Healthy relationships are really about learning to love without losing yourself. The way we connect, often termed attachment in psychology, with others has a significant bearing upon the quality of our lives. Part of attachment is need and speaks to our dependency needs. In order to be healthy we must depend on other people. There are many who attempt to be too independent at the expense of those needs, others are too dependent and have difficulty establishing their own identity, making their own choices, or being alone at all. What this article will look at is another issue; it is the issue of codependency. This issue revolves around our identity and responsibility in connection with others.
What is Codependency?
· People’s moods control your emotions, so you try and control others moods.
· Robert Subby “An emotional, psychological, and behavioral condition that develops as a result of an individual’s prolonged exposure to and practice of, a set of oppressive rules- rules which prevent the open expression of feeling as well as the direct discussion of personal and interpersonal problems.”
· Ernie Larsen “Those self-defeating, learned behaviors or character defects that result in a diminished capacity to initiate or to participate in loving relationships.”
· Beattie “A codependent person is one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.”
· Thomas Wright “I suspect they[codependents] have helped. But they probably died thinking they didn’t do enough and were feeling guilty.”
· The codependent is a master of denial and repression
· The codependent worries about things he or she cannot change and may well try to change them.
· Codependents continually look for the something that is lacking or missing in life.
· “Walking around feeling like I have a huge hole, like the center of a doughnut, inside of me. There’s something missing inside.”
Characteristics of a Codependent
1. Caretaking · Think and feel responsible for other people- feelings, thoughts, actions, choices, wants, needs, well-being, lack of well-being, and ultimate destiny · Feel anxiety, pity, and guilt when other people have a problem · Feel compelled to solve people’s problems · Saying yes when mean no · Try to please others instead of self
2. Self-Worth -Get self-worth from helping others -Try to prove they are good enough
3. Controlling -Become afraid to let people be who they are and let events occur naturally -Don’t like the feeling of not being in control -Try to control people through guilt, coercion, helplessness
· Latch onto whoever or whatever can bring them happiness
5. Weak Boundaries
Often a codependent individual may look strong, but feel helpless. They look strong because they are out fixing other people’s problems and not asking for help. They feel helpless because they have difficulty being vulnerable, difficulty asking for help, and are compelled to help others, not feeling able to say “no”.
Rescuing Behavior (Classic behavior of codependency) Doing something we really don’t want to do Saying yes when we mean no Doing something for someone who is capable of doing it themselves Meeting people’s needs without being asked Giving more than we receive Fixing people’s feelings Speaking or Thinking for others Suffering other people’s consequences
Codependent Triangle (a common cycle that codependents find themselves in)
1. Rescue victims- they see people as weak victims, often unconsciously, that need rescuing from themselves. They cannot allow people to make their own mistakes and feel compelled to save them.
2. Eventually as they extend themselves in rescuing others they become resentful- “Why can’t they get their act straight?”, “Don’t they appreciate what I am doing for them?”
3. This resentment leads them to a victim mentality. They are victims of the very people they are trying to help. They feel worn out and underappreciated; victimized by those they are trying to help. They begin as rescuers but eventually end up as victims.
The Basics of Self-Care
1. Detachment-“ it is not detaching from the person we care about, but from the agony of involvement,” Al-anon member a. “We release our burdens and cares, and give ourselves the freedom to enjoy life in spite of our unsolved problems. We trust that all is well in spite of the conflicts. We trust that [God] knows, has ordained, and cares about what is happening.”
2. Don’t take other’s behaviors as a reflection of our self-worth
3. Recognize when you are reacting- allowing someone or something to yank our strings- “she made me feel…”
4. Let go of the illusion of control and power- there is very little outside of ourselves that we have control over.
5. Serenity Prayer- God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
6. “We’re so careful to see that no one gets hurt, no one that is, except ourselves.”- be aware of your own wants and needs, work toward accepting them as legitimate.
7. Boundaries- the ability to say “no” and set limits with people a. They define what is me and what is not me.
b. We are responsible to others and for ourselves. “Carry each other’s burdens” Gal.6:2- the distinction is that we are not responsible for others (see below). We are not responsible for other people’s thoughts, feelings, or actions. In addition, our service needs to be out of compassion not compulsion. Sometimes we need a breather, some space (boundaries) in order to do that. Jesus often did this when he refused to minister and withdrew to a quiet place. i. Vs.5 “each one should carry his own load.” ii. Give not out of compulsion 2cor 9:7 iii. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 if he doesn’t work, he doesn’t eat iv. Proverbs 16:26 Hunger is a consequence for laziness
c. People think that holding people responsible for their feelings, choices, and behaviors is mean. It is not mean to set boundaries, it is necessary. If people cannot accept boundaries it is their issue, but you cannot love others if you do not take care of yourself. Give up the grandiose idea that you can be superman. i. Setting limits-Prov. 13:18,24 ii. “I had to”, “she made me” These are warning signs of giving too much power to others. One of the fruits of the spirit is “self-control.” We make choices and we need to own them rather than play the victim to other people’s requests and demands. iii. “that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced” Philem 1:14
d. Boundaries are often necessary to protect ourselves i. Separate ourselves from people who act destructively Matt 18:15-17, 1 Cor 5:9-13
e. Part of discovering who we are is discovering what we desire. Our desires are important to God.
8. Reclaim your anger
a. Myths about anger: 1. Its not OK to feel angry 2. Anger is a waste of time and energy 3. Good, nice people don’t feel angry 4. We shouldn’t feel angry when we do 5. We’ll lose control and go crazy if we get angry 6. People will go away if we get angry with them. 7. Other people should never feel anger toward us. 8. If others get angry with us, we must have done something wrong. 9. If other people are angry with us, we made them feel that way and we’re responsible for fixing their feelings. b. Healthy communication of anger “I feel angry when you do this because…”
9. Don’t lose who you are when in relationship Why am I afraid to tell you who I am? Who we are is OK Our feelings and thoughts are okay Our opinions count It’s OK to talk about our problems It’s OK to say no.
Struggles in Relationship for the Codependent
· Enmeshed in the other person…sense of self –personal identity- is severely restricted
· Instead of saying I don’t want to go, I postpone it.
· A codependent’s relationships are marred by a damaging, unstable lack of balance between dependence and independence
· “In order to be intimate, you need a self. Otherwise, getting close to another person always offers the possibility of being swallowed up by that person.” Anne Wilson Schaef
· Codependent behaviors often masquerade as Christian virtues
Healthy (Interdependent) relationships:
Desire vs. intense need
Identity threatened vs. Identity preserved- can I be me?
Stable Self-esteem: or does it fluctuate with the relationship
Being able to ask for what we need and want from other people
Dependent enough to be vulnerable
*Elements of codependency exist in all of us and we struggle for healthy relatedness because we are a broken people. Many of the facets here can be worked on independently, but counseling can be of great benefit. We were ultimately designed to heal and grow within relationships, not independently, and the counseling relationship can be a great forum for that.
Material was obtained from the following sources:
Beattie, M. (1992). Codependent No More, Hazelden, Mn Cloud, H. & Townsend J., (1992). Boundaries, Zondervan, Mi Hemfelt, R., Minrith, F., and Meier, P., (1989). Thomas Nelson Publishing, Te Groom, N., (1991). From Bondage to Bonding. NavPress, Co