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Friday, September 18, 2015

"Don't Call it Love" (Gregory L. Jantz and Tim Clinton)

TITLE: Don't Call It Love: Breaking the Cycle of Relationship Dependency
AUTHOR: Gregory L. Jantz and Tim Clinton
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2015, (224 pages).

Relationships are necessary. They are crucial for the proper functioning in society. They form the glue for many. Without them, we are like robots. Relationships are also important. The trouble comes when we misunderstand the proper place of relationships and to over-emphasize its importance. One such problem is codependency. In the words of two medical doctors, it is simply "relationship dependency" that comes about when a person simply cannot function in life without them. Such a person "has difficulty loving or trusting self and needs relationships to provide validation and value."

Right from the start, the five diagnostic questions had me probing things about myself. When talking about ourselves, how difficult can it be to come up with ten words? How many of these words are positive and how many are negative? According to the authors' research, they find that lots of people have way too negative views about themselves. They show us at least twenty "dependent personality traits," such as needing constant reassurance; validation from others; unable to disagree or assert ourselves; jumping to another relationship when one ends; and so on. They guide readers toward a deeper level of understanding of such traits through the recognition of patterns of dependency. Using an "addictive cycle" model, eight phases are identified.

  1. Search: A frantic lookout for someone to grab on to.
  2. Attraction: Believing one can only be secure by clinging on someone, one is drawn to another so as to fill one's emptiness.
  3. Relief: Immediate relief comes when a person is found
  4. Anxiety: Fears start to appear the moment the person does not seem to meet one's expectations
  5. Denial: Adopting all kinds of behaviour just to prove one is not insecure despite the evidence
  6. Escalation: Panic steps in when one sees the relationship waning, resulting in escalation of steps to protect and to cement the relationship
  7. Switching: A move from a I-want-You to a You-Owe-Me. 
  8. Withdrawal: An emotional downward spiral when a relationship is lost. 
Jantz is the founder of the Center for Counseling and Health Resources based in Washington while Clinton is President of the American Association of Christian Counselors. Together they help to clear the decks of addiction and to discover the unhealthy dependency traits. Just like alchoholic addiction, the road to recovery begins with a recognition that such dependency is likened to being addicted to poison, not promise. In the words of Jantz and Clinton, we cannot call it "love." We must take the fears of unhealthy dependency by the horns and face them head on with courage. Boldly face the fears of exposure, emptiness, abandonment, insignificance, rejection, and so on. They point out the link between one's emotional abuse and relationship dependency. They look at how spiritual abuse can also contribute toward such unhealthy dependencies Both physical and spiritual abuse include patterns of manipulation. They also look at the scientific reasons on brain chemistry. After all these essential groundwork, they provide us three steps forward in breaking the relationship dependency cycle.

The first step is to learn about attachment styles to help us move from unhealthy to healthy relationships. The fundamental attachment style is that of a parent-child relationship. The "secure attachment style" is about feeling safe, feeling loved, and being able to trust others. They are secure in who they are. The "ambivalent attachment style" experience inconsistent love at childhood. They are distrusting of others and often seek verification. Constantly on a lookout for love and affection, they may even manipulate others in order to get the love that they want. The "avoidant attachment style" on the other hand wants intimacy but cannot find someone suitable to cling on to. They then adopt the avoidance and the abandonment method. Not only are they unable to find someone to connect with, they grow in being unwilling to do anything about it, and to go solo. The "disorganized attachment style" has no consistent pattern except that they are none of the earlier three styles. They are the catch-all type when they do not fit any of the above. In order to know ourselves better, it is good to see where we fit into these.

The second step is to recognize that the core of healthy relationship dependency is to cultivate the inner man. Loved people love people. We need God. We may fool others but God is not fooled. When we are disillusioned with God, we invariably become disillusioned with people and the things of this world. When the root relationship is mended and reconciled, it sparks the road to recovery. Just being a Christian does not exempt one from unhealthy dependencies on one another. For such relationships is essentially idolatry. We idolize others as the solution to our needs. We idolize ourselves into thinking that the world owe us. In the love of God, we grow out of this spiritual security toward a healthy attachment that loves others and oneself.

The third step is to put everything into practice. With the step of faith, we learn to be honest with ourselves. We begin with our broken selves and to take a snapshot of who we are. We then acknowledge that we cannot help ourselves and to let God rescue us. The "Twelve Weeks to Wellness" plan helps us do just that. I like that list.
  • A weekly prayer list
  • A weekly Scripture passage to illustrate the love and grace of God
  • A weekly statement to affirm our dependency on God
  • A weekly action plan and a "radar of faith"
  • A weekly gratitude list
This book is a reminder that we are not as strong as we may think. Neither are we as weak as we may presume. All of us carry wounds and a past with various states of brokenness. Even our relationships are not perfect. Some of our friends and loved ones no longer want to connect with us. Others cling on to us like glue. With the diagnostic questions in this book, not only can we discover more about ourselves now, we can use it as an opportunity to do periodic flashbacks on our past. Just because we do not feel a certain way now does not mean we will never do so in the future. We are all vulnerable. For people who are desperate for someone to cling onto right now, this book is the life buoy to keep us afloat enough so that we do not drown the one we desire to cling on to. For people who encounter those with manipulative tendencies, it may give them strategies to guard themselves from becoming victims. At the same time, it enables them to understand why certain people behave that way. I would caution anyone from being too quick to jump to conclusion about other people's attachment styles. If needed, seek a professional counselor. Relationships can be very complicated and no Do-It-Yourself book or manual can solve it. Those who feel like they can be a blessing and a healing agent to those in emotional need will do best to ensure they stand on firm foundations in the first place. My prayer is that believers in Christ will find their safety and security in Christ alone. From that position, extend a hand of friendship, with the backing of the Word of God, and the practical strategies available in this book. Who knows, when we recognize the signs of dependency in others, we can become a bridge for God to heal relationships, if necessary, through us.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Revell Publishers and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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