For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. [Galatians 1:10]
Codependency as a term became popular in the 80's. It originally referred to families of addicts, but was broadened to include anyone who exhibits this behavior. This type of dysfunctional relationship can sometimes be hard to identify because certain traits are healthy in moderation. Codependency, though, is the embodiment of unhealthy extremes.
Here's what it generally looks like. A codependent has based their identity on the approval and affection of another person (usually a spouse, but parent/child is also common) to the extent that she continually neglects her own needs in order to meet the needs of the other. A codependent has trouble disagreeing or saying no, and often tries to minimize consequences for the other (enabling.)
It's a vicious cycle. Codependents generally believe that by rescuing, fixing, or manipulating their spouse/parent/child they will be able to change them. This usually plays out as constant capitulation and appeasement, in an often subconscious attempt to "guilt" the other into changing. When this doesn't happen codependents often become frustrated, bitter, angry, and violent—but soon revert back to capitulation because what they fear most is being abandoned, rejected, and left alone.
Because of this a codependent generally has trouble being honest about his feelings and desires, often because he can't express or identify them anymore (enmeshment.) An overwhelming desire to please and appease at the expense of your own needs (and the growth of the other person,) a sense of having no identity, and an aching feeling of emptiness—these are the hallmark symptons of codependency.
Sadly, the lies of codependency can sound a lot like commands in the Bible. It tells us to put others' needs before our own, to do what is pleasing to God, and that love covers a multitude of sins. But what God desires of us is far different from the cruel demands of codependency. God asks that you give selflessly because Christ loves you with a genuine, confident love. Codependency demands that you give selflessly because you will never be worthy of love otherwise.
Maybe this describes you or somebody you know. We carry a selection of books that may help you understand codependency. Melody Beattie's Codependent No More is the original work that popularized the concept, though she approaches it from a more secular perspective; When People are Big and God is Small is a contrasting perspective from a Christian point of view. Amy Baker's Picture Perfect is for those struggling to live up to expectations of perfection, and Cloud and Townsend's Boundaries is a classic for those who have trouble saying "no." And that's just a start.
Just a reminder as you read, whether you struggle with codependency or not. You have worth simply because you were made in the image of God. And He is a God who loved you so much that He was willing to be nailed to a cross for your sake. Jesus came to fill the void left by loneliness and lack of love inside you. In Him, you are loved. In Him, you are worthy. Be selfless because you are secure in His love. He will never leave you or forsake you.
Review by Lauren Shearer
Lauren Shearer writes words for fun and profit. She also makes films, but everyone knows you can't make a profit doing that. Her other hobby is consistently volunteering way too much of her time. You can read more of her reviews here.
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