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 bradhambrick.com/events.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Am I using this form of kindness as a way to pretend that our relationship is in a better place than it really is?
- Does this form of kindness bestow a level of trust that is unwise for my safety or my loved one’s recovery?
- 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: Building Resilience (2 of 3) Click To Tweet
If this post was beneficial for you, then consider reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Codependency” post which address other facets of this subject.