What is the difference between dying to self for that other person and coming to the realization that you’re being used?


I assume there’s been some episode in your journey that’s triggered this great question. These two concepts are very different and yet connected. Let’s try to unpack your question and the issues involved.

First, let’s define dying to self. The traditional church definition of dying to self is to deny yourself (ie: stuff your emotions) and stop exerting yourself (keep your opinions to yourself) with anyone with authority over you. The way this definition usually plays out is the metaphor of a doormat. It’s sometimes confused with servanthood. This idea of dying to self is not servanthood; it’s slavery or living on a trajectory toward slavery. This understanding of dying to self is unbiblical and secular humanistic in nature, since it’s based on the notion that all relationships are hierarchical in nature. Matthew 20 contains a stern warning against this thinking.

So, as I explain in the chapter Let’s Change, the principle of dying to self relates to dying to our false self. The false self is our self-constructed way of defending our self. Our false self is our strategies we use to insulate ourselves against any and all stress, fears, anxieties, our pride or unworthiness, any obsessive/compulsive behaviour to earn love and acceptance or to try harder, our posturing to pose a certain image, our pretence, my preoccupation to care for myself (especially to protect my pain so I can avoid facing life head on).

Scripture tells us that all that needs to die and be replaced with our true self (Ephesians 4, Colossians 3). The true self is our new identity in Christ: we are eternally safe in the love and acceptance of Jesus; we are worthy so we can respect others; there’s no need to perform, so no need to judge others; we can rest and be authentic at the same time, knowing it is only in Christ that we’re able to flourish and become the beautiful son or daughter that God intended all along.

Your phrase, “coming to the realization that they’re using you,” is a good and healthy realization that whomever is using you is living and relating out of their false self. So your question could be reframed to “how can I resist this pressure to relate in a codependent manner by being the doormat I think this other person wants me to be?”

In a nutshell my answer would be to initiate a conversation with the person to disclose to them what you feel, what you think, and what you know (which, by the way, is the functional meaning of submission). Let them know what they’re doing that makes you feel disrespected. Hope they will listen to you. If they don’t hear you, tell them they’re not hearing you and try saying it again. If there is resistance to listening and/or resistance to a heart apology, explain to them that you’re relationship with them feels like it’s on thin ice and let them know what respect and honor looks like to you.