Codependency: A Brief Introduction
When you are are addicted to another person and need to control them
Codependency is a popular word used to describe a person's behavior when he or she is addicted to another person. Melody Beattie defines a codependent person as "one who has let another person's behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person's behavior" (31).
Codependents take ownership of another person's problems, get their sense of well-being from managing the behavior of the dependent person, and end up being controlled by the person they are trying to help. They center their lives on the person they are trying to help, and as a result they exchange the truth of God for a lie, worshiping and serving a created person rather than God the Creator (see Rom.1.25). Codependency is sinful because the person becomes mastered by a loved one's problem or becomes a loved one's master (playing God).
As this person becomes an idol in our lives and consumes our energy, our relationship with this person changes. According to Kathy Capell-Sowder, there are certain characteristics that develop in codependent relationships. A person who has a love relationship with an addicted person will demonstrate certain symptoms: increasing tolerance of unacceptable behavior; denial of the severity of personal impact and damage; compromising his or her own personal value system to manage pain; decline in major life areas such as spiritual and physical health, work, and family; feeling trapped in the role of victim; making plans to escape the relationship; and developing addictions in other areas (20-23).
Generally, people are not aware that they are enabling and becoming codependent. They are trying to do the right thing, but too often they feel guilty because their efforts are not good enough to make the person they love change. Children are especially vulnerable to this distorted, guilt-ridden thinking.
Codependent people often feel guilty because they believe that they did something to cause their loved one to go out of control. They see that their efforts have not cured the person, and they think that somehow if they try harder, they can control the person with the life-controlling problem. The misbelief that we can "fix" the other people leads to a painful cycle of failure and loss of self-worth. Other people's behavior is something beyond our power and control.
Codependents and enablers live in a pain-filled world. They live in a world of shame and fear. The one they love cannot give them support, so they lose trust, shutting down their feelings. Because they are hiding the problem, they cannot talk to anyone. They suffer emotional stress that may result in health problems. To cope with this pain, they sometimes make poor decisions that lead to personal addictions of their own or other harmful behaviors such as extramarital affairs. They may lose faith in God.
Christians can be unusually susceptible to codependency. Sometimes when attempting to love others as Christ has commanded us, we slip into enabling behaviors that lead to codependent relationships. As Bill Perkins says, "I'm convinced that the church nurtures codependent relationships. At times we even inadvertently train people to be codependents" (76).
The subject of codependency should be approached with balance. According to the apostle Paul, the body of Christ should be interdependent (see Rom. 12:7-16;1 Cor. 12:12-27). We need to avoid the extremes of selfish independence and codependence.
How to Help a Codependent Person
Codependents need encouragement to examine their own lives. This is why the Concerned Persons group is so important in the Turning Point system. Because of their own delusion, codependents usually cannot see their own addiction to another person. It takes friends from the outside to point out this reality to them. They can find these friends in the group.
Friends of Codependents can Help by ...
- Taking them to a Concerned Persons group.
- Encouraging them to focus on Christ instead of their loved one.
- Modeling an honest relationship with respect and boundaries
- Care-fronting delusion
- Encouraging codependents to accept responsibility for their own actions
- Helping them realize the "three C's"
They did not cause their loved one's problem They cannot control their loved one's behavior They cannot cure their loved one.
First, they need to understand that they did not cause their loved one's problem. Codependents should be helped to understand that their loved one is responsible for the choices that have led them to addiction no matter what the circumstances may be.
Second, codependents need to understand they cannot control their loved one's dependency. Trying to control them through manipulation, domination, and guilt only leads to a greater loss of energy. Codependents need help to understand that they cannot fix their loved one-- only God can do that. Accepting this fact of powerlessness is the first step toward recovery for the codependent.
Third, codependents need to understand they cannot cure their loved one. Helpers should encourage codependents to cast anxiety on the Lord (see 1 Peter 5:7) and help them understand they are not responsible for their loved one's cure.
Becoming codependent occurs over time, and overcoming codependent thinking and behavior also takes time. We need to be patient, continually encouraging our codependent friends to build their lives and identities around a living relationship with Christ. As we model God's unconditional love while expecting people to be responsible for their own actions, people will learn to build healthy relationships with God, themselves, and others.
Taken from Living Free Coordinator's Guide, Jimmy Ray Lee and Dan Strickland, Turning Point, Chattanooga, TN, 1999, pp 82-84. Used by permission