by Stephanie Tucker, CS, MDAAC, M.Min.
Codependency takes on many forms and symptoms. (To learn about the symptoms of codependency, click here) One of the most challenging areas lies in self-identity. Most people who struggle with codependency have a difficult time seeing themselves from a healthy perspective.
They are often prone to overly focus on the needs of others, while unknowingly disconnecting to self. Instead of being free to live the life that God intended, they get worn down, burdened, guilt-ridden and overwhelmed by a sense of responsibility. Life becomes a constant race to try to accommodate and meet the demands of other people and circumstances. Song of Solomon 1:6 describes a young lady suffering from this very condition. She says “They made me caretaker of the vineyards, But I have not taken care of my own vineyard.” It is truly a sad situation when in our efforts to seemingly help others, we are unable to care for ourselves and even lose ourselves. If this describes you, take some time right now to pray and ask God to begin to work a process in you that will connect you back to who you are. While this article is intended to provide some guidance, it is truly only the Guidance of the Holy Spirit that can bring you through the journey of embracing true identity.
What Is Identity?
Some of us may not have ever really understood the question “who am I?” our entire life. We may have assumed we would figure it out as we went along – as we found the right job, the right spouse, the right life. Yet true identity isn’t any of those things. True identity isn’t found by merely looking at the tasks or good deeds we’ve performed. It isn’t found through our professional credentials, church position, education or personal success. It isn’t even found by the roles we play day to day, such as a mother, wife, father, husband, etc. In fact, identity isn’t about what we do, it is about who we are at our core level.
We can only find true identity by going to the Person that claims ownership of us. It is through our Creator that we find the significance and value of who we truly are. If you own a piece of equipment, what do you reference to understand how it works? You read the owner’s manual, written by the manufacturer. God is our manufacturer, and His Word is our owners manual. He know exactly where we are today, and can see those things that aren’t working quite right. What an amazing perspective this brings to life! God is fully in control of who we are and desires that we see ourselves through His eyes, not our own ideas and belief that are not based on biblical facts. That means we don’t overly estimate or underestimate who we are, we simply accept we are product of His very own hand and His very own heart. His ultimate goal is that we be transformed into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. This is the true identity and purpose of our life! This translates into hundreds of precious and marvelous promises and truths found in His Word.
When Things Get Broken
Because we live in a fallen world and in fallen flesh, things get broken along the way in our life. We can easily become entangled in sinful hang-ups without even realizing it. We become overwhelmed by difficult relationships and our efforts to change and fix others. Before we know it, life itself isn’t working. No matter how hard we try, we can’t get the results we are looking for. Our routines and patterns we adjusted to simply to “survive” quickly become habits and strongholds. They eventually lead to a variety of character defects. If these character defects overwhelm our life, they can be misconstrued as our identity, or essentially, define who we are. But this inaccurate. We are NOT defined by our defects.
The most significant principle to grasp in this journey is that separation must take place between the person God made you to be, and the sin nature and devastation sin has caused in your life. Sadly, many well-meaning churches and Christians never learn to differentiate between the two. Never mistake a confident, grounded, joyful person who has learned to walk in the freedom of God’s grace as someone prideful. God intended us to be free and experience Him in abundance. He paid a price for our sin and our sin nature. And it is only when we recognize that, surrender to Him and receive His Spirit that we are restored back to the person we were meant to be. Piece by piece, one step at a time, God will remove the tarnish in our life. Just the same, if we never acknowledge sin or the need to be made right, we’ll never become the person God intended us to be.
Leaving the Baggage Behind
If it sounds easy, what holds us back from living in light of this reality? There are two vital ingredients in finding and being established in true identity: removing the faulty belief systems and “baggage” we’ve carried and replacing those lies with the Truth of God’s Word. In order to begin to uncover those things that are blocking and preventing us from living out the life God intended for us, we must be fully surrendered to the biblical process of change. This means we must have a willingness to allow God to “gut out” the lies we have believed, the sinful mentalities we carry and the bitterness we may be harbouring towards others. Recovery is all about removing and ridding the damaging effects of sin (our sin and other people’s sin against us.). The 12 Step program is a direct tool to work through this, but we are going to look at a brief overview we use in our treatment program.
The Process of Securing Identity
The process of recovery (sanctification, transformation) automatically ushers in a solid sense of identity. Therefore, as we make genuine recovery a goal, we find that our identity becomes more and more in line with what God intended. Here are some core functions of that process:
Stop running, cease striving
A codependent by nature has a difficult time admitting and coming to terms with sin and wrongdoing (or might be overly sensitive to it). We might be hiding behind “good” efforts to run away from the shame we feel inside. Instead of hiding, God wants us to confront reality. He isn’t interested in our efforts to impress Him through our deeds. Going to church, reading the bible and helping others mean very little unless we are truly connected to the Lord through a humble, open and honest relationship. He’s interested in our humility and willingness to say “this is wrong with me, this is how I’ve sinned, please forgive me”.
As we surrender to God’s grace, we will find that He begins to clearly separate what we do from who we are. If we are bound by our personal efforts to please other people, or need to “feel good” through “good behaviors”, God will make us painfully aware that He is not interested in this mindset at all. The only thing God is after is the “real you” that no-one else on this earth can replace. Everything else – sins, habits and hang-ups, need to be removed. It is not in our trying and doing, but in our true surrender that God has His way in our life.
If we stay focused on the recovery process, God will begin to show us at deeper levels the beliefs and roots that have been driving our behavior, whether it’s insane efforts to fix, sustain and please others, or chemical addictive behavior. God wants to break through at the very places of our pain – He will uncover the reasons why we do the things we do. It might be a difficult childhood, abuse issues or some other traumatic event. Only your heavenly Father truly knows and understands where you are today. No human being could ever see or understand you like He does. We must be willing to see behind the surface of our outward behavior for God to show us what lies deep in our hearts that needs to be healed.
God may bring us through a season of pain if we begin to connect to emotions and realities that have been hidden and repressed. His ultimate goal in this process is quite simply forgiveness. But before forgiveness can be applied as the remedy, we must understand and diagnose the problem. That’s why we go through a process first if we’ve been in some form of denial. As God exposes the damage and sin in us, we ask for and receive God’s forgiveness by repenting of our sins. Just the same, we need to be ready to GIVE forgiveness to others. Forgiveness is something we can easily say with our mouth, but having it in our hearts is altogether different. God forgives and loves PEOPLE, not BEHAVIORS. He expects the same of us. We can forgive people, but we need never forgive certain acts. If you struggle with forgiving others, it’s essential that you evaluate and understand how God has forgiven you. “Forgiven” people are “forgiving” people.
Receive Truth. What we believe is ultimately what we become. While God has given us truth, we can choose to whether or not to believe it. The process of restoration happens only as we truly embrace Truth into our life. In this process, we may be astonished to discover the types of lies we have believed. The only way we can encounter Truth and dispel lies is by diligently praying and seeking out a personal relationship with our Lord. We must read His Word while allowing the Spirit of God to apply it specifically to our lives. (Refer again to the chart “Who I Am in Christ)
The most remarkable part of the journey of recovery is getting rid of the damage and the curse of sin in order to receive God’s blessings and fullness in our life. As we’ve learned, our purpose and identity as a child of God was damaged along the way. Through God’s Son, Jesus Christ, we are reconnected to our original purpose. Through Him, we are being restored each and every day.
Remember, when the attacks to your identity come from other people and from your own thought life, you must fight back with the truth of who GOD SAYS YOU ARE. As you begin to approach the challenges and circumstances in your life, having this perspective brings all power necessary through Christ. God will show you where you are overly focused on other people, and will show you how to appropriately love and give to others in your life. You may always be a kind, caring person sensitive to others, but you will learn how to be that way with healthy boundaries. You may always function in a role of helping others, but you will be motivated by the right reason. You will do so in the power of the Holy Spirit. God will use all the things that ever happened in your past for your good and His glory. As you mature, you will be able to truly see and understand the needs of those around you in order to minister to them as you are directed by the Spirit of God.
Do you know who you are today? Do you know to whom you belong? Seek after Him! Embrace all He intended for your life. He says in Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plan I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
If you are not sure you have established a personal relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ, please learn more about that today.
It’s the ONLY way you could ever find your true purpose and identity.
Stephanie Tucker is the codependency and family counselor of New LIfe Spirit Recovery