Cults & Codependency
I've been in therapy for about eight years, seeking healing from my traumatic past inside a fundamentalist cult. Some years I went every week. Other years I went once a month. Therapy has helped me identify the source of my pain. But therapy alone could not heal me. I had to heal myself and start taking care of myself. May I just say? TAKING CARE OF MYSELF IS THE HARDEST THING I'VE EVER DONE. Yes, I'm serious. I would rather take care of everyone else. I would rather meet needs than have my needs met.
I burned out for Jesus. I burned out for the sake of motherhood. I burned out because that's what good Christian mothers did.
About a year ago I started making a conscious effort to take intentional care of my physical health. I started exercising and eating right. That one decision to take care of myself has led to domino-effect of prioritizing my well-being.
A couple of months ago, I read Take Back Your Life: recovering from cults and abusive relationships. And then I read Codependent No More: how to stop controlling others and start caring for yourself.
It's taken me awhile to figure out this whole codependent thing. I've culled several lists of codependent characteristics (from the book and other codependent literature) and am sharing the the ones I found most helpful for those of us recovering from abusive church situations:
- I have difficulty identifying what I'm feeling
- I minimize, alter or deny how I truly feel
- I perceive myself as completely unselfish and dedicated tot he well-being of others
Low Self Esteem Patterns:
- I have difficulty making decisions
- I seek prior approval before making any decisions
- I judge everything I think, say or do harshly as never "good enough"
- I am embarrassed to receive recognition, praise and gifts
- I do not ask others to meet my needs or desires
- I do not perceive myself as a lovable or worthwhile person
- I compromise my own values and integrity to avoid rejection or others' anger
- I am very sensitive to how others are feeling and feel the same
- I am extremely loyal, remaining harmful situations too long
- I accept sex when I want love
- I don't feel happy, content or peaceful with myself
- I look for happiness outside myself
- I latch onto whoever or whatever I think can provide happiness
- I feel terribly threatened by the loss of anything or person who provides my happiness
- I don't feel love and approval from my parents
- I don't love myself
- I often seek love from people incapable of loving
- I equate love with pain
- I look to relationships to provide all my good feelings
- I tolerate abuse to keep people loving me
- I worry if other people will leave me
- I leave bad relationships and form new ones that don't work either
- I don't believe I can take care of myself
- speak indirectly, ask for what I want and need indirectly (ie. through sighing)
- eliminate the word "no" from my vocabulary
- gauge my words carefully to achieve a desired effect
- try to say what I think will please other people
- try to say what I think will provoke other people
- say everything is my fault
- say nothing is my fault
- have a difficult time expressing my emotions honestly, openly and appropriately
- apologize, apologize, apologize
As I've read these books and prioritized my own recovery, I have begun to see how dangerous it is to believe I can take care of anyone but myself. I have spent so many years trying to rescue, fix and resolve everyone else's problems. I have thought that if I'm just kinder, skinnier, sexier, prettier, smarter, more efficient, more organized, more organic then I will be able to Solve All The Problems.
Instead, I have simply worn myself out.
This book writing process has brought me to a beautiful rock bottom. During two different conversations with my agent and my editor, they both spoke truths to me that made me suddenly realize what I've been doing. They said: There is no rush. There is no pressure. You ARE good enough. We love you. You are making it harder for yourself by believing lies about yourself. You are always waiting for the axe to fall. There is no axe. Your defenses are up so high you are blocking the love from entering.
My codependency is based on one lie I've believed about myself: that I am not good enough. That I don't deserve love. That I am unworthy of love. That nobody can or will love me unless I'm performing/doing something to meet their needs.
But I am finally learning that God truly loves me and it's OK for me to take care of myself. It's such an uncomfortable journey and I'm making all kinds of mistakes. I'm comforted by the reminder that prioritizing exercise helped my physical health. I want to extend that same priority to healing my relationships with myself and others.
People will ultimately do what they want to do...They will change only when they are ready to change. We cannot change people. Any attempts to control them are a delusion. The only person you can now or ever change is yourself. The only person it is your business to control is yourself. Detach. Surrender. Sometimes when we do that the result we have been waiting for and hoping for happens quickly...sometimes it never happens. But you will benefit. You don't have to stop caring or loving. You don't have to tolerate abuse....you only need put your emotional, mental, spiritual and physical hand back in your own pockets and leave things and people alone. Let them be. Make decisions you need to make to take care of yourself, but don't make them to control other people. Start taking care of yourself! --Melody Beattie, "Codependent No More." pg.79-80