S09 Ep10: Codependency – Part 1

One of the greatest ways we can heal from the impact of toxic relationships is to recognize patterns of codependency and allow God to heal how we connect and get our needs met. If there was a top issue on the list of emotional and heart healthy issues that we all need healing from, codependency would be at the top of my list. 

I believe that now more than ever before, God is highlighting how we do relationships and he is seeking to heal us while maturing how we approach relationships. The problem is that we carry so much brokenness in what relationship looks like that it leaves us very vulnerable to moving into codependent patterns. 

The more you can honestly identify codependent patterns in your life, the more you will set yourself up for renewed relationship patterns. So keep an open heart. 

The truth is, we live as broken people in a broken world, so it can be very challenging to know how to navigate relationships in a healthy way. We did not have healthy examples growing up, nor did we get training on how to navigate relationship decisions in a healthy way. Meanwhile, we all carry broken wounds in our hearts that distort our ability to relate to people in a healthy way. 

This is why codependency has become a major problem. 

Relationships are meant to be fulfilling. But if you don’t have a healthy compass of who you are and you do not know how to live in the love of God, you can easily take your brokenness to another person. This will make that relationship dynamic highly vulnerable to codependency.

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Show Notes and Outline

Are You Willing to See It?

But I must say this up front: you have to be willing to humble yourself and become teachable. You will need to be able to see yourself and your relationships through some healthy input, or else you will dive back into your dysfunctional patterns. The number one problem with codependency is that people do not see it. They don’t know how to see it or they just don’t want to see it. 

That is why getting training, equipping and resourcing is so critical. But you’ve got to want it. And no one can want this more than you do. 

For decades, Christianity has neglected the subject of emotional and relational health. We’ve pursued a passion for God, while we neglected the issues of our heart that needed healing. And sadly, many of our relationships have been a mess. In the meantime, masses of believers have often unknowingly fallen into the trenches of codependent relationships. 

God in His kindness is allowing us to see our broken patterns of relationship, not to condemn or shame us, but to heal us and mature how we do relationships. Jesus has destined that His church reveal the nature of the Father through how we do relationships. It’s not about our achievements or performance evaluations. It’s about the health of our relationships. And that takes work! 

What or Who You Depend on for Core Needs

The journey of uncovering codependency begins with asking, “Where do you place your dependence?” 

  • Where does your need to be loved, your identity, your sense of validation and acceptance get validated?
  • At the end of the day, what gives you the ability to rest your head in peace and love. 
  • How do you feel fulfilled at the end of the day?
  • What allows you to look in the mirror and be ok with yourself? 

Christians love to respond, “In God of course!” We shout it from the mountaintops in church services. But in day to day life, our relationships patterns reveal that we are not really being honest. In fact, many times, when it comes to how we do relationships, believers can be incredibly self-deceived and cover it up with nice super spirituality. 

So let me ask that question again and please do some honest reflection, “Where do you place your dependency?” When push comes to shove, what has the greatest power of influence over your heart? It may reveal some places where codependency exists. 

This is one of the tough questions that needs to be answered in the process of evaluating codependency and healing from it. Although the healing process is a journey, it’s going to take some honest recognition and loving patience to allow the healing process to take shape. 

So take a moment to look at your relationship world. What relationships seem to kick up a lot of drama, dysfunction or pull on your heart intensely? It may be time to learn about codependency. 

Now I want to make this clear. We are not made to be indestructible. We are also not made to NOT need human relationships. We were made to have healthy needs to be meet in our relationship experiences. But when our empty and broken hearts throw off our compass for how to do that, we can put all our dependency on others in a way that makes them our source. They become an interference in our ability to receive God’s love and allow Him to heal our broken and empty hearts. It becomes a hindrance in moving forward with healthy relationship patterns. 

God Satisfying Our Needs

God has designed our relationship world in such a way that we first get our core needs satisfied in Him. In fact, most of our problems stem from the fact that we do not know how to get our needs met in God. 

Even in the Ten Commandments, God placed this issue at center stage. He says, 

“You shall have no other gods before Me.” Exodus 20:3 (NKJV) 

Now why would He make this number one? Why not any of the others? 

Mainly, because he knew in a world of sin, our first temptation would be to find life somewhere else that Him. Isn’t that what we all get caught up in? Our addictions, hangups and relationship decisions often stem from finding life somewhere other than God. Isn’t that what sin really is? 

God knew that we would be tempted to allow all kinds of people, activities and things to get in the way of our ability to receive total satisfaction, love, acceptance, approval, validation and fulfillment in Him. Throughout the centuries, mankind has been tempted to fall prey to all sorts of pathways, to find love in all the wrong places. 

Codependency is fueled when we put an expectation on another relationship, for that person to fill a core place in your heart that only God can heal and fill. At the end of the day, our Father in heaven is the only one who can satisfy the deep longing of your heart. 

Not Just You and God

But let me be clear. This doesn’t just happen in a “you and Him” relationship alone. Who God is must be learned and experienced through our relationships, those who teach us, model for us and mentor us in life. 

We learn to relate to God through how we relate to each other. 

You do not have just a “you and God” by yourself relationship. You are designed to connect to others. You learn how to process your relationship with God by how you interact with others. This includes your spouse, your children, those who do not know God and those who are a part of the body of Christ. 

As I Have Loved You

John 13:34-35 (NKJV) 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

As I receive the love of God through Christ, I love you with it. And through our relationship connection, we learn to discover more of who God is in His love. 

  1. I have to learn how to receive God’s love. 
  2. I need to love myself with that view. 
  3. How I love you will stem from the first two. 

So this is the tricky thing about letting God fill our hearts with His love. Human beings are the ones who first teach us how to relate to God. If you struggle in how you relate to God, it is often most likely because a human deeply misrepresented Him to you. This is one of the great catastrophes of living in a fallen world. 

So how were you taught to relate to God? 

The healing process can unfold as you begin to understand how you relate to God and discern how you learned about God. 

How do you connect to His love? Through performance? 

Who gave you the pattern on how to relate to God? 

For all of us, the story goes back to our parents; our father and mother relationship. They are designed to be your first taste of God’s nature. They set the template for what God is like and how to hear His voice. 

All codependency leads back to what you experienced and did not experience with your parents–where they equipped you and did not equip you. The equipping part is incredibly important. If you are not equipped on how to process relationships, you are a prime target to take your broken heart to someone, hoping they will satisfy the ache in your heart. 

Add some traumas in life and the layers of brokenness will fuel your codependent tendencies. 

What is Codependency?

From Mental Health America (formerly Nat. Mental Health Association) https://www.mhanational.org/issues/co-dependency

“Codependency is a learned behavior that can be passed down from one generation to another. It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive . . .”

Note: I believe that codependency is on a spectrum . . . meaning that we can all find ourselves with dynamics of codependent patterns.

Teaching Codependents

With codependency, recognition does not take place easily. Because “relationship addiction” is a part of this dynamic, codependents can see their addictive and dysfunctional patterns. 

There can be a lot of denial, resistance, twisting of Scriptures. In fact, they often cannot receive revelation from the Bible because their senses have been blocked and numbed out by the hypnosis of codependency. They are so wrapped up, they are blinded. It is like they are under a spell, so they often cannot bear witness to truth and embrace it. When they share what they are hearing from God and hearing from the Word, it doesn’t bear witness to truth and it does not produce sound living and decisions. 

This struggle was taking place even during New Testament times: 

2 Corinthians 6:12 (NKJV) You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections.

The Needy One and the One Who is Needed

Codependency plays off our natural God-given needs and distorts how we go about meeting those needs. You were born with needs that were meant to be met by God and met through your earthly relationships. But codependency will twist and distort this. 

In a codependent dynamic, you will have one person who seems to be the “strong one” and the one who seems to be “weak or needy”. They both need each other to keep this dysfunctional relationship in place. The one who appears strong is the Helper. They are the one who is “needed.” They often find themselves drawn to relationships where they are needed in a superior way. They cannot handle relationships of higher caliber, because it will challenge their deep insecurity, low self-worth and unwise relationship decisions. 

The one who is needed gets a hit out of being needed. They often don’t know what to do with themselves if they are not needed. They lack a healthy sense of self-love and self-worth, so they are easily drawn to needy people who seem “below” them. This person who is “needed” cannot be around higher caliber people, because it would challenge their deep insecurity and brokenness. 

Many times the one who is needed can be a control freak or a straight up narcissist. They get a rush out of feeling like they are helping someone who is below them, so their radar is always open to someone who displays neediness. 

Then there is the needy one. This person may be an addict or they may just have a lot of unprocessed baggage that puts them in a series of tough predicaments. They lack self-love and the belief that they can overcome, so they become prime candidates of connection for the one who is needed. 

The needy one creates a guilt ridden and self-pity based tie to the they look to for help. They relate and connect through neediness and pity. Instead of coming to the relationship full to give, they come with their empty vacuum to suck everything out of the interaction. As sad as this sounds, this sets up a perfect connection for the dysfunctional one “who is needed.” 

  • A wife feels needy and helpless around her husband and the husband needs the wife to remain in this state. 
  • Husbands can easily be needy for their wives to fulfill his heart.
  • A child is a grown adult, but operates in neediness to the parents. The parents rush in to rescue, saying its love, but they are rescuing their adult child from facing the storms of life. 
  • A person receiving counseling is very needy with a counselor and the counselor needs that person to be needy. 
  • A church is very needy and the pastor needs the people to remain needy . . . 
  • A Christian is helping a brother or sister in Christ . . . they allow and enable the destructive behavior of another person. Or they try to control the other person in the name of “helping.” 
  • This can apply to any relationship dynamic . . . 
  • Codependency is enhanced by a distortion of “LOVE.

They end up remaining in codependent cycles, never dealing with the issues of their heart that need healing and never confronting the truth of their relationship. Honestly, they just can’t handle the truth. Deep shame covers their hearts, so digging into the deeper issues is a nightmare to them. No matter how much love and truth is presented, they remain locked in the cycle until they make a decision to face themselves in the loving light of God. 

Codependency is Everywhere:

  • It Occurs Often in Relationship with Addictions:
  • Marriages can be codependent.
  • Families can be codependent.
  • Families, even after kids become adults, can remain codependent.
  • Churches can operate with codependency.
  • Church work is very codependent.
  • Work place environments can become codependent.
  • Any relationship can become codependent.

My Introduction to Codependency

In my early years of transformational ministry work, I noticed that so many relationships had bonds and attachments that were not healthy. Relationships were built on unhealthy expectations and were born out of unhealed needs. One person was needy, while the other person seemed to wield control as the “more powerful.” Many relationships were in codependent cycles with each other.  

Relationships were way more addiction based than love based. In fact, the word “love” was an unclear word in people’s lives. The very definition of it was distorted. Not only are people’s heart broken by the lack of love in their life, they don’t have a sense of what true love even looks like. So to explain to a codependent to live in love, they don’t have a healthy reference for what you are teaching them to do. 

This is very concerning, because love is the foundational way we are meant to connect to God, ourselves and other people. If we don’t even know what love is and how it is supposed to be experienced, then we are left floundering in relationships, mostly giving ourselves over to love counterfeits; the main ones being lust, addictions, obsessions, guilt, manipulation and control. None of these are love, but we fall into them nonetheless. 

Codependency keeps us glued to these counterfeits. 

I also did a lot of ministry work with addicts–drugs addicts, alcoholics and porn addicts. Codependency seemed to run across all these situations and relationships. I also found that many addicts were chasing symptoms. They were focused on getting “delivered” from whatever drug they were bound to, yet they were often avoiding the relationship patterns they lived in. This made it challenging to get to the root issues, because all addictions are formed from a place where love has been compromised, disconnected or counterfeited in someone’s life. 

But in all honesty, my own personal healing journey awakened me to  codependency issues in my own life. 

  • I had to address it how I approached marriage. 
  • I needed healing of it in how I did friendships. 
  • I had to shine the light on codependency in how I pastored. 
  • It took me years to work through it in my coaching work. 

Codependency took advantage of my empathetic and sensitive heart, where I have often served in compassion work, allowing myself to operate in some form of counselor, coach, mentor or  “consult.”

As the years went on, I realized some of the issues of people pleasing, hypersensitivity and obsessiveness were tied into areas where I needed to get rid of codependency. 

The church I pastored at the time was riddled with codependent patterns that needed to be addressed. 

Love is a Choice

As I became aware of codependency, I ran across a book that helped me put more language to this subject. 

“Love is a Choice” by Robert Hemfelt The Definitive Book of Letting Go of Unhealthy Relationships 

“Codependency was first recognized several decades ago as counselors endeavored to help alcoholics and their families. In the vanguard of this movement was Alcoholics Anonymous. The founders of AA observed several things about alcoholics: they were deeply embittered towards God; they were rebellious (independent), and at the same time they were childishly dependent upon those around them . . .”

  • This is an important observation. The key issue that opens us up to codependency is the child-like areas of our heart that have not been matured into adulthood. 
  • Example: I was brought up in ministry where I had to “mature” too fast. Yet in my personal life, I was stuck as a young teenager. (This propelled me further into becoming very people pleasing, performance oriented and perfectionistic.) 
  • We live in a pandemic of fatherlessness. Fathers were not present to love their children, show them who they are and equip them for life. Because of this, masses of teenagers and young adults went into adult with little equipping, tools and no helpful transitions to give them what they need for life. Therefore, their bodies may be adults, but their hearts are still child-like and undeveloped. So no wonder there are masses of people that end up getting sucked into codependency. 

“AA was successful in rescuing alcoholics, but there was serious fallout—the families were coming apart within a year after the alcoholics dried out. 

Workers realized that just as the alcoholic was dependent upon his or her alcohol, the family very frequently had become just as dependent upon the alcoholism. They had adjusted not only their whole lives but also their whole way of perceiving life to accommodate the alcoholic. They enabled that person to keep the habit up; they denied; they ignored; they circumvented it.”

  • In a codependent relationship, you adjust your life around the addict. (this is not just alcoholism) 

“To the kids especially, this warped life with an alcoholic parent was normal. It was all they knew. The alcoholic was dependent upon the alcohol. The family was codependent upon alcoholism along with the alcoholic. Thus was born the need for the term. . .”

  • If you grew up with an addict parent, then you can understand why you may struggle with anxiety, panic attacks, depression or mood issues. Growing up with unhealed addictions in the home makes way for an incredibly “unsafe” environment, opening you up to a major wound . . . “lack of emotional safety.”

“The concept of dependency and codependency is no longer limited to alcohol; it takes in the rest of the chemical spectrum—coke, pot, tobacco, heroin, and beyond. The “beyond” includes nearly any obsessive compulsion, a thing or a behavior carried to excess.”

  • I find that the growing work of “obsession” has a lot to do with the addiction culture that is growing in our broken and empty world. 

“Eating disorders, sex addiction, rage-aholism, workaholism, the compulsion to spend and spend, an extremely rigid and legalistic approach to living, the compulsion to wash one’s hands fifty-five times a day—these and other addictions have been placed in the same class as alcoholism. These disorders and others affect the family and close associates—the codependents—who may suffer as severely as the depended or more so. “

Discerning Codependency

Codependency often involves a one-sided relationship, where you rely on another person to meet all or most of your emotional needs. It can also describe a relationship where another person’s addictions, dangerous behavior and irresponsibility are enabled. 

Defining Codependency from Love is a Choice:

“In its broadest sense, codependency can be defined as an addiction to people, behaviors, or things. Codependency is the fallacy of trying to control interior feelings by controlling people, things, and events on the outside. To the codependent, control or lack of it is central to every aspect of life. The codependent may be addicted to another person. In this interpersonal codependency, the codependent has become so elaborately enmeshed in the other person that the sense of self – personal identity – is severely restricted, crowded out by that other person’s identity and problems.”

Symptoms & Signs of Codependency: 

1. Low Self-Esteem and Low Self-Worth: 

Deep within the heart of a codependent is feelings of not being good enough. When you strip away all the codependency, deep down is an empty and broken heart who does not feel loved, nor does he or she know what love is. They don’t love themselves and struggle to even receive true love when it is sent their way. Their hearts desperately seek for another person to heal that pain. 

Their hearts are saying “I am constantly looking for something that is missing or lacking in my life. So often, I seek to heal my heart by immersing myself into this relationship.” 

2. Confused Responsibility: 

Our brokenness leads us to a lot of confusion as to what is our responsibility and what is another person’s responsibility. We take on so many things that we do not need to take on. 

For many codependents, they feel responsible for other people’s feelings, thoughts, actions, choices, wants, needs or even well being. 

You take responsibility for other people’s actions. You worry for and carry the burden of other people’s problems and issues. 

Your heart is saying “Your struggle affects my peace. I do not know the difference between doing things in love and in guilt. I feel responsible for too much. I do not know what is mine and what is yours.” 

3. Excessive Neediness: 

The great danger of our broken and empty hearts is when we develop an expectation for our deep needs to be met in another person. 

You end up plugging your neediness into someone else, creating an unhealthy tie and expectation to someone in a way that only God can fulfill. 

The relationship becomes more based on neediness than mutual respect. 

Codependency relies upon another person as their source for their sense of identity, love and happiness and help.  (This takes honest recognition.)

The codependent behavior shows “My feelings about who I am stem from being loved by you. My good feelings about who I am stem from receiving approval from you. I need you to be something for me or I will not be at peace.” 

4. People Pleasing: 

Codependents are not connected to love within their hearts, so they look to what other people say and expect as their radar. Therefore, they end up following  people pleasing patterns like a magnet, to the point that they don’t even think they have a choice. 

They have placed their compass of how they feel about themselves on pleasing the needs of others. 

Their behavior focuses on, “My mental attention focuses on solving your problems, pleasing you and protecting you.”

5. Lack of Boundaries: 

Codependents do not know how to say no, they do not make time for themselves and they do not know how to cultivate healthy boundaries in their life. Boundaries help us to know how to discern what is ours to carry and what is someone else’s to carry. Codependents get lost in this. They don’t even know where to begin when it comes to developing boundaries. 

By the way: many codependents ask me what boundaries they need to hold up, without dealing with the underlying issues of codependency. You will violate your own boundaries all the time. 

6. Hyper-Reactivity: 

A lack of boundaries leads you to react and overreact to what others say. You become very reactive to life, rather than making solid choices and decisions. 

Your sensitivity soaks in what other people say in a way that causes you to be defensive or to get sucked into believing what they say about you. 

You are directed more externally than internally; meaning being guided more by what other people say or outside voices say, versus what you believe and what you want. You are always reacting to another, rather than acting for yourself. 

PS: hyper-reactivity is part of the addiction profile and the addiction lifestyle. 

7. Distorted Caretaking: 

You plunge into helping other people to the point that you ignore yourself and neglect the needs of your own heart. This is a chronic pattern in church life that gets ignored.  

Here is the truth: It is easier to ignore yourself and just serve the demands or flaring needs of others. 

Facing yourself and finding out how to meet your own needs is a whole lot more work. 

Codependents will help others, to the neglect of themselves, even when the other person shows they do not want help. You want change and better things for the other person than they do. 

Furthermore, codependents also feel deeply rejected when the other person does not want their help. Why? Because their radar is on that person. “I am not aware of what I want – I ask what you want.”

8. Control: 

Codependents deal with their lack of self-love and lack of safety by manifesting high levels of control. You attempt to feel safe by controlling people and circumstances, which also allows manipulation to enter. You may also exercise intense control, showing that you’ve got this chaos under control. 

Control freaks attempt to resolve their lack of safety and fear by exercising intense control of people or circumstances. 

No healthy relationship can be experienced with control dominating the picture. Fear is a major driving force. People with control issues avoid dealing with the needs of their heart that need to be addressed, so they get lost in constant activity and work to keep a veil of control at work over everything. 

Codependency often starts off with someone feeling they deeply care for another person. But as time moves on, they compulsively react to that person’s behavior and then try to control it. They also become enmeshed into the other person’s identity. 

Control in codependency says, “I feel you are a reflection of me. The dreams I have for my future are linked to you. I use giving and serving you as covers of me trying to control you as a way of feeling safe in our relationship.”

9. Disconnected to Your Emotions: 

Codependents do not have a connection to how they really feel. In fact, they ignore how they feel and immerse themselves into something or someone else. 

They rarely express honestly how they are feeling and what they want. Their own upbringing often didn’t make room for sharing their emotions anyway. 

Therefore, they don’t take care of themselves and make decisions out of respect for themselves. 

They lack the ability to connect to real intimacy and develop healthy bonds. 

A codependent will say, “I am not aware of how I feel. I am aware of how you feel.”

10. Enabling: 

At some point, codependent relationships can enable the destructive and unhealthy behavior of another person. They refuse to make the tough love decision that often requires setting strong boundaries, establishing consequences or possibly ending the relationship.  

Instead, a veil comes over their eyes as they seek to keep the peace by avoiding dealing with anything. They end up bowing to evil and say it is all done in the name of love. They end up calling good, evil and evil, good. 

The codependent avoids arguments and keeps quiet, so as not to rock the boat in any way. Their behavior says, “My fear of your anger determines what I say or do. My fear of rejection determines what I say or do.”

11. Obsessions: 

You can spend a lot of time ruminating and obsessing over the relationship, even leading to anxiety and intense emotions regarding the relationship. You obsess over what you should do or what you think should happen. 

You can live in a fantasy world of what you think the relationship is or what it could be, but you’re lost in an addict based relationship. 

“I worry about things I can’t change and I try to change them. My life is punctuated by extremes.”

12. Denial: 

The hardest part of codependency is the denial a person is in while they are manifesting codependency. So talking to them about it creates a lot of resistance. They almost can’t even take in truth, because they are so bewitched with codependency’s spell. 

They think the problem is everyone or everything else. They also misdiagnose what they think the problem is.  

Meanwhile, they deny ever really facing the issue at hand. 

“Even though deep down inside I want good relationships—I stay in bad relationships and sabotage good relationships. My social circle diminishes as I involve myself with you. I am a master of denial and repression.”

Codependents may leave a bad relationship, only to form new ones in the same patterns.

In the next episode, I will be sharing part 2 of these insights. 

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