Although the idea of codependency is a popular and often derogatory concept used in our self-help and pop culture society, it represents a real conceptualization of struggle and pain for a lot of people, especially those in committed relationships.
Just as in most cases with emotional, psychological, and mental health problems, Christians and people of faith can and often do struggle with the prospect and reality of codependency in their marriages, committed relationships, and often in their relationships with children and parents.
As a Christian counselor, I work with many people who often get stuck in their relationships because of codependent learnings, leanings, and/or characteristics. In the counseling relationship, we will work to understand, develop awareness, and help see a new way or path to relating with others.
What is Codependency?
Codependency refers to pain caused by the sufferings we encountered during our childhood, but becomes expressed in adulthood, leading to a higher chance of compulsive/addictive behavior and relationship problems. Codependency can be attributed to specific feelings and behaviors that result in an aversive relationship that is full of self-loathing and self-sacrificial behaviors.
The condition leaves you at a point where your life is miserable and something to endure instead of enjoy. As a result, you find yourself dreading each day and hoping it passes as quickly as possible while hinging your relief on other people’s lives.
11 Tips for Christians Battling Codependency
In therapy, we will work through many of these feelings and some of the following eleven useful tips that can begin to shed some light and possibly provide help for the codependent leanings that you may struggle with:
#1: Avoid Living as if You are a Victim
When we were children, most of us adopted certain dysfunctional behaviors and beliefs that taught us how to survive life. But this should not be misinterpreted to mean we’re defective or less than others. Contrarily, many of us hold onto the belief that we are irreparably damaged and continue to live as victims, as though we don’t have the right to enjoy life. It is because of such self-denigrating beliefs that some of us continue to depend on others to be provided with a sense of well-being and worth.
To work through this codependency, you first build an awareness of your condition. Understand that nothing is wrong with you, except that you’re struggling with codependency – which is simply a behavioral inclination. Always remind yourself that you’re a worthwhile person and, especially as one who is of faith, you are a child of God worthy of love who should enjoy the best of what life has to offer, rather than perceiving yourself as a victim.
#2: Trust Yourself in Whatever You Decide to Do
It is quite surprising that most people who with struggle with codependency are taught at an early age to distrust their feelings and very beings. By distrusting their inner compass, they grew up believing they cannot depend on their instincts, feeling, or thoughts. That is why you find that most codependents consider other people more qualified than themselves, and because of this feeling of worthlessness, they tend to accept harsh judgments from others without questioning. This inability to trust and honor oneself, the one true self that God created you to be, places codependents in a submissive position, making them dependent on others for their self-esteem and that affirming voice and/or message from God.
Working through these codependent issues is a little simpler. In doing this, we work together on helping you learn how to trust and have faith in yourself. You will gain a belief and confidence in your reality and trust your own thinking. Rely on your own instincts to guide you in your daily decisions and on how to handle situations that present in your life.
#3: Appreciate and Feel Your Feelings
Many people who struggle with codependency distance themselves from their emotional lives to the extent that they no longer feel their own feelings. Distancing from our feelings happens gradually and can usually be traced back to our childhood. A telling example: whenever we expressed a strong emotion during childhood, most of us were ignored or warned against feeling that way.
For example, did your parent ever say, “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about”? Consequently, we grew up distancing ourselves from our own emotions, always believing that our feelings were inappropriate and wrong. In our codependent state, now as adults, we find ourselves unconsciously denying our feelings – unwillingly suppressing them.
To free ourselves from this misery, we will learn through practice and conversation in therapy to acknowledge our emotions. If we can feel the appropriate emotions in our daily life circumstances, we are much more able to take suitable actions towards taking care of ourselves without depending on others. If we appreciate our feelings and learn to feel them, then we can express them appropriately.
#4: Be Compassionate with Yourself
As another step towards recovery from a codependent life, most of us need the love we were denied during our nurturing as children. However, the mistake that most of us make is to treat and abuse ourselves in the same way we were treated during childhood. Therefore, some of the major efforts needed to recover from the codependent lie is in trying to value and nurture ourselves. That means we should become the caring parents to ourselves.
As Christians, many of us also can integrate our relationship with Christ as an integral part of this re-parenting. Although this may seem to be a new concept, it simply means that we as codependents should love ourselves even if others don’t love us, and there are many places in Scripture where we can find such supportive love.
What exactly does this mean? It means as part of healing the codependent wound, begin again to do your level best to engage in activities that give you a sense of care, compassion, and love. Appreciate and accept yourself the way you are, without lamenting your weaknesses, faults, and feelings. Instead, you should be proud of yourself for your abilities, strength, and resilience. Fill your heart with the love that God has for you and you can have for yourself.
#5: Focus More on the Positive
It is unfortunate that most of us as codependents keep tormenting ourselves by constantly focusing on what is going wrong in our lives, without ever considering the positives of our living. You find that even if something positive occurs, we unwittingly turn it into a negative by having the perception that it won’t last! For this reason, most of us are always trying to find fault with everyone and everything surrounding us – making us negative perceivers of life.
To recover from this codependent thinking, let’s work at not tormenting ourselves by changing the attitudes we hold about life and ourselves. Even though childhood experiences may be taking the better part of us, making us adopt negative attitudes, we can choose to appreciate that we are now adults and we have what it takes to change how we perceive and behave ourselves. Don’t allow the dark past to dictate you; focus on the good and positive elements of the happenings of life
#6. Be Confident and Build that Confidence
We tend to have doubts whenever we decide to make certain decisions about ourselves, causing us to second-guess whether our actions are right or are going to affect others. By acting this way, our people-pleasing traits can be aroused, causing us to start judging ourselves and thinking that if we make certain decisions, other people might not like us. Eventually, we end up leaving it up to other people to decide what is good or bad for us.
You should always be curious about the self-doubt that may arise in you. Work to make your own decisions based on the information beforehand and what is in your best interest, without unwavering from your standpoint. Assure yourself that what you’re doing is right and learn to trust your own abilities. Work hard to maintain your commitment to accomplish what you have decided to do. Understand that whatever decision you make, if the intention is in your best interest, the outcome will always be good for you. Even if the outcome doesn’t turn out to be good, you will not regret it because you’ll have given it your best shot.
#7. Be More Aware of the External Influence of Others
In our codependency struggles, most of us are in a constant state of stress and anxiety caused by the reactions we exhibit to others. We have allowed how others treat us to dictate the quality of our lives and the state of our minds, instead of relying on what we feel for ourselves.
For example, we tend to feel elated when somebody compliments us and we tend to reciprocate by doing what they want, without evening questioning ourselves whether what we do for them conflicts with our own interests and priorities. On the other hand, we tend to react impulsively and get angry easily when another person treats us badly, without minding if our actions are in our best interests.
Overreacting depending on what others do to us is a state of codependent action that impairs our mental function to the extent that we cannot make good choices on our own. Whenever confronted, always give yourself enough time to evaluate your options and determine what would work best for you based on the facts beforehand.
#8: Learn to Maintain Good Emotion Boundaries with Others
One characteristic of the codependent state is that we find it almost impossible to detach ourselves emotionally from other people. The result of this is that we lack emotional boundaries and that is why we find ourselves entangled in our relationships with others.
We take so much unbidden responsibility to improve the wellbeing of others while ours remains unattended to, causing us to feel depressed when our lives feel unfulfilled and meaningless. Inevitably, our being emotionally attached to others causes us to adopt a controlling behavior and ultimately slip into the codependent role.
The ideal solution to this situation is detaching yourself emotionally from your relationships. Gaining an appreciation and understanding of the fact that your happiness is mutually exclusive to how other people decide to lead their own lives is key. Remember that the more efforts you put towards detaching emotionally from others, the more the energy you regain to improve your own personal wellbeing and recover from your codependency. Keep in mind that detaching, i.e., maintaining healthy boundaries, isn’t necessarily about removing oneself and not loving. Instead, it is more about the key to knowing that healthy boundaries represent the way to strong and healthy relationships.
#9: Become Self-Responsible for Your Own Wellbeing
Many codependents have the problem of tending to think that it is the responsibility of other people to care and improve the quality of our own lives. Because of this vain fantasy, we discount our abilities and subject our strengths to denial, hoping that other people will feel obliged to care about our wellbeing. We don’t understand that other people are fallible just as we are, and they have their own defects and responsibility to wrestle with. If we depend on them, they are bound to disappoint us when in reality it is our own responsibility to safeguard our own welfare and success.
The fantasy that someone is going to come to your rescue and save you, whether that be a part of your faith, your relationships, your work, or just life in general isn’t true, especially in the context of codependent struggles. As a believer in Christ, of course He has come to show us the way and save us from ourselves, but He doesn’t actually study the exam to become a professional nurse, doctor, firefighter, etc.; He doesn’t do the dishes or clean the house; and He for sure isn’t the one that you share a physical life with.
In a sense, you need to be your own hero alongside of what Christ has done for you, because you need to be the one to start taking responsibility to attain a good life and rescue yourself from these codependent struggles for you.
#10: Learn to Depend on Your Own Abilities
Whether other people have abandoned or betrayed you, be aware not to betray yourself. It is good to depend on yourself and be your own best ally in your daily life. Challenge the detrimental beliefs you may hold about yourself – that your life is pegged on what others do for you. Make yourself believe that you are suited for life and that you can handle the complexities that life unfolds or throws at you. Be curious about why you might be hurling yourself the thoughts that you are weak, desperate, or incapable; such thoughts only provoke shame and guilt, making you hesitant to depend on yourself.
Rely on your inner strength and power to face life challenges. If you honor yourself, you’ll start making decisions and judgments that you can trust. Pat yourself on the chest or back and tell yourself that you are capable and invaluable!
# 11: Practice Honest Communications Always
There is a general notion that many people who struggle with codependency “don’t mean what they say and don’t say what they mean!” The reason behind this is because most of us don’t communicate directly and honestly. While growing up in an addicted or dysfunctional family, we never got a chance to learn healthy communication. Instead, all we experienced was manipulations by our family members to meet what they wanted and fulfill their needs. The result is that we ended up emulating the same means of interacting with others. We plead, show affection, sulk, people please and cry to get what we want instead of communicating and expressing our needs and wants directly and openly.
By learning to practice healthy communication in more direct, open, and honest ways, we will inevitably move more towards codependency recovery. Although this may seem to be a frightening prospect, one should not expect to become an expert overnight.
Developing this awareness takes time and practice with a good therapist to work through and go over the many dysfunctional ways of communicating that have become engrained in us over the years. A good tip is to begin by expressing your wants and needs openly over petty matters and wait to see what happens, without forgetting that better results will be achieved if you honor and remain truthful to yourself.
The Bottom Line
The struggle with codependency is a problem for all humans and Christians alike. With the help and therapeutic work of a good counselor, one can learn how it is a part of their lives and how to begin to live free of it.
The best way to live outside the control of codependency begins by accepting that the condition is a problem and is affecting us. Then, acknowledge that our distorted view of ourselves is just and only a problem that we – and to some degree, our faith – can solve.
If there is hope, then it means we have the power to make independent choices and shape the kind of lives we want to live. If we can only admit that we are as powerful as other people are, and that we can take sole responsibility for our own lives, automatically the journey into recovery from codependency becomes easy – just following the 11 tips discussed above.
“Waterfall,” courtesy of Chloe Smith, magdeleine.co, CC0 Public Domain License; “Up on the Roof,” courtesy of Aiden Meyer, magdeleine.co, CC0 Public Domain License; “Let it Rain,” courtesy of Martina K, magdeleine.co, CC0 Public Domain License; “Hold My Hand,” courtesy of Ezra Jeffery, magdeleine.co, CC0 Public Domain License