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.
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).Strategies for Overcoming Codependency: Gaining Perspective (1 of 3) Click To Tweet
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.
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:
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.
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|
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.
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.