Category Archives: wounds

Are You Self-Destructing?

Self-Destructing

There is nothing more painful for me as a counselor than to watch someone self-destruct. When a threat comes from the outside it is possible to help the client evaluate  and set boundaries with the source of their distress. But when the client’s own behavior is the cause of their pain, it is often hard to get them to place boundaries on themselves.

Of course we know that breaking denial is the first step, and from a distance it is usually relatively easy to see. But even when we are not in denial of our issue, the motivation to address it may be very low because of fear. What is that fear? It’s always about some kind of loss – and loss means grief.

I have a lot of compassion for people who are wrestling with the possibility that they are their own worst enemy. I have been there – more than once, and it hurts.

When it comes to addictions, the fear can be the loss of our life coping mechanisms. It could be drugs, alcohol, shopping, pornography, relationships, etc. Or it could be the loss of a dream that we hold onto, when it is unrealistic or not achievable without huge and unreasonable sacrifices.

I have seen women addicted to exercise and diet to the extent that they put their very life in danger. Why? They are believing that a “perfect” body will attract a “perfect” relationship.

I have seen men destroy relationships of all sorts in pursuit of a career that leaves them empty and unsatisfied. Why? They believe women are only interested in a big paycheck or powerful, successful men.

Very early on in our marriage I held some of those same beliefs with regard to my career choice as a musician. There is nothing inherently bad about that choice for a person. But the instability, temptations and unpredictability were more than I was able to manage. But it was a dream from my early years. If I had been selfishly persistent I probably would have self-destructed. For sure it put my marriage at great risk.

What can we do?

The Bible tells us to count the cost. (Luke 14:28 & Proverbs 20:25) In doing so, we may find that the trade-offs of denial and living a fantasy are just not worth it. Part of this may be that we don’t trust God to see us through to a better future. Instead we take control with a self-destructive trajectory. We may need help to gain clarity and perspective. That takes courage. It means being willing to hear what we need to hear, and not just what we want to hear, knowing that this is the kindest action we can take with ourselves.

Proverbs 14:12 (NLT)
“There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.”

Mark 8:36 (NLT)
“And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?”

This is not about losing our salvation, but about leading a soulless life in the present. We were made for joy and freedom and deep connection. But we must be careful where we believe that deep connection resides. We must choose well in our faith, our relationships, who we trust, and what we pursue.

What About Bob? (Neediness)

One of the sadder situations we run into in our counseling practice is when we have a very emotionally needy person. In relationships, this can be one of the greatest liabilities because it often achieves just the opposite of what the person desires. The more the needy person pursues, the farther the pursued person distances from them.

Why is this?

I would define it as a control struggle. The pursued person often doesn’t feel loved, but rather they feel controlled or used. They become the object of stability for the other person, but that requires that they surrender their independence to a greater extent than they would like. They will likely become resentful and lose respect for the pursuer.

Where it gets really ugly is when the person being chased turns on the needy person and expresses hostility and disgust. This rejection fuels further control efforts, and the needy person can become even more self-defeating with intensified behaviors. Check out a perfect example:

Yes, it’s a comedy and extreme, but you can probably feel the tension in the exchange.

The reasons for this neediness probably stem from family of origin or early childhood attachment issues. These early unmet needs are never satisfied easily, and a part of the person remains emotionally immature. The internal craving for love and attention is similar to what an addict feels for his/her drug of choice.

What is the solution here?

The most helpful action is joining a codependency support group like the CODA class at our church or an Al-Anon group. Exploring the causes and grieving the associated losses will do much to bring comfort and understanding. Also, taking your dependency to God instead of your partner, as hard as that may feel at the time, will help you to not push them away and sabotage the relationship.

What if you are the one being pursued? It is not good to give in to the intense demands of the pursuer, but you can remain kind and offer reassurance. Instead of running away from them you can remain calm and set and keep reasonable boundaries. You also might ask yourself why you attract needy people. It is possible that you also have family of origin issues that could benefit by joining a codependency group.

Personal or couples counseling is also very helpful to deal with this relationship dynamic. The counselor can assist with the setting and keeping of boundaries as well as regulating the emotional exchanges.

Do you see yourself in either of these roles at times? It is always better to deal with it sooner than later. It will prevent you from experiencing unnecessary pain.

 

Saying “I Do or I Don’t”

 
 
It is always an anxious moment for a pre-married or pre-engaged client when they ask us this age-old question:
 
“Should I ask her to marry me?”
 
I almost never answer this question directly. I don’t believe I should be given this much power in someone else’s life. But what I do is try to lead them through some questions that might help them make a good decision. If we are seeing a couple that is undecided, we often ask them to do a homework assignment from a workbook that guides them through this process. We ask them to take a personal retreat and seek God for an answer.
 
Confusion over this decision may come when boundaries have been crossed. A relationship may have become too intimate too quickly – especially when sexual boundaries have been discarded. We may feel very close, allowing our heart to rule over our head. Feeling close is not the same as being well-matched. It’s especially easy to ignore important signs when a relationship is relatively new and in the infatuation stage (less than six months or so).
 
This heart over head, or head over heart question is extremely important to the longevity of a relationship. If out of balance you may be opening up your life to either chaos or coldness, which might not be sustainable. 
 
Ask yourself these questions:  
 
  • Will he/she make a good parent?
  • Can I trust this person completely?
  • Will I fit into his/her family system?
  • Do we have common goals?
  • Is there any hint of abusiveness, physical or emotional?
  • Is he/she emotionally mature?
  • Are there any addictions that are not healed (drugs, alcohol, spending, sex)?
  • Are there any character issues that worry me (lying, angry, irresponsible, needy)?
  • Will we be partners, both carrying the weight of the relationship or will one person function more like a dependent child?
  • Do we resolve conflict effectively?
  • Do we apologize and forgive easily?
  • Is he/she possessive, jealous, manipulative or controlling?
  • Do I feel safe with this person? 
Intense feelings of love are not sufficient to sustain a lifetime marriage. The right questions have more to do with direction, purpose, respect, integrity and commitment. Those are questions that have to be answered with courage and rigorous honesty.  
 
A good goodbye is so much better than a painful life.   
 
If you are married, and struggling with some of these issues, take heart. There is always an opportunity to heal old wounds, build some relationship skills, and change some bad habits. Those things also take courage, honesty and just plain hard work. You may have to lead the process in your relationship. Start with prayer, surrender your heart, and get good counsel.