“Quit sweating, quit wrestling. It is not TRY but TRUST.” –John G. Lake
“What is being co-dependent and how do I know if I am?” The definitions of co-dependency seem countless and the characteristics can be blurred and unclear. Most would certainly not see the term as a positive one and though we don’t know exactly what it is, we know we don’t want to be co-dependent. In the 70’s the word was used to describe a person living with an alcoholic and later included being in relationship to those abusing other substances as well. It became the word that described the dysfunctional actions of those trying to adjust and adapt to destructive behaviors of the substance abuser; their lives becoming unmanageable as a result. Today we generally use the term for someone who is dependent on another person to the point of being controlled or manipulated by that person.
“Co-dependency is a relationship addiction. Just as the alcoholic is dependent on alcohol, the codependent is dependent on being needed by the alcoholic... or on being needed by someone who is dependent. The "enabler" is a co-dependent person who enables the alcoholic (or other dependent person) to continue with the addiction without drawing and maintaining boundaries. Co-dependency involves being too dependent on someone or something that cannot meet your needs.”1 What’s wrong with being dependent? Dependency is when we rely on someone for support or some need to be met. When this support or need is distorted and unhealthy, the person relies solely on another person to get all of their needs met; there is no mutual give and take or interdependency where both love and value the other and work toward the health of the relationship. This dependency looks like: “I have to have this person meet this need in my life; they must do this in order for me to be happy.” Enabling is where a person maintains, and can be responsible for, another person’s destructive behavior by keeping them from painful consequences that could help them change for the good. Many times the co-dependent person allows dysfunctional patterns by not setting boundaries, protecting the other person or even lying for them in order to cover up unhealthy behaviors.
Characteristics of Co-dependency
In a co-dependent relationship one person is generally obsessive and controlling and emotionally weak though they may appear strong, capable and self sufficient. But they are insecure, have self doubt and have an excessive sense of helping and pleasing. They need approval and feel responsible. They generally have low self- esteem, carry guilt and shame, feel anxious and worry over even the slightest details, get frustrated and angry as they attempt to control people and situations, lie to themselves and others in order to protect, have a hard time saying ‘no,’ feel trapped and unhappy, and have a hard time trusting themselves, others and even God. “Most co-dependents are attached to the people and problems in their environments. By "attachment," I don't mean normal feelings of liking people, being concerned about problems, or feeling connected to the world. Attachment is becoming overly-involved, sometimes hopelessly entangled.”2 In co-dependent relationships it is easy for both persons to struggle with self esteem, controlling or manipulating behaviors, fears of being abandoned, rejected or being alone, having a false security, give in to addictions, feel trapped, be in denial and
lose a sense of their own identity. June Hunt says If you are in a co-dependent relationship your excessive care causes you to compromise your convictions; your excessive loyalty leaves you without healthy boundaries and your excessive "love" allows you to say yes when you should say no.
In a healthy marriage the relationship is interdependent where each values and encourages the other to overcome difficulties and utilize their strengths while being responsive and accessible emotionally to each other. They help each other feel safe; safe to explore their thoughts and feelings, safe to be themselves knowing they will be loved and valued. They don’t obsess and worry. God’s ultimate solution is for us to rely on Him, to trust Him to meet all of our needs, to please Him, believing He is faithful and sufficient for all of our relationships and the struggles we face with those we love and are attached to.
There is freedom from co-dependency. Instead of taking things into our own hands in our relationships, we can start by realizing emotional addiction and over-attachment leads us to destructive and damaging behaviors. We can be honest and admit the truth to ourselves and to others. We can also take responsibility for our own thoughts, feelings and actions in order to make the changes that will lead us to healthy relationships and a healthy understanding of our own pain and our own emotions. We can stop trying so hard to make things, and people, happen the way we feel they should, and rest in God’s promises, plan and purpose.
“In a codependent relationship, you allow someone else to take the place that God alone should have in your heart.... You allow another person to be your "god."”- June Hunt
1 Biblical Counseling Library - Biblical Counseling Keys – Codependency: Balancing an Unbalanced Relationship.
2 Beatty, Melody. “Codependent No More” Hazelden 1992.