What is Codependence?

The Christian Codependence Recovery Workbook: From Surviving to Significance

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Chapter 1: Facing Codependence

Taken from Chapter 1 of The Christian Codependence Recovery Workbook: From Surviving to Significance”.

We all grew up with families and experiences that helped us develop our sense of identities, and set “rules” to life which carried with us throughout adulthood. Somewhat like a picture window, these experiences framed us to have unique perspectives of what the world was about, how families function, and what to value in our lives. While growing up with these unique windows of perspective, we only knew what we were taught, and automatically assumed it was right. Messages and belief systems began to be imprinted upon us that taught us about ourselves, what to expect from people, how to live our lives, what roles to play, and how to care about the people around us. We also developed our concept of God or our lack of belief in Him.

As we approached adulthood, our lives played out on the basis of those acquired beliefs. We thought, felt, and behaved accordingly. What we “did” seemed to simply be a by-product of who we had become, whether it was right or wrong. So we thought.

Some of us have reached a point where we realize that the foundational ways we think, feel, act, and live in our relationships is causing us pain. We may continue to believe that other people are responsible for that pain. Or, we may be exceedingly harsh on ourselves. We may attempt to fixate on the current events of our lives, not understanding that the issues of “today” are often influenced by deeper things. In reality, our struggle in relationships, and our chronic inability to resolve the problems we face needs to be addressed at that foundational level.

Why a Recovery Approach?
Whether or not you identify with being “codependent,” rest assured, the purpose of this workbook and the process it contains has little to do with merely giving you a label. We use this term to describe and identify common struggles and similar behaviors we share. Being able to do so is a gift. By realizing that we aren’t alone, we can reach out and share in our journey of healing. However, we must never confuse that with allowing the label of codependence to “define” who we are—it does not.

This workbook is written to encourage those who not only seek to overcome codependent behaviors, but to view and live life from an entirely new perspective. Each chapter is designed to bring a new challenge and an opportunity for growth. This intensive process will hopefully help you gain access to the issues in your life you may not have completely understood. This requires two phases:

  • We must see and understand the things in our life that haven’t been working, and learn the reasons why
  • We must embrace the authentic design of our life through the “window of perspective” of a Father who created us for significance, pleasure, passion and the fullness of Himself in us

The Window of Codependence
Historically, the term “co-dependency” or “codependence” was used to refer to the significant other of an active alcoholic. That’s because it became apparent that just as the alcoholic suffered from similar characteristics, the dependent family member also shared in a unique pattern of behavior. Namely, these were tools of compensation and ultra-controlling behaviors to attempt to resolve the alcoholic’s problem.
The definition as we understand it today applies to much broader situations, although codependence is most obvious in the addiction cycle. For our purposes, we are going to define codependence as a set of learned coping skills used to function in an environment that is imbalanced and dysfunctional. It is a counterfeit method of expressing love and engaging in healthy, spiritually-based relationships. Codependence manifests in a variety of behaviors, but the driving factor of a codependent is an internal brokenness.

In truth, codependence can develop or exist wherever relationships (past or current) are love-deficient. It also occurs when we look for something from the outside to fill the “inner void” on the inside. Since that inner void can only be filled by God, a codependent unknowingly attempts to put a person, situation, or thing in God’s place. Before we get overwhelmed by that definition, recognize that by default all human beings do this. Therefore, it would be technically correct to say that all people are at one point “codependent.”

Caregiver Role
Often, as codependents, we developed a caregiver role to balance a relationship or family system that was imbalanced due to a person that was physically, mentally, or emotionally unavailable. The need to overly focus on the needs of this person caused a disruption and misunderstanding about the purpose of relationship. As we focused more on that other person’s needs, we may have focused less on our own. Since the person we “cared” for was unable to give back in the relationship (emotionally, spiritually, financially, physically) we learned to become a compensator and sometimes even a “rescuer.” In the process, our own needs were neglected or malnourished, resulting in our spiritual, mental, and emotional growth being stunted.Externally Referenced Over time, we became very sensitive to the needs and expectations of the people and circumstances surrounding us. As we became accustomed to meeting and accommodating other people’s needs, we began to use people or outside circumstances as a reference point for everything in our own lives. Our lives consisted of efforts to “read” people through unspoken expressions or by “analyzing” their irrational behavior. By fixating on how to read our environment, we became externally referenced. It drove us to levels of insanity as that reference point often had no logical or rational perspective driving it.Still, we believed something “on the outside” had the answer to what we needed “on the inside.” We ultimately came to believe that our own sense of happiness and fulfillment rested on our ability to help, care for, and please the people in our lives. If we were unable to do this, it had the potential to completely crush our sense of worth.In more advanced levels of codependence, we became enmeshed with the people in our lives so much that we were unable to separate our own feelings, thinking, and acting. This way of living caused us to disconnect with our true self, our authentic identity, and our true needs. We became a catalyst to the needs of those around us and in some ways our sense of self was entirely dissolved. Unable to identify this pattern or the reasons behind it, we were caught in a viscous cycle of attempting to help, fix, change, and please others, while at the same time feeling empty, angry, disappointed, and disconnected.

Where is Codependence Developed?
The seed of shame has at one point taken root in the codependent’s life. Shame says “I don’t measure up, something is wrong with me.” Sometimes shame is imposed on a child in very subtle ways, such as living in a strict Christian home where the child doesn’t quite “measure up.” Sometimes it is imposed in brutal ways from a very chaotic and abusive environment.

The codependent was also most likely not properly given or modeled love. If love was absent or seen as something we needed to “work for,” we will develop compensation behaviors in adulthood.

Families of origin aren’t the only reason why a person may be exposed to codependence. Sometimes outside events and relationships can also usher in these behaviors. An abusive marriage, rejection at school, or a dysfunctional friendship can all be breeding grounds for codependent tendencies.

Attributes of Codependence
• Believing a relationship with a significant other will fill the ultimate need for love
• Depending on relationships with emotionally unavailable people to meet own needs
• Bound in relationships by performance (what I do) rather than core value and worth (who I am)
• Obsession with other people’s problems and needs
• Overly caring for other people to the neglect of self needs. Feeling victimized and “used” as a result
• Inability to say “NO”
• Tolerating mistreatment or abuse from people, while justifying their behavior and trying to defend them
• Avoiding conflict with other people to the point of being unable to speak true feelings or ask for valid needs, oftentimes countered by fits of anger or rage (passive-aggression)
• Covering up for irresponsible people in life by lying or “filling in the gaps” to “help” them
• Doing for others what they should be doing for themselves
• Attempting to protect a person from emotional pain or consequences of unhealthy behaviors, such as using drugs and alcohol. Unaware that doing so creates enablement of the problem rather than solution
• Directly or indirectly attempt to fix, manage or control another person’s problems, even if meant in a loving way
• Trying to please people in life by going out of the way to be helpful, thoughtful or caring, and then becoming angry or discouraged if the desired response does not help (Motives were to get the person to respond, rather than to try to bless them.)
• Migrating towards people that need help, yet having a difficult time receiving help from others
• Being willing to compromise personal belief systems or morals to please another person or to have emotional needs met
• Worrying about other people’s feelings so much that it has a direct affect on own feelings. Being bound to another person’s emotions (Happy when they are happy, upset when they are upset)
• Losing own interests and identity in close relationships. Believing that the people in life are a direct reflection of self
• Fear of being alone or isolating out of fear of close relationships

What is Recovery?

• Identifying our belief systems, emotional strongholds and relationship patterns learned from childhood or other influencing circumstances.
• Understanding and personally experiencing the love of God; learning to differentiate true love from the counterfeit version of codependence.
• Learning to surrender our will to the care and provision of God Almighty. This means ending our own efforts to change outcomes in people and circumstances.
• Seeing things as they really are no matter how painful that may be. God leads us out of our painful past by giving us new belief systems based on His truth.
• Understanding our true needs, and properly grieving and letting go of things that were lost.
• Removing shame and the effects of negative experiences by learning how to give and receive forgiveness properly. Forgiveness brings ultimate freedom.
• Understanding that who we are in God’s eyes holds much value and allows us to release the need to “do things” in order to gain acceptance by God and others.
• Reconnecting with our true self, the person God made us to be. Finding our authentic identity, purpose, and God’s plan for our lives.
• Setting and adhering to healthy boundaries to protect and guide us in healthy ways.
• Accepting God’s promises in our lives despite our circumstances or what other people say or do.
• Day by day, minute by minute, learning to be internally referenced by the Holy Spirit residing inside us, no longer being bound by the external reference of what other people think or feel. Simply put, learning how to “walk in the Spirit.”
• Serving other people by serving Jesus first. Being obedient to whatever and however God chooses to use us in other people’s lives. Learning how to not accept the failure or receive the victory for what happens to another person. Truly understanding that God (not me!) is in control.

A Prayer About Codependence
Father God,
I am reading this book because I recognize that something isn’t working in my life. I often feel detached, broken and empty, all while seemingly being engaged and in a role of “helping” others or holding things together. It’s so confusing. It seems I’m doing the right thing, yet at the same time, something is fundamentally wrong in my life and relationships. Please, Lord, help me. Show me truth, but offer it under the power and kindness of your love towards me. Give me the wisdom and strength to find recovery, and offer me hope that it will lead me into your abiding joy and peace.
In Jesus’s name, A-men.

Recognize the Symptoms
How do I know if I need help? Every person in the universe has some form of codependence. The issue is how severe you manifest codependent behaviors and how it is affecting your life and relationships. People that have been wounded emotionally, especially early in childhood, truly need help and intervention at some point to learn healthy love and relationship skills. Unfortunately, since one of the most distinct characteristics of codependence is the inability to admit a problem and reach out for help, millions of people unnecessarily suffer when help is readily available. Take the following quiz to see if you qualify for the need to get help

Despite how difficult, confusing and painful codependence can be, the recovery process is filled with tremendous hope and transformation. To learn about recovery, click here.