In this article I’ll be answering the questions, “What is a codependent?” and “What does a codependent relationship look like?”
What is a Codependent?
When talking about somebody who is codependent I am referring to somebody who has unhealthy relationship patterns and behaviors that appear to be emotionally destructive and one-sided. It is a common struggle that many people deal with today.In many codependent relationships, one person is often trying to please the other in some way. The codependent’s mood is reliant upon the other person. If the other person is happy, they are happy, and if the other person is mad, their mood will also reflect that.
Signs of Codependency
Codependent behavior is not just something that surfaces in romantic relationships. When somebody struggles with codependency it often manifests itself in many if not all of their relationships.
Some of these traits include: relying heavily on others’ approval or acceptance, sacrificing oneself in an unhealthy way, repressing their own feelings, extreme difficulty saying no or setting boundaries, constant worry about what people are saying about them, unable to make decisions on their own, caretaking, “people pleasing” (or doing something primarily to make somebody like them), difficulty identifying their own feelings outside of the other person, poor self-esteem, obsessive fear of abandonment, and lost sense of self.
These are only a few traits that a person who struggles with codependency might have. Codependency can also surface in sexual relations as sexual codependency. This might show when somebody is doing something sexually that they are not comfortable with but are unable to say no.
When somebody has been a codependent for a long period of time they might start to develop symptoms of major depression or addictive behaviors to cope with the feelings they are trying to repress, as well as possible suicidal ideation.
I have worked with individuals who have come to believe that they cannot get out from underneath the codependency, that there is no hope. I can tell you that voice is not coming from God and is absolutely untrue. You can recover from codependency.
In my professional opinion, codependency is an act of control and an attempt to manipulate in some ways. When we take a look at a codependent relationship, the person who is codependent is desperately trying to control others’ emotions or opinions out of fear. This fear can be real or imagined.
For example, if you grew up in a home where your father would yell and then hit you, then you might have a legitimate fear when your husband (or any man) starts to yell. Your brain remembers the sequence of events that happened and that fear starts to kick in.
When you were a child you might have tried ways to control your father’s mood so you would not get abused. As an adult, there is a good possibility you might still carry that fear when you hear a man’s voice escalate. You might be subconsciously trying to control others so you do not end up in a place where you are fearful like you did as a child.
Just like this example, these patterns often stem from childhood. When there is a dysfunctional family, children learn unhealthy ways to try to control an environment that might be abusive in some way. In most cases those coping mechanisms are brought into an individual’s adult life unless they have been worked through and taught the principles of healthy relationships.
Codependency vs. Being a Good Christian: Where is the Line?
As Christians we are called to forgive others and model the love of God. Throughout the Bible we learn to treat each other in a certain way. Let’s look at three Scriptures:
“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” – Luke 6:35
See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. – 1 Thessalonians 5:15
Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. – 1 Corinthians 10:24
Each of these Scriptures is calling us to be good, selfless, and forgiving human beings. C.S. Lewis has said that humility isn’t thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less. You might be asking how does that apply here?
When we look in the Bible we can see that Jesus set boundaries, too. It is okay to take care of yourself. Jesus said “no” at times. He did not allow Himself to be a slave to the people, but instead looked to His Father for acceptance, not other human beings.
In Matthew 5:37, it says, “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” It does not always feel so simple to say yes or no. Many times we might feel we need to justify our answer because we are trying to please people instead of God.
Matthew 5:44 states, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” This is specifically telling us that we need to be looking to God for answers and praise, and not to people. When we get caught up in the opinions of others we find ourselves furthering ourselves from God.
If you are struggling with learning to not constantly worry about the opinions of others and look more to God, you are not alone. It is challenging work to find a happy medium because there are going to be people who we value and their opinion is going to be important to us.
Sometimes getting feedback on our character defects is hard to hear, especially if you are the type of person who will completely beat yourself up. Having fellow Christians in your life to walk God’s path with you can be so supportive and helpful with your own personal growth.
It is not always easy having somebody shine a light on things that we would rather keep in the dark and not admit. The hope is that by having other Christians in our lives, we can help each other grow into Christlikeness. As Christians it is important to be seeking God’s glory, not the glory of man.
Codependents’ Guide to the Twelve Steps: Melody Beattie
A great book that I recommend for people who are struggling with codependency is Codependents’ Guide to the Twelve Steps by Melody Beattie. This book is a practical way to work through codependency and look into any unwanted behaviors and patterns that you might have in your own life.
Going through this book is helpful to do with others so you can see that you are not the only one who struggles with these behaviors. It becomes less isolating and might help lessen the shame you might be feeling. Codependents are their own worst enemy.
There is a good possibility that you might be used to constantly putting yourself down and putting others’ needs before your own. You might not meet full criteria of being codependent, but there is always room for growth in setting boundaries and having healthy relationships. This book is excellent for anybody wanting to grow out of old codependent behaviors and into an individual who loves themselves and others enough to set boundaries.
What Should I Do Now?
The first step is acknowledging that you are a codependent or at least have some of the traits. Reaching out for help will be next. This can look like talking to a professional (a counselor), talking to a close friend or mentor, joining a support group like Codependents Anonymous or Celebrate Recovery, and/or educating yourself with books or other resources.
As a professional, I can tell you, working with a codependency counselor is a great idea. It offers outside input from an individual who is not biased or intertwined in some way. A codependency counselor is going to meet you where you are currently and help you work through this issue while supporting your growth.
The journey on changing these behaviors is not going to be easy. There is a good chance you have used these unhealthy tools for a long period of time and unfortunately change is not easy, nor will it happen overnight.
When you start to set boundaries and take care of yourself, others might be resistant to that change and might want to push back. Relapse in old behaviors will happen but does not mean you are not moving forward. This is why having a lot of support and accountability is important.
If you are only accountable to yourself, it is easy to give up or justify your behavior. If you have multiple people in your life to talk to and be accountable to, recovery from codependency is possible.
If you are struggling with codependency and are unsure of where to start, please reach out today. This can be an overwhelming issue to deal with alone. There is no need to feel ashamed. God wants you to have healthy relationships and good boundaries.
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