CODEPENDENCY – A Relationship Disorder Co-dependency is so chronically pervasive in America, it’s almost a cultural phenomenon. If you’re an American, you’re probably also codependent. As a nation, we have an epidemic need to “please”. Look at our foreign policy, for example:
- we have a hard time saying no to countries that make requests of us
- we tolerate a double-standard: what other nations expect of us is not necessarily what we can expect from them
- we always have to play nice and fair, but they seem to be able to break the rules whenever they want
- we don’t like people to be mad at us
It transcends our personal relationships, too, in how we interact and relate to others. Co-dependency affects the way we handle rejection or approval, as our self-identity and self-worth is tied very closely to others’ opinions of, or responses to us. The co-dependent person in an adult relationship tries to meet all the needs of the other person (or at least tries to be whatever the other person needs him to be) in hopes that it will come back to him in full measure and meet his own gaping needs for love, acceptance, belonging or approval.
Deception of Co-Dependency
At first, co-dependency may not seem like a big deal. In fact, co-dependency can feel like we’re doing the right thing, because initially we pour ourselves out in well-meaning ways for the other person. We give, give and give ourselves away until there is nothing left. It produces what seems like loving, self-sacrificing, giving, meaningful relationships. Isn’t it true, after all, that, “no greater love has a man than this, than to lay down his life for his friend”? However, the Enemy perverts what God has made healthy and good, into a disastrous, chronic, and unhealthy way to relate to others. It leaves exhaustion and burn-out in its wake, and produces no life-giving fruit. There is a way that seems right, but in the end it leads to death; Proverbs 14:12
Roots of Co-Dependency
From the early stages of child development (from age 0-12), a child learns to depend on, or attach himself to his primary caregiver. If dependency is accomplished well (the child is able to completely depend on the caregiver to meet his needs 100%, while also not having to think about or meet the needs of his caregiver), he can move into healthy independence. It is healthy because he has established an ability to trust since his earliest needs were met, and therefore he is able to move forward meeting his own needs without relying on anyone. He can also be interdependent; he relies on another for his needs because it is convenient, pleasurable or mutual to do so, but if that person withdraws or cannot meet his needs at some point, he will still be okay.
Unfortunately, no parent or caregiver is fully able to meet a child’s needs perfectly during this dependency stage because we are mistake-making humans. As the saying goes, babies have babies, and we carry our inner-child wounds right into parenting. There will always be ways our children need to heal from us, and mistakes they will need to forgive. God already knows this, and has made full provision for all the mistakes we can possibly make with our kids. Please do not allow the enemy to attack and accuse you. God is able to make amends for the mistakes we have made in our parenting, even when we have to forgive our parents, and our children have to forgive us.
When dependency needs are not met by the primary caretaker, children (who are narcissistic by nature) will think the unmet needs had something to do with a fault of their own.
If mom or dad failed, the little girl inside interprets that as a failure in herself – “If I was prettier, smarter, better, happier… then Daddy would have loved me. Daddy would have been prouder of me. My needs would have been met if I had been more…” This child is thrown into an early co-dependent process where she learns at an early age to try to meet the needs of her caregiver, hoping that somehow it will come back to her as a filling of her own unmet needs.
Once a child crosses over the threshold of grief (from unmet childhood needs) to adulthood, she translates that process to her current adult relationships. She tries to meet all the needs of her lover or friend, even becoming someone she is not (to the point of losing herself), if she thinks it is what the other person needs. Her inner-child hopes that her need for security, love or acceptance will finally be fulfilled.
This puts an inordinate amount of pressure on the adult relationship – she hopes that if she does it right, things will turn out well…. 16:40 You can see the disastrous road ahead if a co-dependent remains without help.
God: The Interdependent Example
God created relationships, and He is the perfect and ultimate relater. He created humans primarily to relate with them. It is paramount that we understand it is human to be in relationship. The best way to learn how to do relationships is from the Master Himself.
Jesus was our prime example of God in relationship. He came to give Himself as a ransom. He poured Himself out for humankind even to death on a cross. But He did not lose Himself, nor His identity, on the cross. He did not stop being Jesus – in fact, He became more of who He was at that point. His example shows us how we are to serve, relate and interact with one another.
God doesn’t lose Himself in the process of giving and pouring out into relationship. He says “no” without guilt, although he is willing to negotiate (Abraham, Moses and Jesus were able to persuade Him or ask His will). So we know God is not co-dependent!
One of the reasons our relationship with God can still work even when we’re co-dependent is that God has all His needs met. He is not depending on you or me to meet any of His needs. He has perfect relationship still with the Triune, so even if His relationship with me is sub-par, He’s still okay.
The Miracle: How the Father Heals Co-Dependency
New International Version (NIV)
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me.
The Father gives us His identity; our identity. We are all we need to be in the Father. We and the Father are One. We have been given the Father’s glory, the Father’s love, and the Father’s approval. We are complete in Him.
He speaks to the inner-child issue when He says, “It is better for a millstone to be wrapped around his neck than for one of them to harm one of my little ones.” I am His little one, even as a 50-year old woman. I still come back to God as a little child – not as a peer. No one can be God’s peer. I come to Him as His little Cinthia.
When I get my dependency needs met by God as an adult, and not from others, that’s a tremendous weight I can take off another adult. Then I am able to learn to be independent of –and healthfully interdependent with—others.