When is he coming home tonight? Will he remember to pick up Jimmy
from school or will he wind up at the bar again? Why can't he be
at least a little responsible? Doesn't he know what he's doing to
Martha's anxious thoughts nervously revolve around
her alcoholic husband, Mark. She spends most of her waking moments
over Mark's alcohol problem, how to fix it or, at least, pick
up the pieces
in the wake of his irresponsible behavior.
Martha devotes herself to being a good wife and mother, constantly
taking care of her children and husband, but she is out of touch
with her own needs and feelings. Inwardly, she is resentful that
all of her efforts seem to be taken for granted and that no one
seems concerned about her needs. At the same time, she feels guilty
having those "selfish" feelings. She believes that if she
were a "good Christian," she would be able to serve and
love Mark in a more unconditional way. In reality, Martha has a
difficult time believing that her own needs and feelings are important.
of attending to her own needs, hurt, and confusion, her efforts
are directed toward trying to get her husband straightened out
In another community, Joe tells his counselor, "The family I
grew up in was pretty normal. I'm not really sure why I am here,
or if I need to be. Nobody was alcoholic or abusive, and nothing
really dramatic happened in my family. All I know is that something
important seems to be missing in my life." Joe went on to say
that he is good at detecting what people around him want and adjusting
himself to fit into their expectations. He is a people pleaser. At
the same time, he is not really sure of what he needs or feels or
wants, and he often feels empty or disconnected from himself and
others. As he put it, "Sometimes I feel like a robot on auto
In still another family, Don spends most of his vacation with his
in-laws even though he doesn't want to. He knows it will upset
his wife and her parents if he wants to do something different,
doesn't say anything in order to keep peace in the family. Many
of us hide our real thoughts and feelings occasionally, but for
this has become a way of life. He often winds up feeling frustrated
and resentful toward his wife for not being more sensitive to
his needs. At the same time, he avoids dealing with his own fears
being more open about his real feelings and wishes.
Martha, Joe, and Don all struggle with codependency, a phenomenon
that initially attracted the attention of professionals who were
treating alcoholics. Counselors working with alcoholics have noticed
that alcoholics often have spouses or partners who are having significant
psychological struggles that interact with the problems of the
alcoholic. These partners are often consumed with trying to fix,
rescue, or "pick
up the pieces" for the alcoholic, but their efforts only help
to perpetuate the problem. The term "co-alcoholic" was
initially given to these partners of alcoholics.
not to a destructive substance,
but to a destructive pattern
of relating to other people."
Martha fits the classical description
of the "co-alcoholic" because
she is caught up in a pattern of rescuing behaviors that actually helps
Mark continue his alcoholic lifestyle. Rather than setting limits
on what she will
put up with, such as making clear to Mark that he needs to seek treatment
if he wants her to stay, Martha keeps bailing him out of his irresponsible
She calls his boss with excuses for his tardiness, and she takes on extra
evening jobs because Mark has not maintained steady employment.
Even though Martha resents "having" to rescue Mark, on a deeper level
she apparently wants to do so, or she wouldn't continue. Taking the role of helper
and responsible caretaker provides her with some sense of identity, wards off
her fear of being left alone, and maintains the illusion that if she will just
do the right thing, she will eventually help Mark get his act together. The thought
of giving up her rescuing role or telling Mark that she will not put up with
his irresponsible alcoholic behavior is scarier than continuing to live in their
dysfunctional relationship. Martha's misunderstanding of Christian virtues like
turning the other cheek, having a servant attitude, and being unselfish, make
it even more difficult for her to draw a line in the sand and establish some
boundaries or limits that would help both her and her husband.
In the mid-1980s, addiction counselors began to expand their focus
from addiction to alcohol and cocaine, to addiction to activities
sex, work, shopping,
and gambling, to name a few. The term "co-dependent" came to replace "co-alcoholic." As
psychotherapists started to study codependent people, they soon realized that
these people actually have their own recognizable, dysfunctional compulsions.
Their problems are not just a by-product of being in relationship with an addict.
Nancy Groom, in her book, From Bondage to Bonding: Escaping Codependency Embracing
Biblical Love, writes that codependents are "addicted," not
to a destructive substance, but to a destructive pattern of relating
to other people. Typically,
these destructive relationship patterns can be traced back to what
they learned as children growing up in dysfunctional families.
Joe and Don provide examples of codependency in this broader sense
of the term. There is no addiction to a physical substance in Joe's
he is exceedingly
dependent on the approval of others. He is so "addicted" to meeting
other's expectations that he has serious difficulties taking care of his own
God-given needs and connecting with his own independent thoughts and feelings.
It is this loss of self-awareness and failure to attend to his own needs in order
to please others that reflect his psychological dependency.
Don's fear of upsetting his wife and in-laws by telling his wife
he would like to spend some of their vacation time away from her
sign of his
codependency. Don doesn't want to be responsible for the disappointment
and anger his wife
and parents-in-law might feel if he expressed his real preferences,
so he keeps quiet. Peace at any price. If he wasn't codependent,
know that he would like to spend some vacation time with her and
their children alone
or with his family. That would force his wife and in-laws to take
responsibility for their decisions and their part in having good
rather than letting Don shoulder the responsibility for their insensitivity
This article will help you understand Martha, Joe, and Don, and
millions of people much like them. In fact, most of us probably struggle
with a few tendencies common to codependent people.
Leaders in the codependency movement have been unable to arrive
at one mutually acceptable definition of codependency. Each person
a slightly different understanding. They all would probably agree,
however, that people with several of these patterns have a codependent
- Excessive dependence on things or people outside oneself
- Accepting responsibility for others' feelings or actions
- Constantly trying to please others
- Letting others dominate or abuse you
- Neglecting one's own needs
- Having difficulty knowing one's own feelings and wishes
- A weak sense of personal identity and loss of touch with one's real
- Difficulty setting realistic personal boundaries
- Difficulty admitting that you are in a dysfunctional relationship
- Excessive efforts to control or change one's environment or people
- Frequently feeling resentful
- Being very fearful of rejection, or being left alone
- Relationship problems growing out of a weak sense of
self, excessive dependency, and efforts to control, change, or
As you see from these descriptions of codependency, nearly everyone
has at least a couple of these symptoms. Most of us struggle
occasionally with our identity or with wanting to control others
or with setting
boundaries or trying to please. The almost universal presence
of a few of these symptoms have led some people to question the
of the label "codependent." But codependents don't just
struggle with a couple of these occasionally. They consistently rely
on a codependent style as their basic way of relating to themselves
I suggest you apply the information about codependency in a thoughtful,
personalized manner. There is no "one-size-fits-all" codependency
that fits everyone. If the label "codependent" helps you
observe these dynamics and find ways of overcoming them, then the
label will be useful for you. Many people have found the label helpful
in better understanding how and why they relate in these kinds of
Let's look at several of these in more depth.
Excessive dependency on external cues
Codependent people are fearful of being abandoned,
ignored, or shamed, so they continually look to others or things
for cues to tell them what they should be like or what they
to do. Although sensitivity to others can be a wonderful
trait, codependents take it to an extreme.
They become absorbed with adjusting to the cues that others
give about their desires and wishes. Joe, for example,
an expert at blending himself into his surroundings in
this manner. But, in
the process, he loses touch with his own thoughts and
ends up feeling empty, incomplete, or merely an extension
of others. That is the next main symptom of codependency.
boundaries enable us
to draw a line of distinction and
responsibility between our own
thoughts, feelings, and behaviors
and those of others."
Disconnection from many
of one's inner thoughts, feelings, and needs
Because codependents are so focused on pleasing or
helping others, they tend to lose touch with their
and thoughts and
feelings. They have learned
to protect themselves by disconnecting from significant portions
of their inner emotional life. Inwardly, they don't
and confident. This
is because they struggle with their basic sense of self.
Consequently, they have a hard time knowing what they want.
fear facing themselves truthfully
and risking being true to their own feelings and judgments.
When they are aware of emotions, what often comes
feelings of emptiness,
shame, and anger rather than their healthy desires and potential
for good judgments. Those are hidden behind their
Confusion over boundaries
Since they are so concerned with what others expect
and are out of touch with their own needs, it
is not surprising
their boundaries. Boundaries are the physical, mental,
and emotional limits that set us apart from other people.
boundaries enable us to draw
a line of distinction and responsibility between our own
thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and those of
people take responsibility
for their own emotions and actions, but codependents
often feel responsible
for the thoughts
and actions of others.
Remember Don? He dislikes spending every vacation
with his in-laws but is afraid to honestly tell his wife how
afraid to set
he isn't happy about it. In fact, he inwardly blames
his wife for not being more sensitive or considerate of his
about his own needs, how can she know? Instead of waiting
for his anger to build up, Don could simply sit down
and seek a way of spending vacations that would be acceptable
to both of them. His wife might not like it initially,
and she might
angry. But if their
relationship is going to grow more healthy and mature,
both Don and his wife need to learn to be honest with
compromises when they differ. This will never happen
unless Don sets a
boundary by epressing his needs.
External boundaries enable us to set limits on how we
allow others to treat us. Codependents often allow
hurt or abuse
them or talk
into taking on too many responsibilities or activities
because they are afraid
to say no. This inability has been described like
being in a room where the doorknob
is on the outside of the door and the codependent
is on the inside, powerless to set any protective limits.
can come in.
Martha puts up with her alcoholic husband's verbal
and sometimes physical abuse during his bouts of
drinking because she is
confused over her
own right to
set limits on what she will tolerate. Although
she shouldn't be treated abusively, she doesn't
really believe that her own needs
her to take care of herself. Like many codependents,
Martha is so accustomed to seeing things through
with the depth of her own needs and her right to
say no and set appropriate boundaries.
Excessive need for control
Codependents often have a deep sense of powerlessness because
they live with, or grew up with, people who are out of control.
can also feel victimized or controlled by others because they feel
such a need to meet the needs of others rather than their own.
Ironically, codependents can also be quite controlling themselves.
And while they take excessive responsibility for keeping the peace
or pleasing others, they also may expend incredible energy trying
to change the other person. Since they blame the other person for
their unhappiness, they assume they have a right to try to change
that person. They reason, If only "Mark" would get his
drinking under control, my life would be better.
Or, if only "Sara" were a more considerate person, our
marriage would be better. These conclusions justify their efforts
to fix, "help," or control the other person. The codependent's
view of responsibility goes like this: My spouse is responsible for
my unhappiness, and I am responsible to try to change my spouse or
act in ways that don't upset him or her. But this is backward. We
must take responsibility for our own happiness or unhappiness, and
a spouse must take responsibility for changing his or her own feelings
and actions. (While I often use married couples in my examples, the
same dynamics can be evident in any relationship.)
On the surface, it appears that Martha, Joe, and Don are very
accommodating in their relationships. They even seem to allow
others to be themselves
to an extreme. They go to great lengths to please the people around
them and are, for the most part, nonassertive about their own wants
and desires. But internally, they are resentful and cling to an internal
demand that their significant others change.
Nancy Groom, in her book, From Bondage to Bonding , points out
that there is a profound difference between having normal desires
other people change and holding on to a demand that they change.
For Martha, Joe, and Don, most of their efforts to appease their
partners are linked to the unspoken demands that they ultimately
capitulate to their expectations. When this does not happen, their
unfulfilled demands turn into resentment and bitterness. Because
of this, they periodically blurt out their real expectations and
anger, or tell their friends what victims they are of their spouse's
irresponsibility. Many codependents alternate between periods of
trying to please their spouse, subtly attempting to change them,
and brief outbursts of frustration when they directly express their
resentments or expectations to others.
Given their loss of awareness to their own needs, problems with
boundaries, excessive dependency, and tendencies to try to change
others, it is no surprise that codependents experience significant
relationship difficulties. Sometimes their relationships feel one-sided.
They are constantly caretaking or adjusting to the people around
them while remaining out of touch with what is going on inside themselves.
These one-way relationships make healthy mutuality and intimacy impossible.
While many codependents fervently desire to soothe the deep loneliness
and woundedness they feel through close relationships, most do not
really understand some of the most basic aspects of interpersonal
intimacy. One cornerstone for intimacy and, more generally, healthy
interpersonal relationships is a basic respect for one another's
freedom to be who they really are and to take responsibility for
that. Since codependents struggle with respecting themselves deep
down, and since they are often trying to change their partners, there
is a lack of this type of deep mutual respect for either themselves
or their mate. Codependent persons can be either intimidated and
threatened by their spouses, or look down on them as being needy
or having a problem. But in either case, codependents do not look
at themselves as a peer. Someone is always in an up or a down position.
children ... have
learned that it is dangerous
and painful to be honest about
their thoughts and feelings. "
Confused spiritual understandings
The distorted relationships associated with codependency often
extend into the spiritual realm as well. Martha consciously believes
God is loving,
forgiving, and full of grace. But on an emotional level, her image of God is
quite different-more like the demanding, judgmental, perfectionistic parents
she experienced growing up.
There have been moments when Martha has experienced the reality
of God's grace such as when she first received Christ as a
teenager. But over the years her
initial joy and enthusiasm over being a new Christian have been replaced by
a legalistic, demanding God and a faith that seems like a never-ending list
of do's and don'ts. She tries to please God and meet His approval but lacks
any real joy in her Christian life. The same codependent barriers that impair
intimacy in her interpersonal relationships hinder her intimacy with God.
How Do We Develop Codependency?
Codependency can develop for many reasons. Here is a classic
example of a dysfunctional family of origin. One member of the
family has a serious problem like alcoholism
or some other chemical addiction. Each of the other family members develops
a role that helps compensate for, or avoids confronting the dysfunctional person's
deficits. In short, they try to cover up for the addicted member.
Many codependents do not grow up in this type of home, however.
The causes of their dependency are more subtle. For example,
codependency may also develop
when one family member is chronically ill or depressed or has an explosive
temper, or when there is physical, sexual, or emotional abuse and neglect in
the home. Anything that forces you to give up your own emotional health in
order to keep peace, satisfy, or attempt to "cure" or cover for another
family member can set you up for a codependent style.
Codependent children usually lack an emotionally safe environment where they
can express their own emotions, needs, thoughts, and desires. They have learned
that it is dangerous and painful to be honest about their thoughts and feelings.
Rather than lead to any resolution, being open just seems to make matters worse.
Parents cannot handle the truth and only get more upset, defensive, or abusive.
So they started focusing on pleasing their dysfunctional parent or being sure
they didn't upset him or her. This was the only way they had of coping. But
in the process, the children lost touch with their own needs, desires, thoughts,
and feelings. They became less than whole people emotionally. And since they
had lost touch with their own needs, they ended up choosing a marriage partner
out of their caretaking or dependent role instead of from a perspective of
mutual love and emotional maturity. Consequently, they ended up in relationships
fraught with unmet childhood needs.
Another way of understanding the causes of codependency
is from the point of view of the child's progress in growing
from the absolute
dependency of infancy to a healthy, mature adult interdependency.
Anything that interferes with this process predisposes a growing
child to become codependent. For example, if a baby's emotional needs
are not nourished sufficiently, the baby may become overly dependent
and go through life trying to please others in order to gain the
love that wasn't received as a child. If a parent is overprotective,
a child may never learn to stand on his or her own feet emotionally
and intellectually. If parents are perfectionistic, the growing child
learns to try to please others instead of recognizing her or his
own needs and feelings. And if the parents rely excessively on guilt
and shame motivation, the child learns to feel selfish for trying
to have personal needs met. Any of these patterns can leave a growing
child with a lack of confidence or a healthy sense of personal identity
, worth, and self-esteem. They all make it difficult for them to
stand on their own two feet. They predispose the child to become
Individuals who establish a healthy sense of self during their
developmental years know who they are as individuals. They
have a good measure
of autonomy, and they are able to function without fearing they will
lose themselves or be overwhelmed. They are able to engage in appropriate
self-care while also caring for others. In the face of criticism
or failure, they are still able to maintain a basic core of self-worth.
They maintain a balance among the stresses and strains of life.
Codependent people have not been able to develop this psychological
autonomy and are significantly impaired in their ability to function
as healthy, reasonably autonomous individuals. This creates problems
in many areas of their lives.
If you are codependent and struggle with your
basic sense of self-worth, it can be easy to believe that you
time to look beyond the lie that you are just plain defective to
really understand how you personally learned your codependent patterns
is a significant step in learning to respect yourself more. Every
person has a story that is worth listening to and understanding,
including you. As you begin to understand how you have been impacted
by your experiences and recognize that your codependent patterns
are understandable ways of trying to cope with difficult situations
and not signs of inherent defectiveness, you will experience less
self-blame and more compassion for yourself. You also will experience
restored hope that you really can learn healthier ways of relating
to yourself and others.
It takes time to overcome lifelong patterns of codependency,
and the process often involves "two steps forward, and one step
back." But there are several specific steps you can take to
break out of an ingrained codependent style.
Break through your denial
The first step is to face the problem honestly. Chances are,
you have rationalized and justified and even spiritualized
style. Now is the time to face it head-on. For someone who has
spent a lifetime using denial to ward off pain, shame, or
fear of rejection,
this can be a terrifying experience. You will need support from
people who can provide safe relationships that allow you
to be emotionally
honest on your journey. These supportive relationships might
come from friendships, support groups, or professional counseling.
refers to separating
ourselves from whatever we
are obsessed with so we can
begin working on our self."
Support groups with other
people on a similar road of recovery often provide more support
for recovering from codependency
and friends because
members of these groups know what it is like to struggle with these
issues. Your relationship with God can be a tremendous asset
in your recovery.
But it is important to be completely honest with God as well.
Only then will
you see that God accepts you precisely as you are, and that
He expects you to have
your own thoughts, feelings, and desires, rather than to shape your
life to those around you. This will give you increased courage
be more aware of
your own needs and feelings and help you make more authentic connections
with God and others.
Face your childhood issues
One way to begin breaking through denial is to seriously
consider the experiences that have contributed to your
codependency. Most often this involves exploring
significant aspects of your family history. Because codependents
have learned to cope by disconnecting from their inner emotions,
this exploration cannot
be simply an intellectual exercise. It must involve a process of
to terms with your actual feelings as a child. It also
means being completely
honest about your family of origin.
I realize you may have protected your family for decades, and
you may feel incredibly guilty if you admit that you were
years. But you cannot change unless you are completely honest
about the negative as well as the positive aspects of your
This type of work is not easy and usually takes time. It often
is done best in a safe therapy relationship.
Detach from unhealthy involvements
Detachment refers to separating ourselves from whatever we
are obsessed with so we can begin working on our self. Since
involved or attached to some problem or person outside of
themselves, growth must involve giving up that over-involvement
to change, control, or please someone else.
This requires letting go of the energy you are expending
on worry over the other person. This is not hostile withdrawal,
responsibilities to others. Instead, it is giving up your
to take other peoples' responsibilities so that they can
learn to take
themselves just as you are learning to take responsibility
for yourself. We cannot fix problems that are not ours
to fix, and
all of our worrying,
and trying to help only perpetuate the problem. After all,
as long as we
are trying to fix someone, they don't need to fix themselves,
and we don't have
to fix our self!
This may mean staying out of the way as an alcoholic spouse
or friend loses his job. It may mean getting a separate
suffer the consequences of his or her financial irresponsibility.
It may mean giving up your role as a people pleaser.
And it may mean saying
are asked to take on one more responsibility at your
church or your children's school. These can be frightening
cycle of codependency unless you take them. You must
disengage from your old
Learn healthy self-care
It is not enough to give up your excessive efforts to please
others. You must also become more aware of your own feelings,
and needs, and learn how to communicate them in relationships.
Remember, you aren't being selfish here, you are learning to be
honest about your own needs so that you can have mature, mutual
relationships. You will also want others to communicate their thoughts
and feelings and needs to you.
Know God's plan
Christians who are codependents are often afraid to learn healthy
self-care because they believe that would be selfish or unspiritual.
Remember Martha whom I mentioned earlier? In addition to having an
alcoholic husband, Martha has two elementary-age children and rushes
around from dawn to bedtime taking care of everyone's needs but her
own. Worrying about her husband, making meals, chauffeuring the kids
to soccer practice, preparing to teach Sunday school, trying to be
a godly wife and mother. the list goes on and on. Inwardly, however,
she feels empty, burned out, and increasingly resentful over the
never-ending list of demands. Yet she feels helpless to do anything
about it because she is only doing what she thinks a "good Christian" should
In this frazzled state, imagine how Martha responds to a Bible
passage like Philippians 2:3-5,7: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition
or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.
Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also
to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that
of Christ Jesus: who...made himself nothing, taking the very nature
of a servant."
Martha hears this message and concludes that in order to have
a Christlike attitude she must keep putting everyone else's
needs ahead of her
own. Sometimes, of course, we do need to put others' needs ahead
of ours. But recommending this to people who constantly struggle
with codependency ignores two more important points. First, codependents
like Martha feel like they have no choice. They must either do the
giving, right "Christian" thing or be flooded with guilt
or shame. They can't do things out of a full cup or good motive because
inwardly they feel empty. They lack a healthy sense of self and the
good boundaries that allow spiritually and emotionally mature people
to periodically set their needs aside for the welfare of others.
Before codependents like Martha can serve others in a Christlike
way, they must first find a balance between their needs and the needs
of others. And remember, this passage doesn't say not to look out
for our own interests. It reminds us to "look not only to your
own interests, but also to the interests of others."
If you look at the two verses just before where Paul encourages
us to be unselfish and humble, you will find another interesting
The call to Christlike servanthood was given to those who have already
had a grace-filled, restorative experience of Christ: "If you
have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort
from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness
and compassion , then make my joy complete by being like-minded ,
having the same love..."(Philippians 2:1-2, italics added).
So it seems that, while God invites us to participate in the same
loving spirit of servanthood as Christ, we cannot genuinely do that
until we first personally know the encouragement, comfort, fellowship,
tenderness, and compassion of God towards ourself.
... clearly and directly
expressed His thoughts and feelings
He also wasn't afraid to say no! "
A crucial step toward
recovery for co-dependents is to allow God to build up themselves
by opening up to His healing grace
for their imperfect
selves completely apart from what they do. Realizing that the God they thought
just wanted to use them to serve Him or was somehow against their being honest,
open people, is actually their ultimate supporter can be a life-changing experience.
Codependents need to be less like the biblical Martha—frantically rushing
around serving Jesus—and more like Mary who was content to sit at Jesus'
feet soaking in His grace and wisdom (Luke 10:38-42). They need to realize
that God wants them to be able to make their own choices in setting boundaries
for themselves. They need to know that God wants to meet their deepest needs.
We are told, "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires
of your heart" (Psalm 37:4). Codependents need to realize that God is
their Ultimate Ally in becoming healthy, happy people. And it is important
to realize that during this season in their development, the more spiritual
path may not be compulsive self-sacrifice, but rather, allowing God to teach
them how to say no to demands or requests without feeling badly about themselves.
Have you ever tried to start a campfire on a windy day? Think
of how vulnerable that first little spark is to every little
gust of wind. In a similar way,
our tiny sparks of healthy self-assertions can be vulnerable to the "winds" of
unrealistic expectations and shame. God wants to put His hands around our tiny "sparks" of
healthy assertiveness and growing sense of self. One way His hands shelter
our sparks is to remind us that He wants us to establish secure boundaries
and positive feelings about ourselves.
It also helps to take a look at Jesus' style of living. Jesus
didn't run around trying to please or control everyone, and
He didn't have a fragile identity
or sense of self. Quite the contrary, Christ perfectly modeled a balance between
time for Himself and time for ministry. He spent 30 years before He began His
ministry. He had close friends. He crossed the lake to be alone and relax with
His disciples. He knew His mission and what He thought and felt, and He clearly
and directly expressed His thoughts and feelings. He also wasn't afraid to
Grow in relationships and genuine love
Having a healthy sense of one's self is not being selfish. It
goes hand in hand with being able to enter into loving relationships.
A solid personal identity
and awareness of our needs leads to mutual respect and love. Every codependent
needs relationships where they can work on relating in new and healthier ways.
Seek relationships with mature people with healthy boundaries. Then work on
developing a mature, mutual relationship instead of a dependent one. Make sure
that you and your friends communicate honestly.
Share your thoughts, wishes, and feelings mutually. And learn to make mutual
decisions and to give and take and compromise equally. This may initially be
difficult since you may have developed a "sixth sense" for finding
people with poor boundaries who need rescuing. But only this kind of mutuality
growing out of a healthy sense of your own selfhood or identity allows for
intimacy and mature closeness to develop. In a mature relationship neither
party is demanding or controlling and each opens up his inner self to being
loved and being truly loving.
Exercise your "no" muscle
A very practical step is starting to set boundaries that you
are comfortably able to live with. You simply cannot learn
and give of yourself in a healthy manner until you have a basic
place of safety for yourself. This includes having the ability
to set clear boundaries and to say no. At times, saying no is more
important to our spiritual growth than saying yes to another activity.
If you are growing out of codependency, you don't always need to
have a clearly articulated or spiritual-sounding reason for saying
no. Sure, you may occasionally say no when it may have been good
to say yes, but after a lifetime of erring on the yes side, don't
be afraid of occasionally missing the perfect ideal! It is far
more likely that you will continue to err on the side of compulsive
giving or doing.
With God's grace, you will learn by trial and error. In the process,
always remember that God wants your genuine love so much that He
is not going to coerce you into serving Him or others out of compulsion.
As you soak up God's grace and love, you will, in time, be able to
give and serve from a healthy, genuine caring and love from your
heart, rather than from fear or duty.
Counseling can be another vital resource for recovery. It is
especially helpful for those in need of significant healing from
from their growing-up years. Ideally, an effective counselor should
be: 1) someone you feel safe enough with to explore painful feelings
and experiences, 2) someone with good personal boundaries, 3) someone
who is able to help you explore significant unresolved areas from
your past, 4) someone who is able to help you learn healthy ways
of relating to self and others, and 5) someone who can help you develop
a biblical understanding of yourself and your situation.
Work a twelve-step program
Many codependents have received wonderful help through twelve-step
programs such as Codependents Anonymous and Twelve Steps for Christian
Living. These programs are not run by professionals and typically
involve meetings organized around principles of recovery commonly
referred to as the twelve steps. Twelve-step groups are just one
form of support groups. Other types of support groups can be helpful
Frequently Asked Questions
Aren't there cultural differences in what is considered codependent?
Definitely. Some cultures foster a more group orientation of relating
self to others that can be mistaken as codependent.
in overcoming codependency
is not to become selfish and ignore
others. It is to become emotionally and
spiritually mature by being responsible."
Isn't it selfish to put
so much emphasis on my needs and my personal boundaries? While
there is valid concern over becoming overly preoccupied
to the exclusion of others, most codependents are on the other extreme of
the continuum where they may feel badly about normal healthy self-concern.
some codependents, it may be necessary to go through a period of focusing
on self and learning how to set boundaries before they can arrive
at more balanced
interdependent relationships where they can, in the words of Melody Beattie, "become
free to care and to love in ways that help others and don't hurt ourselves."
Some people, of course, may use the need to "be in touch with themselves" or "be
honest" or "meet their own needs" as an excuse for selfishness
or doing whatever they please. That is obviously unchristian and unhealthy.
The goal in overcoming codependency is not to become selfish and ignore others.
It is to become emotionally and spiritually mature by being responsible people
who, by our health, encourage others to become responsible adults as well.
Only when we stop doing for others what they can do for themselves will they
begin to grow.
Can someone be a "little codependent"? In my opinion, yes. Real self-understanding
does not come from attaching some blanket label to yourself. But if, as you
learn more about codependency, you are able to move towards a deeper understanding
of yourself, that is useful knowledge. Codependent ways, like other forms of
dysfunction, exist on a continuum with some that are strongly tied to these
strategies and others that are a "little codependent."
Can I work on these issues of codependency by myself, or is it
necessary to seek professional counseling? These questions
relate to the previous question.
There are some people who are a little codependent that may be able to work
through these issues as they learn more and put it into practice in their
Others, especially those who have a need to go through a more significant
healing process from past trauma, may need more extensive support and guidance
counseling. The bottom line is that there is no shame in seeking the help
you need—a message that needs to be unlearned by many codependents.
Codependent No More: How To Stop Controlling
Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melodie Beattie. Center City, Minnesota,
Hazelden Press, 1987,
book is one of the first written for the lay public and is still one
of the best-selling books on the topic. It provides a good
and steps toward recovery. It is compassionately written by an author
who identifies with being codependent.
Recovery from Codependency by Dale and Juanita Ryan. This is
part of an excellent series of Bible studies that relate
scripture to various
called the Life Recovery Guide series. It can be a helpful resource
for those wanting
to work through barriers in their spiritual lives. Information on how
to obtain these Bible studies can be found on the web site for The
for Christian Recovery, http://www.nacronline.com.
Boundaries by Drs. John Townsend and Henry Cloud. Grand Rapids,
Zondervan Publishing House, 1992. This book, along with companion
be helpful to codependents
struggling with learning how to establish healthy boundaries in their
From Bondage to Bonding: Escaping Codependency Embracing Biblical
Love by Nancy Groom. Colorado Springs, NavPress, 1991. This book provides
perspective on the many codependency books that focus too much on self.
While establishing a healthy self is important, it explores how to
move from codependent
strategies of relating to genuine intimacy or biblical love.
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