Category Archives: Spirituality

How much do we tell people about our struggles?

In recovery, we are learning new behaviors. Whenever we learn a new behavior, we make mistakes. Making mistakes is not simply an unfortunate consequence of learning, it’s often how we learn.

Watch children learn how to walk. They teeter back and forth, letting their legs catch up with them. The way they learn balance is by falling, which shows them when they’re leaning too far one way or the other. It’s the same when learning how to ride a bike – a necessary part of the learning comes by making mistakes, and experiencing what it’s like to be out of balance.

This is how we learn new behaviors in recovery.

Suppose we have been withholding our true feelings and stuffing our anger, for example. As we try to relate more honestly, it’s almost guaranteed that we will explode and say something hurtful. If we’ve been too gregarious and flirty with people of the opposite sex, we will shift to the other side and be remote and aloof. It will take time and experience to find the right balance.

When it comes to revealing ourselves, and being honest with the people in our lives, we may well experience a similar struggle to find the right balance.

Most of us have created lives of isolation and secrecy, with no one knowing the whole truth about us. Often, after our secrets come to light, and we start telling the truth, it feels so freeing that we want to tell everybody.

It’s wise to be careful here.

Make no mistake: our spouse, our sponsor, and key recovery friends need to know the whole truth. We need to practice ruthless honesty with ourselves and the people in our program. But when it comes to people outside of our program – extended family, neighbors, work associates, people at church, other friends – it’s good to think about the boundaries (limits) of our self-disclosure.

In the past, many of us had problems with limits. We’ve done some things to excess and neglected other important things.

Sometimes we haven’t had good judgment about what we ought to tell someone or who we ought to tell. We likely have kept secrets that made us lonely and sick. At other times – especially in early recovery – we exposed too much in inappropriate situations and hurt someone else or ourselves.

Developing a healthy sense of internal limits is a change that comes with time in recovery. Gradually, we gain a stronger feeling of self-respect and become more intuitive about when to express something and when not to. We start to develop more accurate perceptions about whether or not someone will be safe to open up to.

Emotional maturity involves having healthy boundaries. One way to think about boundaries in relationships is to think of the balance of self-disclosure and privacy. Self-disclosure allows us to be known. Privacy, on the other hand, is the freedom to choose what and when to confide in a friend. We need both.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your responses – and any stories about this – in the comments.

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Do this and your relationships will work 10 times better

Relating without manipulating

All of us want better relationships. For many of us, addiction has created walls of distrust and isolation. Many of us struggle with codependence, which creates stress, confusion, and resentment in our relationships.

Addiction isolates, and community (friendship, love, intimacy) heals us. But we have to learn how to relate in healthy ways, so that we can build friendship, love, and intimacy. Our addiction and codependent relationships are evidence of the fact that this doesn’t come naturally to us. We have to learn.

If we can learn this one thing, it will make our relationships work 10 times better: relate honestly, no manipulation. When we are manipulative with others, we create distrust and resentment. If we are skilled manipulators, we can be so subtle that it’s hard for people to tell that we’re being manipulative. But that doesn’t matter: if we are subtly manipulative, it just means that people will be subtly resistant, and over time we’ll notice them pulling away from us. They may not even be able to articulate why they are pulling away … they just don’t like being around us.

How do we manipulate? Besides manipulation through outright lying, here are some key strategies of manipulation. Be honest with yourself – do you do any of these?

  1. Being passive-aggressive is a means of punishing people when they displease us without acknowledging that (a) we are displeased, or (b) that we are punishing them. It is a way of relating that does not admit our displeasure with someone, and therefore creates confusion and consternation in the people around us. They know they’ve done something that bothers us, but are not sure what.
  2. Unspoken guidance is another way we try to manipulate other peoples’ behavior. In this case, we are trying to get them to do more of the things we like. To accomplish this, we do things that seem kind and sweet, but aren’t done out of the goodness of our heart. We are doing the things we do as a way of getting others to respond to us in a certain way.
  3. Sulking is a means of letting others know we are displeased and forcing them to attempt to win back our approval. Note that we aren’t telling them that we’re displeased, or why … we are expecting them to intuit this, and then go out of their way to be nice or apologetic to us.
  4. Flattery is a false expression of approval that we don’t really feel – giving others good strokes for our own purpose. We want them to feel something towards us, or do something for us … so we offer insincere praise.
  5. Withholding deserved praise is another manipulation strategy. It is a means of putting others down without overtly saying anything unkind. We seek to “bring others down” by refusing to encourage or affirm something that legitimately deserves to be affirmed or encouraged. Usually we do this because of jealousy or resentment.

Manipulative behavior is almost always selfish behavior. It is usually a false means of trying to get our own way. It is an immature and unhealthy way of dealing with people and situations — and it often backfires because people sense the manipulation and resent it.

Never forget this: We don’t have the right or the responsibility to control or regulate other people. If we want to influence another’s actions, our best approach is simply to state our own desires/needs with sincerity and honesty. Others must be free to act, free to choose, and free to make their own decisions without manipulative interference on our part.

The best way to avoid being manipulative is to do two things:

(1) Do whatever we need to stay in touch with our own emotions and needs. We can’t deal with our emotions and needs if we don’t understand what they are.

(2) Find ways of honestly expressing those emotions and needs. There will be times when emotional triggers highjack us, or busy schedules overwhelm and cause us to shut down. When that happens, we will need to step back, quiet ourselves, and possibly meditate or journal to get back in touch with our souls.

This might sound like a lot of work, and it is at first. But it does get easier over time, and the rewards are tremendous. The rewards are serenity, intimacy, and recovery.

* This is a remix of a meditation by Mel B, published in “Walk in Dry Places” by Hazelden Publishing. I took some of Mel’s ideas and mixed them with my own, rewording, adding things, and taking other things out. My sense is that what separates written “remixing” like I’m doing here and plagiarism is that I’m acknowledging my debt to the source.

What do you think? Do you find other ways people are manipulative in relationships? Do you think this impacts recovery?

Codepedence is not just an issue for partners of addicts

Many of us struggle with codependency. When addiction is present in a relationship, the old model was that the addict was “dependent” and his or her spouse was “codependent.” But today we know that usually both the addict and spouse struggle with codependency in its various forms.

Codependency happens when we lose touch with our sense of self, and become over-dependent on how other people are doing, and/or how they perceive us. Since we are not “okay” with ourselves, we have to work overtime to ensure that other people around us are doing okay, and/or that they feel good about us.

So we wind up tolerating things we shouldn’t tolerate, feeling responsible for things we shouldn’t feel responsible for, and compromising what we want simply in order to please someone else. This inevitably leads to distress and frustration, which causes the addict to move deeper into their addiction, and for the addict’s spouse to cope in other ways.

The issue of codependence is complicated for Christians, because it gets mixed up with our desire to love and serve other people. The Bible tells us to “consider others better than ourselves.” But the same Bible also tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves, which presupposes some sort of healthy self-regard. The Bible also portrays Jesus himself taking time away from the crowds – not being “nice” and doing what they want him to do – in order to rest and reconnect with God the Father.

The trick to living a recovery life in relationships with others is to know how to separate healthy love with unhealthy codependence.

Melody Beattie has been a great help for me over the years with her many books on this topic. One of her best books on this topic is a daily meditation book called “The Language of Letting Go.”

In another article on this blog, I wrote about codepedence, and quoted at length from her book. But it’s so good and helpful that I want to quote some more! What follows are some excerpts about the issue of “Property Lines”:

A helpful tool in our recovery, especially in the behavior we call detachment, is learning to identify who owns what. Then we let each person own and possess his or her rightful property.

If another person has an addiction, a problem, a feeling, or a self-defeating behavior, that is their property, not ours. If someone is a martyr, immersed in negativity, controlling, or manipulative, that is their issue, not ours.

If someone has acted and experienced a particular consequence, both the behavior and the consequence belong to that person.

People’s lies, deceptions, tricks, manipulations, abusive behaviors, inappropriate behaviors, cheating behaviors, and tacky behaviors belong to them, too. Not us.

People’s hopes and dreams are their property. Their guilt belongs to them too. Their happiness or misery is also theirs. So are their beliefs and messages.

If some people don’t like themselves, that is their choice. Their choices are their property, not ours. What people choose to say and do is their business.

What is our property? Our property includes our behaviors, problems, feelings, happiness, misery, choices, and messages; our ability to love, care, and nurture; our thoughts, our denial, our hopes and dreams for ourselves. Whether we allow ourselves to be controlled, manipulated, deceived, or mistreated is our business.

In recovery, we learn an appropriate sense of ownership. If something isn’t ours, we don’t take it. If we take it, we learn to give it back. Let other people have their property, and learn to own and take good care of what’s ours.

Today, I will work at developing a clear sense of what belongs to me, and what doesn’t. If it’s not mine, I won’t keep it. I will deal with myself, my issues, and my responsibilities.

If you want to learn more about codependence, consider signing up for the Recovery Journey, an e-course for people in recovery from sexual struggles. If you are the partner of someone who struggles, note that we have a special module with materials just for the partners. You can learn more about this program at the website:

Accept others if you want recovery from sex or porn addiction

Recovery teaches us to look at ourselves instead of trying to fix others. We can’t waste time trying to change other people, we can only change ourselves. But if we can’t fix the people around us, how can we live with them? By practicing acceptance.

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous emphasizes that we cannot find serenity until we accept things and people as they are. This is hard for many of us, for many reasons.

As Christians, we often struggle to accept people who disagree with us, or who have different standards of behavior. We worry that if we accept someone just as they are, then we are endorsing their moral and spiritual choices. If we want to help them grow or change, we feel we need to withhold acceptance. But that’s not true. In fact, it’s just the opposite. When we withhold acceptance – from others or from ourselves – we create conflict and lose the opportunity to stimulate positive change.

Carl Jung said, “We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.”

We can accept someone without approving or agreeing with what they do. The reality is that we can’t change them – or control their behavior – anyway. All we can control is our own responses to them.

Our lack of acceptance creates stress and tension in relationships. It also cuts us off from many blessings.

I had a friend from one of the SA programs who was needing more support. I recommended a certain group to him. When he attended the group, he was dismayed because some of the members had a different approach to sobriety than he did. Rather than adopt a “live and let live” approach, and seek to learn from this other program and find the help he needed, he chose to go into a critical, judgmental mode, and refused to participate in the group any longer. He couldn’t get over his disagreement with how they approached recovery – and so lost the opportunity to get support and help he really needed.

Serenity comes when we concentrate on the attitudes we need to change instead of how the world around us needs to change. When we focus on another person’s negative qualities, those qualities grow larger. So why not focus instead on the good qualities?

Our serenity will grow as we develop reasonable, appropriate expectations of others. Remember that everyone is a work in progress. No one is perfect.  Can we accept them – and ourselves – even in the midst of that imperfection?

* This is a post that I wrote a couple years ago, but I changed the date recently to get it back on the front page. Hope you like — and comment!

Anger and Recovery: how our anger can hurt us or help us

Anger is the gatekeeper of our emotions. If it is used wisely, it will allow us to interact with the world in safe and healthy ways. We will know when our emotional gates should remain open, and when to keep them closed.

Imagine a gatekeeper in a medieval castle. He knows that his job is to protect, and keep dangerous forces out. He also knows that if he is overprotective, those inside the gate will die from starvation, or suffer from a lack of exposure to the outside world.

In the same way, anger protects us by covering our most vulnerable emotions. When we feel emotions like fear, disappointment, pain, grief, loss, rejection, jealousy, etc., anger forms a protective layer to keep others from further exploiting us. This is a great tool in our emotional arsenal. Unfortunately though, just like the over-zealous gatekeeper can do damage by keeping the gate closed, anger can be destructive by fostering isolation.

Continue reading Anger and Recovery: how our anger can hurt us or help us

12 Step Recovery and Christianity — do they click or clash?

Some Christians are hesitant to participate in 12 Step recovery programs, because they want something that is specifically Christian-focused. While I would be the first to say that there are some excellent Christian recovery programs available for sexual strugglers (such as LIFE groups and the Sampson Society), I still participate in and recommend 12 Step programs as well. In fact, I’ve written an article profiling the various 12 Step options for sexual strugglers.

Continue reading 12 Step Recovery and Christianity — do they click or clash?

The danger of putting spiritual leaders on pedestals – Part 2

Last week I wrote about the danger of people in churches projecting idealized images onto their pastors. This is not only unhelpful for the people, it’s dangerous and damaging for the leader. (See part 1 of this series here). So now the question is, what can we do about it?

What is the answer?

Humanity. Let the leader be human.

A recent meditation from the recovery book “Today,” from Hazelden publishing has this to say about pedestals:

“Sometimes we expect far too much of the people around us, and because no one can ever live up to those expectations, we are almost always disappointed. Continue reading The danger of putting spiritual leaders on pedestals – Part 2

The danger of putting spiritual leaders on pedestals – Part 1

As an ordained minister and the senior pastor of three churches (thus far), I know from experience that pedestals are dangerous. People often come into the church with a powerful mixture of expectations and illusions about what an uber-spiritual person should be.  They may assume the pastor will embody that. This is a problem when we let them down – when they see how we fall short of the ideal that they created in their minds.

But it’s maybe an even bigger problem when they don’t see our flaws, because they don’t want to see our flaws, and we get too good at hiding them. Most of the people in our churches want to see us in a good light, because this reinforces their faith … Continue reading The danger of putting spiritual leaders on pedestals – Part 1