I was never really good at maintaining relationships. I certainly knew how to form a friendship but I knew little about how to keep one.
It ultimately came down to boundaries, a lesson I learned in therapy. When you have defunct boundaries, you don’t understand the difference between good and bad. For me, this looked like letting in codependent and controlling relationships and letting out people that truly loved me.
The last 15 years have been spent hustling in therapy, struggling to understand boundaries in the midst of a thought-processing disorder. I learned ways to cope with my illness. Scripture was the first filter; seeking wise counsel was the second.
I was doing really well. I was making friends, building intimacy slowly, setting boundaries. For a year, things were easy. I was developing fruit. And then, about six months ago, things started to fall apart. Honestly, it was as if my world had become what it used to be.
I found myself in a codependent relationship.
I poured out my heart and soul to someone who benefited from my intimacy. Here’s the thing: in a codependent relationship, one party needs all the help, be it emotional or physical while the other needs to be needed. Codependent relationships never grow because one person always gives more than the other.
For me, what that looks like is being overly vulnerable, seeking connection, while the other person does all the listening. By this, I mean the levels of intimacy are never exchanged mutually.
With both of my closest friends, I went through this stage. What surprised me was that both of them fought against the toxicity. Ultimately, we both took ownership of our dysfunction in the relationship. They are still my closest friends to this day.
But this relationship was different. The friend took no ownership in her part of the relationship. It was my perception that was the problem.
Telling someone that their perception is inaccurate is considered a form of gaslighting. To gaslight someone is to try to manipulate them into questioning their own sanity, memory or perception (according to the dictionary). For me, gaslighting feels like the room is spinning and my vision is hazy. It is only when I am back on solid ground that I can recognize what has been done.
When I was evaluating what to do about the relationship, I kept going back to the verse in scripture that says “Count others as more significant than yourself.”
One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn about boundaries is that to set a boundary with someone is to truly love them, to consider their needs more significant than your need to have their approval. The enabler in a codependent relationship either needs to recognize their own behavior or the codependent one needs to set a boundary by removing themselves from the relationship. In this way, the codependent one shows Christlike love to the enabler.
Ultimately, either one of two things will happen when you set a boundary with an enabler. They will either repent and recognize their part in why things are the way they are or they will recognize they can no longer get what they want from you and respond with indifference.
You can only control yourself. You can’t make someone change. But you can honor them (and yourself) by setting healthy boundaries. It’s scary but you have to believe that whatever God calls you to walk away from is for your good and His glory.