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Lesson 1: Problematic Behavior

How did I get here? Many of us wrestle with this question, trying to reconcile who we want to be with who we see ourselves becoming and trying to escape the negative behaviors that plague our life. The origin of our unwanted behavior started in early childhood or during our teen years. For many of us, we have struggled in relationship for decades. We carry so much buried pain. We have come to believe that change is impossible.

At first, we may feel like a woman with a broken leg that didn’t heal properly and now we walk with a limp. As a result, we could not participate in many of life’s wonderful activities. Wanting to fix the problem, we seek counsel from a physician who says, “I can fix your leg so you will no longer experience limitations. However, I will have to re-break your leg to set it properly. It will require some initial pain.”

As we face the issues that contribute to our unwanted, out-of-control behaviors, we will experience some intense pain. The painful areas of our past that we have hidden away will come to the surface so we can begin the healing process. We must recognize how our life was built on our environment, family background, childhood trauma, life stresses, genetics, and more—each element shaping a unique path that led us to where we are today.

When it comes to assessing our own behaviors, we often have a skewed perspective. This is especially true when it comes to relationships. We think our behaviors are normal and only question this reality when something goes sideways.

This can be challenging. We are commanded to live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16), but how is this possible when we struggle with relationship: gaining, maintaining, and keeping relationships? For many of us, when our relationships fall apart, we don’t know ourselves, or others, well enough to understand what went wrong. We rarely take the time and energy to assess what happened. We simply move on to the next relationship, where we experience a similar outcome. This is not a healthy way to live.

If we were to honestly look at the significant relationships in our lives—family, friends, and romantic relationships—we would probably see a pattern emerge. Not necessarily the same pattern in every relationship, but patterns that lead to unhealthy relationship dynamics.

Sandy has a heart for people. She loves being around and serving others. Having many friends is important to Sandy. Although they only met a few months ago at a college event, she would do anything for her new friend Jan. They meet for coffee about once a week, but Sandy is constantly texting Jan, asking if she wants to hangout or go shopping. Jan is often unavailable for anything more than their occasional coffee get-together.

Recently, while meeting Sandy for coffee, Jan mentioned that her neck was sore. Immediately, in the middle of the coffee shop, Sandy got up, stood behind Jan, and started massaging Jan’s neck. This went on for a couple minutes, while Sandy continued to talk about what she had learned from a friend who took a kinesiology course. Jan sat in silent shock, not knowing how to make this uncomfortable situation stop.

When Sandy returned to her seat, their conversation lagged and Jan quickly created an excuse to leave. Sandy wondered if Jan was bothered, but dismissed the thought as she sent a text to another friend.

Since this incident, Sandy has invited Jan for coffee several times, but Jan is always busy. Jan feels uncomfortable around Sandy and has no desire to continue the relationship; she plans to distance herself from Sandy, hoping that Sandy will eventually stop texting her. Sandy recognizes that Jan is distant, but doesn’t know why.

Sandy is a boundary buster: she doesn’t recognize when she crosses the personal boundaries of others. Let’s look at another example.

Noel has a first date tonight. She has many first dates. She wants to be in a lasting relationship but cannot seem to find the right guy. When she meets a new guy, she tries to develop their common areas of interest, which often involves her pretending to be interested in the same things. Ultimately, she gives them whatever they want—whatever she thinks will make them happy.

Noel has a hard time saying “no” to people, especially men. In an attempt to preserve a relationship, she will sometimes do things that make her feel uncomfortable. When the relationship ends, as they always do, Noel convinces herself that she is just being kind in considering their needs above her own.

As she gets ready for her date, she tries to push her feelings of guilt, shame, and worthlessness to the back of her mind. While getting ready, Noel received a text from a friend: I met the perfect guy for you. Okay looking, but super funny! Told him you were available. Gave him your number. Okay, right?

With a heavy sigh, Noel responded: Yes, I’m available. Look forward to meeting him.

THOUGHTS  FEELINGS  BEHAVIORS

Whether we understand the significance of this cycle and the role it plays in our relationships, the truth remains: our thoughts influence our feelings and our feelings influence our behaviors.

Throughout this study, we will learn how our thoughts and feelings are closely linked and become the motivating force behind our behaviors. We will learn the importance of 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NASB) and the role it plays in our healing:

We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,…

Those of us who struggle with relationships often don’t recognize the control our thought life has over us. We live “in the moment” and are continually held captive by our black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking. This can interfere with our ability to connect with others, limiting our capacity to cultivate deep, long-lasting relationships.

How do we know if our behaviors are problematic? Does it mean we have relationship issues if one relationship ends badly? Not necessarily; but if many of our relationships exist in tension—or we find ourselves doing things we don’t really want to do or shouldn’t do—it may require further investigation into our behaviors.

If we want to change our behaviors, we have to develop a self-awareness of why we do what we do. We have to take an objective approach and assess the reality of our behaviors. The following two assessments will help us identify some areas in our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that contribute to unhealthy relationship dynamics. This is the starting point to creating lifelong change.

This week, take the following Love Addiction and Sexual Addiction Screening Tests. Be prepared to discuss the results in your group.

Looking Ahead

Complete the Group Check-In, Self-Care lesson, and Change & Growth Analysis in your
Unraveled: Weekly Tools before the next group meeting.

Assignments