There is a proverb that says, “I went up to the rooftop to find relief from my pain, and saw that all the other houses were on fire.” I have learned over time just how true this is. Even those who appear the most put-together are dealing with pain, symptomatic of the brokenness of our world. We all need healing and restoration to God’s intended fullness of life for His beloved children.
We live in a fallen world and are socialized from a tender age to believe many lies about who we are and what we should be and do. Our parents may have the best intentions to protect us from these lies, but there are lies deeply embedded in their own psyches. We strive to attain cultural standards of ideal womanhood and manhood in ways that can be contradictory to God’s plan and design for our lives. We are all hurt by messages that are antithetical to the Good News that Jesus has redeemed His creation and we can live a life of wholeness and abundance. In John 10:10, Jesus says,
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
I read this post last week about how Christian girls and women are socialized to be codependent doormats in the name of “biblical womanhood.” The author says,
Most materials and sermons I got from Christians in my girlhood emphasized that the only way a girl or woman could be pleasing to God was to be a doormat to other people. Meaning, many hallmarks of codependency are present in this teaching, such as:
It is biblical or good for a girl or woman to be passive
Getting one’s needs met is selfish; showing or feeling anger is wrong and un-Christian
One should always care about other people’s feelings, needs, and wants more than one’s own
I was reminded of one of my favorite posts of all time, “Ex Good Christian Women” by Kathy Escobar. She shares two lists of qualities present in “Good Christian Women” and “Ex Good Christian Women” that are spot on. She says,
“Good Christian Women”
- rarely engage in conflict
- are terrible at saying “no” because it feels selfish
- know how to say the right things, do the right things, to keep the peace
- continually strive–and i do mean strive–to be a better wife, better mother, better christian
- live with a feeling that God is disappointed with us somehow
- feel a lot of shame for who we are and who we aren’t (but rarely say it out loud)
- doubt our leadership, feelings, gifts, dreams
- dwell on the things we should be doing differently or better
- view anger as sin
- always seek permission
“Ex Good Christian Women”
- are learning to show up in relationship instead of hiding
- engage in conflict instead of avoid it
- say “no” with less-and-less guilt and say “yes” more freely, more honestly
- tell the truth
- respect anger
- are honest about shame
- live in the present
- are beginning to believe we are “enough”–here, now
- open ourselves up to dreams & passions & living out what God is stirring up in us
- lead & love & live in all kinds of new ways, with or without permission
- are discovering that God is much bigger than we were ever taught & loves us more than we ever knew
Oh, how I relate to these posts. I was raised in a patriarchal church culture that negatively impacted my understanding of God’s will for my life. I was a poster girl for these ideal qualities: being always sensitive to the needs and feelings of others (while being completely out of touch with my own needs and feelings), deferring to others (while not developing my own gifts of leadership), a helper (who could never ask others for help), an empathetic listener (who was always stoic and would never open up about my own emotions). I always believed that I was living up to “biblical” ideals of femininity and God’s design for women. I now understand that many of the cultural messages I received about “biblical womanhood” were actually lies and were stealing, killing and destroying me rather than giving me an abundant and full life in Christ.
Codependency is “the disease of the lost self.” When you are arranging your life around the thoughts, feelings and needs of others, you completely lose touch of your own identity. Another phrase to describe this is “people-pleasing.” I have slowly found healing and have found my own voice through many years of reading. Here are the books that have had tremendous impact in my life, leading me away from codependency and towards fullness and finding my identity in Christ as a beloved daughter, just as I am (listed in the order that I read them):
Logan’s cousin who ministers in a homeless shelter in Philadelphia gave us a copy of Tim Keller’s book, “The Prodigal God” when we were visiting over Christmas five or six years ago. I read it aloud to Logan as we drove back to Maine, and my mind was blown away with a new understanding of this parable. We are taught “The Parable of the Prodigal Son,” but really Jesus was telling a story of two brothers whose hearts were in the same condition, one who broke all the rules and one who obeyed them all with the expectation of receiving something in return. Jesus’ story demonstrates that both were loved by their Father with a prodigal (i.e. extravagant, generous, lavish, etc.) love. This book began to chip away the performance, works-based religion that I was living. I recognized my similarity to the second brother who was obeying all the rules on a conditional basis. “I do for you…what will you do for me?”
Around the same time, my church family was in turmoil and conflict, and I was hurting deeply because church has always been my second home and I was facing rejection and shunning that was traumatic beyond words. I don’t remember how I found this book…but I do remember devouring it and buying copies for everyone in my family. I had always been a trusting and open person and was for the first time realizing that there were toxic people in the church who could be abusive, controlling and manipulative. “Safe People” describes characteristics of emotionally healthy/unhealthy individuals.
“Boundaries” taught me even better that in the name of loving others, I had drawn very loose boundaries in my life, allowing the needs of others to trump my own needs. I was always saying “no” to myself and “yes” to others, with no limitations to what I would give up for others. I had to learn that there are personal property rights around my physical, mental and emotional boundaries. I do not owe other people control over my choices, feelings, thoughts, and words. I do not need to feel selfish or guilty for saying “no” to taking others’ responsibilities on myself.
I picked up this book, “Why You Do The Things You Do”, from my niece’s pile of books she brought home with her from college one holiday break. This book taught me that there are two questions we all come into the world asking: Am I worthy of love? and Can I trust others to meet my needs? According to our first relationships as helpless infants and into childhood, we internalize answers to these questions that affect us for the rest of our lives. Using research and data, the authors describe four primary patterns of relating to others that stem from our upbringing in our family of origin. In reading this book, I learned about myself and others in a powerful way, and there is a lot of helpful information on “emotional coaching” for your own children.
A couple years ago, I went through a phase of listening to several TED Talks every day while I was working, which introduced me to the amazing Vulnerability and Shame talks by Brene Brown. So when I saw that she had written a book to share her research and findings in a comprehensive message of how to “live wholeheartedly”, I ordered it immediately, and then couldn’t put it down! I learned to be kind to myself, to show up in life rather than cower behind insecurities and fear. I learned priceless lessons on teaching worthiness to my children. I learned how shame will keep you living small while vulnerability will not make your life perfect, but it will make your life great.
I know that it was God who directed me to Collette Pekar’s Tuesday morning Bible study. While these books and many other videos and articles online have helped me to find healing from codependency, it was being in small group with a wise counselor who helped me to verbalize and process the things I was learning about healthy relationships that really made the greatest impact. I cannot encourage you enough to find fellow warriors to pursue healing with. One fall, our group read this book together by Peter Scazzero. He demonstrates that we bring the dysfunctional patterns of our family of origin into our adult life despite our “new life” in Christ, and there is work to be done to shed the lies that keep us from living in an emotionally healthy spirituality. In learning to do the work of chipping away these issues and in learning healthy habits of caring for yourself, you will begin to experience an abundant life!
It is our hope here at The Beautiful Kingdom Warriors that we will be a help to you in your spiritual journey, as we journey together. Please add your recommendations for healing from codependency and other family of origin issues in the comments! And “Like” us on Facebook for regular posts on gender issues in the world and in Christianity. Thank you for stopping by!