“When we mistake being needed with love, we make people dependent on us”. Fr Emmerich Vogt was speaking in his series, The Spirituality of the Twelve Steps about codependency and how common it is.
Fr Vogt points out, the Twelve Steps is not just for alcoholics; it’s a spiritual process that helps us address any addiction, dependency or attachment in our life. And his talk gave plenty of examples that I could relate to all too well. Things like the need to control our children even when they are adults, trying to change our spouse, needing to control the traffic or the discussion or the family social activities, needing to be liked, needing to be respected, acting out of fear, guilt, compulsion or obligation rather than love etc.
Almost of all of us need to grow through the process of detaching from our self-identified values in order to become more spiritually whole and mature, more attuned to God’s values… that is, more capable of genuine love.
To illustrate this principle, Fr Vogt talks about every-day traffic frustrations. How many times have we fumed as another driver tried to cut in front of us, or even just drove too slowly or carelessly. We stubbornly attempt to ‘reform’ them by blaring the horn, closing the gap or glaring at them as we pass. We arrive at our destination agitated and irritable. And we do this with regular monotony. Yet how pathetic! We are letting strangers determine our state of peace. As if we could ever control the traffic or the way other people drive. It truly is useless anxiety that robs us of our serenity and is borne of a troubled spirituality. Since listening to his talks, I’ve made a conscious decision to set aside my ‘competitive’ urges when driving and to do as he suggests – send the other drivers a blessing that they may arrive safely at their destination. It makes for a less agitated driver and a calming effect that persists well beyond the drive itself.
So often we project the blame for our self-imposed prison onto those we love.
Here’s another example. I am in the habit of losing my cool when I get home and discover that the kids have left the kitchen in yet another mess. Greasy pans are on the stove, food has been left out to spoil on the bench, dirty dishes clutter the sink because heaven forbid, somebody empty the dishwasher! It’s perfectly reasonable for me to expect our children to clean up after themselves, but fuming and chewing them out as I resentfully cleanup, again and again, is clearly unproductive. Not only does it not inspire them to be more responsible, it encourages the status quo. As long as I continue to do for my children what they can do for themselves, I am complicit in keeping them dependent on me.
The ordinary examples Fr Vogt gave were so commonplace, I had never appreciated how toxic they could be in terms of the spiritual life; how savagely oppressive and binding. And, really, isn’t that fundamentally what the spiritual life is really about? Learning to love freely without fear, demand or guilt.
Author: Francine Pirola
To hear Fr Emmerich Vogt speak during his Australian tour visit https://www.facebook.com/pages/Fr-Emmerich-Vogts-Australian-Tour/510549125673353