Recovery programs hire many program graduates and others who have overcome addictions or have grown up in troubled families. They can be excellent examples for mission clients and usually have special compassion and understanding for those who are still hurting. On the other hand, some are hindered in their efforts to minister to others because of their own codependency.
Here are a few common symptoms experienced by these “wounded warriors”:
A. Inability to detach.
Staff members who lack personal acceptance and a good self concept tend to look to their clients for affirmation and a sense of worth. They take their work home with them and tend to feel terribly guilty and personally responsible when a client leaves the mission and messes up his or her life.
B. Caretaking & Enabling.
They do not allow their clients to become responsible for their own actions and attitudes. Instead, they cover up for them, make excuses, and blameshift. By doing this, they become “enablers”, allowing people then to stay in their sins, addictions, and other problems.
C. People pleasing.
Staff members who struggle with codependency tend to be very non-assertive. Because they need the affirmation of others, even clients, they simply cannot say “no.” Without a good a sense of personal boundaries, they sometimes don’t even understand when “no” is the most appropriate response.
D. Control freaks.
Codependent Christian workers can be spiritually legalistic, controlling others by shaming and laying guilt trips on them. Since they believe their personal worth is dependent upon their performance, they never feel what they do is good enough. This perfectionism can cause them to be domineering, driving others with their own unrealistic expectations.
E. Out of touch with their own emotions.
For the sake of their own sanity and survival, people in dysfunctional families shut down emotionally. They are not allowed to feel and learn to view their feelings as useless, worthless, and unimportant. Since they aren’t in touch with their own feelings, they cannot truly empathize with the feelings of others either.
In addiction, lying is a way of life – looking good on the outside no matter how things are in the inside. It’s the same for people in troubled families. Their fear of being rejected for their neediness causes them to become liars and fakes and phonies, and unreal people.
E. Lack of intimate friendships.
One of the deepest wounds of toxic shame (inner self-rejection) is the inability to develop intimate relationships. People who are shame based feel disconnected from all of humanity. They might have a lot of acquaintances, but few close friends. No one shares their pain, not even spouses.
F. Justifying, rationalizing & “spiritualizing” their own pain & unhealthy behavior.
A lack of serenity is the tip-off that one’s life is not what God wants it to be. Yet, too many people who are stuck in this mode of feeling bad all the time, either do not recognize their need for help or refuse to do anything about it. Instead of taking steps to change, codependent Christian workers often blame others and make excuses, even with spiritual overtures. ”
G. Burn-out” & Physical Problems
With all these unresolved issues in their lives, people with problems tend to be very exhausted and tired. I believe codependency is a very common cause of ministry burn-out. It can be manifested in frequent absenteeism and health problems.
The Steps Out of Codependency
1. “It’s OK” – Help them to understand codependency and recognize that they are not alone. Others have experienced similar struggles. Remind them that they will be supported in their efforts to get help.
2. Honesty – Help them to stop “blame-shifting” and accept responsibility for their own issues by taking the steps they need to take in order to overcome these difficulties.
3. Education – They need to read some books on the topics of shame, codependency, and adult children of alcoholics, etc..
4. Consider Professional Counseling – The best approach is to ask around to find a counselor has been of real help to others.
5. Become Involved in Support Groups – Much insight and encouragement can be gained by spending time in groups where people who struggle with similar issues share their experience, strength, and hope.
Some resources worth getting:
Tired of Trying to Measure Up by Jeff VanVonderan
Released from Shame by Dr. Sandra Wilson October 1997