“For you were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light, for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true, and find out what pleases the Lord.” Ephesians 5:8-10
The conclusion of this three-part article on “Emotional Dependency” brings relief to our readers: there is freedom from emotional dependency! Healing for this sin that so deeply affects our ability to relate to others is found through right relationship with Christ and the members of His body. In exploring “The Path Out of Dependency”, we look at suggestions coming directly from Christians who’ve battled this sin, yet now are learning to enjoy relationships that reflect God’s design and intent.
The Path Out of Dependency.
The tendency to draw our life and security from another human being is a problem nearly everyone faces. However, it’s only after we encounter repeated frustration and sorrow in emotionally dependent relationships that we hunger for something more satisfying. We long to find contentment and rest in our relationships with others, but how do we break the old patterns?
Before we start exploring the different elements in overcoming dependency, we need to grasp an important truth: there is NO FORMULA that leads us to a transformed life. Lifelong tendencies towards dependent relationships can’t be changed by following “ten easy steps”. Jesus Christ desires to do an intimate and unique work within each of us by the power of His Holy Spirit. Change will come as we submit to Him and cooperate with that work. The guidelines we’re considering here illustrate ways God has worked in various people’s lives to bring them out of emotional dependency. Some of the suggestions apply to gaining freedom from a specific relationship, others pertain to breaking lifelong patterns. All represent different aspects of a whole picture: turning away from forms of relationship rooted in our sin nature and learning new ways of relating based on our new natures in Christ.
Elements In Overcoming Emotional Dependency
Making a commitment to Honesty.
In the second part of this series, we covered some reasons why dependencies are hard to break. One reason was that as a result of the deception that sets in, we can’t see dependency as sin. This deception is broken when we are honest with ourselves, admitting we’re involved in a dependent relationship and acknowledging our dependency as sin. Then we’re ready for honesty with God, confessing our sin to Him. We don’t have to hide our confusion, our anger, or any of our feelings, we just need to pour out our hearts to Him, asking Him to give us the willingness to obey His will in this matter. The next challenge is being honest with another person. We can seek out a mature brother or sister in Christ and confess to them, “Look I’m really struggling with my feelings towards my partner on the evangelism team. I’m getting way too attached to her. Could you pray with me about this?” As we “walk in the light” in this way, we can be cleansed and forgiven. If we’re aware of specific ways we’ve manipulated circumstances to promote the dependent relationship, we can ask forgiveness for these actions, too. The deeper the honesty, the deeper the cleansing we’ll receive. In choosing someone to share with, the best choice is a stable, trustworthy Christian who is not emotionally involved in the situation. This person can then intercede for us in prayer and hold us accountable, especially if we give them freedom to periodically ask us “how things are going”. Extreme caution needs to be used in sharing our feelings with the one we’re dependent on. At Love In Action, San Rafael, we’ve seen regretful results when one brother (or sister) has shared with another in an intimate setting, “Hey, I’m really attracted to you. I think I’m getting dependent”. It’s better to seek the counsel and prayer of a spiritual elder before even considering this step, and even then, we need to ask the Lord to shine His light on our motives.
Introducing Changes in Activities: Gradual Separation.
Whether the dependency has been mutual or one-sided, we usually begin to plan our lives around the other person’s activities. In dealing with dependent relationships in Love in Action, San Rafael, we don’t advocate the idea of totally avoiding another member of the body of Christ. However, we do recognize that a “parting of the ways” is necessary in breaking dependency. For example, we don’t recommend that a person stop attending church just because the other person will be there. But we do know that placing ourselves unnecessarily in the presence of the person we’re dependent on will only prolong the pain and delay God’s work in our lives.
Allow God To Work.
This sounds so obvious, but it’s not as easy as it seems! After we confess to God that we’re hopelessly attached to this individual and are powerless to do anything about it, we invite Him to come in and “change the situation”. The Lord never ignores a prayer like this. Some people begin to confront us about this relationship, but we assure them we have it all under control. Our friend decides to start going to a different Bible study, and soon we find a good reason to switch to the same one. The Holy Spirit nudges us to get rid of certain record albums, but we keep forgetting to do it. We ask God to work in our lives, but then we do everything in our power to make sure He doesn’t! I’ve learned from my own experience that thwarting God’s attempts to take someone out of my life only produces prolonged unrest and agony. Cooperation with the Holy Spirit brings the quickest possible healing from broken relationships.
Preparing for Grief and Depression.
Letting go of a dependent relationship can be a painful as going through a divorce. If we acquaint ourselves with the grief process and allow ourselves to hurt for a season, our healing will come faster. If we repress our pain and deny ourselves the time we need to recover, we’ll carry around unnecessary guilt and bitterness. Some people have said that they found the Psalms to be especially comforting during this time of “letting go”.
Cultivate Other Friendships.
Even if it’s difficult, scary, and our hearts are not in it … we need to do it. Our feelings will catch up later, and we’ll be glad we’ve made the investment in the lives of our new friends. The Lord will choose relationships for us if we’ll let Him. Willingness to accept the friends He gives us will deepen our relationship with Him as well. He knows just the relationships we need to draw out our special qualities and chip off our rough edges.
Discover God’s Vision for Relationships.
If we love another person as God loves him, we’ll desire to see that man (or woman) conformed to the image of Christ. The Lord wants to bring forth qualities in us that reflect His character and gifts that enable us to do His work. In a recent issue of the Desert Stream newsletter, Andy Comiskey said,”At the onset of any friendship, we must choose a motivation. Either we mirror a friend’s homosexual desirability or his/her new identity in Christ. This may sound tough, but our willingness to be disciplined emotionally might just make or break a friendship. When we exchange another’s best interests for our own neediness, we run the risk of losing the friendship.” If we desire an exclusive emotional involvement with this friend, then our desires are in conflict with what the Lord wants. We need to ask ourselves, “Am I working with God or Against Him in the person’s life?
Resolve The Deeper Issues.
The compulsion to form dependent relationships is a symptom of deeper spiritual and emotional problems that need to be faced and resolved. Self analysis is the least effective way to uncover these problems. The most effective way is to go directly to Jesus and ask Him to show us what’s wrong. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, Who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5) Another effective way is to go to those God has placed in positions of authority over us and submit to their counsel and prayer. For some, a long-term counseling relationship will help us face the sins we need to repent of and the hurts that need healing. For others, a small covenant group that meets regularly for deep sharing and prayer will help tremendously. Sometimes personal prayer and fasting draws us to God and breaks sin bondages in a way nothing else will. The desire to find our identity and security in another human being is a common sin problem with a myriad of possible causes. Confession, repentance, deliverance, counseling, and inner healing are means the Lord will use to bring purity and emotional stability into our lives. The healing and forgiveness we need are ours through Jesus’ atonement. We can receive them by humbling ourselves before Him and before others in His body.
Prepare For The Long Haul.
Sometimes victory escapes us because we prepare for a battle rather than a war. Whether we are trying to gain freedom from a specific attachment or from lifelong patterns of dependency, we need to prepare for long-term warfare. We need to know ourselves: our vulnerabilities, the types of personalities we are likely to “fall for”, the times when we need to be especially careful. We need to know our adversary: know the specific lies Satan is likely to tempt us with and be prepared to reject those lies, even when they sound good to us! More than anything, we need to know our Lord. We need to be willing to believe God loves us. Even if we cannot seem to feel His love, we can take a stand by faith that He does love us and begin to thank Him for this fact. As we learn of God’s character through His Word, we can relinquish our images of Him as being cruel, distant, or unloving. A love relationship with Jesus is our best safeguard against emotionally dependent relationships.
Is There Life After Dependency?
Though overcoming dependence may be painful for a season, it is one of the most curable ailments known to man. Often people are so healed that they cannot even conceive of the extent of their former bondage to dependent relationships. The immediate reward in giving up a dependent relationship is peace with God. Even in the midst of pain over the loss of the dependency, we experience peace, relief, and joy as our fellowship with God is restored. “It’s like waking up after a bad dream” one woman told us.
Peace with ourselves is another blessing we receive. It’s much easier to like ourselves when we are not scheming and striving to maintain a relationship we know God does not desire for us. When we have relinquished a dependent attachment, we are no longer tormented with fear of losing the relationship. This, too, brings peace to our hearts.
In the aftermath of dependency, we discover a new freedom to love others. We are members of one another in the body of Christ. When our attentions and affections are wrapped up totally in one individual, other people in our lives are suffering for it. They are not receiving the love from us God intends them to have.
Individuals who have given up dependent relationships say they discover a new caring and compassion for people that’s not based on sexual or emotional attraction. They find they are less critical of people and less defensive. They begin to notice that their lives are founded on the real security found through their relationship with Christ, not the false security of a dependent relationship.
And, finally, overcoming dependency brings us a freedom to minister to others. We can only lead others where we have been willing to go ourselves. When we are no longer rationalizing wrong attachments, we have new liberty in the Spirit to exhort and encourage others! Our discernment becomes clearer, and spiritual truth is easier to understand and accept. We become clean vessels, fit for the Lord’s use.
In our desire to remain free from this problem, we need to remember that hiding from people is not the alternative to dependency. Dependency is a subtle counterfeit to the tremendously rich and fulfilling relationship the Lord intends for us to have through Him. If we are trying to overcome the sin of dependency, let’s remember that Jesus is not harsh with us. He will teach us to love people in a holy way, and He knows that this takes time. There is a battle between the flesh and the spirit in every way of our lives - relationships are no exception. But Jesus is the one who is bringing His body together, and we are learning.