Codependency is the biggest problem we don’t know we have. According to experts, almost everyone – 96 percent of all Americans – suffers from some form of codependency.
If you’ve read my blog, you may have already figured out that I am one of these people. What you may not know about me is that I’ve been in a Biblically-based 12-step program called Celebrate Recovery for the last year — where I’ve been learning to let go of hurts, habits and hangups that are crippling my life and keeping me from healthy relationships with God and others.
Every Friday night, I introduce myself to a group of supportive fellow believers in this way:
“Hi. I’m Brit — I’m a grateful believer in Jesus Christ, and I struggle with codependency, control and an eating disorder.”
Now before you freak out — you should know that I’ve experienced great victory in these areas in recent months. I’m healthier, happier and more comfortable in my own skin than ever before — my struggles do not define me. I’m committed to being very real with you — in an effort to give hope, encouragement and a voice to thousands of others who struggle with these same hurts, hangups and habits. I have found the answer — and His name is Jesus.
You may easily comprehend (and even identify with) my control-freak nature or my unhealthy relationship with food — but you might wonder exactly what I mean by “codependency.” (Truth be told, I didn’t know what it was when I attended my first meeting.)
Allow me to illustrate using one of the most powerful vehicles on the planet — the Broadway musical. Maria, the lovestruck “Juliet” from Bernstein’s West Side Story is a textbook codependent. In a song that elicits both joy and eye roll the world over, she twirls around her room, singing:
“I feel stunning
Feel like running and dancing for joy,
For I’m loved
By a pretty wonderful boy!”
…and Maria’s friends are all like,
“Have you met my good friend Maria,
The craziest girl on the block?
You’ll know her the minute you see her,
She’s the one who is in an advanced state of shock.”
Even in this lighthearted scene, Maria’s friends know she is not right — that her obsessive behavior over her flavor-of-the-week, Tony is out-of-character and unhealthy. After all, Maria is already “pretty, witty and bright” — and it’s not because someone loves her, for crying out loud! But codependency goes deeper than just being crazy in love.
What is Codependency?
Codependency is an addiction to people.
It’s is the fallacy of trying to control your feelings by controlling people, things, and events. To the codependent, control (or the percieved lack of it) is central to every aspect of life.
The problem with codependency for believers is that on the surface, it sounds a lot like “Christian teaching.”
- Codependents always put others first before taking care of themselves. (Aren’t Christians supposed to put others first?)
- Codependents give themselves away. (Shouldn’t Christians do the same?)
- Codependents martyr themselves. (Christianity honors its martyrs, right?)
As a codependent, you may find that you:
- Assume responsibility for others’ feelings and behaviors.
- Feel guilty about others’ feelings and behaviors.
- Have difficulty identifying what you are feeling.
- Have difficulty expressing feelings.
- Are afraid of your own anger, yet sometimes erupt in rage.
- Worry about how others may respond to your feelings, opinions, and behavior.
- Have difficulty making decisions.
- Are afraid of being hurt and/or rejected by others.
- Minimize, alter or deny how you truly feel.
- Are very sensitive to how others are feeling and feel the same.
- Are afraid to express differing opinions or feeling.
- Value others opinions and feelings more than your own.
- Put other people’s needs and desires before your own.
- Embarrassed to receive recognition and praise, or gifts.
- Judge everything you think, say, or do harshly, as never “good enough.”
- Are a perfectionist.
- Are extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long.
- Don’t ask others to meet your needs or desires.
- Don’t perceive yourself as lovable and worthwhile.
- Compromise your own values and integrity to avoid rejection or others’ anger.
Low self-esteem. People-pleasing. Poor boundaries. Reactivity. Catering. Control. Dysfunctional communication. Obsessions. Dependency. Addiction. Denial. Intimacy problems. Painful, unmanageable emotions. An unfathomably unhealthy level of empathy.
Sound familiar? It sure did to me. If it does to you, keep reading.
Is Codependency a Sin?
The biggest problem with codependent relationships is that they require God to take a second place to people (Mark 12:30-31). Codependent people lack faith and trust in God to care for their needs. They feel a need to manipulate others to get what they want and need — and they might not even realize it.
When it comes to relationships, codependent people are often attracted to one another. They’ll stay stuck in a dysfunctional blind spot by telling each other what they want to hear instead of the truth. They revel in one another’s brokenness — believing they somehow deserve each other.
People who avoid telling the truth in love have trouble recognizing their own sinful habits or need for repentance. In this way, codependency can foster other harmful behaviors and core beliefs: pride, fear of man (Proverbs 29:25), and lack of boundaries.
Codependent people are loyal to a fault. They support or defend the sinful and even illegal behavior of friends and family.
Codependent people are people pleasers. They so desperately want people to think highly of them that they are virtually incapable offering constructive criticism or saying no.
Codependent people have no boundaries. They often don’t feel like a whole person and tend to copy others or attach themselves to people to gain a sense of identity.
Christian interdependence is vital to the body of Christ and its individual members. We are to love one another (John 13:34-35), let go of selfish ambition (Romans 12:3-6), and use our gifts for the benefit of others (Philippians 2:3-4). However, this is diametrically opposed to the selfishness, dishonesty, and destructiveness of codependency.
My heart breaks for those of you reading this and finding it difficult to accept. Please know that I write these truths not in judgement — but as a way to name sin that’s been plaguing me most of my life. We’re absolutely on this journey together.
So, yes. Codependency is a sin. Thankfully, in Christ, that’s not the end of the story.
The Codependency Solution
Jesus said we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, not more than ourselves (Mark 12:31). Loving ourselves as a result of God’s love for us forms our basis for loving others. Thankfully, codependents like me can learn to gain self-worth through Jesus Christ — out of our identity in Him alone.
Through His help, you will learn that:
- Everyone is a child of God and is valuable and worthy of respect.
- Your self-worth isn’t based on your performance.
- Christlike service requires you to “act” rather than “react.”
- God wants you to take care of yourself so you can be a blessing to others.
- You can live a balanced life, taking responsibility for your own health and well-being — and allowing others to take responsibility for theirs.
- You can set and hold healthy boundaries — without compromise.
- Teaching others to be self-sufficient is more rewarding than fixing their problems for them.
- You can be God-centered and free from compulsiveness, knowing that God alone brings victory — not you or any other person!
Learning who you really are in Christ creates a scenario that demands a response — one that is difficult to offer willingly in isolation. This is when the body of Christ, our fellow brothers and sisters, prove to be our greatest asset against the enemy in the battle against codependency.
The battle wages. But take heart. He has overcome!