The Codependency Challenge
Fred Antonelli, Ph.D., LPC

Question: My husband feels that I give in to our daughter too much. He sees me as someone who always runs to her aid without giving her a chance to work things out for herself, as well as being unable to say no to her. I really don’t see myself in that way, although I must admit that I don’t feel that my daughter appreciates all that I do for her. As a believer, I simply felt that I was showing her the love of Christ as well as being a good parent. Am I right or wrong here? SR, Denton

Well, SR, rather than tell you whether you’re right or wrong, let me just share a few things and then you draw your own conclusion.

Personally, it sounds to me that you’ve entered into a “codependent” relationship with your daughter. Actually, codependency is a scary term. It has endless connotations that can have very little to do with the disorder.

Codependency itself is such a broad dysfunction that it is extremely hard to define in concise terms. Nonetheless, a lot is being learned by ongoing studies with codependent individuals and families. I certainly admire your wanting to show your daughter the love of Christ. In cases like this, we often end up, without even realizing it, doing more harm than good. To stay in this kind of a relationship with your daughter will only cause her to continue to take advantage of you and, in the end, not appreciate anything that you’re doing for her. Codependency has a 100 percent failure rate!

It sounds to me, SR, that you’ve fallen into the category of what is called the “caretaker.” The caretaker is an individual who feels responsible for other people. He feels anxious and even guilty when someone else has a problem. He is compelled to help that person solve his problems. He anticipates the other’s needs and feels angry when his help is ineffective or rebuffed. At the same time, this codependent feels slighted when others won’t help him out when he needs it. The caretaker minimizes his own worth and consequently becomes his own worst enemy.

To help your relationship with your daughter, first help yourself! This is a classic “symptoms/cause” relationship. The symptoms are: You’re acting out in a typical caretaker way as mentioned above. What’s the cause? If you want to deal with the cause, the symptoms will greatly dissipate or perhaps even go away completely.

In John 4, Jesus is holding a conversation with a Samaritan woman at the well. Symptoms: She is looked down upon as a woman, apparently used and abused, desiring this “living water” Jesus speaks of in order not to come to the well again. Cause: She is unable to receive this water because of cohabiting with a man as well as having five husbands before him (a history of wanting male love, validation and approval).

Jesus did not merely sympathize with the woman’s symptoms, He went straight to the cause. He confronted her with her past. As a result (verse 39), many Samaritans believed because of the woman’s testimony of Jesus’ words of life to her. Because she was willing to let Jesus touch the cause of her issues, she was then able to say with boldness, “He told me all the things that I have done” (verse 29). Her life was changed forever as a result!

The cause for codependency is often attributed to:

1. Unmet Emotional Needs—We each have a reservoir for love (or love tank) inside us. If our love tank has not been filled by the “significant others” in our lives, we end up not having our emotional needs properly met. Here is where we become codependent with others. This is especially true of children.

2. Lost Childhood—Children lose their childhood through abuse, usually by parents or parental figures. Active abuse, such as incest, physical abuse, or even excessive anger on a parent’s part, is the most recognized form of abuse – abuse that we must not deny or minimize. Drs. Frank Minirth & Paul Meier point out other forms of abuse that also contribute to codependency, such as:

  • Not being recognized
  • One parent who is preoccupied and unavailable to a child emotionally
  • A child who is not constantly praised
  • Lack of touching and hugging in the family
  • Parents not being at peace with one another
  • Parents who demand “too much”
  • Parents depending too much on their children
  • A parent who is too rigid

When we choose to face these two areas under the leading of the Holy Spirit, then true and lasting freedom can be ours! Obviously, counseling through your local pastor should be your first step. If he feels that you need more in-depth counseling, then a licensed professional clinical Christian counselor would be the best choice for you.

The good news is that God has the answer not only for codependency but any other challenge that we face here on this side of Heaven! He wants to heal us of our “old self” (the stuff we carry) and revive us with our “new self” that comes from the likeness of Christ.

"“… Lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and… be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth”

(Ephesians 4:22-24).

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