lesson she was meant to learn. If Bethany was going to change, she would have to endure the consequences of her actions.

4. Realize you can’t change someone
I helped Bethany find several local AA meetings to attend and put her in touch with an outpatient recovery program, but I couldn’t make her go. It had to be her decision. Sometimes she went; sometimes she didn’t, and I couldn’t force her into making the choice I wanted for her.

5. Your feelings matter, too
Helping someone in need can leave you feeling exhausted, resentful, angry, hurt, sad or frustrated. Not only is it ok to have these feelings, but you need to be able to express them to the person you’re helping. Sometimes I had to tell Bethany, “You know, what you’re going through is really tough, but I’m feeling overwhelmed with helping you right now.”

When you feel compelled to help someone with a serious problem, whether it’s out of love or as a favor to a friend, it could breed a codependent relationship if you continuously sacrifice your needs for the benefit of someone else. There are myriad reasons why you may find yourself in such situations, but by having an awareness of your own habits and behaviors, you can avoid a potentially dysfunctional relationship.

Q&A: What To Do When Receiving The “Silent Treatment”

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: What is the proper response to the silent treatment when it has been 10 days and no matter what, you will be blamed? Do you distance yourself or move toward reconciliation?

Answer:  First, it’s important to distinguish between the silent treatment and a time out. A timeout is a good thing and is taken when a couple is arguing in a non-productive or destructive manner and one or both parties call a timeout in order to calm down, rest, regroup, pray, or do what it takes to come back and talk constructively about the topic or problem. Ideally, a time-out should last no longer than 24 hours and the one who called the time-out initiates the reconnect with the other spouse to say when he or she would be prepared to resume the discussion.

The silent treatment is not helpful and is a passive aggressive form of punishment. One person is angry or unhappy with something you have done or not done and instead of talking it through, there is a withdrawal of communication, attention, and care as a means of punishment. I remember one woman I worked with whose spouse did not speak with her for over a year despite her pleas to discuss things.

I’m answering this question from a woman who has a husband who gives her the silent treatment, but I’m aware that women can also be guilty of giving their husband’s the silent treatment.

The person who chooses the silent treatment as a pattern of behavior operates out of a victim mindset. A victim mindset believes he  is powerless to bring about change and blames circumstances (or other people) for how he feels. He  is hurt or angry about something but refuses, to be honest, and talk about what’s bothering him. He will not do the work of expressing his feelings, stating his needs, negotiating a compromise, understanding another person’s perspective and moving towards a solution and reconciliation of the relationship or even of ending the relationship. Instead, he manipulates, punishes and attempts to control the other person through protracted silence.

Deep down, the silent partner wants two things. He wants to make you pay for upsetting him and he wants you to take full responsibility (blame) for his emotional state and rescue him out of his funk by attempting relationship repairs. Sadly, even when you attempt to do so, the silent spouse often resists your attempts and further rejects you through continued silence (more punishment). Somehow you are supposed to figure out what you did wrong, make amends, and beg this person back into relationship with you, without him having to take any responsibility for communicating or working towards a mutual solution.

But your question was, what should you do when you are on the receiving end of the silent treatment? First, you need to work on not reacting to his passive form of aggression towards you. He tempts you to step into two unhealthy roles if you are not vigilant. You will either start the rescuing process as I’ve already described, or you will get angry and lean into the persecutor role, which will shame and attack him. And be careful, you may go back and forth between the two. Either way, he gets to stay the innocent, blameless, victim and continue to see you as the bad guy–the one to blame for everything wrong in his life.

Instead of dancing that old dance again, just go about your life while he’s brooding in silence. Get out with your friends and try not to take his rejection personally. Instead, see it as a very immature response to being unhappy with something and being unable to deal with his feelings. What you can do is continue to invite him (not beg) to take responsibility for himself, to discuss what’s wrong.

So you might say something like, “I am happy to discuss what’s wrong when you are ready to talk about this, just let me know.” And then go about your life. Hopefully, this will signal to your husband that his tactic isn’t working to control or punish you. You will no longer rescue, beg or badger. In this moment, you will function as a healthy adult who invites another adult into a discussion about “what’s wrong.”

Understand this new approach doesn’t come without risk. He may sink more into a victim mentality, feel rejected and that you don’t care about him because you aren’t knocking yourself out to “fix and rescue” the relationship. Or, his aggression might switch from passive to more active and he may start to talk but it usually isn’t constructive conversation but blaming, accusing, and attacking words, blaming you for everything that’s wrong with his life and your marriage.

In that moment it’s important for you to stay in CORE strength and really see what’s happening so that you can find some compassion for him. How? Remember, he is unable to express himself in a good way, so his typical way is to shut down and be silent. When that doesn’t work, he explodes and vomits out his ugly feelings. Yes, that is hurtful, but it’s clear that he doesn’t know how to handle his emotions any better than he is doing.

If he explodes, then you can compassionately say, “I see you are very upset and hurt or angry and I’m glad you are ready to tell me what’s bothering you but the way you’re talking right now is destructive and I can’t listen to you when you are attacking me. I’m going to give you some time to calm down and figure out how to tell me what’s wrong in a more constructive way.” Then walk away. Again, you are inviting him to mature, to grow, to learn how to express himself, but in healthier ways in order to actually resolve the issue and not just allow him to attack you.

In the end, sadly, nothing may change with him, but if you don’t get drawn into the destructive pattern, a lot can change with you.

Be Careful What You Say

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

We live in a culture of talk and tweets. We’re encouraged to express our feelings, hold nothing back.

Recently we’ve all seen in national news how people’s unrestrained talk can get them into public hot water.  Every day I see the relational fallout that comes from thoughtless, deceitful, and cruel words.

Hear me.

There are times we ought to keep our negative thoughts and emotions to ourselves and refuse to give them a voice. The Bible warns us that our tongue can be a mighty weapon, for good and for evil. (James 3:2-12). Proverbs warns us, “Reckless words pierce like a sword”  (Proverbs 12:18).

We can damage a person’s spirit, family, or reputation by blurting out negative thoughts and feelings without any thought or prayer.  Yes, it might temporarily feel better to blurt them out when we’re mad or hurt, but I liken blurting to vomit.  Vomit belongs in the toilet and not on another person.

But it’s not only good for the other person that we learn not to blurt our negative thoughts and feelings during moments of great intensity. It is also good for us.

Proverbs 21:23 says, “He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.”

Proverbs 13:3 says, “He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.”

1 Peter 3:10 says, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech.”

Imagine how much better you would feel if you weren’t always complaining or critical of something wrong in your life?  How would your relationships be improved if the people you loved didn’t feel angry with you by your reckless or deceitful words?  How different would you feel about yourself if you weren’t so captured by your own negative feelings and thoughts?

Here are three things you can do to develop the ministry of the closed mouth.*

1. Decide: No matter how negatively you feel you make a conscious decision that you will not vomit your toxic emotions out on others.  (Don’t get me wrong – you may have to speak some hard words at times, but hard words need not be harsh words).  The psalmist determined, “I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in m presence” (Psalm 39:1).

2. Acknowledge the Struggle: In Psalm 39 despite his vow to keep silent, the psalmist found keeping quite pretty tough.  Silence didn’t bring the psalmist satisfaction but more anguish (see verses 2 and 3). During this time of anguish and temptation write a no-send letter venting out your feelings or praying them out to God until you can get a better perspective and calm down.

3. Remember the Big Picture:  It’s crucial that you understand that YOU are much more than your temporal thoughts and feelings. We all have negative thoughts and feelings but it’s important to not allow them to have us.  Instead of getting stuck in your mood or negative thoughts, remind yourself that you are more than your feelings and you will have to give an account for how you handled adversity. Remember your goals (I don’t want to vomit on people), your deeper desires (I want to be a godly person, or I don’t want to have regrets later) or your values (I want to treat people as I would like to be treated). This practice helps us develop the muscle of restraint and self-control so that we don’t become a slave to our emotions.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Often we combat our evil thoughts most effectively if we absolutely refuse to allow them to be expressed in words…It must be a decisive rule of every Christian fellowship that each individual is prohibited from saying much that occurs to him.”

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*I first read this phrase “Ministry of the Closed Mouth” in The Life You’ve Always Wanted by John Ortberg

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