Stuck! For years, I felt that the Joyous Family was stuck. Just stuck in the same rotating issues over and over again. Crisis after crisis just kept banging on our door. Why, even after sobriety, did family life still feel, well, yucky? What keeps codependent families stuck?
Then I walked into a Christian seminar by Jeff VanVonderen call Wounded by Shame, Healed by Grace.
If you watch just a few of these videos, you will see something eye-opening. In the podcast this week we share how VanVonderen’s work affected the Joyous Family.
As VanVonderen says, “we all have needs; it is the human condition to crave love, significance, and security.” There is nothing wrong with that. The problem comes when we try to meet those needs in unhealthy ways.
The first concept I took to heart from this seminar and subsequent therapy was equity rescuing.
Equity Rescuing in Codependent Family Relationships
This is the equivalent of rearranging chairs on a sinking ship. After you invest time and energy into a something, a relationship, a project or a community, it becomes harder and harder to see if the investment is fruitful.
Choosing to date someone is an investment. If, (after a couple of years into the relationship) you really don’t have the same interest, dreams or desires, you may still have difficulty letting the relationship go. Why?
Equity! What do you tell yourself about the time and energy you have already spent on the person? So you press on, investing more time, energy and resources. Will it change the relationship? Or, will you just not feel as much loss? Or will you feel more loss?
Are you trying to save something that does not really exist? That is what my therapist said to me.
“Tanya, you are trying to save this picture of a happy family that does not really exist.”
I made marriage and family the center of my existence. By grit and muscle, I was going to make this family work. A wholesome marriage and family that nurtured my growing children became my idol.
I worshipped at the feet of a loving storybook marriage and happy family. I wanted that for myself and my children more than anything else.
There is nothing wrong with wanting a whole, happy, loving family. The problem comes when you are bent on making this happen no matter what the cost. Playing pretend in public is exhausting.
Even more exhausting is trying to make dinners, outings and holidays into a something from a magazine, when the reality is chaos.
My therapist finally convinced me to take off my rescue goggles and look at what really was happening. Only by seeing the truth of the problem could I begin to figure out what to do about it.
Unhelpful Help in Codependent Families
Boy, this one gets me every time. The basic definition is doing something for someone that they could or should do for themselves. Often this ends with me forcing my help or solution on someone when they did not want or need help.
This can get really tangled up with the codependent “need” to feel needed and in control of a situation.
In the podcast, we talk about a specific phone case scenario where my “help” cost me money.
Unhelpful help is just that “something” that I want to do that puts me in control. Often the person being helped has a better solution.
Before you help check these three things:
1) Can the person do this for themselves?
2) Are you trying to control the situation by helping?
3) Is this your responsibility or are you keeping someone from taking responsibility for their actions?
Idolatrous Relationships in Codependent Families
An idolatrous relationship accepts the belief that the well being of one person is dependent on the performance of another person.
God tells us very plainly not to put any relationship before Him. Pinning all your hopes and dreams on one person fulfilling you will lead to disappointment. Conversely, making it your job to fulfill another person is an empty occupation.
Basing our self worth on outside appearance of our family, our spouse or our children is bound to fail. At some point, a member of the family will have a crisis and our “perfect” image will fall. What then?
Or, what if we can’t fix the addict in our lives. What if that broken relationship is not something we can transform? Are we then doomed to be a failure?
Making our role in the family to be “a fixer”, “a saver”, or “a controller” leaves little room for God. In fact, with all our efforts to “help” we have become God. The relationship is the “altar” where we worship our own powers to make things right or our own strength to save another human.
This performance-based behavior never fills up either person on the inside. The outside only looks full while the real vulnerabilities and connections are avoided.
What Gets a Family Unstuck from Unhealthy Codependent Actions
If you recognize yourself in any of these actions, there is great hope! In the podcast this week we scratch the surface on how to change this behavior.
All this work is based on family systems therapy and how a family functions by Jeff VanVonderen. Jerry and I are going to talk more about how this applied in our family in the future Sober on Purpose episodes. In the meantime here is a link to the first 4 conversations on shame-based family systems by Jeff VanVonderen.