“I thought that this was love” – how to make the difference between love and codependency

“I thought that this was love” – how to make the difference between love and codependency

As I wrote in the last article, I had to learn the difference between codependency and love the hard way.

In fact, I didn’t even know that there was a difference between the two.

I knew the word “codependency” but never made the parallel to my own life.

codependency

Today, all around me I hear many different stories about “true love”, about finding a “soul mate” and about the belief that happiness in life comes with the “right person to complete the other”. That love is something you can’t escape and are powerless if you “don’t love anymore”. At the same time, stories of broken relationships multiply. Many families are thrown apart because one partner realized that the relationship with their partner never was “true love”. Or someone else entered their life and turned out to be their long awaited “soul mate”, leaving behind a broken family. Couples drift apart and separate by their reality of “we don’t love each other anymore”. Meanwhile, lonely people get into a relationship that fulfills them for the first few weeks and months, but, over time, it changes into a relationship in which they feel trapped, anxious and insecure, yet they are too enmeshed into their partners life to be able to stand up and create boundaries. They are too scared to be alone again.

  • “You made me love you. I din’t wanna do it; I didn’t wanna do it. You made me feel blue, and all the time I guess you knew it… you made me happy; you made me glad. And there were those times, dear, you made me feel so sad…
  • Gimme gime gime what I cry for; you know you got the kind of kisses that I’d die for. You know you made me love you.”
  • You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy, when skies are gray…. Please don’t take my sunshine away.”
  • “All I want is loving you….”
  • “You’re everything to me….”

“If there were laws against pushing codependent love relationships, pop music would be in prison until the albums rotted. So would a lot of movies and a whole lot of books, both fiction and nonfiction.”

(Hemfelt, Love is a choice, page 119)

You may ask:

  • What is wrong with such intense feelings?
  • What’s wrong with a consuming, almost worshipful attitude toward the person you love?
  • What’s wrong with the realization that you never truly loved your current partner, leaving him for “true love”?
  • What’s wrong about doing what your heart tells you to?

Well. Today I’m here to tell you that this is not love. That this is called codependency.

In her article Darlene Lancer explains this word that way:

Codependency has been referred to as “relationship addiction” or “love addiction.” The focus on others helps to alleviate our pain and inner emptiness, but in ignoring ourselves, it only grows. This habit becomes a circular, self-perpetuating system that takes on a life of its own. Our thinking becomes obsessive, and our behavior can be compulsive, despite adverse consequences. Examples might be calling a partner or ex we know we shouldn’t, putting ourselves or values at risk to accommodate someone, or snooping out of jealousy or fear. This is why codependency has been referred to as an addiction (…)

She tells us about the three possible stages of such a codependent relationship:

 

Early Stage

The early stage might look like any romantic relationship with increased attention and dependency on your partner and desire to please him or her. However, with codependency, we can become obsessed with the person, deny or rationalize problematic behavior, doubt our perceptions, fail to maintain healthy boundaries, and give up our own friends and activities.

 

Middle Stage

Gradually, there’s increased effort required to minimize painful aspects of the relationship, and anxiety, guilt, and self-blame set in. Over time, our self-esteem lessens as we compromise more of ourselves to maintain the relationship. Anger, disappointment, and resentment grow. Meanwhile we enable or try to change our partner through compliance, manipulation, nagging, or blaming. We might hide problems and withdraw from family and friends. There may or may not be abuse or violence, but our mood worsens, and obsession, dependence, and conflict, withdrawal, or compliance increase. We might use other addictive behaviors to cope, such as eating, dieting, shopping, working, or abusing substances.

 

Late Stage

Now the emotional and behavioral symptoms begin to affect our health. We may experience stress-related disorders, such as digestive and sleep problems, headaches, muscle tension or pain, eating disorders, TMJ, allergies, sciatica, and heart disease.  Obsessive-compulsive behavior or other addictions increase, as well as lack of self-esteem and self-care. Feelings of hopelessness, anger, depression, and despair grow.

More than a decade ago, when I felt such strong emotions for this guy I believed I loved deeply, I was sure that this was love. True love.

Because of this conviction that this was true love, I buried the parts of me I felt he wouldn’t like. I buried the dreams I knew he wouldn’t share. I put away thoughts that told me that he was not really the kind of guy I would choose to spend my life with. I rejected any concerns from friends who told me that they didn’t think that this guy was what I needed in my life. Friends, who saw me completely consumed by that relationship.

Simply because, so I thought, true love is more important than anything I could dream or wish for other than to be with him, belong to him.

More than a decade ago, when I felt such strong emotions for this guy I believed I loved deeply, I was sure that this was love. True love.

Because of this conviction that this was true love, I buried the parts of me I felt he wouldn’t like. I buried the dreams I knew he wouldn’t share. I put away thoughts that told me that he was not really the kind of guy I would choose to spend my life with. I rejected any concerns from friends who told me that they didn’t think that this guy was what I needed in my life. Friends, who saw me completely consumed by that relationship.

Simply because, so I thought, true love is more important than anything I could dream or wish for other than to be with him, belong to him.

The tragedy is this:

Our society paints this kind of love as something beautiful and romantic – which is even understandable.

One feels alive. It is like entering into something much more real than any other relationship. Songs, books and movies tell us that this is true love. That we need to follow our heart, and then we know what decision to take.

That’s how marriages fall apart. Singles get themselves into destructive relationships.

People, honestly looking for “true love” are taking decisions that bring them further away from fulfillment, real relationships and healthy marriage and family.

When I began to understand the whole concept of codependent relationships, it helped me understand that this was just it: I was deeply codependent, relationship-addicted. That was not love.

Today, as I am happily married to Benny, I am well aware that my love for him is very different. From the very beginning of our marriage, I knew why I chose to marry him. He proved himself many times to me before we got married. His way of treating me, loving me and taking out the best of me were always a reality in our relationship. The way he treated me made me grow by discovering who I truly am, along with who he truly is. He honored and loved me for my unicity and celebrated me for my thoughts, dreams and hopes.

I was always aware of that, and deeply grateful.

And still. Even some years into our marriage, I longed to love him the way I did this other guy. Because I thought that this was, in the end “true, real, deep, beautiful love”.

Today, ten years into our marriage, I am at a place where I deeply cherish the love Benny and I have for each other.  Understanding that those feelings I had for the other guy wasn’t love, even if they seemed so real to me, made me free to fully appreciate and cherish what I have. I marvel at the person I married. I am beyond words to express how thankful and amazed I am to spend my life with this man. Get me right. I am not in denial of his flaws and imperfections. But I know that his heart, and who he is as a person is the best thing that could ever have happened to me. 

codependency

Now: I do know about the possibility that another person capable to create such strong feelings in me still exists today, in my present life. It can happen to anyone, anytime, independent of strong conviction, high moral standard or even genuine love for God and his word.

The difference is that, today, I am well prepared to counter such feelings with the truth that codependency is not true love. That codependency is exactly that: a co-dependecy. A relationship addiction. Something that can destroy your life, rob you of your family and friends. 

Reading through the questionnaire below, I was amazed how many of these questions I would have answered with “yes” in the past. Actually every single question. Therefore, I will include this questionnaire that was created by Adriane Michaud and posted here to help you dig a little further into the subject: 

  • Do you feel responsible for other people—their feelings, thoughts, actions, choices, wants, needs, well-being, and destiny?
  • Do you feel compelled to help people solve their problems or by trying to take care of their feelings?
  • Do you find it easier to feel and express anger about injustices done to others than about injustices done to you?
  • Do you feel safest and most comfortable when you are giving to others?
  • Do you feel insecure and guilty when someone gives to you?
  • Do you feel empty, bored, and worthless if you don’t have someone else to take care of, a problem to solve, or a crisis to deal with?
  • Do you lose interest in your own life when you are in love?
  • Do you stay in relationships that don’t work and tolerate abuse in order to keep people loving you?Do you leave bad relationships only to form new ones that don’t work, either?

If you, like me in the past, found yourself answering “yes” to most of those question below, I encourage you to dig deeper into the subject of codependency.

My favorite book about the subject is called “Love is a choice”.
There is a good deal of literature available in English from the famous „codependent no more” to newer ones like  “You’re Not Crazy – You’re Codependent:” or the most recent “courage to cure codependency”.

 

In the next article I will show you from my own experience how to recognize patterns of codependency in your own life and touch the subject of how getting read of it.

Open letter to the guy that broke my heart

Open letter to the guy that broke my heart

Dear friend,

  

For a long time, you and “our story” was buried inside me like the wreck of the Titanic on the bottom of the sea – forgotten and invisible, yet part of my story, my past. Even years later, it was very difficult for me to dive to the depth of the sea to look at the wreck of our story without feeling overwhelmed with sadness and feelings of failure.

heart

Letting go of you was the most difficult thing I ever did in my life.
It was like letting go of some sort of drugs. . 

Simply because, somehow, by who you are, you touched deep parts of me I didn’t even know existed. With you, life suddenly became real and worth living.

At the same time, meeting you made me get in touch with that hidden, hurt place deep inside of me.

This part of me which was somehow awakened by your way of being.

I desperately wanted you to love me.

You loved the way I loved you. You loved the way I understood you, I listened to you, the way I gave everything I possibly could imagine to prove you my sincerity. You were amazed at my capacity to “truly love”.

Therefore, you were trying to feel attracted. You saw parts of my heart, my devotion to you and you were impressed by the way I loved you… and you were trying to get to a place where you could answer my love.

You know all that.

The reason I decided to write this open letter is to tell you – and to a society who is lead, through music, books and movies to believe that such an experience is true, real love – that this isn’t love.

This wasn’t love.

Hang on and I will explain:

When I finally had to realize that you didn’t love me in a way that would melt our lives together forever – I was devastated.
To accept that you would never be the one I could hide myself into, nor the one that would make me feel whole as a person turned my life into a dark hole for many months.
Loosing you made me get in touch with this deep hole inside of me that desperately longed to be known, seen, wanted and loved.
I fell into deep sadness and feelings of failure. I finally got in touch with this uncontrollable need to prove myself worthy of love and acceptance – and at the same time this deep feeling of shame, unworthiness and fear of abandonment.

You broke my heart.

More than a decade later,

I am so grateful that you couldn’t love me (that way).
I’m beyond grateful that you were very sincere and wanted to do the “right” thing – you could have used my devotion and longings in ways I don’t even want to imagine.
But you didn’t. Thank you for that.
In that, I’m so grateful that you resisted my fervent attempt to get you into my “game”.

Of course, I wasn’t playing. I thought that these deep feelings had to be love. That this deep longing to be with you had to be real, pure, true love.

I was convinced that being with you would make my world perfect, give my life a sense of being. That my life was all “fake” in comparison to how “real” you were to me!

Today I know better.

I know that this wasn’t love – because it was never about YOU. It was all about me.
Today I understand that I was vicariously showering you with all the love and attention – hoping that you would, one day, fill my emotional needs for love and intimacy that have been running empty in my life.
My worst fear was that I was not good enough to be loved by you.

This fear made me put all the focus on you – I was very capable in molding myself into what I believed (and knew) you most desire.
By doing that, I buried the parts of me I felt you wouldn’t like. I buried the dreams I knew you wouldn’t share. I put away thoughts that told me that you were not really the kind of guy I would choose to spend my life with.
Not because you’re a bad guy. Much rather because who I truly am does not fit into who you truly are. I have always been too much for you. You had visions and dreams in life I didn’t share a bit.

It took me many years to see this clearly.

The first few years into my marriage with Benny I was struggling to let go of that image of “true love”.
I was struggling with letting go of that deep feeling of guilt and sadness every time I ventured myself to that wrack on the bottom of the sea..

  • It was the day when I understood that this whole story was never about true love. That was when the wrack on the bottom of the sea started to dissolve.
  • The day I realized that it was my own emptiness, my own needs, my own hole in my soul that cried out to be loved by you.
  • That all my pain, my agony, the suffering I went through because of you – was never really because of you.
heart

Yes, you did a great job uncovering those needs and that emptiness. But in the end, it was never about you, not even about “true love”.

It was all about my needs, my longings and my voids. Call it codependency.

More on that in the next article.

My father – and how I learned to honor him

My father – and how I learned to honor him

When I think of my father today, I see a man who is very upright. Someone who would always give his best. He would never do something he knows would be wrong. His moral standards are very, very high. For years, he worked in a job he actually hated, in order to feed his family of 7. My father is a very faithful and exact man. He wanted to please God and walk His ways.

I believe that I chose a husband who has the very same traits.

I’m pretty sure having this kind of experience with these traits in my dad, made me recognize them in Benny.

The essence of who my dad truly is shaped my life greatly.

Today I can see this unique DNA, his unique essence of who he is shining through his personality which is generally overwhelmed with life.
Shining through the many hurts, the many disappointments and the pain he experienced in his life, shining through the many destructive ways he chose in order to protect himself and “survive” a life he didn’t choose.

Today I can see that. I honor him for who he ought to be. For the amazing and unique person God made him to be.

Lamentably, to this day, he doesn’t realize how amazing and unique a person God created him to be and how much he’s deeply loved by him.

As long as I remember, my father struggled with depression.
As a father, he was a very controlling, angry, negative and selfish person. He always felt that his five children were too heavy a load to bear.
He gave us the feeling (and told us so) that we were too much, too loud, too needy, too expensive and that we were all losers and guilty of anything that didn’t go right in his own life.

I could tell you many situations in which we were confronted with this reality.

Years ago, when I saw my father, I felt nothing more than this deep hurt of not being enough to be loved.
His messages (verbalized or not) shaped the understanding of my identity, life in general and God.

I left home with the deep hole in my soul a father should have filled.
I left with this deep insecurity about my identity, my worth, my value and my importance.
I knew that I didn’t want to be like him. I didn’t want to end in depression and anger, leaving the same hurtful impact on the lives around me. 

But the truth is… by rejecting where I came from, I was rejecting a part of me.

I was rejecting the whole package: The destructive ways he chose to protect himself and his unique DNA.

And well, I don’t blame anyone doing that.

I know the deep pain and the feeling of being fatherless, even if my father is alive, sometimes even present in my own life. I know this longing for a father who would be here to cherish, protect, guide and love you.

I took countless decisions out of my hurts and this deep hole in my soul. I lead myself through turbulent times I certainly could have omitted if I would have had a father who showed me that I was valuable, precious and important to him.

But today, I see that my father, by who he truly was, did transmit something other than those painful realities: He transmitted to me this deep desire to follow God, to do what is right. My moral standards have always been very high. I always wanted to please God and walk in His ways.

And God honored this heart and took me on this journey which I am still on today.

A part of this journey was this concept of honoring father and mother. Because I wanted to do what was right, I couldn’t ignore the scripture in the bible that tells in Exodus 20:12 to

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you”.

But I wasn’t ready to cover up how I felt, just for the sake of “honor”.

My father – as correct as he is and as much as he wants to do what is right – was defenseless when, a few years ago, his own father, who had abandoned him and his mother while he was just a little boy, called him daily (and sometimes even several times a day) from his retirement home in France, for nothing more than to insult him. My grandfather was a war veteran. He had experienced his own trauma – and probably because of that – lost his memory as he got older. That’s why he didn’t even remember the call he had just made and he used to call shortly after again. This went on for several months and even years.

As I got to know about those phone calls, I told my father that I would never accept anyone doing this to me. That this was verbal abuse and there was no way I would tolerate this in my life. I told him that, after a few calls like this, I would block the person out, even if it was my own father.
He didn’t understand what I was talking about. For him, this was honoring his father.

I believe that honoring my father is very different.

As God lead me through that journey, I had to face the reality of my Dad’s attitudes in my life. The reality of what he taught me about myself, life and God (verbal and non-verbal) and how this affected my whole being.
It came in layers. First the big things. The way I felt rejected. The way I felt he cared only for himself. Then, the things I realized we were missing, like family vacations. We didn’t take family vacations  even once throughout my whole childhood.

During that process, I knew the feeling of hatred. Of rejecting my dad – and every other person that resembled him. However, ironically, I tried to be loved by a guy who would have never been the person I would have chosen, concerning his interests and values in life. He was not a bad guy – but he just wasn’t the right person for me. Like my father, he wasn’t able to handle me. I was too emotional, too needy, simply too much for him.  Today I know that I simply longed to prove to myself that I could be loved by someone like my father.

Today, I am able to face the reality of where I come from.
And instead of pain, there is gratefulness.
Instead of ashes, there is beauty.

Simply because I have come to realize that today, I am not the fruit of what he (and others) did to me. Not even the fruit of my own wrong decisions, mistakes, failures and incapacities.
My life is a display of the faithfulness of God. Of His love, His grace, His capacity and His compassion.

He took me from my painful reality onto this journey. He fathered me, He guided me, He gave me value, importance, and worth. He showed me His love in countless ways. He healed and restored my soul.

Today, there is freedom in my relationship with my father.

Today, I have truly forgiven him. Forgiveness was a journey in itself and not done by a one-time decision. But more on that another time.

Today, I am well capable to set my limits and to stand up for my integrity, as I explained in that article.

I am free because my dad’s attitudes and hurtful behavior are not determining my identity, worth and value anymore. I am free to see that he tried hard to cope with life the way he knew… always feeling like a “nobody”, a “looser” and “forgotten” by God and men.  

And I recognize those attributes of him that I see in myself, too. And I love them.

I see those positive traits in Benny, and I celebrate them.

I discover those attributes in my children, and I affirm them. 

I know that my father has great respect for me and my family.
I know he thinks that I am doing a wonderful job, and he even told me so.

Lately, I told him:

“You know, I am so grateful that I am your descendant. We both know that there were many things in our relationship father-daughter that were difficult and painful.

However, today, I see those precious attributes of yours. I see this unique person God has made you to be. I believe I saw them in Benny because you displayed them in my life, and I cherish them.

By the grace of God, who you truly are speaks louder in my life then all what went wrong.”

My father didn’t change.
But I am free. Free to honor him for the unique person he truly is created to be and for his heritage I can carry on into the next generation.

“I wouldn’t want you to be my secretary“

“I wouldn’t want you to be my secretary“

These were the words of a professional, who is without a secretary at the moment.  I love what this person does. That’s why I told him I would love to help out but didn’t think I was the right person for this job.

That’s when he told me: 

“I wouldn’t want you to be my secretary“.

Immediately and before I could ask for the reason or feel bad about this statement, he added:

“That would be a waste of your potential.”

secretary

This little chat stayed with me for the next few hours and I decided to put my thoughts about it into an article.

Today, I completely agree with that professional.
It would be a waste of my potential.

Not because the job of a secretary is worthless. Of course not! I know the lady who did this job until recently and she was priceless for him and his work.  She was amazing and did a wonderful job.

But for being a secretary, you have to have a set of capacities and talents I hold only in a limited quantity.

As I wrote in the last article, today I’m on a journey to discover always more who God made me to be.  A journey where I learn to walk in my unique DNA, enjoying my unique personality.

I can go camping with my four kids and I thrive by doing that.
I can write an article for this blog each and every week and translate it into three languages.

There are many more things I am good at and I enjoy doing.

Caroline leaf puts it this way :

“True self-awareness comes from recognizing the true you. It changes you from the inside out. You are unlocked. This is much more than “finding your purpose.” It is about finding yourself. We all want to know who God is. We reflect his image. The world will lose out if you do not operate in your unique you: You are a specific part of his reflection, the missing piece that brings a unique perspective and hope to the world. There is none one like you, which means there is something you can do no one else can do. ..”

From her book ” THE PERFECT YOU“, Chapter one, sub chapter ” The power of choice”)

As a young adult, I did not “recognize the true me”, as Dr. Leaf puts it.  I remember the deep feeling of insecurity, inferiority and the feeling of not being worthy because I felt I couldn’t live up to the particular standard of our society. I surely didn’t believe that I could be a blessing to anyone.

I believed that I was a burden, a challenge, a problem.

I was very much aware of the things I did not do well, and I was aware of my fears and insecurities.

I struggled with not being a person of relevance, and probably, in this situation, I would have tried to prove that “I can be a good secretary”…. Simply because I would not have identified with the second part of what this professional told me “It would be a waste of your potential.”

“What potential?”

I would have asked myself sadly.

“I am not really good at anything. I wish I could be a blessing, but I don’t have anything to offer to this world!”

I saw all these people around me, who were brilliant at many things. I felt inadequate. I wished I would be seen and celebrated as well. 
I felt trapped in the expectations of how I should be and the feeling of not living up to those expectations.

Today I rejoice, and I am so deeply grateful for where I stand.

Because the more I understand who I am created to be, the more I rejoice over all the beauty around me. I see the obvious beauty – when people confidently walk in who they are meant to be – and I see the hidden beauty, when people are still on this journey of discovery. And I love to be a part of that journey, to discover this beauty God has put in every one of us.

It makes me grateful because I remember how it feels when you are unable to recognize who God made you to be.

Unable to recognize this amazing, unique, beautiful person he created you to be.
The unique blueprint he longs to bring you into, in order that you can celebrate who you are – and in the end who God is.
We reflect God’s image.

As Caroline Leaf puts it,

it is much more than finding your purpose. It is about finding yourself.

This blog for example, is not the purpose of my life. It is rather something flowing from the fact that I am finding myself. In other words, by discovering the person God created me to be, I can be a blessing….simply by being me.

 

The same goes for you.
The more you discover the amazing, unique, beautiful person God created you to be, the more you will marvel at how you will be a blessing… simply by being yourself.

 

I discover that in finding my identity I find my destiny.

 

You see, having a basic in pedagogy and psychology, I know that an identity is built in the first few years of life. After that, one can improve – but this basic identity (or lack of identity) is set.

The beautiful thing is that when we search for our identity in God, literally everything is possible. God is able to restore anything you have lost in your life.

 

He promises us in  the Bible, Isaiah 61:7(AMP):

Instead of your [former] shame you will have a double portion;

And instead of humiliation your people will shout for joy over their portion.

Therefore in their land they will possess double [what they had forfeited];

Everlasting joy will be theirs.

 

This is true for everyone that is willing to enter into that journey of finding his and her identity in God. He is the one that created you, that made you in his image. Therefore, (and here I’ll quote Dr.Leaf again)

“you are a specific part of his reflection, that missing piece that brings a unique perspective and hope to the world. There is no one like you, which means there is something you can do no one else can do… “

From the view of pedagogues and psychologists, my life was doomed to be very limited. The impact of blessing I could have around me very poor.

But God is good. He is faithful.

And if he was capable to do it with me..  then he surely can do it with you too!

secretary
How to break free from poisonous Pedagogy today

How to break free from poisonous Pedagogy today

In today’s article we will explore some more the subject of poisonous pedagogy.

Then I will share with you how today I am able to recognize the pattern of poisonous pedagogy and how I am able to choose new ways and apply a new mindset for how I view God, how I see my own life, the way I treat myself – my children and the people around me.

The Different styles of education

At the school, we had a lesson about the different styles of education. The teacher spoke to us about these different ways (authoritarian, authoritative, permissive and uninvolved) and their variations (rich or weak in control, supportive or unsupportive).

In his book “Kinder sind Persönlichkeiten” (in English: “How to really love your child”)  by Ross Campel, (s.99) he takes up these different styles, and talks about a survey conducted in America. How children reacted regarding:  
(1) their identification with parents with their values, 
(2) the religious beliefs of parents and 
(3) identification and respect with authorities and society.

The survey showed that children who have been confronted with the authoritarian style have had the most trouble in their adult lives, even more so than children who have been neglected or educated in the permissive style.

It seems to me that this authoritarian style is quite similar to the image of the child of poisonous pedagogy, and yet, as the author also writes, “it is the style applied by most Christian families in America” (and also in Switzerland).

Personally, I believe, that to start a healthy family, it takes more than “the right style of education, the right book, methods or the right theory”.

I really like what Frank and Catherine Fabiano wrote in their book “Die Herzen der Kinder berühren” (p10) , (Reaching out to our children’s heart, only available in German ) that

“knowledge and understanding are necessary to be able to understand how to reach the hearts of our children”.

They quote Hosea 4:6a “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…”

Bradshaw tells us (p.61)

 “A family system becomes chronically dysfunctional not because of bad people, but because of bad information loops, bad feedback in the form of bad rules of behavior. The same is true of society. Our parents are not bad people for transmitting the poisonous pedagogy. 

To question my own upbringing and recognize the things that shaped my life in a negative way, was scary and challenging. However, because I allowed that process into my life, I could recognize many of the destructive patterns, and I was able to strike a new path. Today, I can look at my parents mainly with compassion and love. Simply because I am no longer the product of their mistakes or things they didn’t know or didn’t understand. I can take the good heritage they transmitted to me and celebrate it. And I can create a very different environment for my own family then they were able to. 
I truly got rid of the virus of this poisonous pedagogy, being free from many of the consequences of such an upbringing.

How did I get there?

Well, let’s remember that:

  • We can’t give what we haven’t received,
  • We transmit the image we have formed since our early childhood to our own children (and our inner child, of course)
  • Our emotions of shame, worthlessness, blame, etc. are passed on to our own children without us saying anything, even often without realizing it ourselves.
  • The image (whether present or absent) of our own authority figure (father) reflects the image we have of God. What our beliefs are about Him. What we believe that He thinks of us, the way we believe that He cares for us (or doesn’t take care of us) .

You see, it is not a book about child rearing that makes one a good parent, a successful family. It is not the right method, the correct way of applying this method – and it’s not even our faith. 
Don’t get me wrong! I am a Christian, and we do want to raise godly children. 
What I am saying is that going to church and reading the bible is not a guarantee that you are not infected by this virus of poisonous pedagogy. (There are whole churches functioning on this way of treating people.)

Children raised that way will either transmit this same virus to their own children – or rebel against it by trying to break free, many times without true success.

Therefore, how can people being raised that way truly adapt to another path?

This is a question I have often asked myself on the path I was myself, until forming my own family.

Because even though I left my family at the age of 16, I often found myself trapped in these transmitted emotions. Trapped in that vision I had of God, myself and the world. I was still part of this dynamic. I still lived my life based on those emotions and realities I experienced in my family.

This is true for everybody. It doesn’t matter whether we want that or not or even whether we are aware of it or not.

However, like I wrote above, it is possible to “get rid” of that virus and to truly strike a new path.

As much as there are different people, there are also different ways to achieve the same result:

To be able to get out of one’s “inner prison” due to past experiences – often reinforced by the results of our present experiences and influenced by our misunderstanding.

I will share with you some of my personal experiences that transformed my understanding and my reality of my own life.

  • One of the big changes came with the understanding that I didn’t need to hide who I was, like I explained in thatarticle. 
  • I entered into a new reality when I understood that God didn’t expect me to hand myself over – but that he loves my true devotion, as I wrote in that article.
  • The day God told me that I could quit my struggle to become normal – that I was normal in my unicity. See thatarticle. 
  • That process of understanding that individuality is nothing scary but something powerful and beautiful. See that article.
  • The understanding of “honor” has changed the way I treat people in general, my husband and my children.
  • The freedom that came in my life when I realized that I don’t have to be a “nice girl” to be loved.
  • Or when I realized by reading a book that I was living a mentality of a pauper of poverty. See this article.
  • Or the story I shared with you here on how God showed me how he is not that harsh, rigid father who misses to understand our hearts.
  • When I finally understood that I don’t need to be perfect in order to be loved and valuable. Neither do people around me. See this article

Those are only a few of the things that lead to freedom in my own life.

I truly believe what I wrote above:

As much as there are different people, there are also different ways to achieve the same result.
However, we have to be willing to enter the process.

An essay about Poisonous Pedagogy back in time and Today

An essay about Poisonous Pedagogy back in time and Today

Regardless of the season of my life, I have always had one final goal in mind:

I wanted to be able to start a family. Not just any family. I longed for a healthy family.

I knew, even in the years of “rebellion”, while I was questioning all the values and things taught by my own family, this was the desire of my heart. However, I knew that I could not give anything that I had not received myself.

It was also clear to me that many things I had experienced in my own family were nothing I wanted to imitate. Very early on I knew what I didn’t want… but it was a long process to be able to understand what exactly was wrong, and especially, what it was that would replace these things!

In 2010 I was participating in a Christian counseling school, and at the end of the first year, we had to choose a theme to write an essay on.
I was clear what my subject would be: “Family”. More precisely, I chose the theme “Poisonous Pedagogy”, a reality I was discovering through the literature we had to read for that school.
Reading through this essay a couple of days ago, I decided to transform it into two articles. Of course I made some changes to make it suitable for the open public.

This work is based on the book “The family”, written by John Bradshaw. The pages are from the French version “la famille”, updated version 2004, translated into English.

Bradshaw explains the meaning of the poisonous pedagogy (or in the words of Alice Miller: black pedagogy)  (p.88)

 “The poisonous pedagogy is based on inequality – a kind of master/slave relationship. Parents are deserving of respect simply because they are parents. Parents are always right and are to be obeyed.

And on page 129: 

 “The overt rules that create dysfunctionality are the rules of the poisonous pedagogy. Parents are dysfunctional as a result of these erroneous rules, which they carry within their own psyches.“

The book describes at a deep level this way of living in a family, of being raised.

I realized that, although I found myself affected by the emotions and consequences caused by this treatment described in the book, I did not experience most of the things described in there (physical abuse, sexual abuse, willful malice). My family has not suffered from alcoholism, infidelity in marriage or other things like that.

I then realized that the family system is not ended with every generation  – but that, as Bradshaw describes it:

 “Without critically questioning and updating them (The erroneous rules) , they pass them on to their children. Thus, parents become unintentional carriers of a virus.”  (p.29)

In my case, they mainly transmitted the emotions they experienced during their childhood, their shame, blame, fear, vision of the world, of God and transmitted their “weak” identity. Their sense of “worthlessness”, the denigration they received themselves. 

 

Poisonous Pedagogy – a description

In my research on the subject I have been able to see that poisonous pedagogy is exactly what Bradshow calls it:

A virus carried involuntarily. (p.129).

It is highly contagious and infects entire families, entire generations. It infects people with the best intentions, the highest moral values, Christian parents, and even those who grew up in such an environment and who have vowed never to do this with their own children. 

It has become clear to me that poisonous pedagogy is based largely on a false image of who a child is – and this image will later reproduce in ourselves, how we treat our own self (inner child) and in the same way, how we treat our own children.

 

Poisonous Pedagogy back in time

 As I did a weekend of this counseling school, I had my three month old with me. I did as I did at home. Carrying him in a sling, nursing him when he was hungry (my oldest did this every 2 ½ hours, as if he would have an internal clock) and rocking him to sleep.

Three ladies in their fifties came to me during the weekend, telling me how my attitude as a mother touched them deeply. They told me how they were raised very differently.

Triggered by this experience I talked to several people around this age.
I realized that they all had all similar stories.
Nothing very serious in their opinion:  

“it was done like that in past times”…

and yet an image of the child upbringing described in the book “The Family” as poisonous pedagogy:

  • The adult (no matter if it is the parents, the teacher, the village pastor or a peasant friend next door) is always right and has all the rights.
  • The individual did not exist in itself, but only as a function of family (also described in Bradshaw’s book p. 220
  • All of those people in their fifties I talked to, could identify their past with this statement:

    “Instead of learning from our children, the poisonous pedagogy exhorts us to mold and train them like animals. It asks us to crush their vitality, spontaneity and emotional expression.” P.210

  • Corporal punishment was frequent (and poisonous pedagogy encourages it) because it would be a good way to teach children respect and obedience towards parents, (p195)

    One of those ladies I talked to was also sexually assaulted in the name of “education”, as Bradshaw puts it. (p.175) Poisonous pedagogy plays a predominant role in the tragedy of incest and sexual offenses in general….since children must obey their parents and honor them at all costs, implicitly; the latter have rights over their children’s bodies.

  • The people in charge of education have used guilt as a guardian to act, which has taught them to be ashamed of themselves. P.220
  • Yelling, name-calling, labeling, criticizing, judging, ridiculing, humiliating, comparing and holding in contempt are all sources of shame (p.219) and is psychological aggression.

In her book “For your own good” Alice Miller, the inventor of the expression “black pedagogy”, includes the following points on pages 59-60:

  • A feeling of duty produces love.
  • Hatred can be done away with by forbidding it.
  • Parents deserve respect simply because they are parents.
  • Children are undeserving of respect simply because they are children.
  • Obedience makes a child strong.
  • A high degree of self-esteem is harmful.
  • A low degree of self-esteem makes a person altruistic.
  • Tenderness (doting) is harmful.
  • Responding to a child’s needs is wrong.
  • Severity and coldness are a good preparation for life.
  • A pretense of gratitude is better than honest ingratitude.
  • The way you behave is more important than the way you really are.
  • Neither parents nor God would survive being offended.
  • The body is something dirty and disgusting.
  • Strong feelings are harmful.
  • Parents are creatures free from drives and guilt.
  • Parents are always right.

 Poisonous pedagogy today

In our present time the image of the child has changed a little. However, we find it everywhere in our society.

As a present example (remember I wrote that in 2010, around the birth of my firstborn) I came across a current example, when I was pregnant with our first baby and followed the advice of several friends of mine.

They were enthused over a book about raising kids that is widely spread in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. “Schlaf gut mein kleiner Schatz” – the German version of “Babywise” of well-known author Garry Ezzo. The ministry of the Ezzos started back in the 1980s.  I know many families in the English and German-speaking world who raise their kids by his teaching.

I bought that book.

I studied it.

I even ordered material from the United States.

I did research on it, reading many reviews on Amazon – both the one stars and the five stars (all back in 2010, when I wrote this essay).

To reassure those of you approving of his books, I will include right here in the beginning my conclusion: I know several parents who are doing a great job as parents while loving that book. Today I believe that it all comes down to this “virus of poisonous pedagogy”. If you are infected by it, you will apply any teaching with this mindset of poisonous pedagogy. And Ezzo’s teaching and view of a child will not help you to get rid of it. In contrary, it helps you to do it more firmly.
However, if that’s not your story and you can’t identify with the above mentioned points, then you will be able to take everything with a grain of salt and apply the things that work for your family and your child.

Having made that clear, back to my example:

Being well aware how this poisonous pedagogy has hurt my life, I was very sensitive to the message of this author. I found many of his statements about child rearing, his understanding of child development and the way he assumes that his way is the only correct way, very disturbing.

Let me explain me why I say that:

He teaches, for example, that:

  • “Your task is to get control of the child so you can effectively train him.” (GKGW)
  • “If anything, continuous close mother/infant contact produces abnormal mother/child dependency.” (NEPrep)
  • “Because the desire for continual and immediate gratification begins at birth, the need for cultivating self-control in your child also begins at that point.” (NE GKGW)
  • “The foundations of moral training are laid early in life, and the cornerstone is discipline. Getting your baby on a routine and sleeping through the night are the results of basic discipline.”  (Prep for the Toddler Years p84)
  • “When your baby awakens [in the middle of the night] do not rush right in. Any crying will be temporary, lasting from 5-45 minutes.” (Speaking of babies 8 weeks and over)
  • Parents must be careful not to become slaves to their newborn child
  • Responding to every crying of the newborn will make him narcissistic and unable to have healthy relationships later on (because they will believe that the whole world revolves around them)
  • It spoils your baby (and even your newborn) to pick him up with every crying. You have to learn to let the baby cry, especially if it is not an adequate moment of crying (i.e. if the child has just eaten, the diapers are clean and the baby’s not hurting)

These are only a few of his ideas.

Bradshaw, on the other hand, explains (p. 214) that

“A child’s earliest needs are for a warm, loving person to be there to mirror, echo and affirm them. This means that the first 15months of life (called the symbiotic stage), a child needs a face with accepting eyes to reflect his self.  Whatever is the mothering person’s eyes becomes the core and foundation of the child’s identity.

He also points out that

“Alice Miller has argued that the infant child’s inner sensations come from the core of the child’s self. The earliest sensations come from the mothers feeling about the child. Since the child is nonverbal, everything depends on feelings. These early feelings about the self are the core out of which the child’s self esteem will be formed. This earliest need is called the healthy narcissist need.  P.215

Next week, I will explore some more the subject. 

We will see that 

  • We can’t give what we haven’t received,
  • We transmit the image we have formed since our early childhood to our own children (and our inner child, of course)
  • Our emotions of shame, worthlessness, blame, etc. are passed on to our own children without us saying anything, even often without realizing it ourselves.
  • The image (whether present or absent) of our own authority figure (father) reflects the image we have of God. What our beliefs are about Him. What we believe that He thinks of us, the way we believe that He cares for us (or doesn’t take care of us) .

However, I will also share with you how you can break free from a past of poisonous Pedagogy and enter into the freedom of experiencing a different reality for yourself and your children.