The Problem of Codependency

Codependency is another popular and overused term today.  Yet the syndrome of codependency continues to cause problems in people’s lives. Codependence means that one person has been so controlled and consumed by another person’s problem that they develop a set of their own problems revolving around that other person’s problem.

In general the relationship where there is codependency causes excessive dependency and taking on of someone else’s responsibilities.

For example: a housewife with alcoholic husband feels confused, anxious and in crisis and tries to get her husband to change because she feels over-responsible and guilty for her husband’s alcoholism. She takes on shame and guilt for her spouse’s unacceptable behavior and thus takes on his responsibilities.
The codependent person also has a need to feel needed. Ultimately, codependency is based on fear and self-protection versus relying on God.  The codependent person needs to feel in control and thus, takes on the other person’s responsibilities because he/she cannot handle the tension of the consequences that result…ie., when the boss calls to see why that person did not show up at work, the codependent makes an excuse for him/her because of the fear or potential of job loss.

How might faulty Christian teaching promote codependency?  The Christian feels like he or she has to turn the other cheek or go the extra mile in every situation.  Or he or she may have a Savior complex in which he/she feels a responsibility to fix every problem which comes along.  Christians may promote denial or confrontation of problems for the sake of peace (at-all-costs) vs. speaking the truth in love about taking responsibility.  This is part of the reason that families take on  dysfunctional roles which emulate the “don’t talk, don’t feel, don’t trust” rules.

Codependent people suffer from these symptoms:

  • loss of objectivity,
  • warped sense of responsibility,
  • easily controlled or controlling,
  • excessive feelings of guilt, hurt and anger, loneliness,
  • extreme fear of rejection,

Setting Boundaries to Overcome Codependency: Since it is not healthy to remain a codependent in relationships with others, the question is: “how can you determine which boundaries you need to put into place with people,?”

Write down the situations which are bothering you most.
In what situations are you giving up your happiness and life for someone else? What happens?  Are they making too many requests?
When are you feeling frustrated in your relationships?
When you say no to a request, do you feel guilty? 
What makes you feel guilty when you say no or want to say no?
When you do something for someone else, do you short-circuit some responsibility you need to accomplish for your own life?
When are you taking on someone else’s responsibilities?
  Is that person needy (disabled, overworked, etc.) or is he or she quite capable of accomplishing these tasks?

Write these questions out and answer with specific examples from your own life.  You need to explore your own life and relationships and learn to be assertive with people and take better care of yourself.
Obviously, Christians are asked to go the extra mile and to be kind  and generous.   In order to know when you are helping someone out versus  when you are helping them continue a life of selfishness or irresponsibility, ask yourself this: “Is this person asking you to do something because he or she really has a need or is it because you have always done it and/or he or she is avoiding responsibility?”

Get the following books: Asserting Yourself by Sharon Anthony Bower, Gordon H. Bower, Susan Anthony Bower or Telling Each Other the Truth by William Backus, Marie Chapian   and/or Codependent No More : How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie from our resources page.
Read the article on assertiveness on our web site.
Also, consider how God can help you discern when helping someone is helpful through prayer and reading scriptures such as the book of Proverbs and the gospel of John.

Take care of yourself.  Make sure you focus on accomplishing personal responsibilities and keeping yourself healthy through exercise, and growing in spiritual, mental and emotional health. Put Jesus Christ first in your life, get fellowship and support in a local church.   If you don’t have a church check out Willow Creek church for a referral to a solid evangelical church near you.  If you need to seek counseliing because this issue has caused you to feel depressed or anxious,  See the AACC directory for a list of counselors in your area.

© copyright 2014 by Lynette J. Hoy, NCC, LCPC