(A very special thank you to an anonymous blogger from morefreedomblog.wordpress.com for allowing me to feature this article.)
Codependency is a universal underlying addiction that I found out about around a year after giving up the addiction (as do many others I have talked to). Just as removing the primary surface addiction reveals resentments and fears, removing some of those things then reveals codependent behaviors. I’ve found codependent behaviors in marriage, parenting, facilitating, sponsoring, or pretty much any human relationship I’ve been involved with.
So, what is codependency? In my experience, codependency is when I am dependent upon someone else for my happiness or self-worth. They, in turn, can be dependent on me for their happiness, turning it into a vicious cycle. I can be dependent on others for my happiness because of lies that I believe. For example, if I believe that my worth and worthiness comes from my wife’s opinion of me, then I will feel a deep need to control her opinion of me. If my worth and worthiness can be based on my relationship with God, then what other people think won’t matter as much, and I won’t feel a need to control them or be controlled by them as much. So as my faith in Christ and His atonement increases through working my program and being in recovery, my codependence (and all other addictions) gradually lose their power over me.
Often, codependency can be motivated by avoiding consequences. So a wife might control her husband, so he doesn’t act out his addiction and destroy their family. This was satan’s argument from the beginning. If you give people freedom, they’ll make bad choices, and bad outcomes will happen. There could be a world of reasons to control outcomes. Does the wife think she’s a failure or not attractive enough to hold the marriage together an make it successful? Is she taking her husband’s problems on her own shoulders? Codependency can be very messy because it strikes at the heart of all of our hopes, fears, and desires for our lives and so we control those around us to protect what we think is the proper future for ourselves. I’ve found it to be better to have appropriate healthy boundaries and for each person in the relationship to seek God in the context of those healthy boundaries instead of reaching into each other’s areas of stewardship and trying to steer their lives for them. It takes a lot of support and wisdom from others who have experience overcoming codependency to navigate these troubled and confusing waters most efficiently.
Perhaps a few examples will clear up this abstract idea. The wife of a person addicted to pornography could feel her self-worth disappear when her spouse acts out his addiction. Thus, her happiness is tied to his acting out or not acting out. When she is sad or angry because he has faltered, he can also become unhappy. When I need someone else to be or behave a certain way for me to be happy, I then feel a need to control his or her behavior, so that I can be happy.
So, a wife may feel the need to control what her husband does or experiences so that he won’t falter so that she won’t be so miserable. A husband, knowing that his wife depends on him not acting out his addiction, might decide to control her environment by not being truthful with her so she can be happy so he can be happy. I have found that control or unrighteous dominion is one result of codependency.
In one case, I personally was dependent upon my wife being in a good mood for me to be happy. She was dependent upon the kids being obedient for her to be in a good mood. Therefore, I had to control the kids to make them obedient so that my wife would be happy so that I would be happy. Once one of my kids figured out what I was doing, I stopped controlling the kids, but quickly resorted to telling my wife what to do to control the kids. So, my codependency was now four levels deep: I controlled my wife to control the kids to be obedient to keep her happy so that I could be happy. Codependency can get really confusing. I have found that the Spirit of God is not with me when I engage in the powerful addiction of codependency.
In the context of facilitating a 12-step group, my happiness may be dependent upon how well people in the group are doing or how big the group is getting or how much people in the group praise what I’m doing or how smart they think I am. If this is the case, I may feel that I must preach or give the members of the group a sales pitch to save them from walking away from the group meetings because of ignorance or a lack of faith in the program or in Christ. This is a particularly deadly practice as I have seen the Spirit of God leave me as a facilitator as I resorted to this addiction of codependency. Without the Spirit, nothing else matters. It is very easy for me as a facilitator to become a savior or salesman for the group when I’m struggling with codependency issues.
One of the main focuses of the family support groups (that go along with the 12-Step groups for the addicts) is overcoming codependency. Many times, it’s easy for family members to become addicted to monitoring and trying to control the addict’s behavior because their own happiness is dependent upon the addict’s behavior. When codependent, the family member can become miserable each time the addict falters. So, the family member, not wanting to be unhappy, will try to control or “help” the addict to not fail. From what I have learned from people who attend these family support groups, they learn to rely on God for their happiness instead of relying on the performance of an imperfect human. They become happier and less controlling because they don’t need to anymore because their happiness comes from their dependence upon God and Jesus Christ.
The only way I have found to overcome codependency is to work the steps and try to be aware of when I’m controlling and surrender my will to do that. As my faith in Christ increases, unhealthy dependence upon other people decreases and that seems to be the only way out – just like any other addiction, but codependency seems to permeate every relationship I have in one way or another, and I have found that escaping this addiction little by little is very rewarding and liberating.