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Understanding Co-Dependancy

“Quit sweating, quit wrestling. It is not TRY but TRUST.” –John G. Lake

“What is being co-dependent and how do I know if I am?” The definitions of co-dependency seem countless and the characteristics can be blurred and unclear. Most would certainly not see the term as a positive one and though we don’t know exactly what it is, we know we don’t want to be co-dependent. In the 70’s the word was used to describe a person living with an alcoholic and later included being in relationship to those abusing other substances as well. It became the word that described the dysfunctional actions of those trying to adjust and adapt to destructive behaviors of the substance abuser; their lives becoming unmanageable as a result. Today we generally use the term for someone who is dependent on another person to the point of being controlled or manipulated by that person.

“Co-dependency is a relationship addiction. Just as the alcoholic is dependent on alcohol, the codependent is dependent on being needed by the alcoholic... or on being needed by someone who is dependent. The "enabler" is a co-dependent person who enables the alcoholic (or other dependent person) to continue with the addiction without drawing and maintaining boundaries. Co-dependency involves being too dependent on someone or something that cannot meet your needs.”1 What’s wrong with being dependent? Dependency is when we rely on someone for support or some need to be met. When this support or need is distorted and unhealthy, the person relies solely on another person to get all of their needs met; there is no mutual give and take or interdependency where both love and value the other and work toward the health of the relationship. This dependency looks like: “I have to have this person meet this need in my life; they must do this in order for me to be happy.” Enabling is where a person maintains, and can be responsible for, another person’s destructive behavior by keeping them from painful consequences that could help them change for the good. Many times the co-dependent person allows dysfunctional patterns by not setting boundaries, protecting the other person or even lying for them in order to cover up unhealthy behaviors.

Characteristics of Co-dependency

In a co-dependent relationship one person is generally obsessive and controlling and emotionally weak though they may appear strong, capable and self sufficient. But they are insecure, have self doubt and have an excessive sense of helping and pleasing. They need approval and feel responsible. They generally have low self- esteem, carry guilt and shame, feel anxious and worry over even the slightest details, get frustrated and angry as they attempt to control people and situations, lie to themselves and others in order to protect, have a hard time saying ‘no,’ feel trapped and unhappy, and have a hard time trusting themselves, others and even God. “Most co-dependents are attached to the people and problems in their environments. By "attachment," I don't mean normal feelings of liking people, being concerned about problems, or feeling connected to the world. Attachment is becoming overly-involved, sometimes hopelessly entangled.”2 In co-dependent relationships it is easy for both persons to struggle with self esteem, controlling or manipulating behaviors, fears of being abandoned, rejected or being alone, having a false security, give in to addictions, feel trapped, be in denial and

lose a sense of their own identity. June Hunt says If you are in a co-dependent relationship your excessive care causes you to compromise your convictions; your excessive loyalty leaves you without healthy boundaries and your excessive "love" allows you to say yes when you should say no.

Healing Solutions

In a healthy marriage the relationship is interdependent where each values and encourages the other to overcome difficulties and utilize their strengths while being responsive and accessible emotionally to each other. They help each other feel safe; safe to explore their thoughts and feelings, safe to be themselves knowing they will be loved and valued. They don’t obsess and worry. God’s ultimate solution is for us to rely on Him, to trust Him to meet all of our needs, to please Him, believing He is faithful and sufficient for all of our relationships and the struggles we face with those we love and are attached to.

There is freedom from co-dependency. Instead of taking things into our own hands in our relationships, we can start by realizing emotional addiction and over-attachment leads us to destructive and damaging behaviors. We can be honest and admit the truth to ourselves and to others. We can also take responsibility for our own thoughts, feelings and actions in order to make the changes that will lead us to healthy relationships and a healthy understanding of our own pain and our own emotions. We can stop trying so hard to make things, and people, happen the way we feel they should, and rest in God’s promises, plan and purpose.

“In a codependent relationship, you allow someone else to take the place that God alone should have in your heart.... You allow another person to be your "god."”- June Hunt

Blessings,
Mike

1 Biblical Counseling Library - Biblical Counseling Keys – Codependency: Balancing an Unbalanced Relationship.

2 Beatty, Melody. “Codependent No More” Hazelden 1992.

Understanding Stress

Conflict. Demands. Fear. Assumptions. Expectations. Time pressures. Pain. Rejection.
These are only a few of the components linked to our stress. It seems like everyone has stress, and when it gets out of balance it becomes anxiety, depression, a physical breakdown, a lack of productivity and a loss of enjoyment in life. When our life’s events and circumstances tax us beyond what we are readily able to cope with, stress is the result. “Psychological stress is defined as the mismatch between an individual’s coping skills and the demands of the environment.”

The Body and Stress

Stress can be physical, chemical, or even an emotional influence that causes bodily or mental tension and anxious feelings. It certainly causes a sense of conflict and a buildup of physical and mental strain. Our bodies actually have a survival mechanism called a stress response or startle response controlled by part of our brain which introduces chemicals to prepare us for action, especially in threatening circumstances. Many of the body’s systems are impacted: digestive, cardiovascular, respiratory, muscular and immunological. Our minds also go to work in order to help us cope with all types of issues including loss, conflict, failure, rejection, abuse and even our human limitations. So you can see our bodies are well suited and adapted for handling stress.

Most would agree that stress can be both productive and non productive. Dan McGee says productive stress is what we experience as we go through the daily demands of our lives, as we reach and attempt to achieve our goals and even what we feel as we look forward to success. But non productive stress happens when our emotions are overly burdened, our bodies are strained beyond limits, our actions or behaviors are defeating and when our relationships are highly conflicted and at risk.

Coping with Stress

Change is the key word! Consider changing your situation- put yourself in some other place, such as a new job, or out of a damaging relationship. Or, change the current place or situation you are in; use your influence, skills and inspiration to affect change right where you are. Maybe most importantly, change you! Improve your abilities to deal with conflict, fears, demands or other components of stress using more healthy thinking (cognition). Most nonproductive stress comes from irrational beliefs or thoughts that are not useful for us, regarding our self, others and sometimes even God. When we are overwhelmed emotionally, worried, our physical bodies drained, or our relationships strained, we give in to assumptions, misguided expectations and clouded perceptions of reality.

Examine how you are reacting or responding to stressful situations in your daily life. What is it that activates the strong emotions producing physical manifestations of stress or prompting behaviors which are detrimental to your relationships and satisfaction in life? Try coping in healthy ways such as lifestyle changes, regular exercise, relaxation techniques, cognitive/behavioral counseling, or even medicine that might be needed. Consider making the thinking and physical changes necessary to feel better, be more productive and enjoy your relationships at home, work and at play. I hope you will!

Blessings,
Mike

The Behavior of Love

“Love is the beauty of the soul.” –Augustine of Hippo

What’s your definition of love? Ask ten people and you will get 10 different answers. They will range from those who think it is just sweet, sappy feelings to those who believe it is deep and unfathomable. It is believed by some that it is an emotion; and for others it comes in the form of actions. For some it is painful and to be avoided and others have lost it, long for and must have it. However it is described, it certainly is profound, multifaceted and mysterious.

As a counselor, I see love mainly through the actions in how we treat others in relationships and the words we use to show others value and importance. Now love itself may not be a feeling; but there are certainly many feelings that are associated from being treated with loving actions and words. Generally when we meet someone and fall in love, we spend a lot of quality time with them, have a great deal of conversation, show affection, buy and give gifts and say affirming, validating things. We sacrifice our time, money, other relationships and energy for this person. Much of the feelings we have of love for this person are based on our interpretation of the caring, loving, behaviors and effort they show toward us. They ‘meet our needs for love’ so to speak. In fact, psychological principles show that when we “fall out of love” our perception of our partner’s willingness and ability to meet our needs through behaviors and words strongly impact our feelings of being loved (Friesen & Friesen 1989). When both positive loving actions stop or slow down, and negative interactions increase, our sense of being in love is diminished-we begin to “fall out of love.” Willard Harley says there are five types of behaviors, or Love Busters, that can have a negative effect on your love: Angry Outbursts, Disrespectful Judgments, Annoying Behavior, Selfish Demands and Dishonesty. Feelings are tied to behavior. So when we do the behaviors of love, our feelings of love and closeness can increase.

As a Christian, I see love not as a feeling, but a choice. Our feelings can easily get us in trouble. We feel like staying in bed, eating that second piece of cake or buying a new car we don’t need. We don’t feel like going to the gym, making that call or contact, making a budget or completing the task our spouse has asked us to do. Most of the time when I don’t feel like it, the ironic result is that it is necessary, for the good, and the right thing to do. It’s about making the determined decision and choice to take the action and usually it takes courage-to do the hard thing, the right thing. The love God shows to us is not based on a feeling, but a choice- to love the unlovable and to give us what we need. This is the character and attitude of love and the one we should emulate. Love: gives, cares, acts, forgives, shows respect, empathizes, sacrifices, serves, looks to please, is others focused and builds others up. Maybe Jacob Boehme said it both as simply and with as much insight as it can be put: “Love transcends all that human sense and reason can reach to.” Make the choice to show love by your actions and your words!

Mike

Safe Marriages!

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21

Would you consider your marriage to be safe?

What does it mean to be in a relationship that is emotionally safe? Generally when we talk about safety in marriage, physical safety first comes to mind; but few couples consciously think about creating a safe environment emotionally for one another. What are we talking about, and why is it important?

First, let’s talk about what it means to feel emotionally safe. Emotional or relational safety means feeling accepted; there is no judgment or criticism. A person can communicate honestly, be themselves and know their deepest thoughts, feelings, hurts and experiences will be honored and treated with care. When you feel safe, you do not need to prove, or impress. It allows you and your partner to be real and genuine with one another without fear; fear of being rejected, criticized, misunderstood, and feeling inadequate or insignificant. You feel free to be open and honest, true to yourself and without regrets.

When a person feels emotional or relational safety they:

  • Feel their partner cares for them
  • Know what they feel and think matters
  • Can be different and yet still accepted
  • Have a good balance of time alone and as a couple
  • Are comfortable that unhealthy words and actions will not be present
  • Feel free to be open and vulnerable
  • Feel they are partners in the relationship and can make decisions together
  • Can equally be heard and understood

Compassion and understanding create safety!

Why is establishing safety essential for great relationships? We were created for relationship and we all desire to be close, connected and have intimacy with others; it’s in our genes. When we feel safe, we can be open and vulnerable with others. When we feel threatened emotionally, we have a natural, physiological reaction of “fight or flight.” We feel insecure, unsafe and our heart and soul become closed off, defensive and disconnected from our spouse. Ultimately, intimacy in relationships depends on emotional and relational safety. When we feel well cared for by our spouse, it is safe for us to be fully ourselves and makes it easier to communicate and solve problems. Safety and feeling you are cared for come before problem solving takes place.

Consider how you view your spouse. When you think about them do you see their heart? Do you see them as valuable and as a “treasure?” Think about the characteristics of a treasure. A treasure is very valuable; it has great worth; and it is also extremely vulnerable, just as your spouse’s heart is. When we recognize and accept our spouse as a valuable treasure, we will demonstrate by our words and actions that they are worth protecting.

Creating a safe marriage involves both attitude and action. So, how do we create the emotional safety we all desire and need? Here are a few suggestions:

  • View your spouse as valuable, precious, a treasure.
  • Treat your spouse in words and actions with care, compassion and sensitivity.
  • Be a trustworthy person-follow through on your promises, keep your word.
  • Do not judge or criticize
  • Learn to respect and embrace your differences and make them work for the relationship.
  • Be committed to demonstrating your love and support with consistency (words of affirmation, affection, time together, romance, etc.).
  • Listen with your heart: be “in tune” with your spouse’s emotions.
  • Ask yourself some questions: When does my marriage feel safe? When does it feel unsafe? What is happening when the relationship feels safe, unsafe? How do I contribute to an unsafe emotional environment? What words or behaviors do I use that are unsafe? What could I change that would impact the safety of my marriage?


Have you considered making your marriage a totally safe place emotionally and relationally? When we focus on being safe for our spouse, we are inviting them to open their heart and soul to us so we can have the open, loving relationship we desire and were created to have. See your spouse as a person of great worth and value, and then treat them accordingly.

 

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” 1 John 4:18

 

Be safe!
Mike

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