Question: I know you wrote on codependency a few weeks ago, but I'm still struggling to understand it. Would you please explain again what codependency means and how do I break free of the patterns?
Answer: Codependency is an emotional problem that can involve being addicted to an addicted, abusive, or irresponsible person. It can be viewed as second-hand addiction or a dependence upon the need for approval to the point of putting up with all-manner of abuse-financial, emotional, physical, or sexual. Codependents are usually highly insecure, needy people who can be viewed as a secondary party who helps a primary party to continue in their dysfunction. For instance, a woman has a drug addiction, and her husband knows it. Every week, she asks him for grocery money and promises she won't use it to buy drugs. However, they never have enough groceries, and she always has her drugs. The couple argues incessantly about the problem, but in the end, the man still gives her “grocery money” every week. In such a situation, the husband would be a codependent on his wife's drug addiction.
Codependents aren't necessarily addicted to a substance or involved in manifesting irresponsible or abusive behavioral patterns; but someone in their lives is. Therefore, the codependent makes it possible for the other party to continue in their destructive behavior by: making room for that bad behavior in their lives, financially supporting the behavior, and/or making excuses for the bad behavior. In the above-mentioned case, the husband might know that his wife uses the drugs to cover the pain of her father's abusing her as a child; so he “feels sorry” for her and won't draw hard lines on the addiction.
When a person is codependent, then most of their close relationships will be with irresponsible people who are addicts or abusive. If a person looks at their life and realizes there are a good number of people who repeatedly take advantage of them, then that's a significant sign that that person is a codependent. Unfortunately, the parent/child relationship can be some of the most codependent relationships on the planet because codependent parents don't expect their children to manifest age-appropriate responsibilities as they are growing up. When such a child reaches adulthood, then the parents might bemoan the fact that the child is financially taking advantage of them, but the parents enabled the adult child to be irresponsible their whole childhood.
The good news is codependents can break the patterns. Here are some tips:
• Discuss the issue with the person you are codependent on. Detail the patterns they are manifesting and the patterns you are manifesting. Usually, the other party will be in denial; don't agree with their denial. Take responsibility for only your part in the relationship problems.
• Set boundaries on the irresponsible person and stick to them! If you have been doing your teenager's homework for him, tell him you will not do his work any more. Explain that you'll give appropriate help and support, but you will no longer take responsibility for his work. At 10:00 p.m., when he comes begging and crying and desperate for you to do his work because he played video games all evening, stick to the boundaries you set. Giving in “just one more time” will only entrench the behavior. If it means he's a fifth year senior in order to graduate high school, then that's what it means.
• Release control to God. When you are overwhelmed by fear of what might happen if you draw hard boundaries, don't give into the codependent compulsion to revert to the old behavioral patterns. Place the person and their issues in God's hands and understand that the firmer you are in not enabling them, the higher their likelihood is of encountering God's grace. But be willing to accept the fact that if they are not interested in changing their ways, they will find another codependent person to replace you.
• Begin to educate yourself by reading and re-reading good books such as When Pleasing Others is Hurting You (Dr. David Hawkins) The Emotionally Destructive Relationship (Dr. Leslie Vernick ) and Codependent No More (Melody Beattie).
• Commit to praying daily that God will begin and complete the deliverance process in you and open your eyes on a daily basis to the patterns of codependency in your life. When He shows you elements of these patterns, the best way to facilitate deliverance is to stop the behavior, even if your emotional needs demand that you continue. Pray that God will give you the self discipline to “take captive every thought” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
• Accept that this deliverance process can take several years.
Remember, codependent Christians are as rare as air. They often think that they are “showing the love of God” by helping irresponsible people remain irresponsible or by not drawing lines on destructive behavior. They misunderstand God's grace and teach/believe that it exists to allow irresponsible people to continue in their dysfunction unchecked, without being confronted. That is not what God's grace is for. Through His grace and mercy, God woos people to Him. When they positively respond, His grace is there to help them unravel their destructive behavior. Grace does not exist so people can use it as an excuse to continue in their destructive behavior. When Christians allow people to habitually abuse them, take advantage of them, and unleash all manner of irresponsible behavior on them, these Christians are not a vehicle of God's grace. They are a hindrance to God's grace. As you begin the deliverance process and start drawing boundaries, codependent Christians will tell you that you “aren't a good Christian” or that you are “unforgiving.” But stand strong and remember, when a person is irresponsible, an addict, or an abuser, they will never experience the full measure of God's redeeming and delivering grace as long as there is a codependent in their life who “puts gas in the tank” of their dysfunctional behavior.
The author of 53 books, Debra White Smith is the featured relationship specialist on the Fox News Radio Show, “Plain Jane Wisdom.” She and her husband, Daniel, co-pastor Palestine Church of the Nazarene. For more information, visit www.debrawhitesmith.com. Got a problem? E-mail Debra at email@example.com