By Dolores Smyth, Crosswalk.com
The word “codependent” is often casually used to describe other people’s relationships. Perhaps you’ve thrown around the word yourself. But what does it really mean to be codependent?
What Is Codependency?
1. Codependency arises from an unhealthy imbalance of power in a relationship. Codependency is a dysfunctional, circular dynamic between a “giver” and a “taker” in a relationship.
The “giver” feels insignificant unless they are needed by and sacrificing for the “taker” who, in turn, enables the giver to keep on giving.
Codependency is not a formally identified personality disorder. Rather, it is the result of attachment patterns developed in early childhood and may also be symptomatic of an underlying personality disorder.
People who become enmeshed in codependent relationships often have a poor sense of self as well as unhealthy boundaries. Codependency ranges in severity and can exist in different contexts, such as between friends, family members, significant others, and work settings.
Examples of codependent tendencies include the inability to say “no,” the persistent hesitation to put forth your own opinion, and/or not having any interests or hobbies outside of the relationship at issue. Codependent relationships get progressively worse over time as the codependent person loses their sense of self because of their focus on meeting the other person’s needs.
2. Codependency is not the same as a customary, healthy dependence on another. Codependence is different from dependence. There are many instances in which your care for someone is healthy.
For example, caregiving is normal when raising children or caring for an elderly parent. In these cases, the people cared for rely on you for their wellbeing and may not, otherwise, be able to adequately care for themselves.
Caregiving becomes codependent when your identity and well-being hinge on someone else’s approval of you.
How Can the Bible Help Us Overcome Codependency?
When you have a poor self-image and weak boundaries, you leave yourself open to being preyed upon by selfish or impossible-to-please people.
In those cases, you have to muster up the fortitude to acknowledge your worth first and foremost as a child of God. You can look to Scripture to be infused with the strength you think you lack.
Here are four verses to get you off and running toward healthier relationships if you find yourself in the following common codependent situations.
1. The only time you feel worthy is when you’re meeting someone else’s needs.
Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe. Many seek an audience with a ruler, but it is from the Lord that one gets justice (Proverbs 29:25-26).
While it’s true that it’s better to give than to receive, you have to be careful that you’re giving your time and resources for the right reasons and to the right people.
When you consistently give to someone who has no limit on how much they will continue to take, you’ll grow despondent as you seek to please a person who’s incapable of gratitude.
In extreme cases of people-pleasing, you may be agreeing to someone’s risky or dangerous requests for the mere sake of not disappointing that person. It’s important to remember that anyone who loves you will never put you in that position.
Unlike someone who devalues or endangers you, God delights in your presence and wants nothing more than the best for you. When you focus on doing right by God, you gain a bounty of blessings.
Among them, you gain safety and justice (Proverbs 29:25-26); wisdom and understanding (Proverbs 9:10); and the encouraging peace of knowing that God has a plan for your life that you can’t even imagine because His ways and thoughts are higher than your ways and thoughts (Jeremiah 29:11; Isaiah 55:9).
2. You need other people to like you to feel good about yourself.
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago (Ephesians 2:10).
Everyone likes being liked. Being held in high regard feels good.
However, if you’re changing yourself or compromising your values to get other people to like you, you’ve turned pursuing the approval of man into an idol. As Scripture warns, you cannot pursue pleasing man and also serve Christ (Galatians 1:10).
In a healthy relationship, both parties express their needs and wants in relation to one another. In a codependent relationship, the codependent person dismisses their own needs and wants while placing the other person’s needs and wants on a pedestal. If you’re in this position, you risk losing your sense of self.
A healthier way of living is to recenter by remembering this awesome truth: you are God’s masterpiece, made in His image to reflect His love and light into the world!
As you work to regain a healthier sense of self, remember the order that you’re supposed to live in. You’re to first love God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and then love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:34-40).
3. Your parents make you feel bad about independence or personal growth.
Honor your father and your mother (Exodus 20:12).
The Bible is clear that we must always honor our parents. However, when it comes to obeying our parents, there is a distinction between adult children and young children’s duties. Children are to obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1), while adults are to honor them.
Once you’re an adult and responsible for making your own decisions, honoring your parents may mean disobeying any of their requests that cut against what is right and just.
Simply put, it is a parent’s job to raise children on the path they should take in life (Proverbs 22:6). This path inevitably involves independence for the adult child, no matter how bittersweet for the parent.
In enmeshed family relationships where parents and adult children are emotionally dependent on one another, family members are threatened by each other’s personal growth and independent choices.
According to Lori Wildenberg, national speaker and author of The Messy Life of Parenting, enmeshed families use emotional blackmail to control each other into believing that they must constantly prove love for and loyalty to the family unit.
This behavior is not only not reflective of a parent’s job to raise a child properly, but it also doesn’t allow the adult child to properly honor his or her parents.
To break free from this situation, look to Scripture’s command to honor (not necessarily obey) your parents. Pray for the knowledge to set the proper boundaries with your parents so that you can honor them in a way that is pleasing to God.
4. You fear abandonment and think you can’t live without a particular person in your life.
Bad company corrupts good character (1 Corinthians 15:33).
If you’re generally a rational person and find yourself in a relationship in which you repeatedly fear being abandoned, it isn’t that you’re becoming irrational.
Rather, it’s that the person you’re with is purposely toggling between crumbling and rebuilding the secure footing that should be the norm in a healthy relationship. That’s called emotional abuse, and it’s something you most certainly can live without.
If you spend enough time with someone who knows how to pull the strings on your sense of security, you’ll find yourself becoming distrustful and needy, much to the satisfaction of the person pulling the strings.
In this type of codependent relationship, the “taker” harms the “giver” while simultaneously leading the “giver” to believe that life without the “taker” would be unbearable or, worse, impossible.
Trust God when he cautions that such bad company will erode your good character over time. Instead of wasting time with someone who would so casually steal your peace, stand firm in God’s promise that you were not made with a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).
In other words, you already have what it takes to walk away from a bad situation with your head held high.
What Does This Mean?
Codependent tendencies often stem from childhood attachments and/or personality disorders. While you shouldn’t hesitate to seek professional help to understand and dismantle your codependent habits, it’s important to embrace your inherent value as a child of God.
It’s up to you to draw close to God, and He will draw close to you (James 4:8). Once you accept God’s emboldening guidance, remember that He promises to stay by your side no matter who forsakes you (Psalm 27:10).
He promises to heal your broken heart (Psalm 147:3). And He promises that no matter who tries to bully you back into a bad situation, no weapon forged against you will succeed, and vindication will surely come from His hand (Isaiah 54:17).
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Dolores Smyth is a nationally published faith and parenting writer. She draws inspiration for her writing from everyday life. Connect with her over Twitter @byDoloresSmyth.