Parent Equip: Talking to Our Children about Purity

Recently the family ministries team at Summit hosted a parent equip evening on the subject of, “Why and how we should talk to our students about sex and purity?”

As a part of that evening our pastor J.D. Greear and myself did video interviews which were part of the discussion  for parents at each of our campuses.

Parent Equip: J.D. Greear on Purity Talks from The Summit Church on Vimeo.

Parent Equip: Brad Hambrick on Purity Talks from The Summit Church on Vimeo.


Overcoming Codependency (Seminar Videos)

Below is a video from the presentation of the “Overcoming Codependency” seminar For the various counseling options available from this material visit

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

NOTE 2: The video segments for this presentation will be posted soon. The current page is made live to provide access for those who attended the presentation to be able to access the supplemental resources below. We appreciate your patience as we strive to get these videos posted soon.

PREPARE yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually to face your suffering.

Video 1 to be posted here. Thank you for your patience.

ACKNOWLEDGE the specific history and realness of my suffering.

Video 2 to be posted here. Thank you for your patience.

UNDERSTAND the impact of my suffering.

Video 3 to be posted here. Thank you for your patience.

LEARN MY SUFFERING STORY which I used to make sense of my experience.

Video 4 to be posted here. Thank you for your patience.

MOURN the wrongness of what happened and receive God’s comfort.

Video 5 to be posted here. Thank you for your patience.

LEARN MY GOSPEL STORY by which God gives meaning to my experience.

Video 6 to be posted here. Thank you for your patience.

IDENTIFY GOALS that allow me to combat the impact of my suffering.

Video 7 to be posted here. Thank you for your patience.

PERSEVERE in the new life and identity to which God has called me.

Video 8 to be posted here. Thank you for your patience.

STEWARD all of my life for God’s glory.

Video 9 to be posted here. Thank you for your patience.

Blog Post: 9 Questions to Help You Steward All of Your Life for

Appendix A: How to Develop a Safety Plan for Domestic Violence

Appendix B: How to Conduct an Effective Intervention

Appendix C: Emotional Clarity Article

Resource on Emotional Clarity & Naming Our Emotions

This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Codependency” seminar. This portion is an excerpt from Appendix C. To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit

Why ask a question like, “Would a rose by any other name smell just as sweet?” What could we hope to get from this deliberation that would be of value? Doesn’t everything “flowery” smell good? I remember when I learned that the answer is a definitive no.

Our trash can was beginning to smell. I was sure that I had an ingenious double solution that would win the admiration of my wife: potpourri roach spray. With one thorough application any odor from the trash can would be gone and any potential bug problem would be eliminated. When my wife arrived from the other room, I was informed that a roach spray by any other name smells just as foul. To this day I still think it should have worked.

What about with our emotions? If we mislabel an emotion, does that impact our ability to respond to a situation biblically? The clear answer is yes. This is because emotions are not passive. Emotions are not inconsequential fluctuations in our heart that “just happen to us.”

Emotions are (among other things) a call to specific actions. One of the ways that our emotions reveal our hearts is that they call us to do something about the events around us. Consider the following list of examples:

  • Guilt is a call to acknowledge wrongdoing, repent, and make restoration.
  • Shame is a call to hide or make up for a deficiency.
  • Anger is a call to aggressively correct an injustice.
  • Joy is a call to celebrate a significant, good event.
  • Anxiety is a call to eliminate a threat or to plan for protection.
  • Peace is a call to rest.
  • Frustration is a call to solve a recurring problem.
  • Annoyance is a call to quiet a relatively insignificant interference.
  • Depression is a call to give up in the face of hopelessness.
  • Offendedness is a call to defend rules of decency and respect.
  • Passion is a call to deliver a significant message or carry out an important vision.
  • Confusion is a call to look for answers.

What happens if we mislabel confusion (lack of clarity about how to resolve a situation) as guilt (a sense that we should take responsibility and repent)? What happens if we confuse anxiety (a timid, defensive planning to protect) with offendedness (a bold, righteous defense of decency)? What happens if we call hurt (let down from a reasonable expectation) anger (the desire to aggressively defend what should have been mine)?

Strategies for Overcoming Codependency: Growing Positive Influence (3 of 3)

This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Codependency” seminar. This portion is an excerpt from Step 7 “IDENTIFY GOALS that allow me to combat the impact of my suffering.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit

One of the typical impacts of being in an unhealthy relationship is the habit of being reactive; merely responding to the crisis created by your loved one or trying to predict how to prevent the next outburst. The result is that your loved one begins to exert more influence over your world than you do.

“Yet by believing that she had no choice in the matter, she was not able to realize any of the self-respect or satisfaction we gain when we know we are making good or right choices (p. 107).” Leslie Vernick in How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong

This section looks at how you can begin to grow the amount of positive influence in the space and time you share with your loved one. Again, these approaches are not presented as having the force to coerce unwanted change in your loved one’s life. However, they can (a) prevent your loved one’s negative behaviors from having an undue influence on you and (b) create an environment that is more conducive for healthy behaviors.

We will consider this subject in two ways. First, we will describe four options for responding to problematic behaviors. Second, we will think through an approach to fostering desired behaviors.

1. Responding to Problematic Behaviors

When your loved one behaves in a way that exemplifies the destructive patterns that prompted you to start this study (or in ways that demand unwarranted trust for their initial efforts at change), then you have four possible healthy responses. By this point in the study, these responses and the explanation of each should begin to feel fairly intuitive.

A. Allow Natural Consequences:

This is not punishment (which we’ll discuss in a moment). It is simply you removing yourself as the buffer between your loved one and life. Unless doing so would unduly harm an innocent person, this response should be your new normal.

“People learn from the direct consequences of their actions. When it comes to negative consequences, you only have to step out of the way (p. 134)… We call this strategy ‘quiet confrontation’ because allowing natural consequences helps relocate the stress, frustration, and fight within your loved one, rather than between the two of you (p. 196).” Foote, Wilkens, Koskane and Higgs in Beyond Addiction

B. Ignore:

Some problematic behaviors are not worth addressing; addressing them would only give them more negative influence. Ignoring is particularly effective when there is reason to believe your loved one’s problematic behavior was engaged with the motive of punishing you. The most effective (and enjoyable) means of ignoring problematic behaviors is by engaging one of your personal interests.

“We can’t sell ignoring without a product label warning. Sometimes ignoring the behavior you don’t want results, initially, in an escalation of the behavior, a phenomenon called ‘behavioral burst.’ Bursts are often seen right before the behavior extinguishes, or stops altogether, and they are hard for everyone involved (p. 201).’ Foote, Wilkens, Koskane and Higgs in Beyond Addiction

“We don’t have to yell to show power. The more certain we are about our limits and our rights to have them, the softer we’ll speak (p. 38)” Melody Beattie in The New Codependency

C. Punish: Punishment should be the most seldom used strategy. Punishment tempts you towards controlling motives and allows your actions to become a distraction from the natural consequences of your loved one’s choices. The lack of punishment does not mean you allow your loved one to “get away with it.” Rather, it means you refuse to become enmeshed in a parental style relationship with someone for whom you do not (or no longer) play a disciplinary role.

D. Withhold Reward: Next we will look at the use of reward as a way of fostering an environment conducive to desired behaviors. This response is stronger than allowing natural consequences (because its volitional on our part) without crossing into punishment (adding to natural consequences). We want to be kind enough (previous section) that the removal of our kindness in response to abusive-addictive behaviors is felt by our loved one. This is part of the power of kindness.

Read I Thessalonians 5:14-15. First, notice that there are a variety of responses advocated for in response to problematic behaviors in this passage. We see that there is no one “biblical” response to problematic behaviors. The premise of this study is that the behaviors we are addressing fit in the “unruly, disorderly, disruptive” (depending on your translation) category. This study also presumes that initial appeals to admonish (verbally ask for change) were not received. The approaches above are meant to be next tier responses for how to continue to have influence with someone who persists in problematic behaviors without having their choices dominate your life.

2. Fostering Desired Behaviors

Part of being “salt and light” (Matthew 5:13-16) is endeavoring to create a context in which a godly life is as easy and desirable as possible to pursue. In the same way that we do not personally grow without intentionality, we will not create environments that foster the growth of others accidentally.

Below we outline a five step process for cultivating an environment which promotes a more godly, or at least healthier, life for your loved one.

1. Create a concrete list of concrete behaviors between how your loved one currently acts and what would be God honoring (not exactly the same as “what you want”).

All growth involves knowing what we want to become; not just what we want to stop. Too often with destructive relationships what needs to stop is clearer than what needs to start. Behaviorally define the journey from terrible to bad to less bad to acceptable to good.

“A doable goal is put in positive terms – what will be done rather than what won’t. Here ‘positive’ doesn’t refer to your feelings or demeanor. It doesn’t mean ‘cheerful.’ For the purposes of goal setting we define a positive goal or communication by what you do want rather than what you don’t want (p. 146).” Foote, Wilkens, Koskane and Higgs in Beyond Addiction

In times when your loved one seems open to constructive conversation ask for the behavior that is “next” for them on their journey to honoring God in your relationship. If they are receptive, thank them for hearing you without defensiveness. If they are not, then use a responding to problematic behaviors strategy (see above).

“Simply asking permission to offer your thoughts can communicate respect for your loved one’s feelings before you say another word, and set a better stage for what follows (p. 167).” Foote, Wilkens, Koskane and Higgs in Beyond Addiction

2. Be content with progress (not just perfection).

You have worked hard to get to this point in your journey. It is understandable for you to expect your loved one to work equally as hard. But your effort is not their standard. When you are not content with progress, then you reinforce the idea that your loved one will never get it right enough to please you and reinforce your own destructive script that the relationship is hopeless.

3. Refuse to be a distraction for non-progress (see – responding to problematic behaviors). One of the values of this study is that you should feel like there is plenty for you to work on while you prayerfully wait for your loved one to engage God on their journey. By engaging your own journey you are both serving as an example and refusing to be distraction for your loved one’s non-progress.

4. Reward incremental progress (with joy). It is easy for those who struggle with addiction or relate destructively to begin to believe that everyone is against them. Once we are free from feeling like we have to appease them to have stability in our world, we can consider how to counter this destructive narrative in their world.

Remember, we are not taking responsibility for their destructive actions or their change. But our response to their progress can foster a sense that additional effort at change would be “worth it.”

“The most common mistake people make in reinforcement is choosing rewards they would like rather than what’s most rewarding for the person they want to reward… The power of rewards to effect lasting change come from their integration into the fabric of your lives together, so they should be affordable and sustainable (p. 178).” Foote, Wilkens, Koskane and Higgs in Beyond Addiction

What are the rewards that your loved one would appreciate that would not involve enablement, denial, or undue relational risk on your part?

5. Creating a satisfying homeostasis that does not involve addiction / abuse (creating a new, healthy normal).

Over time and with your loved one’s cooperation, your actions can create a new homeostasis for your relationship. “Homeostasis” is a term from biology that refers to an environment in which an organism thrives.

If your loved one is not a believer, the trust-equity that is built during this process will create an opportunity for you to share more overtly about the motive behind your love (i.e., a response to Christ’s love for you that enabled you to endure the difficult season in the relationship and that you long for them to know).

When your negative response to their destructive choices can no longer be used as an excuse for their destructive-addictive choices, they will be left more bare before the eyes of God. You can be praying God would use this experience to open their eyes to their need for Christ.

Read I Peter 2:13-3:6. Often this is a scary passage for people in destructive relationships. It is interpreted to mean that the only biblical response to abuse is to endure it. Hopefully, at this point in your journey, you can both understand (a) that God does not call you to be a doormat for addiction and abuse and (b) that God’s call to undermine destructive patterns through quiet means is wise; more aggressive methods tend to only further destabilize the situation. The goal of this study has been that God would both restore your life from the effects of abuse or addiction and redeem your loved one from the snare of their sin. Whether the latter has happened, you can rest knowing that you walked a journey that honored God, relied on His Word, and afforded your loved one every opportunity to change.

Strategies for Overcoming Codependency: Building Resilience (2 of 3)

This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Codependency” seminar. This portion is an excerpt from Step 7 “IDENTIFY GOALS that allow me to combat the impact of my suffering.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit

As we look at building resilience, the approaches in this section will form a sandwich: caution-freedom-caution. Healthy resilience, especially in the context of chronically broken relationships, requires both. Because you’ve lived in unhealthy relationships for an extended period of time, we will place the emphasis on caution.

However, caution alone leaves us feeling emotionally incarcerated. In order to be emotionally healthy, we must maintain the emotional freedom to be “nice” at whatever level of trust a given relationship currently merits. Without this freedom, a demeanor of suspicion begins to deteriorate all of our relationships and cause our lives to be marked by anxiety.

1. Wise Trust

“Either you trust me or you don’t,” is the epitome of an abusive-addictive, all-or-nothing statement. Whatever degree of trust you choose to give, and it is your choice, this decision should be made with a different mentality. Trust is something that develops. Wise trust grows as a relationship becomes more mutual and authentic.

The ten step progression provided below begins with a relationship at its most trust-broken point. Not all relationships will start at level one (most broken). As you read through this progression, two key questions to ask are, (a) “Where was I (or, should I have been) at the darkest point in this relationship?” and (b) “Where am I now?”

The wise progress you have already made should be a source of encouragement for the journey ahead. Unwise “progress” (moving too fast) should be a reminder that taking this journey well is better than taking this journey quickly.

The goal for this section is to help you see that even if you currently think, “I could never be at a ‘ten’ of trust again,” that there are many practical steps that can and should be taken between where you are and a “ten.”

Your goal should not be to regain a “level ten trust.” That would be an example of you taking responsibility for something that is not yours to control. Your goal should be to trust at the level that you’re loved one’s life makes it wise for you to trust. Trusting too much is not a virtue; it hurts both of you.

Movement through this progression will be a dance between your loved one’s effort at change and your willingness to take relational risks. Your loved one’s growth alone will not create trust without your willingness to take a relational risk. Your willingness to a relational risk alone without your love one’s growth will not produce trust. The dance may not be one step by your loved one followed by one step by you. But unless both of you are moving, you’re not dancing.

It should be noted, this progress is meant to represent “what is.” This progression represents how trust generally grows back after it has been damaged. The benefit is that it provides smaller steps towards what trust-restoration looks like, instead of one giant leap of faith.

  1. Require Third Party Mediation: At this level of trust-brokenness you do not feel safe to be with your loved one without someone else present. This is the stage in which your loved one has been actively resistant to acknowledging his/her need for change and responds aggressively (physically or verbally) to the subject. At this level of trust deterioration, you want to hear your loved one be honest about the extent of the problem with someone else (usually a counselor), so that you are not left alone to assess the level of ownership and wise next steps. As your loved one cooperates, you begin to trust your spouse vicariously through the trust that you build for the counselor. Willingness to get help becomes the basis for your trust.
  2. Listen and Require Validation: Now you are willing to talk with your loved one in a one-on-one conversation, but you are skeptical of most everything he/she says. You don’t believe your loved one. You believe facts. If your loved one has facts to back up with he/she says, you will trust that much and little more. This is a tedious way to communicate, but feels necessary in order to avoid greater pain. Any statement that is not factual (i.e., future promise, interpretation of event, expression of feeling, etc…) is viewed as deceptive, unsafe, manipulative, or insulting. As a pattern of validated facts emerge, you begin to trust that there is some commitment to live in reality and do the hard work of relational restoration.
  3. Listen and Require Less Validation: At this stage in trust-restoration, listening to your loved one feels less like work. The rate at which you are searching for questions and processing information as you listen decreases. Giving the “benefit of the doubt” for things you are uncertain about is still unnatural and feels dangerous. Any statement that is incomplete or slanted too positively is assumed to be intentional deceit and creates a trust regression. As your love one’s statements prove to be majority accurate, the practical necessities of life create an increasing reliance upon your loved one. However, each time you notice this happening you may still feel anxious. At this stage, a track record of validity begins to be established and serves as the foundation for trust.
  4. Rely on Loved One Functionally: Now you begin to “do life together” again. A process of basic life tasks (for instance, if married; budgeting, scheduling, transporting children, etc.) begins to be created or reinstituted. This level of trust within a marriage feels very much like “living as roommates.” In other relationships, it feels like a less bonded relationship than you previously had. The dissatisfying nature of this arrangement can often discourage continued growth, but this discouragement should be decreased by understanding where it falls in the process of trust restoration. The absence of crises due to addiction or abuse and the faithfulness in following through on basic life commitments now becomes the basis for trust.
  5. Share Facts: As you functionally “do life” with your loved one, there is the opportunity for you to begin to share more of you again. To this point you have been receiving information much more than giving information. You begin the process of “giving yourself” in the relationship again. You allow yourself to be known at a factual level. Questions that start with “Why” or “How come” may still be met with defensiveness. During this stage questions that start with “Would you” become more comfortable as you allow your loved one to influence the “facts” (for instance, schedule) of your life again. Your loved one’s honoring the limits of this burgeoning trust becomes the basis for assessing that it is wise to trust more.
  6. Share Beliefs: As you become more comfortable sharing facts, that naturally leads into sharing what you think about those facts. Conversations become more meaningful as you share more of what you like, dislike, agree with, disagree with, and want from the events of life. You can now talk about the way you believe things “should” be without a tone of judgment, sadness, or guilt overpowering the conversation. As you share your beliefs, you feel more understood and honored. At this stage, you and your loved one may have to relearn (or learn for the first time) how to have different opinions or perspectives while honoring the relationship.
  7. Share Feelings: Up until this stage emotions have likely been “thrust at” or “shown to” more than “shared with” each other; loved one at you before the problem was acknowledged and you at them to try to get engagement towards change. At this level of trust you are willing to receive support, encouragement or shared participation in your emotions. An aspect of a “one another” relationship, mutual care, is emerging. You are beginning to experience your burden being reduced and your joys multiplied as you share them. The friendship or marriage is beginning to feel like a blessing again; like the reason you were willing to sacrifice so much to preserve it.
  8. Rely on Loved One Emotionally: Now you find yourself able to relax when he/she is away. You are able to believe your loved one is transparent and sincere when he/she tells you about their experiences or shares with you how he/she is feeling. It is now the exception to the rule when suspicions arise within you about your loved one’s motive for saying or doing something.
  9. Allow Your Loved One to Care for You: Allowing your loved one to express appreciation or endearment has lost a sense of wondering what they’ve done or what they want. When your loved one offers to serve you, you no longer think he/she is doing an act of penance or is indebting you for something later. Your loved one’s efforts to bless you can be received as blessings rather than being treated as riddles to be solved or dangerous weights on the “scales of justice” that will be used to pressure you later
  10. Relax and Feel Safer with Loved One than Apart: This is trust restored. Your love one’s presence has become a source of security rather than insecurity. Your loved one’s presence reduces stress in troubling circumstances. You find yourself instinctively drawn to them when something is difficult, upsetting, or confusing. Even when he/she doesn’t have the answer, their presence is its own form of relief and comfort.

Trust and Ultimatums or Time Tables: There is intentionally no pacing guide for this trust progression. In this regard, growing in trust requires trust. It is an act of faith not to say, “I’ll give it three months and if we’re not at level seven, then I’m done.” That kind of time-pressured environment stifles the growth of trust. Ultimatums are even more ineffective. When you try to make a deal (i.e., “Unless you stop [blank] or tell me [blank], then I am not moving to the next level of trust”) you undermine actual trust being built (i.e., “You only did that, because I made you”). Your goal in reading this progression is merely to gain an understanding of where you are in the development of trust. Efforts at artificially accelerating the process will ultimately do more harm than good.

“Threats or ultimatums haven’t worked in the past and learning newer ways to handle situations that use to confuse you is difficult in the beginning. By pacing your responses, you allow yourself time to gain perspective in an objective way, which distances you from personalizing the behaviors and empowers you to act in more effective ways. The addict acts out because of difficulty in relating to life in a responsible and adult fashion—not because of who you are (p. 71).” Stephanie Carnes in Mending a Shattered Heart

2. Freedom to Be “Nice”

Being intentional about trust can easily make you feel guarded about being “nice.” Being guarded about being nice, can lead to feeling bad about yourself. Feeling bad about yourself, can lead to compromising on things that are wise (i.e., trusting) before it is wise. That is why this section is essential to the application of the previous section.

First we need to define the word in quotes. What does it mean to be nice? Being nice is being pleasant to another individual in ways that contribute to a pleasant emotional atmosphere without pretending real problems do not exist or taking relational risks (i.e., trusting) that are unwarranted.

By contrast, “enabling” is being pleasant to another individual in ways that foster continued dysfunction by pretending real problems do not exist or taking relational risks (i.e., trusting) that are unwarranted.

In this, you should see that the difference between niceness and enabling is not activity, but context and motive. With that in mind, use the chart below to help you grow in kindness towards your loved one. This kindness will extend your emotional resilience and create a context that is optimal for growth (if you loved one is cooperative).

Your goal is not to out-nice your loved one (as if “nicenesss” were a competition) or to be so kind that your loved one “has to” change (as if you had that much influence). Instead, your goal is to be intentionally kind, in ways that are situationally wise so that you leave your loved one without excuse for his/her needed changes and your conscience is clear if he/she chooses not to make their needed changes.

Now, use these three questions to help you discern whether the kind actions on the chart (expressions-of-kindness-chart) would be unproductive.

  1. Am I using this form of kindness as a way to pretend that our relationship is in a better place than it really is?
  2. Does this form of kindness bestow a level of trust that is unwise for my safety or my loved one’s recovery?
  3. What forms of kindness would clearly be temptation towards enablement or control at this time?

If the answer to either of the first two questions is “yes,” then pray that God would move them to a place where this form of kindness would be wise. This protects your heart from becoming cynical and blesses them. If you are uncertain how to answer these questions, consult with members of your support network.

Read Romans 2:4. Reflect on this in light of the parable of the prodigal son. God is not lenient with sin (2 Peter 3:9). God is not mocked in any relationship (Galatians 6:7). Yet, it is God’s kindness that draws us to repentance. The previous section was about you modeling the firmness of God towards sin. This section has been about you modeling the kindness of God towards sinners. As you do this, remember you can only create an atmosphere that is ripe for change. If you grow impatient towards your loved one, that likely means either you are trying to use kindness to compel change (well-intended manipulation) or that your level of trust has gotten ahead of their level of change.

3. Fear of the Lord

What is it that allows us to wisely trust another person without allowing our muddled fear/desire to be kind to lead us into foolish choices? The fear of the Lord. It is the fear of the Lord that enables us to live in the space between foolish enablement and cautious distance.

Another way to ask this question is, “Whose agenda has both my best interest and my loved one’s best interest at heart?” God is the one who desires to redeem us both. God is the one who can sustain us both until we are ready to have our relationship restored. Relying on God as “enough” is what allows each of us to prevent our perceived needs from rushing relational restoration or writing off the possibility.

The diagram below from Ed Welch in When People Are Big and God Is Small (p. 97) provides a visual for what growth in the fear of the Lord looks like.


Trace your journey in the relationship(s) that prompted you to embark on this study through this progression. Chances are you will notice that your relationship with this other person(s) bordered on worship: whatever they said must be “right” and whatever they wanted must be “good,” so you bent your will accordingly.

When the other person was god (little “g”), then God was likely scary (far left on this spectrum), especially if the person with whom you had a toxic relationship quoted Scripture and appealed to God to justify their actions.

When you began this study, it required your acknowledgement that other person was actually the one who merited being responded to with terror, dread, or trembling (partially filling God’s role). That was the first part of the script that needed to flip. They had to get out of God’s rightful position in your life, in order for the seat to be vacant for God.

But that was only half of the change that needed to happen. In order for someone or something else not to tyrannically claim God’s rightful role in our lives, that seat must be occupied by God; which is what allows for the devotion-trust-worship end of the spectrum to be experienced. The throne of our lives will not remain vacant. If we do not continually place God there, then other things will claim the role and enact their dysfunctional (i.e., scary) reign.

Read Proverbs 9:10 and Psalm 111:10. Both these passages state, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Proverbs states it as a wisdom principle. Psalms makes it a matter of worship. It is only when the main thing (God) really is the main thing (our top priority and allegiance) that life works and our worship is pure. We all struggle to maintain this priority every day. Allow the diagram above to give you a visual measure for when a human relationship is beginning to take on a God-sized role in your life. Realize the most effective way to fight against this distortion happening in your horizontal relationships with people is to maintain your vertical relationship with God.

Strategies for Overcoming Codependency: Gaining Perspective (1 of 3)

This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Codependency” seminar. This portion is an excerpt from Step 7 “IDENTIFY GOALS that allow me to combat the impact of my suffering.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit

This entire journey has been about gaining perspective. Things that once seemed hopeless and overwhelming, hopefully, now only seem difficult and frustrating. If things are not good, then “gaining perspective” does not mean generating a falsely positive perspective on them. Rather, it means having an accurate perception of the situation and, based on that accurate assessment, identifying what you can (and can’t) do to be a positive influence on the situation.

We will consider how to gain perspective with two approaches. The first is to allow consequences. We place this one first because we do not want the active-approach of the second strategy – process for problem solving – to take you back into the mentality of trying to solve problems over which you have no jurisdiction (i.e., being controlling or feeling powerless).

1. Allowing Consequence

Before exploring this subject further and to assess how much you’ve already grown in the course of this study, define the two concepts below in your own words.

Allowing Consequences:


Come up with recent examples for:

  • When you allowed consequences for unhealthy actions in the life of a loved one
  • When you unhealthily resorted to punishment for undesired choices in the life of a loved one
  • When someone wisely allowed consequences in your life, but you were tempted to view it as punishment

The first part of gaining a healthy perspective on an unhealthy situation is rightly assessing (a) what you are responsible for and (b) what you can influence. The practical expression of these two realizations is the willingness to allow negative consequences for those actions that you are not responsible for; meaning you do not have adequate influence to change in a healthy way (i.e., without reverting to controlling or over-compensating behaviors).

Read Luke 15: 11-32. Make a list of all the consequences the father allowed. Make a list of all the unwise choices the father allowed his adult child to make. This is a parable, so there was not a real father talking to a real son who had real conversations from which we could get a literal transcript of the dialogue. But we see in this parable, in how the drama is set up, a willingness of God to honor our autonomy even when it hurts us and breaks his heart. Notice the balance in the father’s response – he is neither closed off to the son’s repentance, nor trying to rescue his son from the consequences that would eventually bring him to repentance.

You are healthily allowing consequences when:

  • You were willing to be available for advisement and accountability before the destructive choice
  • It was reasonable for your loved one to have known that his/her choice would result in negative consequences
  • You take no delight in and do not add to the suffering of your loved one for his/her choice
  • You remove yourself from situations when you become a target for outbursts about the consequences and, thereby, become a distraction from the potential redemptive benefits of those consequences.
  • You remain willing to be available to help address life patterns that would prevent future bad choices
  • If you have done those things then all you can do is: (a) pray that God will soften your loved one’s heart towards their need for change, (b) think through healthy problem solving approaches – see below – with the indirect influence you have, and (c) continue to enjoy your life so you do not become an emotional hostage to your loved one’s choices.

2. Healthy Process for Problem Solving

Pause and consider, “What was your old model of relational problem solving?” Chances are it was reactive and trying to make everyone happy. While these are generally ineffective ways to make decisions, reflect on what you’ve learned in the first six steps and consider what your probability of success was.

Once you have settled your soul to be willing to allow consequences, then your problem solving approach can begin to be proactive and looking for the healthiest possible outcome (whether it makes everybody happy or not).

When your loved one brings you an urgent dilemma you should invite them to participate in the process outlined below. If they are unwilling to walk through a deliberate process that defines the problems and considers solutions, then they are not inviting you into a healthy conversation and you should remove yourself from the interaction.

More often, at least until your loved consistently acknowledges their need to change, this will be a process you and your support network engage together. Initially, forcing yourself to walk through these stages intentionally will be a helpful way to retrain your decision making habits. With time you should begin to notice that you approach emotion-laden decision less frenetically. This decision making process is modified and adapted from Get Your Loved One Sober by Robert Meyers and Brenda Wolfe (p. 126 ff; italicized text only).

1. Define the Problem:

Be as specific and concrete as possible. Focus on the behaviors of you and your loved one, along with their triggers, more than the emotional reactions. The quality of the description of the problem will go a long way towards determining how effective the other problem steps can be.

Vague, Emotion-Focused Definition: “She came home drunk and ruined the entire evening I had planned for us to enjoy. She ranted until I couldn’t take it and then I lashed out and watched television for the rest of the evening. When I shut down, she just kept drinking.”

Concrete, Behavior-Focused Definition: “She had a conflict with her mother and coped with it by stopping for a ‘drink to calm down’ on the way home. After the conflict, even before drinking, she forgot about our evening plans. She came home already mad, but only mildly buzzed (her sentences were mostly coherent and she was trying to tell me about the conflict). As soon as I smelled alcohol, I immediately allowed my disappointment to become the most important part of the evening and engaged an argument I knew would be unfruitful.”

Write a concrete, behavior focused description of your latest instance:

2. Brainstorm:

Come up with as many ideas as you can. Some of them will be ridiculous; providing little more than comic relief, but you are breaking out of the mentality of powerlessness. As you brainstorm, consider ideas that would influence the problem at each stage of its development (i.e., before the problem arose, at first awareness of the problem, during the middle of the problem, and after everything “returns to normal”).

Before: Block all calls from her mother, move to another country without cell phone access, send a text during the day talking about what I’m looking forward to in the evening, encouraging her to think about bad times to take a call from her mother, develop a habit of talking on the phone together as she comes home

First Awareness: Discipline myself to assess situations better before I react, create a list of indicators that give me a better idea of her level of drinking, have a better plan for what I will do when she is intoxicated so I am less prone to be reactive, know which friend I should talk to about my hurt so I don’t feel like my choices are rant or silence

Middle: Threaten to go on a hunger strike if things don’t change, establishing a ground rule (when she’s sober) we will not try to have a difficult conversation unless we are willing to remain seated during the discussion, know where I would go if she follows me through the house after I try to get out of an unproductive conversation

After: Continue pretending that nothing happened, disrupt something that is important to her so she knows better how it feels, ask her to share with me her recollection of the argument, type out my recollection of the argument and invite her to write what she remembers differently if she unwilling to talk it out.

Brainstorm for the event you described above to begin the habit of thinking in these categories.


First Awareness:



3. Evaluate and Select Solution:

Now that you have options, you need to begin to weed them down to what you will actually implement. Begin by striking those ideas that are unrealistic, but it made you feel better to write them down. Then use the chart below (or at least the logic of its organization) to arrive at your best options.

Options Probability of Effectiveness Ease of implementation Temptation to control Temptation to enable Now Later
1 to 10 Scale 1 to 10 Scale 1 to 10 Scale 1 to 10 Scale Y / N Y / N
1 to 10 Scale 1 to 10 Scale 1 to 10 Scale 1 to 10 Scale Y / N Y / N
Text about end of day plans 6 9 3 1 Y
Hunger Strike  1 9 9 1 N N

For each idea you want to assess how likely you believe it is to be effective and the amount of effort required implementing the idea. Unless there are temptation variables, you would want to choose the idea(s) that have the highest effectiveness score and lowest effort score.

You also want to evaluate whether each option would result in you controlling or enabling your loved one. If there is concern in either of these areas, you would want to consult with members of your support network before implementing the idea and, if you use the idea, while you implement it.

4. Try It and Track It:

Take your best ideas (criteria above) from your brainstorming list, make sure they are well defined, implement them for a defined period of time, and track the results.

Example: Because the drive home is a time when my wife frequently argues with her mother on the phone and becomes a temptation, I will call her on her drive home. I will do this for at least 4 weeks to see what it’s impact and sustainability is like.

Example: When we have evening plans, I will text my wife notes about things I’m looking forward to in our time together as a way to serve as a positive reminder of our plans.

It should be noted, plans like these will be much more effective when there is acknowledgement of the problem and engagement in recovery. If there is not acknowledgement and cooperation, then the husband making these plans would need to weigh whether these actions were an attempt to control his wife even though the actions are constructive (remember, control is a motive, not an action).

5. Evaluate, Refine, or Try Another Idea:

As you implement the idea, evaluate how it works and how it could be refined. If it’s not working (after a period of time long enough to make that assessment), scrap it and try another idea from your list.

Example: Initially this worked well and led to less conflict, but her mother began to feel shut out and was even more agitated when they finally did get to talk. We decided I would call three days a week and my wife would text me her stress level before leaving work to help identify the days that would be most beneficial for me to help her be “unavailable to talk” with her mom.

Example: This worked really well. Led to more flirty communication about things we were looking forward to and became a fruitful marriage enrichment practice; not just an addiction preventative strategy.

Read Ephesians 5:15-18. This section is all about “looking carefully at how you walk” so that you are not living “unwise, but wise” (v. 15). It requires forethought and assessment to determine how to “make the best use of your time” (v. 16). While the distinctions made in this section may seem very mundane, they are vital parts of spiritual and relational maturity (i.e., avoiding folly, v. 17). Even if your loved one is uncooperative, these are practices that you can begin to implement and know you are doing those things in your power to honor God with your life and in this relationship.

Four Principles for Thinking Well about Boundaries

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

Christians have often struggled with how to think best about boundaries in broken relationships. Some use the word “boundaries” to communicate that Christians don’t have to be doormats because we want to model grace. Others resist the concept because they recognize that Christ crossed all boundaries to rescue us in our rebelliousness and believe Christians are called to model this same love to the lost world around us.

Both seem to be making valid points. As we think about the impact that relating codependently has had on our lives, we are going to have to navigate this tension.

The first principle to consider is that a healthy concept of boundaries views the barrier being placed as existing between wisdom and folly rather than between me and you. I am not rejecting you or giving up on you if I refuse to participate in foolishness. However, if you insist on living foolishly, you will find yourself on the other side of my boundary from folly. In this sense, a synonym for boundaries would be “reasonable expectations” or “limits of wisdom.”

Read Proverbs. Yes, the whole book; it may be easier to read a chapter per day if reading the whole book seems daunting. As you read, underline every use of the word fool, foolishness, and folly (or comparable language). Pay attention to the verbs that accompany the fool-family of words. They are all cautionary. One means of God’s protection for you is his warning against folly. We appreciate the protection, but are grieved when adhering to the warnings creates distance between us and those we love. Both responses are appropriate. Don’t allow the grieving to distract you from the warning.

A second principle when considering the concept of boundaries is that boundaries, when rightly communicated, are an invitation not a rejection. Thinking of boundaries this way will help you communicate your limits in a more receivable manner. When you are confident in what you will and will not do, pressure from others becomes less threatening. You can begin to say, “I will not [describe what is unhealthy in the moment], but I would be happy to [describe a healthy interaction alternative].” In this sense you are not “enforcing” the boundary (as if you were the boundary police), you are providing another opportunity to your loved one to choose wisdom over folly.

A third principle is that “boundaries” can become an unhealthy concept when we use it to mean “walls” that make our relationships less authentic. This use of boundaries can come in the form of a “fake wall” when we are silent or deceitful or a “safe wall” when we are angry or fearful to keep people away. These uses of boundaries do not protect us from folly, but insulate us from authentic relationships; and serve as another example of coping mechanisms that serve well in dysfunctional relationships becoming disruptive to potentially healthy relationships.

A final principle for using the term “boundaries” well is the ability to distinguish felt needs from real needs. Because boundaries are only needed in unsafe contexts, our instinct is to become increasingly self-centered when we think about boundaries. This doesn’t mean that felt needs are less real or unimportant. It means that we should use boundaries to protect our real needs from being damaged and, if someone is living in a way that frequently places them on the other side of these boundaries, we should not expect that person to meet our felt needs. Instead, we grieve the condition of this relationship and find ways, through God and healthy Christian relationships, to fulfill these legitimate desires.

“We should be careful about saying, ‘Jesus meets all our needs.’ It makes Christ the answer to our problems. Yet if our use of the term ‘needs’ is ambiguous, and its range of meaning extends all the way to selfish desires, then there will be some situations where we should say that Jesus does not intend to meet our needs, but that he intends to change our needs (p. 89).” Ed Welch in When People Are Big and God Is Small

Codependency Evaluation

This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Codependency” seminar. This portion is an excerpt from “ACKNOWLEDGE the specific history and realness of my suffering.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit

Click Here to Link to the On-Line, Self-Score Evaluation

Printable PDF Evaluation: codependency-assessment

The material for this evaluation is arranged into three categories, which are meant to capture different experiences commonly referred to as codependency. The three unhealthy relational patterns are not mutually exclusive. However, this evaluation help you articulate and gauge the severity of patterns common to each unhealthy relational pattern.

  1. Codependent Relationships Involving Addiction – In this codependent pattern you are responding unhealthily to your loved one’s abuse of pleasure. As your loved one gives more of his or her life to addiction, the neglected responsibilities and added crises begin to fall on those around them. The responses below are the classic unhealthy way that family and friends often respond to these added pressures.
    • Covering Up
    • Rescuing and Fixing
    • Nagging
    • Threatening
  2. Codependent Relationships Involving Abuse – In this codependent pattern you are responding unhealthily to your loved one’s abuse of power. Your loved one thrives on control. In order for them to have more, you must have less. The responses below are the classic unhealthy ways family and friends respond to a relationship built upon an imbalance of power.
    • Lying and Creating a False Story
    • Constricting Social Sphere
    • Self-Doubt
    • Retaliation
  3. Codependent Relationships Marked by a Fear of Man – These qualities are often more dispositional than habituated reactions to an unhealthy relationship. In moderation, they often make for a very sweet and servant-hearted disposition. As they become more pronounced, they become qualities that have a magnetic quality for relationships with power imbalances (abusive) and with individuals who have unhealthy life styles (addictions). Bringing these qualities back into a healthy range is almost always a part of the later stages of codependency recovery.
    • Surrendering Voice and Opinions
    • Ruminating and Second Guessing
    • Driven Over-Achievement

10 Effects of Living with Addiction

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

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

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?

9. Threatening

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.

5 Effects of Living with Abuse

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

“Abuse doesn’t end when the abuse stops (p. 157).” Melody Beattie in The New Codependency

Abuse is an event(s) with lingering consequences. That is what the question, “I said I was sorry, why are you still upset?” misses. Abuse is an event more like a house fire than a cigarette burn. A burn produces initial pain, but heals with little more than scar. A house fire has more far reaching consequences.

“Children who witness the abuse often experience their mother’s powerlessness and humiliation. Many lose their childhood innocence because their sense of security has been violated and they feel dramatically unsafe. Children often develop anxiety in anticipation of the next attack, blame themselves for the abuse, and fear abandonment – especially if they should fail to keep the violence secret. They are left isolated and frightened as they carry the weight of shame, responsibility, guilt, and anger (p. 62).” Justin and Lindsey Holcomb in Is It My Fault?

This section examines five effects of an abusive relationship. These impacts may overlap with addictive relationships.

1. Physical Pain

The most tangible effect of abuse may be – if the injuries are not life threatening – the least impactful. That is not to downplay physical pain. It’s just that bruises heal and broken bones mend. It’s obvious when they’re present and they illicit sympathy from others. The other effects we will discuss do not provide these courtesies.

What forms of physical pain have your abusive relationship(s) caused for you?

How does it feel to write these events and injuries on paper? This question leads us to the next effect.

2. Emotional Pain

Abuse means we have to “deal with” things we were never meant to deal with. Healthy coping strategies were never meant to have to process the violent betrayal of a trusted love one. The result is that our emotions can be all over the place; for reasons that are, at least initially, not very clear to us.

“Destructive relationships make it extremely difficult to think calmly, clearly, and truthfully, especially when we feel frightened, intimidated, or deceived (p. 53).” Leslie Vernick in The Emotionally Destructive Relationship


    1. Fear – When our safety is in question, it is natural to be afraid. When we’re not sure what will jeopardize our safety, it is natural to be afraid for no reason (at least that the immediate situation would call for). The result is that fear migrates from a response to danger to a persistent emotional state.
    2. Guilt – From the time we were young, it has been natural to reason backwards from “if I’m being punished” then “I have done something wrong.” Punishment meant guilt. Our emotions habituate to this correlation. However, in abuse, this correlation is no longer accurate, but it may be dangerous to point this out. Guilt over being abused is false-guilt.
    3. Shame / Embarrassment – When guilt changes from a response to “what I’ve done” to a sense of “who I am” it has become shame. Our sense of embarrassment and shame is one way we can take undue responsibility for someone else’s behavior. We pay the social price for the sin committed against us.
    4. Anger – Abuse is wrong. Anger over abuse is right. Displaying that anger towards our abuser can be dangerous. But that doesn’t make the anger evaporates. So the anger often begins to leak into relationships that are safe and spill onto the people with whom we do feel safe.
    5. Sense of “Going Crazy” – What happens when your “at home” world doesn’t play by consistent rules and your “outside home” world goes on as if nothing is happening? You feel crazy. Imagine driving when the traffic lights and signs lost all pattern and meaning. Now imagine you look around and the other drivers seem calm. You would feel crazy. That’s life as part of an abusive relationship.
    6. Despair – For a while, you think “things will get better.” You’re not sure when or how, but it’s hard to imagine things will always be like this. At some point that optimism fades, and it is crushing. That is often what prompts people to look for a study like this. While the pain of despair is excruciating, the prompt to begin to respond to the dysfunction differently can be a blessing.

“One of the most important things to know about the impact of abuse is that these mood swings and dysfunctions are a natural and normal way of dealing with trauma. Unfortunately, many people look at these symptoms and think that the problem lies with the victim, when in fact these responses to trauma are perfectly normal (p. 71).” Justin and Lindsey Holcomb in Is It My Fault?


What forms of emotional pain have your abusive relationship(s) caused for you?

3. Relational Confusion

Imagine playing a sport where you were forced to play by the rules and your opponent was not. Now imagine that rules that you were forced to play by were frequently subject to change and came with stiff penalties. That is life in an abusive relationship. It is confusing, because it is both unfair and ever-changing.

There is no profile for an individual who is abusive. Any one, of any personality or history, can be abusive. But the qualities below are relatively common to abusive individuals and account for the relational confusion of abuse.

    1. Double Bind – A double bind is a set of expectations that are both individually reasonable and mutually exclusive. A spouse may want more time together or for each partner to work more to retire debt. Either is reasonable; together they are mutually exclusive. A double bind, which is usually unintentional, creates a trap where the other person is set up to fail. In a non-abusive relationship, double binds are unhealthy and hard to identify. In an abusive relationship, double binds are dangerous and unsafe to discuss in isolation.
    2. Mood InstabilityThe more predictable someone’s moods, the less likely they are to be abusive. When our responses to life are consistent, the more an agreed upon rhythm emerges between us and those around us. It is normal to have some mood fluctuation (i.e., “waking up on the wrong side of the bed”) but as this tendency becomes more pronounced, relationships become more volatile.
    3. Impulsivity – Abusive individuals are very self-centered. The willingness to harm another individual reveals how much their desire trumps the well-being of others. Being driven by one’s own desires, often results in an impulsive style of decision making. It is not only moods that change, but desires and goals also shift frequently and starkly. We live trying to read the moment because that is what the abusive relationship demands.
    4. Rigidity – On the opposite side of impulsivity is rigidity. Some abusers are impulsive – it’s unclear how to please them; other abusers are rigid – unwilling to accept legitimate delays to their desired outcomes. From this we see that abuse is about extremes; the same quality (i.e., goal focus) can be distorted either rigidly or impulsively and contribute to an abusive dynamic. We begin to live as if this “one thing” is all that matters because it is what determines whether we are safe.
    5. Tumultuous Relationships – When a primary relationship (i.e., parent, spouse, boss, etc.) is chaotic, it is difficult for other relationships to be unaffected. We often expect others to be as difficult to please as our abusive relationship. We become either too accommodating (to keep the peace) or defensive (to set boundaries) for the other relationship to develop a healthy balance.
    6. Identity ConfusionLiving to appease someone else distracts us from discovering who God made us to be. We begin to live-to-survive more than to fulfill-a-purpose. Pursuing God’s design is perceived as a luxury that can only be considered after safety is ensured. The result is that we never get around to asking, “Who am I? Why am I here?” because we’re fearfully answering, “How can I keep [name] happy?”
    7. Recency EffectThe “recency effect” refers to the tendency to define life by the most recent event or a person by your most recent interaction. The recency effect is very strong on abusive individuals and they train those whom they abuse to be unduly influenced by the recency effect. The result is that whether the most recent event/interaction was great or terrible (the recency effect is usually accompanied by all-or-nothing thinking) disproportionately influences your emotions and perception of life.
    8. Grandiosity – Abusive individuals often over-value their own significance. This can be seen in the much larger response to an offense against them, than in their response to an offense against others. The abused individual begins to live with this same priority; “my abuser is more important than I am” for two related reasons. It is a survival skill. There is an assumption that those who can do damage are more important.

What forms of relational confusion have your abusive relationship(s) caused for you?

4. Spiritual Confusion

In unhealthy relationships, God-questions abound. Where is God? Does God care? Whose team if God on? If God doesn’t change this relationship, why do I still bother with him?

Additionally, Scripture is often used as a point of leverage or justification for the abusive patterns. What does it mean to forgive someone in active addiction or who is frequently abusive? Can we forgive and still enforce consequences? Is it a sign of bitterness to draw attention to a pattern of behavior (which involves appealing to past offenses)?

These are the kind of questions we will grapple with in Steps Four through Six. At this stage in the journey, we would want the inclusion of this material to accomplish two things. First, to help you realize you’re not “crazy” for feeling this way. Second, to bring comfort that you’re not being “a bad Christian” for asking these questions.

What forms of spiritual confusion have your abusive relationship(s) caused for you?

5. Distorted Self-Image

In relationships marked by addiction, abuse, or comparable forms of dysfunction, you feel powerless and stupid. Never have you tried so hard at anything only to see it continually fall apart and fail. The longer this goes on, the more it affects your sense of identity and competency as a human being.

One of the first things we look for in chaos is control. We don’t want to live out-of-control lives. Responsibility seems to be the door to control, so we begin to assume responsibility for more and more of the things that are going badly around us. We will pay the price of guilt for the relief of perceived control.

Maybe it worked for a while. But eventually we are either crushed under the weight of guilt for everything that is going wrong or overwhelmed by reality of very limited control over important things. Usually, we don’t choose one or the other (i.e., crushed under guilt or overwhelmed by lack of control), but vacillate between the two.

We learn something important here. Unhealthy coping mechanisms usually give short-term benefits, especially in the midst of dysfunction, and long-term detriments, particularly when we are outside the dysfunctional environment. In this way, we begin to live like an addict; trading short-term relief for long-term pain.

What kept us safe in dysfunction that lets dysfunction into what could otherwise be healthy relationships.

  • Avoiding certain topics is safe in abusive relationships, but keeps healthy relationships at a superficial level.
  • Taking on additional responsibilities may be a survival skill in an addictive home, but results in potentially healthy relationships always feeling one-sided.
  • Adapting to the moment prevents escalation in unhealthy relationships, but when this is all we do, we can make it feel like we don’t have a voice even in healthy relationships.

What forms of distorted self-image have your abusive relationship(s) caused for you?