The codependent question many of us ask ourselves really gets in the way of authenticity. I see this in prayer ministry quite often. Even more often I hear Christian women of my acquaintance say “I shouldn’t feel that way.” The question, “How should I feel?” often precedes the putting on of a socially acceptable mask. This question is problematic because it assumes the sacrifice of my emotions on the altar of the emotions of others.
This question, if asked of oneself often, leads to the denial of one’s authentic self while elevating the very same in others. Couched in Christianese, I hear the justifications flow. If we as Christian women deny how we feel, then we are putting others first, having a “heart” for others, and valuing relationship. In truth, we are doing just the opposite. We are denying others a view of our true selves, hiding our true hearts, and valuing safety over relationship.
The problem with this position is that churches have a vested interest in perpetuating this. We praise women for ‘denying their flesh’ when they perform the services for the church out of obligation rather than calling. Churches run on the need for approval of women who control their feelings and work themselves to the bone, while simultaneously judging them for being Martha’s instead of super spiritual Mary’s. Still, nursery needs tending and bathrooms need cleaning. Truth be told, the mixed message resounds: The church needs Martha’s but at least look like a Mary.
My heart breaks over this issue because so many women hide their emotions, stuff them down deep until they leak out. Illness, both physical and mental is the result of shouldering the emotional burdens we were never meant to carry. Anger stuffed turns to resentment which settles like sediment into depression and anxiety in those codependent strongholds in the mind.
So here are the top reasons to stop asking this codependent question forever:
This codependent question precedes self-deception.
We, as Christian women, need to ask ourselves how we actually feel. Emotions may not tell us the truth about a situation. However, I guarantee that we will not find the truth without listening to what they are telling us. If I am angry at person or situation, chances are I have reason to be. After all, Jesus got justifiably angry at innumerable people. He didn’t ask Himself how he should feel before He unleashed at the self-righteous Pharisees. Diplomacy is great, but love and honesty are inseparable.
The codependent question is shaming.
Anytime we insert the word ‘should’ into a conversation with ourselves, chances are that the categorizing of our failures is soon to follow. Too often the question of how should I feel is accompanied by a list of all the ‘good emotions’. Emotion is not good or bad. Our reactions to it are where the moral decisions lie. If all we are allowed to feel is a short list of “Christian emotions”, whatever that means, then we are doomed to failure and self-condemnation. We can control our tongues, our actions, and our thoughts but emotions just happen.
A codependent question prevents intimate relationship.
The goal of the Christian life is to pursue intimacy with Christ first, and then with others. If the only emotions we are allowed to feel are ones that make others comfortable, then we have to hide who we really are. If I lie to you about how I really feel, then I am not allowing you behind my carefully constructed mask. Jesus said to let our no’s be no and our yeses be yes. Christian women often do not allow themselves to say no. If you have read this and are coming up with scenarios in which you have to protect people from your feelings, keep reading.
This codependent question sets us up as saviors.
“How should I feel?” can be rephrased as “What emotions do I need to simulate in order to protect others from the truth that might hurt their feelings.” Codependent women are often so afraid of their own emotions that they protect others from experiencing the consequences of their actions. I hesitate to say this but such protection is idolatrous. I hesitate because I don’t want to shame anyone but I say it because I know how much freedom lies on the other side of truth. If I attempt to protect you from your own feelings, I have set myself up as God. It is up to me to decide the dissemination of truth.
To ask this codependent question is to love approval.
I long for approval and most people I know feel the same. In fact, if you want to be popular, approve of everyone around you and they will approve of you right back. And as you begin granting unwarranted praise, you will blur your moral and personal boundaries; You may end up supporting people right into the arms of the devil. Want to divorce yourself from the fear of man? If I had a step by step process, I would tell you. Treat it like the deadly addiction it is. Confess it and recognize that only God has the cure.
Codependency is a destroyer of love.
First, if we hide our hearts from ourselves, others, and God, they grow cold and judgmental of those who make themselves vulnerable. After all, we are following the rules, keeping everything looking tidy. Why can’t everyone else? If we hide our hearts from others, we prevent them from loving us. If my husband repeatedly behaves in a way that hurts me, he needs to know about it. If I try to save him from feeling uncomfortable about his behavior, then I am tacitly endorsing his behavior. I am complicit in the destruction of our love. I have chosen a lie over reality.
I know that feeling fear, anger, guilt, and all the other ‘bad’ emotions is unpleasant. Just admitting to them can produce a lot of anxiety. Because I am a recovering codependent, it takes me time to feel my emotions and I am slow to react. But when confronted by conflict, I have learned to first pour out my emotions, raw and unfiltered, to the Lord. Then I prayerfully consider how to communicate these emotions when they are called for. As I relinquish control of situations and the reactions of those around me, I find authentic relationship and a lot of joy on the other side of honest communication.
Codependent No More saved my life. Literally. Codependency was making me ill.
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