Seeking Balance in Our Codependency (Part 3)

This is the final week of Seeking Balance in Our Codependency. You can break the cycle of codependency by following these tips.

Establish rational boundaries as a consequence.  For example, “While I want to give you the money you are asking for, I have no way of knowing how this may enable you to ruin your life through your addiction.  Not giving you money is hard for me, but I believe it is best for you.”  “When you say those horrible things to me and threaten me in that way, I have to take it seriously.  You can no longer live here until you can control yourself more appropriately.”  Discontinue support of unhealthy behavior of others.  Read and learn about healthy boundaries. Those boundaries can be firm, yet still communicated in a loving, caring manner. 

Resist falling into other codependent roles.  A codependent may shift from one role to another, so it is helpful to see in yourself the role of Rescuer, Caretaker, or People Pleaser, and be watchful that you don’t slip into another role such as the Helpless Victim or even the Intimidator.  Seek to understand that you may be responsible to another person, but you are not responsible for her or her choices in life – or the consequences of her choices.  This can help you maintain your own emotional balance, even when the addict does not want you to leave the codependent role.

Hold onto truth.  Our hurt, disappointment, fears, and anger can all lead to compromising on truth.  It may be truth about our own codependency, including our imbalanced need for approval, attention, or control.  Or it could be truth about the failure of our codependency to make us happy or even feel safe.  Other truths include facing the hurt our codependency has caused others as well as ourselves.  Finally, we need to hold onto the reality that we are imbalanced and not living according to our own values and knowledge about what is right. Truth can help us clarify our vision so that we can live more balanced through growing in our application of truth, which can help us experience more freedom each and every day.

Written initially for the Hammonton Gazette, March 2018

Seeking Balance in Our Codependency (Part 2)

This is a continuation of Seeking Balance in Our Codependency. Follow these tips to conquer codependency.

Overcome your denial.   Deal with the llama in the room – it is next to the elephant you have been ignoring.  Overcome avoidance so that you deal directly with the problem, rather than pretend it doesn’t exist.  It is o.k. that this will involve facing anxiety and even anguish, but it is a necessary step to finding your freedom.  The truth will set you free.  You have a problem yourself that needs attention so that your interaction with the addict can be healthier.

Embrace a healthy self-concept and self-esteem.  Accept yourself.  It is O.K. that you do not feel o.k. and feel unworthy of love – even as the addict feels unworthy. Accept that you have an inner critic, but you do not have to listen to that particular voice in your head. Instead, embrace the truth that you are loved – even by God as you understand Him to be, who is bigger than all of your problems.  Build on the strengths and abilities you have, not on your mistakes. 

Hold onto your personal sense of power.  You have the power of choice.  You do not have to follow compulsive, codependent tendencies.  Become responsible in the use of this power, which includes how you interact with the addict in your life.  The respect and dignity you show her will be a model for her, respecting that she has the power of choice as well.

Hold the person accountable for his own actions.  You can speak the truth in a loving way, but assertively hold onto the truth.  One way is by letting him know the negative consequences of his behavior. For example, “When you lie about where you are going and disappear for hours, I feel extremely anxious, and my mind races about all the possible tragic things that could be happening to you.”  You do not have to bail him out of the natural consequences for his behavior, which has teaching value.  This even includes jail.   

Continue reading next week for three more tips on seeking balance in our codependency.

Written initially for the Hammonton Gazette, March 2018     

Seeking Balance in Our Codependency (Part 1)

Codependency often begins with a positive recognition of the value of love and the desire to help another human soul who is struggling in some way.  It can start as healthy self-sacrifice to care for that person, but soon turns into a compulsive pattern which results in helping that person destroy his life through addictions or a variety of unhealthy, selfish behaviors.  The codependent becomes unconsciously dependent on pleasing the addict.

Codependency is a deception, often fueled with manipulation by the addict playing the victim role.  Misunderstanding the “disease” concept of addiction can also increase our conflicts in addressing codependency.  We may feel sorry for the addict’s disease, feeding her victim role, while increasing the addict’s sense of powerlessness over her problem.  We try to come to the rescue, taking responsibility for the addict’s unhealthy ways, which enables the addiction to continue.

Codependency is not only with those who struggle with addictions to substances such as drugs or alcohol.  It also involves those caught in the traps of habitual gambling, sex addictions (including pornography), spend-a-holic tendencies, excessive video game use, anger and rage problems, etc.  Enabling each of these behaviors through our actions puts us squarely in the category of a codependent. Our own identity, self-worth, and feelings of safety become wrapped up in another person’s life and we lose a stable sense of our authentic self.  We find ourselves over-reacting to others, but out of touch with ourselves. 

Codependency occurs when we value our relationship with someone to the point where we can be manipulated to give that person the power to influence our decisions, which compromise healthy boundaries and enable him to continue some unhealthy behavior.  Our delusion in part involves thinking we are helping through our efforts, such as giving money, giving a ride, or even providing life’s necessities such as free room and board – to “help” the other person.  We trust a person who is not truthful with us about what he is doing with the money he is saving because of our contributions.  We have an overdependence on another person’s approval, whether a child, spouse, friend, or parent.

Continue reading next week to get tips on seeking balance in our codependency. Written initially for the Hammonton Gazette, March 2018     

Seeking Balance with Children in School

Things can go wrong when children go back to school.   Some children may be afraid of their new peers or may be tempted to violate the rules in order to fit in with more popular kids.  Others give in to fears and avoid activities that could be a blessing to them.  Balance the doses of essential “parenting vitamins” and avoid these problems.   

Parents have two primary roles.  The first is the Caring Function, or the “Vitamin C” role as the late Dr. Mel Silberman from Temple University called it.  Bonding between a parent and child develops through a parent’s nurturing behavior.  As a child grows older, listening and being sensitive to a child’s feelings are central to this Caring Function of a parent or caregiver.

The second, but equally important role, can be called the Executive Function, or the “Vitamin E” of parenting.  Establish the rules for home and school, as well as consequences for violating those rules.  Include boundaries and disciplinary procedures employed by authority figures, teachers, and others in the school system.  The more clear and specific you can be, the better.

Healthy parents communicate, negotiate, and agree with each other on the rules and regulations for home and school.  Brainstorm options for consequences and agree on disciplinary actions.  This alleviates many problems.  Too often, parents polarize and conflict develops:  one is too harsh and the other seems to be too soft.  Misbehavior and manipulation result.  This becomes a particularly delicate problem when the parents divorce and divide their parenting duties between two homes.  Children often develop great skill at “splitting” parents from each other.  (“Ask mom, ‘cause she’ll let us go.”  “Don’t tell dad, ‘cause he’ll make us do our homework first.”)

This same polarization can occur between parents and the school system.  Ideally, parents communicate with the authorities at the school and understand their policies and rules and the typical disciplinary procedures employed by the school. 

Children can also split parents from the school authorities.  (“My teacher is unfair and mean.  Can you talk to the teacher and get her to give me a better grade?”)  A parent’s investment in getting to know key people in the child’s school improves trust (most teachers and school personnel really do care) so when a child needs discipline, parents can be unified with the school.  This cooperation between home and school is in the child’s best interest.  Well-intentioned parents, at times, undermine the authority of the teacher, all to the detriment of a child who learns how to manipulate.

Use caution to balance all issues.  Listen attentively to your child. One aspect of “Vitamin C”, may lead to understanding that someone in the school may be breaking the rules and the protective action of a parent is needed.  Bullying by peers or an adult’s abuse of their power over your child, all require a more active response.

Both “Vitamin C” and “Vitamin E” are essential for a balanced approach to helping our youth grow up to be responsible adults.  Both are necessary while we strive to fulfill the ideal guideline to “love one another”, which includes loving our children.   Provide balanced doses of these parenting “vitamins,” and your children will have a successful school year.

Seeking Balance: Ten “Vitamin C” Tips for Healthy Family Relationships

What produces lasting bonds in relationships?  Why do some relationships fail, while others deepen and become more meaningful?  Understanding the “Vitamin C”, or “Caring Function” of a parent, is one way to understand and develop healthy relationships with our children.  These tips also apply to your spouse and other relationships.

            How do parents communicate that they care about their children?  First, they listen to the needs of the child and help to address those needs.  Feeding, changing diapers, ensuring sufficient sleep, holding and cuddling, protecting the child from predators, all are needed when the child is an infant and growing.  Helping the child learn competence in facing challenges begins with secure bonding early in life.  This includes attentiveness to the child in subtle, interactive ways, such as playing “peek-a-boo” or “hide and seek” in an age-appropriate way.    

As the child grows and is increasingly able to meet his/her own needs, a parent steps back and encourages the child to “fly the nest”.  This may be when your daughter takes her first step on a school bus or when you allow your son to play football in spite of your fear that he will get injured.   Trusting that your child is learning “self-care” (how to feed themselves, meet their own needs, and protect themselves) is part of growing up.  A parent is challenged to tune in to the child’s heart and listen even more intentionally to the new and emerging needs that are expressed in more subtle ways.

Here are ten tips for communicating “Vitamin C” with your child or with any healthy relationship.    

  1. Listen attentively.  Listen by tuning out all extraneous noise, in your head and in your environment (such as the television). 
  2. Listen to the feelings and emotional reactions of the other person.  Be as non-defensive as possible, giving them permission to express whatever feelings they experience.   
  3. Listen to the central idea being expressed.  Do not get sidetracked by details, but stay tuned to the key thought or belief they express.
  4. Listen to the needs you hear being expressed either verbally or non-verbally.  What does their facial expression tell you?  What is their behavior telling you?   Are they expressing a desire to be “loved”, for independence, or to prove their “competence” to handle a situation?  Do they simply want to be close to you?
  5. Listen with your “observing self,” so you use the advantage of your speed of thought over their speed of speech to tune in to what they are saying.  Don’t let your mind wander or jump ahead to what you want to say, but stay tuned in to the other person.
  6. Encourage the person to continue with his/her thoughts and feelings as much as possible.  Use phrases like “Tell me more” or “Go on”, or simply through good eye contact and nods showing non-verbal acknowledgement.
  7. Rephrase or paraphrase what you hear the person saying, boiling down the essence of their communication, to demonstrate that you have been listening.  If unsure, you can check with them by expressing, “This is what I hear you saying. …… Is that right?”
  8. Show mercy and forgiveness in the relationship.  No relationship can survive without the ability of each party to overlook some degree of faults, mistakes, or offenses. For the Caring (Vitamin C) function, choose to let go of offenses.
  9. Withhold judgment or any “Vitamin E” feedback (Executive Function of a parent or helper), until you receive confirmation that you understood accurately the person to whom you are listening.
  10. Give them a hug.  In our technological age of cell phone communication, physical touch gets seriously neglected.  Give your child, and your friends, a hug today.

By communicating Vitamin C in any relationship, you convey respect, acceptance, and love.   In giving others this gift, you build trust and healthier relationships with your family and others.

Seeking Balance in Coping with Anger (Part 3)

This is the final part of Seeking Balance in Coping with Anger.

Develop assertive communication skills. You can use the anger to motivate you to assertive, but not aggressive, action.  Assertiveness includes open, honest communication that expresses your concerns and what you want.  Ghandi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s non-violent responses are examples of healthy assertive action that brought about positive change.  You can do the same in your family, speaking the truth in love.

We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.” I Thess. 5:14-15

How can we communicate assertively to others who are “unruly”, without allowing our anger to take us down the road of gossip or revenge?

Evaluate and modify your thinking in the direction of being grateful for the blessings in your life.  This is particularly true when we notice an underlying hostility from unresolved anger that is beginning to fester within us.  Learning to let go of offenses and embracing our blessings has great value for our own health and the health of our relationships with others.

“But I am afflicted and in pain; May Your salvation, O God, set me securely on high. I will praise the name of God with song and magnify Him with thanksgiving.” Psalm 69:29-30 

Reflect on how so many of the Psalms go from the hurts inflicted by others, leading to anger in David.  Then, the Lord brings him to a place of praise and rejoicing in the faithfulness of the Lord.

Forgiveness is fundamental. Understanding, accepting, and letting go of offenses is a process we go through in relationships we value.  This is a process that takes time for some, but is something we are all challenged to embrace. 

Read Matthew 18:15-35

Reconciliation between people in conflict is clearly the ideal, even if it is not always possible.  Reflect on the lessons in this passage, particularly the parable of the unforgiving servant.  Consider the debt we owe to God and that He has forgiven us completely.  Does any offense of others against you even come close?  How might we reinforce this truth in our lives on a daily basis?   Also consider Matt. 6:7-15

Modified from an original article written for the Hammonton Gazette, March 2016.

Seeking Balance in Coping with Anger (Part 2)

This is a continuation of Seeking Balance in Coping with Anger.

Consider the offense before responding. Focus on the big picture, rather than reacting on impulse. Attempt to understand their reason for offending you in the way they did, or if they even meant it as an offense.  What is really triggering your feelings of anger?  How might your response affect your future relationship?

“A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, And it is his glory to overlook a transgression.” Proverbs 19:11

How can reflecting on situations that trigger our anger help us grow wiser in our responses?       

Release the anger before the day is over. Holding on to your anger is not worth it on many levels, including your health. Research has even shown it increases pain and depression levels.  Seek to release the anger as quickly as possible.

“Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,” Ephesians 4:26

Reflect on how it is permissible to be angry, but it is wise to let it go as quickly as possible.  What helps you to do this?

Tell yourself “I am not easy to offend.” And believe it. You really can modify your habitual ways of thinking.   

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2

Consider how the disciplines we learn through being disciples of Christ help bring about transformation in our ways of thinking and our behavior. See also Colossians 3:8

Avoid a victim mentality. Even if you are a victim of unfair treatment, you do not want to get stuck there. Instead, look for ways to empower yourself and take responsibility to manage your life and relationships in healthier ways.  Considering your situation from the position of an equal rather than from a superior or inferior position can help you negotiate relationship conflicts and work toward win-win solutions.

“Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:19-21

Consider how you have been a victim of wrongdoing, and how difficult it was not to respond with some form of revenge, passive or aggressive.  How can we find the grace and strength to avoid this natural pattern?

Next week we will finish with part 3 of Seeking Balance in Coping with Anger.

Modified from an original article written for the Hammonton Gazette, March 2016.

Seeking Balance in Coping with Anger (Part 1)

How do you feel when others do not meet your expectations, or when you do not get what you want?  Do you “bite your wife’s head off?”  Do you lose your voice yelling at your kids?  Do you secretly obsess and seethe at something your neighbor did, wondering how you can get even? 

Depending on many complex factors, we can react in many different ways.  Sometimes we are simply irritated, frustrated, or impatient.  Other times we rage, at least on the inside. 

Anger brings with it a great deal of physiological arousal.  Your heart beats faster, your breathing rate increases, your pupils constrict, and your blood flows more to your active muscles – all signs that your adrenal glands are pumping more hormones which signal your body to go into “fight or flight” mode. 

Here are a few tips to help you cope in a way that can diminish the damage that poor anger management does to both you and those around you.

Delay your response. It essential to break negative automatic and habitual ways of expressing your anger that hurt others and yourself.  “Counting to 10” is age old advice that really does serve a purpose.  It helps you engage the thinking portions of your brain so you can evaluate the potential consequences of the angry comments you would like to make.

“This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” James 1:19-20

Contemplate ways that you can delay your response without shutting down completely or repressing your anger in unhealthy ways.

Resist acting out anger inappropriately. This can be verbal or non-verbal behavior.  Saying or doing things intended to hurt others will only escalate your problems.  Be slow to speak.  This is the path of mature, responsible adult behavior.

“He entered again into a synagogue; and a man was there whose hand was withered. They were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. He said to the man with the withered hand, “Get up and come forward!” And He said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?” But they kept silent. After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.” Mark 3:1-6

Consider the contrast in ways that Jesus handled his anger and how the Pharisees handled their anger toward Jesus.   In what appropriate ways did Jesus direct his anger? 

Listen attentively and objectively. What is the other person really communicating? How is the person feeling?  Seek to really put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Research shows the high value of empathy in overcoming habitual expressions of anger.

“He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him.Proverbs 18:13

Recall a conversation in which you became angry without really understanding the actual situation. How did you feel when you realized your mistake?

Next week we will continue Seeking Balance in Coping with Anger.

Modified from an original article written for the Hammonton Gazette, March 2016.

Seeking Balance in Managing Our Emotions (Part 3)

This is the final part of Seeking Balance in Managing Our Emotions.

Monitor yourself.  You have a tendency to resist in your partner what you suppress in yourself.  In more intimate relationships, you may express anger at your spouse for being scared, depressed, or embarrassed.  Use these times as opportunities to examine yourself for the same emotion you see in others that upsets you. Ask yourself “why am I feeling this way”?

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” II Cor. 13:5

Reflect on I Corinthians 11:28; Ephesians 4:26-27

Focus on goals.  Making choices to behave in the right manner, independent of your mood or feelings, is important in many situations.  Besides parenting, work settings which focus on customer service provide many examples, such as a waitress who refrains from throwing the soup on an irritating customer. 

Reflect on Proverbs 22:6; Rom. 12:1-2; Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; I John 4:11-21

Study role models.  Find people you admire, particularly the way they generally handle their emotions.  Comparison can be a trap that brings you down, but learning from a role model and growing to imitate them is what children, apprentices and disciples have done for millennia. 

“For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church.” I Corinthians 4:15-17

Reflect on I Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 3:17; II Thessalonians 3:7-9; Matthew 28:19-20

Learn assertive communication.  You may choose to remain silent, but acknowledging and expressing your feelings in an appropriate manner is an important part of emotional health.  Remember, assertion is not aggression or arrogance.  It is simply confident and straightforward communication.

Reflect on Jeremiah 1:6-9; Ephesians 4:15; Acts 4:13; 18:26-28; Titus 2:1-10

Modified from article originally written for the Hammonton Gazette, October 2018

Seeking Balance in Managing Our Emotions (Part 2)

This is a continuation of Seeking Balance in Managing Our Emotions.

Accept responsibility for your emotions.  Only then will you learn to face the reasons they were triggered and manage your responses to others.  They may be influenced by hereditary factors and family dynamics or experiences beyond your control.  Only you, however, can take responsibility for your ability to strategize and make changes in how you cope with your own emotional reactions.

“But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load.” Gal.6:4-5

Reflect on I John 1:6-10; Revelation 3:19-20; Psalm 51

Consider biological factors.  Hereditary and hormonal differences exist in our lives, and different stages of life can bring about biochemical changes in our bodies that may require medical attention.  If natural coping strategies do not work such as those taught by a psychologist or pastor, consider alternative medical approaches, and certainly get a medical exam and blood work to rule out problems such as diabetes, thyroid problems, or many other medical conditions that can affect your emotional well-being.

Reflect on Genesis 1:29-30; Psalm 147:3; Proverbs 17:22; Jeremiah 8:22; Matthew 9:12; Colossians 4:14

Respond, don’t react.  This will be hard.  Reactions are automatic; responses require thought.  Think over the big picture and evaluate your best response.  This gives time for your limbic system and it’s “fight or flight response” to settle down.  It also engages the cortex of your brain, and you will be a better parent, spouse, or friend as a result.  You will be able to refrain from saying things you would regret later.  In other words, do not correct others or discuss important things while angry.

“A fool’s anger is known at once, but a prudent man conceals dishonor.” Proverbs 12:16

Reflect on:  James 1:19-20; Romans 12:2; 15:1,18; 21:23-24; Eph. 4:26

Set a positive emotional goal.  Select the opposite emotion to what you feel, then contemplate what may help you move in that direction.  For example, if angry, how can you move toward peace? Perhaps you take a break to contemplate a relaxing fishing trip. Or when depressed and you want to experience more joy, contact with a distant family member or friend. Simply remembering the blessing of some key people in your life’s journey can redirect depression.

Reflect on Galatians 5:22-26; Philippians 4:4-9; John 14:27-28

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.” Romans 15:13-14

Next week we will finish with part 3 of Seeking Balance in Managing Our Emotions.

Modified from article originally written for the Hammonton Gazette, October 2018.