How do I respond to my spouses first love that’s killing them and us?
Addiction is a killer. It’s a killer of relationship, dreams, and self. When your spouse is addicted to something, it doesn’t really matter what it is, it feels like you are losing a competition. They love something more than you. The question becomes: How do I respond to my spouses first love that’s killing them and us?
It’s not about you:
First, realize it’s not about you. ALL addiction starts with wanting to run away from unwanted thoughts, feelings, and memories. There is something deeply troubling in them that they are running from. It is possible that they can have deep feelings of affection toward you AND not want to face their pain. (I chose to not use the word ‘love’ here, because love sacrifices regardless of feelings and it is true that they are not loving you.)
Secondly, shame is the number one emotion that will send a person back into an addiction. Sometimes, we try to use shame as a means of motivating them to change. We think, ‘if they just understood how their behavior is hurting me, they would stop.’ But communicating in a shameful way will just send them back into their addiction.
Call Them Higher
Trying to understand what they are running from will help you to heal the wound. For instance, many people are afraid of not being enough in some capacity. When you tell them ‘you’re a lousy spouse and only care about yourself,’ they want to run back to a place to feel numb, so they don’t feel their feelings of not being enough. When you tell them, ‘I see you are struggling, and I believe you can face this hard thing and conquer it,’ they are motivated to rise to the expectation. It doesn’t always work, but it’s your best shot.
It’s alright to let them know that dealing with the addiction is a non-negotiable. It may mean 100% abstinence (for things like a substance abuse) or it may mean bringing in accountability to control excess (for things like finances or excessive habits). Some things really can be non-negotiable or the relationship needs to end.
No Secrecy – Bring in Accountability
Addiction loves secrecy because secrecy is the best environment for addiction to thrive. You can let your spouse know that for each relapse you will be seeking help from your support community. When relapse does occur, you then let the next tier know, which can include family, friends, pastors, counselors, or community members. This is for the purpose of finding help NOT shaming!!! You’re bringing in people that will offer support not criticism. The circle of people remains as small as possible and you let your spouse determine how big that circle gets by their sobriety.
Healing the Wound
The ultimate goal is to help heal the wound that is driving the addiction. When relapse does occur, we begin to explore the question of: What was the emotion going on before relapse? Rejection? Fear? Loneliness? THIS is what needs to be healed. Healing this is what will bring long-term sobriety and make it possible for your relationship to heal.
If your spouse is not willing to face their struggle and their emotions, you may need to make stronger boundaries in hopes they will pursue the healing they need. Realize there really are some addictions that are so toxic that separation or divorce are really the necessary options.
The most difficult part of this journey is learning how to step out of being offended, when it truly is offensive. You will need strong and healthy boundaries in place and find a supportive community that will work both as a means of protection for yourself and as a way of calling your spouse higher.
May God give you the strength and wisdom to walk this hard road.
The Psalms are full of examples to us of being honest in our emotions with a faithful God who cares for us. There also is an entire book named for one particular emotion to example to us how it’s done: Lamentations.
Emotions are a vital part of our humanness. Yet we tend to either justify our over-reacting to our emotions or we shut them off. But understanding and being honest about our emotions is imperative to our relationship with God, others, and even ourselves
For those who become overwhelmed by an emotional experience, it’s good to quiet the body, mind and soul and ask, ‘what is this emotion really about?’ While we shouldn’t excuse our behavior because of our emotions, neither should we tell our emotions to simply ‘shut up’. Our emotions are telling us something very important. They are telling us I desire, I hurt, I’m tired, I am afraid, etc.
For those who have suppressed emotions, it’s good to practice quieting the body, mind, and soul and ask, “what am I really feeling right now?” We can often get caught up in suppressing our emotions because we don’t know what to do with them. The result is dying to our emotional/spiritual side altogether. Unfortunately, when we suppress our emotions it tends to come out sideways whether we want it to or not, in the form of anxiety, depression, control, and addiction.
We need to be able to feel the feels in honesty. Bringing our emotions to our minds allows us to own our decisions and take responsibility for our lives. It enables us to accept the things we cannot change and have the courage to change the things we can.
The Psalms are full of examples to us of being honest in our emotions with a faithful God who cares for us. There also is an entire book named for one particular emotion to example to us how it’s done: Lamentations.
It is good to acknowledge our feelings for what they are. But feelings can also lie to us, telling us we are guilty when we are not, telling us we are a lost cause when we are not, or telling us life is hopeless when it is not. So, asking ourselves honestly, ‘what is this feeling about?’ and living out courage to change the things we can, is the only way we can live authentically before God and with others.
What can our feelings tell us?
I am wrong: Really thinking through this is important. There is a difference between ‘I am wrong’ and ‘I did something wrong’. The truth is you might have done something wrong, in which case God has provided ways to clean up the mess through accepting responsibility, confession, and making amends. If the thought is ‘I am wrong’, then understanding your true purpose and identity in life is taking steps to freedom.
I grieve: Grief is one of the worst feelings because there is absolutely nothing that can be done with the loss. But loss is supposed to hurt. There is no way to heal from grief unless you go through it. If you try going under it, over it, or around it, you will get stuck in it.
I desire: Desire can be good or bad, depending on what you are desiring. It will help to know if it’s a good desire by asking, what need is it fulfilling in me? What will be the fruit of obtaining it? Desiring peace is a good thing unless you are giving a tyrant what they want.
I’m tired: Am I tired because I’m running from my emotions? Am I over-achieving? Being self-reliant? Is there a change I can make in order to rest?
I fear: Fear is good if you are standing near the edge of a cliff. But fear is not good if you have to be in control of everyone around you in an attempt to have the perfect life. Ask what is this fear about? What evidence is there that this will become a reality? Is this mine to control?
I’m sad: Sadness is not the same as depression. It’s a missing of something vital to our lives. It means we are still alive and have desire. It often means we have the capacity to love and care still. Acknowledging our sadness allows us the ability to grieve the loss.
I’m angry: There are some things that we should be angry about. Naming the anger is the first step. But we can’t excuse destructive behavior even when our anger is justified. So, finding out how to move toward a solution is a healthy response to our anger.
I’m not safe: It’s good to listen to your gut if you don’t feel safe. By acknowledging this emotion you can then make a safety plan. But, believing that there is no one who is or no place that is safe means there’s some healing work to be done.
Brene Brown has written that when you refuse to acknowledge negative feelings you shut down all of your feelings. You cannot be selective in shutting down only some of your emotions.
Burying these emotions (and many others) will only produce destructive elements in your life. Acknowledging them, asking what the emotion is about, and having the courage to make any necessary changes will lead to emotionally healthy spirituality.
If you believe you can’t change, chances are pretty good you’re right.
This post is part of a series I am doing on False Belief Systems (FBS). What we believe matters because it affects how we think about things, which affects our emotions, which affects our behaviors. I’m not talking about theological beliefs (although those affect us too.) I’m talking about beliefs about who we are and about God and others. If we are stuck in cycles of harm that we want to break free of, this is a beginning point of where we look.
Since most people live with several FBS’s, it doesn’t matter which we start with…we just pick one and start. But the belief “I Can’t Change” is a deal breaker. It stops us from even trying.
Do you hear you tell yourself, “I’ve always been this way, I’ll always be this way, this is just who I am?” Oftentimes we begin to believe we can’t change because we’ve tried many times to change and were not successful. Perhaps we didn’t have the right tools to know how to change. Perhaps we were young without the necessary capacity of freedom to change. Or perhaps we were told we couldn’t change and so we believed them. Whatever the reason, it’s time to believe ‘I can change.’
Over the course of the next several weeks I plan to address these FBS:
I must be in control or something bad will happen
I don’t need anyone
If I’m vulnerable I will get hurt
I’m dumb, worthless, or a failure
I’ll always fail no matter how hard I try
I cannot cope without____________
Whatever I do it won’t be good enough
I am responsible for other people’s feelings, problems, & behaviors
My worth is based on my performance
People will only like me if I’m happy
God won’t be there when I really need him
Authority figures will betray me
If I don’t feel, I won’t hurt
Here are some essential steps to change:
Nothing changes until you determine it to change. Ask yourself “What’s stopping me? What is hurting me? Where do I want to grow?” Chances are the truth isn’t not going to pop out of the sky to rescue you. Even when we recognize God is making changes in us, we usually partner with God to make them happen.
Surround yourself with a team
You were not meant to be alone. Find some trusted friends who may be working on their own changes and be accountable. Check in with them daily or weekly. Let them ask you questions to help you see your current belief systems. And let them encourage you. This part is admitting to others your real self and your need.
Find out why the lie is there? What is it protecting you from?
Usually a lie is protecting you from something. Perhaps, if you believed ‘I can’t change’, it prevents you from putting in the work to learning something new. Or perhaps it’s there to protect you from some sort of suffering, rejection, or failure.
Work on it daily for 30-60 days
Replace the lie with the truth. For 10 minutes every day, think on, memorize scripture or quotes, discover, read, talk about, and practice the new truth. They say a person can change any habit in 21 days.
I’ve found that in 21-days the new brain pathway is built as I begin to understand how the lie is affecting me and recognize what I need to do. Some habits die hard and can take up to a year of working on it for it to be eradicated from my life. But it becomes much easier after the first 30 to 60 days.
Recognize it’s hard to change. You will eventually need to step out into a True Belief System (TBS) and that can be scary. Taking risks by telling people your new belief and acting on the new belief is a part of taking ownership of the new belief. It only feels like you might die, but chances are you’re just growing.
This is different from the power of positive thinking or even Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). I’m not against these things. Positive thinking can go a long way in helping you when it’s grounded in truth. CBT can truly help people, but I believe it stops short. The goal of CBT is to reduce symptoms and distress to psychological disorders by teaching new information-processing skills and coping mechanisms. The goal I am speaking of is to change entire belief systems and at the core trust in the truth.
If you believe you can’t change, chances are pretty good you’re right. So killing this FBS is a great first step. If you’re thinking this from previous experience or the changes you need to make are overwhelming, find your team and slay this dragon.
That’s right! It’s not just for addicts! It’s for anyone who is stuck and can’t move forward in life.
Celebrate Recovery (CR) is a 12-Step recovery program designed to deal with any hurt, hang-up, or habit. That is almost unbelievable! How can one ‘program’ help deal with coping mechanisms, divorce issues, sexual issues, anxiety, depression, grief, fear, rejection, substance abuse, or any other hurt, hang-up, or habit? That’s right! It’s not just for addicts! It’s for anyone who is stuck and can’t move forward in life.
CR presents 25 lessons which are broken down into four sections; getting ready to write down your inventory, writing your inventory, dealing with your inventory, and continue to manage your inventory. The term inventory is simply a list of significant areas of your life including sins you’ve committed, sins committed against you, traumas, lies you’ve believed, attitudes you’ve experienced as well as blessings you have received and discovering your identity.
CR takes eight (8) lessons just to get us ready to write down and deal with our inventories!
We start by coming out of denial and recognizing ‘I have a problem.’
We realize that we have tried to control this problem and can’t. We need a power outside of ourselves to help us and that power is Jesus Christ.
We begin to hope again because we understand that we matter to Christ and He has the power to help us recover, which leads us back to truth.
We choose to turn our lives and our wills to Christ’s care and control. And we recognize that we must do something different than what we have been doing to get a different result.
We commit to complete honesty about our lives and we surround ourselves with others who have gone this road before.
This sets us up for success!
Now this is where the rubber meets the road and it starts spinning out, doing wheelies, and flipping over. This is where we tend to lose people. I’ve heard it countless times, “Why do I have to rehash all the crap in my life? Can’t I just move forward?” Yet, every recovery program has an inventory process so it must be important! So, the answer is, yes you can move forward but without healing from past wounds it’s like walking over broken glass with bare feet. You simply cannot heal until you deal with the past.
In CR, there are three inventory lessons in which we write down the good, the bad and the ugly. We write down people who have hurt us, people we have hurt, life’s significant events, deaths, and how we’ve responded to these traumas. We answer questions like who am I resentful of, jealous of, or am critical of? What makes me lose my temper or what do I worry over? Have I stolen from anyone or been dishonest? We write it all down. I suppose that’s the scary part as we see ourselves looking back at us from the paper. We begin to own our stories, so that our stories will no longer own us.
Writing down our inventories is not meant to shame us or make us proud. We simply write down the truth about our lives. We then take our inventories through God’s healing process to find freedom.
Dealing with our Inventories
Here is where the miracles happen! God’s healing process is simple, but it’s not simplistic. This is so difficult that we really can’t do it on our own. We need safe people to help us navigate the truth by helping us see when we are still believing lies. We need safe people to grieve with us in the losses of our life. We need safe people to be an example of how to walk the road to freedom. And, of course, we need the Holy Spirit to enable us to do these things. It’s not meant to be done alone.
We start by confessing our sins, our needs, and weaknesses. This is the first step of the healing process! It’s a guaranteed promise.
1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us from unrighteousness.”
We admit our wrongs to another person. This is such a necessary part of recovery because this is where we walk out of shame. I know it feels like we would be walking into shame, but that’s not the truth! We tell another person our sins and the world doesn’t end. In fact, most of the time, at CR you will hear ‘me too.’ You get to take your mask off here, you get to be the real you, and you are loved for who you really are. Your mask gets thrown away.
James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
We are ready to have God remove our character defects as we voluntarily submit to every change God wants to make in our life. (In religious terms that’s called repentance.)
Matthew 5:6 “Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires.”
We evaluate all our relationships. We offer forgiveness to those who have hurt us and make amends for the harm we’ve done to others when possible, except when to do so would harm them or others. This needs to be wisely done and having others help you navigate these relational issues is huge!
Luke 6: 31 “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
And there we have it! Boom-Sha-ka-la-ka!! Confession – Admitting – Repentance – Amends –Forgiveness. These steps break any bondage we are stuck in and put us back in right relationships with God and (as far as we can do) with others. At CR, we call it ‘cleaning up my side of the street.’
You see, these steps don’t really make sense. If I were to create steps, it would be all about gaining control of my own world or finding solutions to manage my own happiness. That makes sense to me. But God’s plan is possible for all to follow because He does the work. When we have done our part in following God and in restoring relationships, He breaks any bondage we are held to and we find freedom. It’s interesting to note, that even secular recovery programs use this as a basis because God’s principles always work even when you don’t give Him credit. It’s a spiritual law much like the law of gravity.
What this does not do is fix physical issues such as cancer or even depression, although many people have found relief from depression when they follow these steps. It does not control another person to act the way you want them to, although it can free you from their control. It doesn’t save you from the consequences of poor past decisions. And it does not make life easy…sorry, life is still life.
The last eight lessons of CR are how we continue to walk in the grace of God. We establish new habits of confession, admitting our struggles to safe people, repenting, making amends and offering forgiveness on a daily basis. We establish safeguards for relapses in our character, develop an attitude of gratitude, and learn to give away what we have received.
Celebrate Recovery works because at its core is the Gospel. We learn to recognize our part in all of life’s issues and we trust God’s plan of breaking the bondage through His provisions.
If you are in or near Moscow, Idaho I invite you to come any Friday night at 7:00 p.m. at Real Life, Moscow Campus. If you are outside of my area, then look up one of the 35,000 Celebrate Recovery groups world-wide here.
Recovery isn’t about ending a particular romantic relationship. It is about healing and growth in several areas of our life within relationship.
Love & relationship addiction is identified when a romantic relationship isn’t about love. It’s about fear of being alone or achieving validation because of a relationship, and it tolerates damaging behaviors without resolution. As a person addicted to romantic relationships, we may know the relationship is wrong, but we can’t walk away. The painful cycle includes attraction, bonding, rejection, panic, reconciliation, and the cycle starting over.
Patterns of addiction to “Love” are:
Love at first sight
Going quickly into the relationship without time to establish common values, goals, or to build trust
Neglecting ourselves or loved ones in order to be with this person
Feeling isolated and detached from family and friends
Feeling overwhelmed by daily living and see their only way to survive is to attach themselves to someone else
Mistake intensity for intimacy
Romanticizing about the object of affection
Attracted to needy people
Seek to avoid rejection and abandonment at all cost
Afraid to trust anyone in a relationship
Using others alters mood or relieves pain
Highly manipulative and controlling of others, self & circumstances
Desperation to have peace in a relationship is defined by a cycle of begging and pleading to win the favor of a partner regardless of previous mistreatment
Escalating tolerance for high-risk behavior
Partner comes back with demands that the addict changes, but is not looking for a healthy relationship
Cycle continues of the partner leaving and the addict panicking
The Cause of Addictive Relationships
The beginning of an addictive relationship often starts in childhood where relationships with parents were absent, abusive, or neglectful. We seek to heal what has been broken. As children our emotional needs were not met when we faced rejection and/or abandonment. We came to believe we were not worthy of love. The cycle continues as we seek validation from a person like the parent we were missing the affection from.
The Process of Recovery
Recovery from love and relationship addiction is possible. The first step is to admit our need for a healthy change. Here are some possible steps:
Recovery begins with admitting the relationship is addictive
It’s necessary to recognize and desire change in ourselves
Realize that obsession is not the same thing as love.
Using relationship to prove you have worthiness is a warning sign
Understand your emotional triggers. Being alone can trigger feelings of unworthiness.Believing that you are only worthy in a relationship can also be a trigger.
Connect your emotions to your childhood and recognize that your feelings and emotions are valid. Also realize that they are not an excuse to stay in a destructive cycle.
If you feel immediate bonding and a sense of complete dependence in a romantic relationship, pull back as this is a sign your relationship addiction has been triggered.
Get a support team to help you seek out healthy relationships. Possibly consider counseling to help heal childhood issues.
We start the process of recovery and working through the 12 steps to heal and start living the life God has planned for us. Recovery isn’t about ending a particular romantic relationship. It is about healing and growth in several areas of our life within relationship. The foundation is spiritual healing. Psalm 147:3 says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” It’s also about finding healing physically, socially, mentally, and emotionally. Romantic relationships have played a domineering and oppressive role in our life. The goal of recovery is about finding their healthy place in our lives and to build healthy relationships with God, self, and others.
Celebrate Recovery is a 12-Step Support Group designed to bring healing to all of our hurts, habits, and hangups, including Love and Relationship Addiction. It can be a great place to begin your recovery today!
Two people can have the exact same actions but for one it’s healthy and the other it’s codependent.
The problem of codependency is difficult to define because our actions often look like what we are taught to do as a “good Christian.” We always put others first and we sacrifice ourselves in the process of serving others. Many of our co-dependent actions have been our attempt of loving others. We don’t want to see others make poor choices, we want what is best for them, and we want to feel loved. These things are not wrong until we make unhealthy choices. The problem comes in the motivation behind our actions. We do not act independently for the welfare of others. Instead we act out of fear, guilt and/or manipulation to obtain a desired result or for the approval of others. In other words, two people can have the exact same actions but for one it’s healthy and the other it’s codependent. As co-dependents, we:
are unaware of and suppress our own emotions.
Have difficulty identifying and expressing what we are feeling
Appease or rescue in an attempt to avoid our own anger, or the anger of others
Worry about how others may respond to our feelings, opinions, and behavior
Minimize, alter or deny how we truly feel in an effort to protect ourselves from others’ disapproval.
Do not ask others to meet our needs or desires
Are very sensitive to how others are feeling and feel the same instead of having independent emotions.
Are afraid to express differing opinions or feelings
Value others’ opinions and feelings more than our own
are consumed by the emotional state of another.
Assume responsibility for others’ feelings and behaviors
Feel guilty about others’ feelings and behaviors
Have difficulty making decisions without approval
willingly go against our own convictions for fear of rejection or fear of another’s reaction.
Are afraid of being hurt and/or rejected by others
Feeling like we don’t have a choice in response to someone else’s choices
Feel a need to rescue others from their decisions
Willingly hide, lie, or remain silent to cover for someone else
do for others’ in hopes of approval, love, or control
we find ourselves resentful when we help others’
become angry when we don’t receive the approval we deserve
feel we don’t have choices and must do what others’ want us to do
try to control the actions of another through guilt and shame
The Process of Recovery
Many of our actions as codependents are similar on the outside to what the Bible teaches. It is good to help someone in need, to care for and have empathy with those who are hurting, and to put others’ needs ahead of our own. Many of us have good intentions and have a strong desire to follow and obey God. But codependency occurs when we want to please man rather than God.
Recovery begins by admitting our true emotions to God, to ourselves, and to someone we trust. We take ownership of our own feelings. We let others have their own emotions without feeling guilty, anxious, or responsible for how they feel. We learn to express our feelings and deal with others’ reactions in healthy ways. We learn to offer help without rescuing others. We change when:
We begin to act out of mercy and not from a need to be needed.
We act with intention serving others by choice because Christ has served us, not out of guilt or fear.
We seek to please God, not people.
Our value comes because we were made in God’s image, not from our work, service, or performance.
Serving others becomes a choice, not a reaction based on our emotions. Healthy Christian service comes out of joy, not guilt.
We make choices not allowing others to dictate our actions.
We learn how to have healthy boundaries with others and how to respect other people’s boundaries.
We learn to help others appropriately by allowing them to make independent choices rather than making them dependent on us.
We learn to live balanced lives by caring for ourselves as well as caring for others.
We are willing to begin the process of recovery and working through the 12 steps to heal and start living the life God has planned for us.
We will use the tools of recovery: calling our accountability partners, journaling and reading the Bible.
As we begin this process of recovery, it often feels like we are not loving others. But as we learn that God has given us the freedom to act and love Him independently without compulsion, we learn to love others independently. We also allow others to love us independently and without compulsion.
I wondered why I was having such a difficult time believing I couldn’t do this.
Once again, I was sitting at a computer trying to figure out how to get a video to play from the internet, through a projector and onto the screen. Seemed to me that this should be a simple task. But I’ve struggled with this more than once. And, if I’m going to be honest, I’ve probably struggled with it a dozen times.
So, I contacted our amazing, can-do-anything-on-a-computer tech guy with, “I realize I’ve probably asked you this before, and I think I know the answer, I’m just having a hard time believing the answer. Is there no possible way to play a video from the internet, through our program, onto the screen in the multi-purpose room?” His answer was “nope.”
I sat there for a few minutes trying to wrap my mind around his answer. Really? In the 21st century, when computers can do ANYTHING, I can’t do this? I wondered why I was having such a difficult time believing I couldn’t do this.
And then it dawned on me. I’m having a hard time accepting “nope” because I don’t want to believe it. I WANT to play this video for an audience on a particular night. I want this computer, this little intangible, life-sucking thing, to do what I want it to do.
And then all the connections started to make sense. This is why someone has a hard time believing how their spouse’s brooding, cold-shoulder is devastating their family. This is why a person may have a hard time owning their resentment and hatred for their spouse. This is why a parent can’t wrap their minds around the fact that their teenaged child is making (poor) decisions on their own and they can’t control them anymore. And this is why an adult child can’t stop trying to please a destructive parent. There are reasons we hold on to what we hold on to. If we believed it, we’d have to stop trying to make something happen. We would need to stop trying to suck love out of someone who can’t give it. And it hurts to let go of what we want.
In letting go of my little computer struggle I found freedom. Freedom to not try to come up with ways to get it done and freedom to find alternative solutions. I can’t make the computer do what it’s not capable of doing. When I was able to accept the reality of my situation, I was able to stop spinning in circles and move forward.
Do you find yourself thinking, “I should exercise more”, feel the pressure from a friend to eat better, or recognize how a habit is hurting your life? Do you feel guilt knowing your harsh temper or controlling cold-shoulder are wrong? You might want to be different, but the motivations of ‘should’, ‘pressure’, or guilt will not usually see you through to lasting change.
Many of the people I work with want to make changes in their life but they are stuck. According to statisticbrain.com, only 9.2% of people who set New Year’s resolutions believe they are successful in reaching their goals. Here are three things that can help you be a part of the 9.2%.
Find the Right Motivation
Move toward something you desire, rather than away from something that you don’t want. Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) said it this way, “The only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one.” In other words, in order for change to be possible, a deeper ‘want’ must be found.
Being thin or achieving athletic ability have never been motivators for me to exercise. I look at others who are in shape and I want that…but apparently not enough. The truth is I love to sit more than I want to be thin or in shape. It’s not that I’m lazy as I can find all sorts of things to keep myself working hard right there in a chair. But I do love comfort. So, in order to get in shape, I had to find a different motivator. For me, I want health more than I want comfort. I want to be walking on my own in my 80’s. I want to live life cancer-free and exercise increases that likelihood greatly. I want to keep my mind and think clearly as long as I live. These are the things I think about in the morning when I’m super comfy on my couch with a good book and a cup of coffee in my hand.
This works with less tangible concepts as well. When dealing with anxiety, stress, and control I felt there was no way I could let go of those things. So, instead of letting go, I moved toward living in rest. As daily anxiety grew, my thoughts moved toward finding peace.
Learn to Foster Desire
Sometimes you can foster a desire because you know you ‘should’. But here’s the rub…you might want to want something, but the reality is you don’t want it bad enough…yet. In order to foster the desire, you can read articles, talk with people, find stats, or place pictures of your desired change all around your house.
I have done several things in my attempt to foster a desire to live healthy. I watched a fifteen-hour video on living healthy. I periodically scan the internet to find answers to my questions. I hang out at the local health food store. And when I need an extra boost, I call my sister who is always an encouragement to me in healthy living.
The number one reason people fail in making life-long changes is making the goals too big to start off with. Big goals are great, but they must be tempered with baby steps along the way. For instance, when you start off exercising by going to the gym an hour a day, chances are it will last only 3-4 days. That might be what you eventually want to do in your life, it’s just not the starting point. Rather, start with a minimum goal that you know you can attain…say 5 minutes a day. If after you have attained the minimum and you want to exercise longer, you have that option. But you can be considered a success when you have done the minimum.
My motto is ‘No Goal Too Small’. When I started to practice living in rest, I started with doing certain activities like shopping and cleaning with an attitude of peace and joy. Instead of reacting, I began to determine my emotional state of being. As I gained success at bringing peace into these activities, I began to understand what peace felt like and was then able to pull it into other areas in my life.
Have a Role Model
Who is excellent in the area you want to grow? Having a role model is very helpful when you get in a tough situation. Thinking to yourself, ‘What would Jane do in this situation’, can be quite helpful. It can even be a fictional character, but if you know them it’s a great opportunity to ask them for help.
Discovering the desire that actually motivates you, taking baby steps and having a vision of where how you want to be are fundamental in achieving life-long change. What changes do you wantin your life? What is one baby step you can take toward that change? Who can you look to as a role model?
Let’s consider the harm it causes to the one who sits passively, yet actively watches.
A beautiful young lady sat crying in my office one day, because after two years of marriage she had only been intimate with her husband twice. He only wanted to be intimate with himself. It took too much effort for him to engage with a real person. She didn’t know what to do.
As a Christian counselor, I see the impact of pornography on marriage, on self-image, and on child safety. It is also a contributing factor in depression. Although I am writing from a Christian worldview, this will not be an article against porn based strictly on moral issues. Instead, I want to discuss the effects that I have seen porn have on the viewer.
I’ve heard the argument more than once, “What harm does it do? I’m sitting by myself with my computer and not hurting anyone.” But to the degree that pornography has hold of the heart, will be the degree that it damages the heart. Let’s consider the harm it causes to the one who sits passively, yet actively watches.
It’s All About Me
Relationships are hard work and requires patience, understanding, forgiveness, vulnerability, honesty, commitment, and sacrifice. Sexuality was designed to be borne out of relationship. It was designed for more than just procreation or simply reaching an orgasm. It was designed for mutual enjoyment through the giving and receiving of self; not simply just a taking. The viewer participates, but they participate passively and it doesn’t require a giving of self. It leaves the viewer stunted emotionally and socially, believing that sexuality is ‘all about me’.
Rewards without Earning
When you haven’t done the relational hard work, but receive the reward, it shapes a person to be without the understanding of the value of the reward. It’s like a person who wins the lottery and receives millions of dollars without any work behind it. They can easily become spoiled and arrogant. I’ve heard it said that most people who win the lottery are ruined by the winnings because it creates an opportunity to be consumed by their addictions, they try to buy friendships with wealth, and they become lost in the comforts of life. Even a person of wealth must have purpose and work to give them understanding of the value of the gift they have received. Sexuality without relationship leaves the participant insecure and lonely, believing they deserve the reward without earning it.
Living in an Emotional Lie
Part of the emotional draw of porn is that it makes the viewer feel wanted. You can actually be a jerk, thinking only of yourself, and still be wanted. Or you can be a power-hungry abuser, and still be wanted. Or you can be a nice person and do good to the poor and less fortunate, but risk zero vulnerability, tenderness, or compassion in real relationship, and you can still be wanted. The problem with this is that when you return to reality, relationship requires vulnerability, tenderness, and compassion. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be wanted. But when that desire is satisfied through a fantasy or lie, the person is trying to find fulfillment in their own way and on their own terms. Filling the desire of being wanted with a fantasy is like trying to fill a hole with air.
Emotions are a powerful thing. People act and react from an emotional place regardless of what they think is true. It’s simply what we do. People are meant for relationship but porn leaves the viewer, who has a need for deep human emotional relationship, in an emotional vacuum while believing they have been fulfilled.
The Hero Without Ever Getting Out of the Chair
Herein lies a problem with both porn and many video games; the viewer gets to be the hero without ever getting out of their chair. The story revolves around them. Imagination is compelling and is a part of being made in the image of God. Imagination done well should reflect His character of creating, building, and caring for the land. But, imagination done badly puts self as the central figure of the story, making the world revolve around them. Unfortunately, when heroism is mainly in the imagination, it leaves the story-teller believing that heroism involves no risk.
Muddled Masculinity and Femininity
Porn feeds the lie that ‘masculinity’ is found in self-fulfillment, pleasure, and sexual conquest. It also feeds the lie that ‘femininity’ is found only in sexuality. When God established ‘manhood’ he gave both man and woman the task of being fruitful and multiplying. They were to work the garden, name the animals, and care for the land. Masculinity was established when his dominion thrived to become everything it was meant to be. Femininity was established as she helped in the work. When manhood is grabbed after at the expense of the dominion, when it rapes and pillages the land for self-gratification, it establishes a dominion in direct opposition to what we have been created for. Porn’s affect on woman is it abandons her true value to nothing more than her sexuality. Porn’s affect on man is it abandons masculinity while believing he has played The Man.
Dehumanizes the Heart
When a person uses another person for their own pleasure, purposes, or gain, they become an object for self-gratification. As time goes on the only way to continue in this is to think of them as less than human…without their own desires, pleasures, or pain. This is how Nazi Germany was possible. This is how any slavery is possible. And this is how pornography is possible. The person’s heart that repeatedly dehumanizes another person for self-gratification increasingly becomes hardened to the well-being of others. It leaves the one who uses people believing that others should serve their pleasures.
Porn is highly addictive but not because of a desire for sexuality. It is addictive because it puts the viewer in control, powerful, and on the throne to be worshipped. It’s an addiction of self-centeredness. The centrality of self (self-image) can then affect every relationship they have; spouses, children, workmates, friends, and drives a grandiose view of themselves. This addiction can also be a driver for depression when the world doesn’t actually consent to the viewer’s inflated self-image. But here’s the kicker, it leaves the addicted one unable to believe their own lie of an inflated self-image, because they actually know who they are.
The Way Out
What harm does porn do? It does great harm to the one who views it, as it wraps a web around the heart in a false world, with false emotions, creating a false understanding of self, and sets up a false god.
The way out is not easy and requires risk, commitment, and sacrifice. To break free other people must know and hold the struggler accountable. Safeguards must be created to eliminate temptations, even if it’s inconvenient. Sites like this one can help https://www.xxxchurch.com. These are often necessary steps to take. But, a person cannot break the bondage of this addiction simply by admitting they have a problem, confess when they have slipped again, and try harder in self-reliance to control the deed of participating through fantasy. The way out begins with confession of self-centeredness, using others for gain, and the desire to be the center of the universe. Then turn to head into real and vulnerable relationships, where risk is taken and the possibility for rejection is real. Freedom is found in learning to honor and respect others in all relationships. It is found in bringing the true self to relationships, offering real sacrifices, and giving to others. But, not giving in codependent ways, looking for a payback, because this again is looking for a benefit for self. Rather, giving to others what they need without recognition. This is called love and love never fails. The results are real relationships, real emotions, and a real understanding of self and the world around you.
Repentance of the evil and forgiving them does not necessitate the removal of consequences.
Have you ever been in a relationship with someone that you could not get through to? They just don’t seem to have understand? You try. You explain. You think this is really simple. You try again. They’re actions are hurting themselves and others. You just want what is good for them, but they won’t stop. You try again. Unfortunately, they want what they want when they want it and nothing will stop them from getting what they want. This is called addiction and it always leads to some form of abuse of themselves and others. They will stop at no lengths and destroy wealth, health and relationships. In essence, evil is winning the day. This could be a relationship of a parent with an addicted child who steals from them, a wife with an abusive husband who hurts her, or even a business partner who sues. Anytime there is a relationship that you truly care for and you don’t want to have simply end there is a tendency to beg and plead in order to make change happen.
In response to these situations some have pointed to Matt. 5:39 as a means of dealing with such evil, which reads, “But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” They state this with the idea that there is nothing we can do but sit and take it. But, are we to just let evil flourish and do nothing? Are there no other options but to be beat up? How is that helpful to anyone involved? As with all Scripture, there can be a variety of applications and we need to look for wisdom so that we don’t apply a single scripture to all situations.
The law in most Eastern cultures at the time was an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Jesus is saying here, “don’t stoop down to their level by doing evil back to them. The law will take care of that. You do good back to them.” It’s important to note that there is a distinction between the government, the church, and the individual. In this context Jesus is speaking to individuals. The government can and should execute just punishment, so that individuals are free to forgive and not execute punishment themselves. The Bible speaks a lot about loving our enemies and doing good to them expecting nothing in return (Luke 6:35). It also talks about resisting the devil so that he flees (James 4:7) and standing firm by taking up the armor of God (Eph. 6). In not resisting evil, it’s not that we don’t do anything. By faith, we war with weapons that are unseen. 1 Peter 3 says, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”
The first step in this spiritual war is to not enter into evil myself by acting like my enemy. This means that we don’t retaliate, yell back, or coerce. You already know that when you fight back or defend yourself you don’t get your desired response. They are better at evil and will usually win anyway. Two people doing the wrong thing doesn’t make a bad situation better. In my experience, this is one of the hardest things I have ever done. This takes every bit of trusting in the Lord and spiritual fortitude I can muster. And I haven’t always done this well. To not enter into evil by repaying evil is a great spiritual battle, especially in smaller matters where the law doesn’t preside. So then the question becomes, what does it mean to do good back to them?
The second step is to bless. Sometimes blessing someone is to overlook an offense (1 Cor. 13, Prov. 19:11). Sometimes it is not participating, but exposing evil (Eph. 5:11). It’s also allowing the consequences to happen (2 Thess. 3:10), letting the authorities execute judgment (Rom. 13:1-4). This can come even after tears and talk of sorrow, especially if there is a repetitive nature to the offense. Repentance of the evil and forgiving them does not necessitate the removal of consequences. In fact, consequences can play an important part of the repentance. It can actually help the offender, as he willingly accepts the consequences of his actions, to not ever want to participate in the evil ever again! These things take wisdom and discernment. You can resist evil with hatred in your heart and become just like them (Matt. 5:39). Or you can overcome evil with goodwill in your heart toward them by allowing them to bear the natural consequences of their actions. This is what is good for them as well as everyone else (Eph. 5:11, 1 Peter 3:17). There are a variety of responses we can have, including we simply don’t participate in what they are doing, leave the room or home, cut up bank cards, widen the circle of those who know about what is really going on, break relationship with them, call the police, or press charges.
I submit that allowing a person to bear the consequences of their actions can be doing good for them. Matt. 5:39 has more to do with heart intent than a specific action. As Leslie Vernick says, “we are never called to suffer to allow evil to flourish. We are sometimes called to suffer in order to stop evil (1 Peter 3:17).” It is in these times that we don’t want to act like the evildoer by returning evil. We are called to bless them and that can happen through a variety of options.