Mark is a sweet and caring guy and is well liked by all his friends. He is also considered thoughtful and a good listener. Mark takes care of everyone and does everything people ask him to do. Yesterday he drove his friend to the airport, helped his uncle landscape his yard, and then came home to help his girlfriend with her homework. Mark has a hard time saying no to anyone.
Taking a closer look into Mark’s life, you will see that he is unhappy, lonely, and struggles with feelings of worthlessness. Deep down, Mark helps people in order to get them to like him. He feels important when he is needed and without being needed he feels useless. He finds himself saying yes to things he does not want to do, but hates being alone and is always in a relationship. He feels hurt by his current girlfriend’s criticisms and harsh words towards him. Nancy is always yelling at him and putting him down. Making decisions is very stressful for Mark and he questions his own judgment, but Nancy seems to make Mark’s decisions for him very easily. Mark works hard to please his girlfriend and so he is always agreeable. He buys her flowers, writes her love notes, and calls her every day. Mark seems to be the one initiating dates, but Nancy seems distracted and distant. When they fight she blames Mark for their problems and he is quick to accept the blame. But Mark does not share his hurt feelings because he is afraid of hurting Nancy or, even worse, of losing her. He feels trapped in this controlling relationship, but feels powerless to change his situation and so he stays with her.
Codependency in Relationships
In this two-part series, I am going to be looking at what codependency is and at some of the characteristics of the codependent person. We all desire wholeness, but we can search for it in unhealthy ways. One of the tasks of Christian counseling is to help us to identify relationships that are not working well so that we can take steps to change them and to grow into the people whom we are meant to be.
Searching for Wholeness
When we think of the word “codependent,” many associations come to mind, such as a spouse of an alcoholic or addict. Codependency is also referred to as “love or relationship addiction,” but this term can extend beyond such areas. According to Barry and Janae Weinhold, a codependent relationship involves two “half persons attempting to create one whole person” (2008, p. xii). Both persons are unable to act independently of each other. Basically, codependency refers to an unhealthy attachment to another person in order to make oneself feel whole. Johnson defines codependency as, “when someone becomes so preoccupied with someone else that they neglect themselves” (2004, p. 387). In other words, codependents are looking for something outside of themselves in order to make themselves feel happy and fulfilled. They often have a history of abusive or neglectful parents, alcoholism in their family of origin, dysfunctional parental relationships, or a destructive partner. Some speculate that codependency stems from early development and Weinhold and Weinhold believe that it is caused by “early developmental trauma during the first six months of life, which interferes with secure bonding” (2008, p. xi).
Codependency is often referred to as a “relationship addiction,” which means that codependents use relationships in the same way that an addict may use alcohol or drugs. Relationships make them feel good about themselves and dull the pain of loneliness. Codependents believe that they are unable to function independently from their partner (Weinhold & Weinhold, 2008) and the thought of surviving without them seems unthinkable.
Codependents have an external frame of reference (Weinhold & Weinhold, 2008). This means that most of their energy and attention are focused on their partner. Codependents spend much of their time obsessing and worrying about their relationship. They constantly ask themselves questions like: “Do they like me? Will they leave me? Who are they talking to today? Where are they going?” This lack of security in the relationship wreaks havoc on their emotional state, creating fear, anxiety and depression.
Christian Counseling for Codependency
If you are reading this article and recognize yourself in what is described, do not despair. Christian counseling can help you to come to a better understanding of yourself and enable you to address unhealthy patterns in how you relate to others. By gaining a renewed appreciation of the gift of your own life, you will be in a better place to relate positively to others. If you would like to explore the possibility of Christian counseling, I would be happy to discuss this with you.
Johnson, S. (2004). Therapist’s Guide to Clinical Interventions. San Diego: Academic Press.
Weinhold, B. & Weinhold, J. (2008). Breaking Free of the Co-dependency Trap. Novato: Stillpoint Publishing.
Images from freedigitalphotos.net. “Handcuffed Female Hand” by sattva; “Love Is The Drug” by nuchylee
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