I’m so happy to be finally writing this post, as I know many people think the Christian life is all about painful sacrifice and hardship. They remember significant people in their lives doing everything for others while neglecting themselves.
This was considered to be a good Christian way to behave and we should all feel so guilty for not being as self-sacrificing. Loving yourself was thought to be selfish.
Well, thankfully I don’t believe that anymore, and so I don’t have to live my life feeling guilty all the time for not doing enough for others. I was taught to live this way, to always put others before me.
It was a very confusing message as a little girl growing up. It didn’t make sense. I felt I wanted to enjoy my life, but at the same time, I was to take care of everyone around me.
This kind of thinking can lead to codependent behaviour, although the severity of it can range from mild (loss of self-focus) to severe codependency (obsessiveness/relationship addiction or love addiction).
However, there is hope, because codependency of any kind is treatable, and one of the best ways to recover from it is through self-love.
A Mixed Up Theology
Thankfully, as a child, I somehow understood that God was different and I liked praying with the little faith I had. I grew up in Catholic Ireland, so religion was part of daily life (unlike what it is today).
I liked the Irish way of life though, people were warm and friendly most of the time, and hospitality was the norm. If you didn’t get offered a cup of tea in someone’s house, that was considered strange or even rude.
But, this self-sacrificing thing really went too far! We were made to feel guilty for loving ourselves and it is still preached in many churches today. Christians are to be perfect, people-pleasers, and never to say no. This is false teaching and has nothing to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Good works must only come from an overflow of love in your heart, given to you by the power of the Holy Spirit. You cannot be a good Christian all by yourself. Without, the filling of the Spirit on a regular basis, you simply cannot be giving all the time.
What Does Jesus Have to Say About Loving Yourself?
The interesting thing about this is, when we go to see what Jesus says, we notice He doesn’t quite spell it out for us.
He does not say directly, love yourself, he says, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ We can see by this that Jesus knows how selfish man really is. By our very nature, we are self-seeking and want to love ourselves only, so he uses this love we have for ourselves to teach us how to love others too.
In the gospel of Luke, Jesus says something similar, “do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31)
Which is the most important commandment?
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Luke 10:27)
Love is very important to Jesus. As we can see from the scripture above, the 2 greatest commandments are to do with love:
- Loving God
- Loving Yourself and Your Neighbour
LOVE YOURSELF – THE CURE TO CO-DEPENDENCY
I first want to make it clear, that loving yourself is okay with God! The kind of love I am referring to is not selfish love, but the kind of care that is necessary for you to be able to give to others fully.
When I was a child, I was not taught how to love myself, but I was taught how to love others (if you could call that love). This made it difficult for me to develop my identity properly because my focus was always directed towards others and their needs.
This did not work for me because I didn’t even know how to love myself, let alone love others. It was always about serving others first.
This is not what the gospel is about. A child has to develop it’s own likes and dislikes to form an identity. We have all seen a 2-year-old screaming, I want!, I want!, Me!, Me!, and it reminds us of our selfish, sinful, nature.
But, I didn’t experience a healthy balance of giving and receiving love in my childhood, and I know many others are the same. Their parents, teachers, and probably church leaders were teaching them to disconnect from themselves, and not form a strong identity. Loving yourself is important for your self-esteem.
Often, we are taught to serve others and not ourselves, but this is not what God wants us to do. God wants you to take good care of yourself, to be healthy, have good relationships, do your work, and mind your own business.
From a place of feeling healthy and whole, you can then extend this love and care to others in a very natural, healthy way. You are not seeking your identity by serving others, instead you are giving from a place of love and not need.
Unfortunately, this is not how it is for codependents. Codependent people are not caring for themselves, but are running around, serving, helping, fixing, and rescuing others at the expense of their own physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Then, when people do not show sufficient appreciation, they get angry and resentful.
They live for others while neglecting their own needs and wants. In fact, they don’t even know they have needs. It is truly dysfunctional, so if you think this is you, I strongly urge you to get help.
What is Co-dependency?
“Co-dependency is a learned behaviour that can be passed down from one generation to another. It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationships.
It is also known as “relationship addiction”, because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive, and/or abusive.
The disorder was first identified about ten years ago as the result of years of studying interpersonal relationships in families of alcoholics. Co-dependent behaviour is learned by watching and imitating other family members who display this type of behavior.” (Mental Health America)
Signs That you May be Co-dependent:
- you make extreme sacrifices to satisfy others
- you find it difficult to say no when people you are in relationship with put demands on you
- you cover your partners problems
- you constantly worry about what others think of you
- you often feel trapped in your relationships, but stay anyhow
- you avoid conflict
- you do everything to please others so that you will be liked and not have to deal with their negative emotions
- you are only happy when you are doing things for others
- you stay in abusive relationships
- you often feel anxious
- all your time and energy goes into satisfying your partner
- you surrender your own morals and values to do what the other person wants
- the thought of losing your relationship terrifies you
- you find your identity in your significant relationships
- your relationship with your partner is usually one-sided, where you are making lots of sacrifices, but getting crumbs in return
- you tend to confuse love and pity and love people you can pity and rescue
- you have an extreme need for approval or recognition
- you have a lack of trust in self and/or others
- you have a fear of being abandoned or alone
- you have a fear of or difficulty adjusting to change
- you have difficulty making decisions
What Co-Dependents Think
Counselor Carl (www.serenityonlinetherapy.com), breaks this down into 3 unrealistic rules that co-dependents form in their minds based on a flawed strategy, he says they developed in their dysfunctional childhood homes.
He says they are genuinely good people who care about others, but the problem is they usually go overboard in caring for others.
As the list above is so long, you may find it hard to identify if you are co-dependent or not. This list of 3 unrealistic rules that co-dependents have gives you an easier way to check if you are co-dependent.
If you say yes to all 3 of these rules, you are co-dependent, if you say yes to 2 of these rules, you might be co-dependent.
- I must never ask for what I want because my needs and feelings are bad, wrong and a burden to others, so I must pretend to have no needs or feelings, and instead focus on the needs and feelings of others.
- I must never say ‘no’, that would be selfish and mean and then no one would like me or love me.
- I can make a relationship work all by myself. I can fix other people. I can make them happy.
Realistic Healthy Beliefs:
- All healthy relationships are negotiations. I identify my needs and wants and ask for them to be met and I expect others to do the same. My feelings do matter.
- I must be able to say no to behaviours that are unacceptable to me and expect others to do the same.
- It takes 2 people to make a healthy relationship. I only have to do 50% of the relating.
How to Recover from Codependency and Create Positive Lasting Change
Recovery from codependency takes time, but the first step is to educate yourself on this dysfunction and find a supportive group, therapist, or coach to help you to change your thinking and habits.
You will learn more about who you are, what your needs and wants are, and how to get them met in a healthy way. You will learn to set healthy boundaries so that you have the time and space to get to know yourself and what you want and need in your life.
Recovery brings happiness, peace, increased self-esteem, and confidence. You will have more autonomy and intimacy in your life. You will become more expansive and start to pursue your dreams and passions with joy and enthusiasm.
What Does It Really Mean To Love Yourself?
Self-care – this means starting with your basic needs such as, eating good, healthy, nutritious food, and exercising. Also, meeting with people who support you and encourage you. Enjoying your hobbies and also taking time for prayer and meditation. Self-care can include other things like going for a massage, getting your nails done, or even buying yourself something nice. It means simply being kind and gentle with yourself.
Self-acceptance – an affirmation or acceptance of self in spite of weaknesses or deficiencies. Accept yourself fully, the good and the not so good parts. It involves self-understanding, a realistic awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses.
Developing your gifts and talents – it is an act of self-love to recognize and develop your gifts and talents, as it’s God’s will for a start, but it will also raise your self-esteem and confidence when you achieve new things.
Allowing God to love you – this is very important in the process of learning to love yourself first. To love yourself is to be in a relationship with a loving God. When you love yourself and receive God’s unconditional love every day, you will not go to others depleted and needing from them. You will learn to enjoy others through mutual giving and receiving. You can get to know God through reading the scriptures and prayer.
Receiving love from others – it is not healthy to always be the one giving in a relationship, to love yourself, you must also allow others to give to you. It will give them pleasure to bless you.
Having supportive, loving relationships – this is essential because part of loving yourself is getting your needs met and most of our needs are met through good, healthy, loving relationships.
Setting healthy boundaries – setting healthy boundaries is essential if you are to feel good. You can’t be all things to all people, all of the time. We set boundaries so people don’t take advantage and demand more than we want to give.
In conclusion, loving yourself is totally acceptable to God, but the sacrificial life that you hear about in the scriptures is not about self-neglect or self-loathing, but self-denial.
There is a big difference, denying yourself is about laying down selfish desires of the flesh, such as lust, greed, pride, etc.
Dying to self is about living from your higher self, not living in an addictive, compulsive way that is constantly trying to satisfy the desires of the flesh.
Codependency is an addictive disease that needs a shift in your thinking to rectify it. It is not officially a mental disorder, but rather, a dysfunctional way of behaving, that is learned in dysfunctional homes.
Loving yourself is giving thanks to God for your life, and caring for your mind, body, soul, and spirit at all times.
You can’t help others if you don’t take care of yourself. So, love yourself first, be filled up sufficiently, so that you have something to give to others.