It has been said that when the co-dependent person dies, someone else’s life flashes before their eyes. That pretty well describes it! A co-dependent has trouble recognizing where another person ends and they begin. In order for someone to be co-dependent, there must be a dependant person who allows you to take care of them. This is the set-up for a dysfunctional relationship. Originally, the word co-dependent came on the scene from a medical model. Melanie Beatty’s book, Co Dependent No More first introduced us to the concept of codependency. Now we realize it is present in relationships with personality disordered individuals as well as addictive personalities. Codependents NEED to be NEEDED. When they aren’t, they feel incomplete and disconnected.
You are codependent if you exhibit these traits:
- I assume responsibility for others feelings.
- I feel guilty about others feelings and behaviors.
- I have difficulty identifying what I am feeling.
- I have difficulty expressing feelings.
- I am afraid of my anger, yet sometimes erupt in a rage.
- I worry how others may respond to my and feelings, opinions, and behavior.
- I have difficulty making decisions.
- I am afraid of being hurt and/or rejected by others.
- I minimize, alter or deny how I truly feel.
- I am very sensitive to how others are feeling and feel the same.
- I am afraid to express differing opinions or feelings.
- I value others opinions and feelings more than my own.
- I put other people’s needs and desires before mine.
- I am embarrassed to receive recognition, praise, or gifts.
- I judge everything I think, say, or do harshly as never “good enough”.
- I am a perfectionist.
- I am extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long.
- I do not ask others to meet my needs or desires.
- I do not perceive myself as a lovable and worthwhile person.
- I compromise my own values and integrity to avoid rejection or others’ anger.
The Compliance Patterns as well as the information under Codependency and Christian living and Enabling are not my original thoughts. I obtained them many years ago from Celebrate Recovery handouts. I am not sure of the original source, but they are excellent checklists.
Codependency and Christian living
On the surface, codependency messages sound like Christian teaching.
“Codependents always put others first before taking care of themselves.” (Aren’t Christians to put others first?)
“Codependents give themselves away.” (Shouldn’t Christians do the same?)
“Codependents martyr themselves.” (Christianity honors its martyrs.)
Those statements have a familiar ring, don’t they? Then how can we distinguish between codependency, which is unhealthy to codependents and their dependents, and mature faith, which is healthy?
- I have little or no value.
- Other persons and situations have all the value.
- I must please other people regardless of the cost to my person or my values.
- I am to place myself to be used by others without protest.
- I must give myself away
- If I claim any rights for myself, I am selfish.
Jesus taught the value of the individual. He said we are to love others equal to ourselves, not more than. A love of self forms the basis for loving others. The difference between a life of service and codependency take several forms.
Motivation differs. Does the individual give his service and himself out of free choice or because he considers himself of no value? Does he seek to “please people”? Does he act out of guilt and fear? Does he act out of a need to be needed (which means he actually uses the other person to meet his own needs; the helpee becomes an object to help the helper achieve his own goals.)
Service is to be an active choice. The person acts; codependents react. Codependents’ behavior is addictive rather than balanced. Addictions control the person instead of the person being in charge of their own life.
Codependents have difficulty living balanced lives; they do for others at the neglect of their own well-being and health; Christian faith calls for balanced living and taking care of oneself.
Codependent helping is joyless; Christian service brings joy.
Codependents are driven by their inner compulsions; Christians are God-directed and can be free from compulsiveness, knowing that God brings the ultimate results.
I want to expound on codependency in the Christian community. I have many pet peeves, but this is one of the big ones. Working with survivors of trauma is my life. I’ve never known anything different. From surviving extreme abuse myself as a small child to protecting little brothers during domestic violence episodes to professional training and providing counseling as an adult. I know and understand that it may take years of conscientious WORK to overcome a childhood of abuse or dysfunctional thinking patterns.
Let me first make it clear that I have been a born-again Christian since the age of 9 and in no way am I discrediting Biblical mandates. On the contrary, I want to clarify the teachings of Jesus. Occasionally, I hear a survivor of abuse say that Jesus has healed them of all their pain and they don’t need counseling. Yet they are the most judgmental and controlling … and codependent… people you will ever meet. They simply don’t see their own flaws and dysfunctional thinking patterns.
Sometimes people use God as an excuse to continue in their old pattern of behaviors because they lack the courage to change. I say it again; recovery is a lot of work. It requires emotional energy which drains your physical energy. God always provides a way through people, opportunities, his own Spirit guiding us and other means but psychological healing doesn’t happen in an instant.
Dr. David Seamands says in his book, Healing For Damaged Emotions:
“The great crisis experience of Jesus Christ, as important and eternally valuable as this is, is not a shortcut to emotional health. It is not a quickie cure for personality problems.”
He also writes in the preface of the same book, “Early in my pastoral experience, I discovered that I was failing to help two groups of people through the regular ministries of the church. Their problems were not being solved by the preaching of the Word, commitment to Christ, the filling of the Spirit, prayer, or the Sacraments.
I saw one group being driven into futility and loss of confidence in God’s power. While they desperately prayed, their prayers about personal problems didn’t seem to be answered. They tried every Christian discipline, but with no result. As they played the same old cracked record of their defeats, the needle would get stuck in repetitive emotional patterns. While they kept up the outward observance of praying professing, they were going deeper and deeper into disillusionment and despair.
I saw the other group moving toward phoniness. These people were repressing their inner feelings and denying to themselves that anything was seriously wrong, because “Christians can’t have such problems. “Instead of facing their problems, they covered them with a veneer of Scripture verses, theological terms, and unrealistic platitudes.
The denied problems went underground, only to later reappear in all manner of illnesses, eccentricities, terribly unhappy marriages, and sometimes even in the emotional destruction of their children.”
Enabling is defined as reacting to a person in such a way to shield him or her from experiencing the full impact of the harmful consequences of behavior. Enabling behavior differs from helping in that it permits or allows the person to be irresponsible.
- PROTECTION from natural consequences of their behavior.
- KEEPING SECRETS about behavior from others in order to keep peace.
- MAKING EXCUSES for the behavior (School, friends, legal authorities, work, family members.)
- BAILING OUT of trouble. (Debts, fixing tickets, paying lawyers, providing jobs.)
- BLAMING OTHERS for dependent person’s behavior. (Friends, teachers, employers, family, self)
- SEEING THE PROBLEM AS THE RESULT OF SOMETHING ELSE. (Shyness, adolescence, loneliness, child, broken home.)
- AVOIDING the chemically dependent person in order to keep peace. (Out-of-sight, out-of-mind.)
- GIVING MONEY THAT IS UNDERSERVED/UNEARNED.
- ATTEMPTING TO CONTROL. (Planning activities, choosing friends, getting jobs.)
- MAKING THREATS that have no follow through or consistency.
- TAKING CARE OF the dependent person. (Doing what he/she should be expected to for themselves.)
Another way to determine whether you are codependent is to give yourself the FOG test. If you are acting out of Fear, Obligation or Guilt, then your motivation is not love. Anything other than love is the wrong motive.
Whether the dependent person is chemically dependent on drugs or alcohol or other addictive behaviors such as shoplifting, gambling, sexual behaviors, rage or domestic violence, you must remove yourself from the role of enabler. VERY IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER: You cannot stop their behavior but you can and must protect yourself from it.
Next month my blog will be a continuation of discussion on codependency and will focus on Adult Children of Alcoholics. The alcohol or drug addicted home is the perfect set-up for codependent living. I hope the new year will bring a determination in each of you to live emotionally healthy lives. Find a qualified counselor near you who can help you revise your thinking so you can create the reality you deserve.
Until then I wish you all a MERRY CHRISTMAS !