This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Codependency” seminar. This portion is an excerpt from “Step Three: UNDERSTAND the impact of my suffering.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit bradhambrick.com/events.
At this stage in our journey we need to name patterns as well as recognize unhealthy moments. If we only recognize unhealthy moments, we will treat each moment as if it were an island. When we begin to recognize patterns, we can better understand the importance and difficulty of changing each moment that reinforces the pattern.
Imagine trying to learn a new skill (i.e., how to drive). It shouldn’t be that hard. Now imagine trying to re-learn that skill in a new system (i.e., traffic patterns in England where “they drive on the wrong side of the road”). We can now see why the things we are about to discuss are so hard to change. Now imagine trying to make this change in the context of resistance (i.e., a passenger who is freaking out because their committed to the American traffic patterns).
Don’t let this cause you to give up. It is harder to relearn old things with new motives than it is to learn to do new things.
Don’t let this cause you to become bitter or cynical. What you are learning is for your good and flourishing.
Do be honest about the frustration or sense of injustice. Hard journeys are harder when we attempt them in isolation.
With that said, we will look at ten patterns that emerge or become more pronounced when we live in a relational context marked by addiction. While each of these is understandable, none of them led to sustainably healthy relationships.
1. False Optimism
We want to believe that every story has a happy ending. We want to believe the best about those we love. We see the seeds of potential in our loved one and have a hard time believing they won’t sprout and blossom “soon.” Those who speak to the contrary seem negative and angry. We don’t like what they say or how they say it, so we don’t want to believe them.
These are not bad qualities. They represent how we would want people to think about and for us (Luke 6:31). The question is whether they best represent our loved one. When our optimism refuses to acknowledge the severity of the situation, that is what makes it false. If you are wrestling with whether you optimism lacks a realistic assessment of your loved one’s situation, review the first two steps of the material at bradhambrick.com/addiction.
What examples do you have of being falsely optimistic?
2. Nagging / Pleading
Reminding repeats information people want to know, accept, and believe is important but have a hard time remembering. Nagging repeats information people don’t want to know, won’t accept, and value less than we do. Reminding is about information. Nagging is about changing.
When we nag, we face the law of diminishing returns. Repetition may be the key to learning, but it is also a sure way to get tuned out. We must get to the point that sharing our concerns is gauged by cues that our loved one is open to our concern more than scratching the itch of our burden for them. Otherwise we will turn the truth our loved one needs to hear into the “Wah, wah, wah” of Charlie Brown’s teacher.
What examples do you have of nagging or pleading?
3. Forcing Our Help / Protecting
Help is helpful when it’s wanted. Protection is protection when it doesn’t exacerbate a greater danger. Often, in relationships marked by addiction, our help is unwanted; making our actions controlling or intrusive, and our protection actually only silences the warning to a mounting danger.
We should want to be available whenever our assistance (a) is truly desired, and (b) can be a blessing that doesn’t create a bigger problem. In older codependency literature, it could easily be mistaken that all “niceness” was “enabling.” This is not the case. We can be nice and not enable, as long as we – likely with the consultation of more objective friends – assess that our help is welcomed and beneficial.
What examples do you have of forcing your help or protecting?
4. Accepted Blame-Shifting / Minimization
It is common (not right) for those who abuse, or are in addiction, to blame-shift and minimize. It is equally common for those who love them to accept this blame-shifting and minimization. Sometimes it is because their loved one is very convincing. Other times it is simply because “it is easier not to argue, and I know I’m not going to convince them anyway.”
“The gift of truth is certainly one of those gifts that is not always appreciated as valuable or loving, especially when our spouse prefers to be in denial about the reality of his or her sin and its effects upon others in the family (p. 168).” Leslie Vernick in How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong
Regardless of the reason, the result is that you begin to live in the distorted reality of your loved one’s making. What your loved one is willing to accept begins to have more influence over your emotions, decisions, and other relationships than what is actually true. Fear associated with “rebelling against” (how it feels) what your loved one is willing to accept is probably what has made these first few steps so difficult.
What examples do you have of accepting blame-shifting or minimization?
5. Speaking for People
Be honest. You don’t trust the person who is hurting you, and it is easy for this mistrust to bleed over into other relationships. In the chaos caused by broken relationships your margin for additional drama seems quite thin. How do we fix this? We speak for people so they won’t make things worse.
Relationships become about damage control more than authentic interaction. This is why people around us often feel more managed than cared for. But it is hard for us to see that, because we know the danger we’re protecting them from. It is hard to hear that we’re being bad (i.e., controlling) when we believe they are being naïve (i.e., if they are ignorant of our circumstance) or unreasonable (i.e., if they are the one who frequently cause our pain).
“Of all the behaviors that hurt us and destroy love, peace, pleasure, creativity, relationships, and our skills – control takes first place (p. 95)… Control is an attitude as much as an action (p. 97).” Melody Beattie in The New Codependency
What examples do you have of speaking for people?
6. Not Saying What We Need
If we over speak for others, we under speak of ourselves. After all, if people have already said we’re being “controlling” why would we burden them by being vulnerable with our needs? Please hear the unhealthy passive-aggressive undertones in that previous question.
Usually this goes back to trust. If a loved one is hurting us by not managing their life well, why would we trust anyone to care for us? Notice the noun change in that question (i.e., “a loved one” to “anyone”). This is why having a support network is so important.
It is probably unwise to ask your loved one to care for you while they are being actively destructive or focused on the early stages of their recovery. But that does not mean it is unwise to ask for help or support. We must resist the trap of thinking that because the person we most want to be caring will not, that no one will or should.
What examples do you have of not saying what you need?
7. Needy Giving
What is the logical extension of not asking for help? Needy giving. If we don’t make our need known in a vulnerably voluntary way, we will do things to have people feel obligated to provide the help we need. Then when something breaks down, we can delineate why the person should have helped.
This is a good example of the principle that codependent behavior is not about “what” we do, but “how” and “why” we do it. Asking for help (what) is a healthy thing to do. Doing for others to assuage our guilt or insecurity (why) and reminding them of all we’ve done (how) when we ask for help, is codependent and unhealthy.
What examples do you have of needy giving?
8. Making Excuses
Often we think that the great danger of making excuses is passivity. Passivity towards needed change is dangerous. But there is a greater danger. Making excuses demonstrates that we are beginning to voluntarily live in the story of dysfunction and accommodate its requirements.
Consider the old movie Roger Rabbit, where half of the movie is recorded in the “real world” and half is an animated “cartoon world.” Actors from each world move between both. Dysfunction is a false, cartoon world. It doesn’t play by real world rules. The more we make excuses, the more we are voluntarily slipping into this cartoon world of dysfunction.
What examples do you have of making excuses?
What do we do when we don’t want to slip into the cartoon world of dysfunction? We get mad and try to verbally coerce our loved one out of that world. We don’t want to be apart, so if it’s wrong to enter their dysfunctional world we try to drag them into our world; if only that could work.
The “worlds” we are talking about here are not locations but mindsets. Mindsets only change voluntarily and with intentionality. Consider the amount of work you are putting into this material to leave the mindset of codependency. A comparable level of commitment and work will be required of your loved one. You cannot coerce this effort, you can only (a) model that it’s worth is and (b) stop making it easier to live in their dysfunctional world.
“By always being there to fix what goes wrong, you show him that you accept the drinking. Your words may be to the contrary as you scold, nag, and instruct – but your behavior shouts, ‘I’m here to make it easier for you!’ (p. 110).” Robert Meyers and Brenda Wolfe in Get Your Loved One Sober
What examples do you have of threatening?
10. Social Changes / Isolation
Relationships affect relationships. When a primary relationship is marked by dysfunction, it usually results in either engaging in other relationships marked by significant brokenness or isolation. Isolation is frequently a response to the shame or fear associated with dysfunction; we don’t want people to know what is going on.
“If you have pretty much kept to yourself because of your loved one’s drinking, it can be difficult to reenter the social world (p. 102).” Robert Meyers and Brenda Wolfe in Get Your Loved One Sober
If, on the other hand, you have a growing number of relationships marked by significant brokenness, that can be attributed to one of several natural consequences: (a) socializing in contexts where addictive or abusive relationships are accepted, (b) being more compassionate towards and aware of those who are living with abuse or addiction, or (c) selecting friends who you don’t feel are “better than you” by virtue of having an easier life.
What examples do you have of social changes or isolation?
Abusive / Addiction Effects Summary: After having read both sections, what are the key things you’ve learned about how your relationships have affected you? Again, the effects of living with abuse and addiction are not mutually exclusive, so you likely saw elements in each section that applied to you.
The most important thing you can do with what you’ve learned is to resist a temptation towards shame. The affects are not your fault. You did not cause them. Unfortunately, they are your responsibility. Unless you learn to respond differently, these affects will be your life. That is what the rest of this study is all about.
You will be most effective at changing these impacts if you are not ashamed of them. Shame will make the effort you put into this journey seem embarrassing instead of courageous. Shame will cause you to try to take this journey alone instead of with the support of others. Shame will cause you to interpret progress as “not there yet” and “behind everyone else” instead of growth and movement towards an increasingly enjoyable life.
Read Romans 5:3-5. Notice that God cares about our suffering, not just our sin (v. 3). Notice that God recognizes the difficult journey you are on. Notice that God sees that shame is the most difficult obstacle, often even more difficult than the direct cause of suffering itself, on that journey (v. 5). God’s response is to love us even more as a counter to the voice of shame that would tempt us to think we were “too broken to be loved.” Whenever shame attempts to distract you from your journey, recall and meditate on this passage.