As a Christian, are you living in misery and failure rather than freedom and joy? Many feel depressed and trapped in lives with little hope. Though they take their faith seriously and try to obey God, they are not really alive. Christís promises of life, joy and peace often seem empty, because their emotions are telling them something is missing. Many Christians develop religious addictions, becoming obsessive and compulsive about religious behaviors, working themselves into a frenzy of good works, intense "ferverent prayer", etc. to cover up their intense anxiety and feelings of worthlessness. They never get closer to knowing the love of the Father or to experiencing the freedom in Christ.
Codependent behavior reflects a deeply-seated, private and often unconscious belief that the road to love, belonging, salvation, acceptance and success is dependent on our own ability to do what we THINK others want or expect us to do. These Christians have been taught that "doing for others" is a means to achieve these goals. Unfortunately, these we "do for" and those whom we are trying to please are often not as concerned about our welfare as they are about their own. These Christians become blind to the reality of this behavior and to the things that really count, like knowing the peace of God; having self-respect and self-worth; being led by the Holy Spirit; trusting in His provision. etc. Operating under a sincere delusion that pleasing people will bring them what they want, they become willing participants in a losing game. Instead of success or joy, the approval-seeker inevitably ends up angry, hurt, misunderstood, rejected, used, abused and often feeling abandoned by God.
Codependents may think and feel responsible for other people-for other peopleís feelings, thoughts, actions, choices, wants, needs and wellbeing; anticipate other peopleís needs; find themselves saying yes when they mean no, doing things other people are capable of doing themselves; try to please others instead of themselves; feel safest when giving. Codependents tend to blame themselves for everything; pick on themselves for the way they think, look, feel, act and behave; reject compliments or praise; feel different than the rest of the world; think they are not quite good enough; fear rejection; have been victims of sexual, pyhsical, or emotional abuse, neglect, abandonment or alcoholism; feel like victims; tell themselves they canít do anything right; be afraid of making mistakes; wonder why they have a tough time making decisions; expect themselves to do everything perfectly; have a lot of "shoulds"; feel ashamed of who they are; think their lives arenít worth living; wish good things would happen to them; believe good things never will happen ; believe they donít deserve good things and happiness; wish other people would like and love them; settle for being needed. Many codependents become afraid to let themselves be who they are; become numb emotionally, feeling nothing, appearing passive. They tend to worry about the silliest things; lose sleep over problems or other peopleís behavior; worry; never find answers; focus all their energy on other people and problems; become afraid to let other people be who they are and allow events to happen naturally; get frustrated and angry; feel controlled by events and people. Codependents tend to ignore problems or pretend they arenít happening; tell themselves things will get better tomorrow; get confused; feel depressed or sick; lie to themselves; wonder why they feel like they are going crazy. Many codependents donít feel happy, content or at peace with themselves; look for happiness outside themselves; donít love themselves; believe other people canít or donít love them; desperately seek love and approval; try to prove they are good enough to be loved; center their lives around other people; look to relationships to provide all their good feelings; lose interest in their own lives when they love; stay in relationships that donít work; tolerate abuse to keep people loving them; wonder if they will ever find love. Codependents frequently donít say what they mean; donít take themselves too seriously; try to say what they think will please other people; avoid talking about themselves, their problems, feelings and thoughts; say everything is their fault; believe their opinions donít matter; think most of what they say is unimportant; apologize for bothering people; let others hurt them; wonder why they hurt so badly. Codependents donít trust themselves; donít trust their feelings; donít trust their decisions; think God has abandoned them; lose faith and hope in God. Some codependents are caretakers in the bedroom; have sex when they donít want to; have sex when they would rather be held, nurtured and loved; have a difficult time asking for what they need in bed; withdraw emotionally from their partner; lose interest in sex; have strong sexual fantasies about other people; consider or have an extramarital affair. Codependents tend to find it difficult to feel close to people; laugh when they feel like crying; not seek help because they tell themselves the problem isnít bad enough or they arenít important enough. In the later stages of codependency, they may feel lathargic; feel depressed; become withdrawn and isolated; feel hopeless; begin to plan their escape from the relationship they feel trapped in; think about suicide; or become seriously emotionally, mentally or physically ill. (Melodie Beattie, CODEPENDENT NO MORE, San Francisco, 1987)
We are told to "love our neighbors as we love ourselves." The order is very important. Loving ourselves is Godís idea and intention. Generally codependents are blind to themselves, yet full of advice for others. They readily see what others need to do, or how others should walk with the Lord, but their own lives are a mess, and their spiritual lives are sterile and dead. We are called to love one another, but that does not necessarily mean relieving everyoneís pain. It does mean that we agree to protect the vulnerable. A loving act on our part can preserve others or assist them to accomplish something they could not do without us. Love benefits all involved. Acts of love, kindness, compassion and true helping are acts where our assistance is legitimately wanted and needed. Spiritually there is fruit from our actions and sacrifices. Life is enhanced, no one is hurt, Godís will is done. Everyone is affirmed and no one loses. An act to fix or prevent necessary pain in someoneís life is enabling and unhealthy rescuing. Enabling is a therapeutic term for destructive helping and constitutes a rescuing move: doing something for someone although that person is capable of and should be doing it for themselves. Caretaking or rescuing causes us to feel anxiety; guilt; saintliness; needed; more competent than the person we are "helping."
Itís like going through a cafeteria line with everyone anxiously fixated on the next personís tray; will THEY make the right choices? Pulling in our focus to our own tray , we are often startled to find that we ourselves have made some very poor, unhealthy choices. We even discover that people close to us have dumped their garbage and emotional refuse on our trays. And we continue to consume it all, denying the consequences of our own choices for partaking of "meals" which are destroying our own mental and physical health. And in our ignorance we insult God by calling this behavior Christian or spiritual.
Codependents misinterpret the scriptures about giving, turning the other cheek, being humble, loving, etc., through their own emotional distortions. They tend to emphasize performance and doing the work of the Kingdom. They confuse true serving with neurotic de-selfing. And because the heart is sick, they experience no satisfaction, no power, and see very little fruit from their sacrifices and effort.
De-selfing or self-forfeiture, is a resignation to helplessness, always reacting to other people and their situations. It is a feeling of being controlled by their words, actions or moods; not really sure of who they are or what they like or need or want. They feel uneasy and unsure of themselves and feel more comfortable when "deselfing" and meeting other peopleís needs. They give and give, expecting nothing in return, yet resent it when other people should do the same for them but donít. They then feel used and unhappy because of other people. This can appear to be the Christian virtue of self-sacrifice except that it is self-centered and doesnít bear good fruit in anyoneís life.
Freedom and victory from this bondage comes when we surrender and trust in God. Our deepest longings are indeed met by God as we become truly dependent on Him. We cannot earn or merit grace and we must learn how to receive it. This is an ongoing process of coming to know the love of the Father. It can be a threatening process as we let go and turn our lives over to God. True surrender means a person enters into life through faith in Jesus Christís atoning death. Surrender means abiding in Godís grace and receiving His acceptance, forgiveness, and empowerment in the Holy Spirit. The results are true spiritual vitality, a secure sense of place and worth, and the potential for intimacy.
The goal of recovery from this bondage of codependency is bonding. Bonding is the love-connection we enjoy with God and others that motivates us to worship and trust God and to do for others whatever is for their ultimate well-being.
A healthy functional couple commit to each other through the power of the will. True interdependence occurs when two persons, who are secure in Godís acceptance, can give and receive love and forgiveness without demanding approval or conformity to expectations in return. A healthy functional relationship is based on unconditional love- itís not some sort of feeling, itís a decision. Each person is responsible for their own actions and happiness. Happiness and satisfaction come from inner resources and an individualís relationship with God. Happiness cannot come from external sources. Mature, healthy relationships are by definition between equal, self-disciplined and self-responsible individuals.(John Bradshaw, BRADSHAW ON: THE FAMILY, Deerfield, Beach,1988)
When we bond with God and know that we truly belong to Him, then healing will begin, in ourselves, our relationships, and our churches. Godís grace is meant to build community and to bring the individuals into the unity of the body of Christ. Our capacity for mutual interdependence with others in community is based on the strength and reality of our bond with our Heavenly Father.
It is a foreign idea for codependents to accept the idea that it is normal to think of their own needs first. If they believe their own needs are wrong, then they will never be able to ask directly for those needs to be met. Consequently, the codependent often tries to get personal needs met by taking care of others. Eventually this makes them overly dependent on others and their whole existence becomes wrapped up in caretaking. Without someone to take care of, they feel they have no purpose or no worth, and the more time they spend caring for others, the less time they have to devote to their own needs. They continue to set themselves up to be used because they feel so wrong inside for putting themselves first. In time, the situation deteriorates completely.
When one person in the family gets help and moves into recovery, it throws the whole family into crises. When the enabling codependent/caretaker decides to stop rescuing irresponsible famil members it is predictable thay they will provoke crises and situations to draw the caretaker back into meeting their needs and cleaning up their messes. Unconsciously other family members seek to sabatoge that personís recovery in very insidious ways, from accusations, gossip, ostracizing, etc. "Donít rock the boat" suppresses change, hinders growth and obstructs any hope of recovery.
Codependents need to be aware of and responsible for their own feelings, their own thoughts, and their God given temperament needs. This is a process called "self -care". This process will redirect the focus off the problems and people they are obsessing about and help them deal with their own unmet needs. Relieving this inner conflict and pattern of "de-selfing" will bring positive results quickly. According to Melody Beattie(CODEPENDENT NO MORE), some of the components of self-care include: Learning to DETACH and to stop obsessing about people/problems. Nurturing your inner child. Quit looking for happiness out there. Becoming undependent, learn to depend on self and on God. Taking care of self: goal setting; 12 step program, etc. Learning to solve own problems: make decisions, have choices, be responsible, forgive self. Feeling your feelings, even if theyíre unpleasant, donít be afraid, feelings can give you good information. Tending to your own affairs; leave others alone. Letting others care for themselve for a change. Stopping rescuing/caretaking and learn about care giving. Giving yourself what you need: rest, peace, space, a challenge, a good time, a better job, friends, etc. Setting boundaries in relationships so you are not overwhelmed by others demands/needs. Learning communications skills, saying what you mean, being direct and honest about your needs and your feelings. Trusting.......
Temperament Therapy can facilitate the process of self-care easily because the Temperament Analysis Profile results will specify your individual needs.
Recovery is not always easy but it is simple. It is based on the premise many of us have forgotten or never learned. Each person is responsible for him- or herself. It involves learning one new behavior that we will devote ourselves to: TAKING CARE OF OURSELVES.
True recovery will be a lifelong process. It is not about doing everything right, it is about living right, free from bondage and condemnation. Recovery opens us up to a new child-like wonder. We move beyond our distrust and self-centeredness into being open to the Holy Spirit revealing the Son in us.
COUNSELING THE CODEPENDENT: A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE UTILIZING TEMPERAMENT by Jean M. LaCour, Ph.D. copyright 1996