Special Counseling Concerns for Women

1. A special strategy for people with drug and alcohol problems is essential. Addicts have special needs that the "garden variety" sinner does not have. They can be identified by using a standard alcohol screening test during the intake process. Then we can help them to get into an active program of recovery using such activities as support groups, addiction therapy, educational activities, etc. Use community resources if the shelter's staff does not have expertise in this area. Addiction is a primary issue, so all other help giving will amount to nothing if the person cannot stay sober.counseling2.jpg

2. The Issue of Toxic Shame By definition, "toxic shame" is an inner sense of being defective, faulty, unlovable, undeserving, unredeemable and hopeless. It is root problem for addicts, codependents and people from dysfunctional families. Most adults in family shelters fall into at least one of these categories. Toxic shame is the "glue" that holds the wall of denial together and prevents hurting people from accepting the help we offer them. They think - "If I admit I have problems, it proves that I am a worthless, useless human being." Addiction leads to a total deterioration of a person's moral life leading to a destructive mix of toxic shame and guilt. The Bible tells us that admitting our problems is not an admission of hopelessness or defectiveness. Instead, it is the key to forgiveness, freedom from our pasts and a new self-image.

3. The Dynamics of Codependency Another critical counseling issue for women in shelters is learning to overcome the destructive effects of codependency, which is, essentially, the result of a lifetime of abusive relationships. If this issue is not dealt with, codependent individuals will continue to become emotionally involved with people who are not good for them. Some symptoms are:

  • a. A sense of little or no control over the circumstances of one's life Children growing up in dysfunctional families must somehow find a way to cope with all the pain and confusion. This often results in a faulty belief system that continues into adult life that leaves people with an all-pervasive sense of powerlessness about practically every situation in which they find themselves.

    b. Passivity in the face of disturbing and dangerous situations People from dysfunctional families are used to living life in constant crisis. So, painful circumstances do not cause them to seek change as it would for most people. Instead, their learned helplessness results in a sense of resignation about even the most painful and dangerous circumstances.

    c. Avoidance of social support For those who struggle with "toxic shame", almost everything that happens to them in life seems to support their assessment of themselves as being no good, useless, powerless, unable to change or do anything right. They tend to be filled with fear and insecurity, especially in social situations, making relationships very difficult.

    d. Guessing at what is normal An individual's perspective of the world is formed largely by their home life. Children from dysfunctional families grow up feeling isolated and different from others. As adults they are forced to guess at what "normal" is. As a result, many people in our programs tend to be so self-conscious, have a hard time trusting, opening up and really feeling a part of things.

    e. Out of touch with emotions Supressing one's feelings is an essential survival skill in a dysfunctional family. This is why so many follow their parents' example, using drugs and alcohol to managing their emotions. When an individual stops experiencing emotions in an appropriate, healthy way, they get pushed deep inside themselves. As a result, they get more out of touch with who they are and what they feel. That's why they blame others, that's why they keep hurting themselves. On the other hand, one of the first consequences of coming into recovery is the revival of the emotional life. Feelings often come out as anger and grief, often in seemingly inappropriate ways. Yet this can be an important sign of growth.

An important note for ministry to children: A Christian program called Confident Kids is ant effective tools for ministry to children in dysfunctional families. They are seeking help in developing a special inner city version of this program. For more information contact:
Confident Kids
P. O. Box 6072
Federal Way, WA 98063
Phone: (206) 838-7550

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Copyright by Michael Liimatta. All Rights Reserved.
Mr. Liimatta is the past President of Christians in Recovery® 
and currently serves on its Advisory Counsel. He has been 
involved in Alcoholics Victorious for over 20 years.He is a 
Social Entrepreneur, Consultant to Nonprofit Organizations 
with OneAccord, Chief Academic Officer at City Vision College 
and has been involved with drug and alcohol counseling and recovery 
education for 30 years. Visit his web site