It just kind of came to me one day, this ugly truth, after months of intensive emotional healing through therapy, transformation prayer, reading Emotionally Healthy Spirituality or EHS (Peter Scazzero). It was a long time coming, but it also seemed to come over me all at once in a single moment of revelation. I am a co-dependent person, attracted to controlling, emotionally manipulative, needy people. They fill my need to be savior, and I fill their need to be agreed with, praised, and approved of. I flinch even as I type it. Is it so bad? Am I quite so bad as to really think that I could play the role of savior? For the majority of my Christian life, that is how I lived. Now, I never in a million years would have termed myself savior, but the ugly truth was that I was in fact living that way. My heart was invested in my important relationships as the savior. I enabled, never challenged. I sought to keep the peace. I tip-toed around issues, trying to think of the response desired so that I might not disrupt the false peace that I had created all around me. Meanwhile, there was no peace inside.
I first realized that boundaries must be put in place in order for me to heal. I am not playing a victim card here. Co-dependency is a sickness in itself, and it is no better or worse than control and abuse. My greatest sin, and the one that colored every aspect of my life, nearly every relationship I had, was undoubtedly Co-dependency. In order to heal, there first needed to be a separation. Someone once told me that trying to heal a relationship while you’re still in it is like trying to fix a car while you’re flying down the highway. The truth of this statement has stuck with me. In order to heal myself and turn from my own sin of co-dependency and enabling behaviors, I had to first take a break from the relationships in which I was making a practice of this sin.
During the break, it was time to heal my mind…to go back in order to go forward. I had to stop denying the impact of the past on the present (another phrase taken from Scazzero’s EHS series). The impact of the past on the present is strong, whether or not I am conscious of it. I had to explore the roots of my co-dependent feelings and behaviors.
Having come to the place in my healing journey where I could understand the roots of my behavior and the lies that I was believing about myself, God, and others, it was time to begin to form new patterns of thought and behavior. This was the most grueling part of the journey. I was deeply embedded in the sin of co-dependency, hateful self-talk, and gaining a sense of worth from others. These patterns were not easy to break, and even today I can find myself easily slipping back into this destructive and sinful thought life.
I taught myself to recognize the warning signs of spiraling into these patterns. Once I could recognize the warning signs, I could make a conscious effort to combat the lies with God’s truth. No, that is not true. You are not stupid and worthless. You are cherished. You are loved. You are adored. God doesn’t make garbage. He has a plan for you. You are his precious daughter. He is captivated by you. He has forgiven you and sees you as perfect and holy, covered by the blood of Jesus.
At times, I chanted these truths to myself over and over. At times, I cried out to the Lord telling Him what I believed about myself and asking Him to speak truth to me. At times, I listened to a few key songs over and over until I began not only to know about God’s love for me in my head, but to feel it deep within my soul. More often, I listened to or read the Psalms throughout the day, over and over. In a few months, I read through all of the Psalms a number of times. They were like my life support in these days that felt like the valley of the shadow of death.
After a significant amount of time healing, some of my former relationships were able to be restored. Others were not. It really depended on the person’s response to my newfound ways of relating with people. My relationships with other people now flowed from a new confidence in Jesus. I did not need the approval of others any longer. I did not feel a need to preserve false peace. I did not feel like I had to tip toe around people, say the right thing, and keep people happy. That kind of enabling behavior was behind me, and I was working to make sure it stayed that way.
Some would respond well, adapting to the challenges of the new me, realizing that I was no longer simply a “yes-woman” but an empowered woman, a woman with her own mind who was confident enough to speak her true feelings in kindness and compassion.
One of the most important parts of this journey was the process of giving myself grace for mistakes. I did not go about this process perfectly. Looking back, I can think of so many things I would have done differently. I would have been more gracious with the people from whom I needed to take a break to heal. I would have communicated differently. At times, it was difficult not to slip back into self-hate because of these mistakes.
The healing process was pretty rocky as well. I did at times fall back into old patterns of co-dependency and self-loathing. I did at times seek approval from others. It would have been easy to get into an even deeper rut when I slipped back into my old patterns, telling myself that I would never succeed at changing. But I knew that I was not going to change overnight, so over and over, day after day I fell on my face before the Lord and asked Him to change me, to speak to me, to remind me of my identity in Him. Day after day, I immersed myself in the Psalms, songs, and prayer.
Forgiving self was the key component to successfully allowing God to heal and change me. Some Christians hear about therapy and inner healing, they immediately think that it is wrong or irrelevant because it is all about “self love” and that is clearly not biblical. But I challenged that view in my own heart. Self love is not the same thing as selfishness. And it is in no way exclusive from loving God and others. In fact, the way that I understand self love, is actually just allowing yourself to recognize and be aware of the presence of God.
I fondly remember my grandpa telling me to “practice the presence of God”, but I never really understood it until now. To practice the presence of God is self love, or rather recognizing God’s love for you on a regular basis. Throughout the day, in the still moments, I remember that He is right there with me, that He cares for me, and that I am His.
Scazzero suggests that people who are hateful, critical, harsh, and judgmental to themselves will unwittingly be so to others. To love and forgive yourself is not selfish, because love and forgiveness for others will flow from that. To recognize God’s love for you and His forgiveness of you and to make an effort to stop the hateful self talk and self criticism is, inadvertently, to love others. Because ultimately, you will treat others the same way you treat yourself.
These changes felt so very slow, but looking back I honestly can’t believe how quickly God changed me. Nothing is quite so difficult to change as the mind and soul. It is quite easy to move locations, to end relationships and begin new ones, but it is not so easy to change your mind. And wherever you go, your mind will be there.
To free your mind through healing in Jesus is the only real way to be liberated, free, and whole. I use to long to escape from myself. But Jesus gave me something better. He gave me healing so that I could forgive myself, recognize His love for me, and experience true freedom and joy.
I understand that not every day will be pure joy and wholeness and happiness. There will be days where I am tempted to slip back into self-loathing, and there will be days where I succumb to temptation. There will be days where I behave in co-dependent and enabling ways. There will be days where I seek approval from others. There will be days where I skirt issues to preserve false peace. I know that I will not do this perfectly, but now that I have the power of forgiveness buried in my heart, I can get through these days and move on toward a brighter and more hopeful future in Jesus.
So, yes, the ugly truth is that in the flesh, I am a co-dependent and enabling person. But the beautiful truth is that in Jesus, I am forgiven and cherished, confident in my identity as a daughter of the King.