What is Codependency? Identify and Heal Codependent Relationships

by Chet Weld

What’s a good definition of codependency? In the broadest sense it’s an addiction to people, places, or things.  Codependency used to mean that one person was dependent on something like alcohol and the other person simply needed them to be dependent on alcohol, so the second person was codependent.   Now it simply means to be dependent, and sometimes dependent on another person who’s also dependent. 

Many of you have been married.  When you got married, you heard the phrase, “The two shall become one.”  What you didn’t know was that there was another implied statement or question: “Which one shall they become?”  That goes along with another definition.

Another definition of codependency is…“Codependency is allowing others to define who you are and how you feel.”

Ten Traits of Codependency

  1. The codependent is driven by one or more compulsions.  Proverbs 19:19

Codependency could be something that looks “good.” Workaholism is a powerful example. Most compulsions are more obviously negative: alcohol abuse, eating disorder, sexual addiction, or counting things. A parent can also live in “rescue” mode to help a child in trouble.  

Matthew 10:16, Proverbs 19:19, Philippians 1:9, Proverbs 24:11

  1. The codependent is bound and often tormented by the way things were in the dysfunctional family of origin.  Proverbs 27:7

Maybe there was “never enough,” so the ghosts of the past scream, “Make more!  Spend more!” One example from my own clients is a premarital woman who revealed to me she was molested by someone in her family, and yet waited to discuss it in the last counseling session, a few days prior to the marriage.  She wept, but did not want to talk about it.

Usually, there’s a yearning to repeat the past over and over until it finally turns out right.

  1. The codependent’s self-esteem (and, frequently, maturity) is very low.  Numbers 13:33.

It probably enabled the person’s survival to believe negative things about themselves.  But as an adult, it doesn’t work anymore. Here’s an example: a man came to his son’s baseball game – finally.  His son hit a homerun.  Dad said, “You weren’t holding the bat right.”  What’s the message?  “I’m never good enough.”

  1. A codependent is certain his or her happiness hinges on others.  John 5:44

 “You don’t deserve to relax and enjoy yourself.”  Or maybe your happiness depended on your behavior when you were growing up.  You got strokes for your performance, but for nothing else.

  1. Conversely, a codependent feels inordinately responsible for others.  Matthew 23:4.

I had a client who had to bail his parents out of the bars.  Another example was a client who had one parent die, and she had to comfort and take care of everyone else. Perhaps the oldest child simply had to be more responsible. Perhaps one parent elevated the person in the family structure – parentification.

  1. The codependent’s relationship with a spouse or significant other Person (SOP) is marred by a damaging, unstable lack of balance between dependence and independence.  Ecclesiastes 7:18

The codependent doesn’t want to be abandoned, but also doesn’t want to be swallowed up.  Two examples would be married couples that move in and out of the house, or they argue to keep their distance, but passionately “make up.”

  1. The codependent is a master of denial and repression.  Proverbs 4:19.

The controlling person who says his control is just “love.”  “As if the gourmet’s love for pork could be called love from the pig’s vantage point.”

  1. A codependent worries about things he or she can’t change and may well try to change them.  Luke 12:13-15

A few examples would be to get someone to stop drinking or smoking marijuana; to stop playing computer games; to stop staying out late at night; to get a better job. 

  1. A codependent’s life is punctuated by extremes.  Mark 7:6

The codependent person is on a high when he or she is treated nice, but on a low when ignored.  They are controlling, then passive. 

10.  A codependent is constantly looking for the something that is missing or lacking.  Often demanding of TOO MUCH TIME with someone.  Ephesians 4:19

They thinking that they can be complete if they can just find the right person, go live in San Diego, buy a 2009 Mustang, make more money, etc.

Primary Causes of Codependency

  1. Unmet emotional needs (and you didn’t know how to ask for them to be met).  Anything can blunt the pain, including “religiosity.”
  2. A lost childhood (as with Michael Jackson; perhaps you had to “take care” of your family).  Some people turn their children into the parents in order to recapture their own childhood.
  3. A compulsion to fix the dysfunctional family of origin (may have enabled your survival).  So now this kind of person is “fixing” everyone else, hoping to fix his family and maybe himself.

Ten Stages of the Recovery Process

1.  EXPLORATION AND DISCOVERY:  Explore your past and present to discover the truth about yourself.

  1. RELATIONSHIP HISTORY/INVENTORY: Examine and perhaps reset your personal boundaries.
  1. ADDICTION CONTROL: Get a handle on your addictions and compulsions and take the first steps toward mastering them.  For example, identify triggers and strategize for staying away from harmful relationships.
  1. LEAVING HOME AND SAYING GOODBYE: Say the goodbyes that are appropriate to healing.  You may think you said goodbye years ago.  Probably you didn’t.  Mend relationships with your family of origin, if possible.
  1. GRIEVING YOUR LOSS: Grieving is both the bottom of the curve, the very pits of your emotions and feelings, and also the start upward.  It’s almost like your dentist hanging up his drill.  You know he’s not done yet, but the worst is over.
  1. NEW SELF-PERCEPTIONS: Gain fresh perceptions about yourself and make new decisions.  Learn to accept yourself as imperfect!  What an eye-opener this stage is!
  1. NEW EXPERIENCES: Build a foundation of new experiences to bolster the decisions you’ve just made.  Learn to proactively meet your emotional needs appropriately.  Build new friendships with trustworthy people of integrity.
  1. RE-PARENTING: Rebuild your past in a sense, and also the present and future with new decisions about yourself, others, the world, and your future, as you become involved in what we call re-parenting.  To re-parent yourself properly, you need to call God your ultimate Father.
  1. RELATIONSHIP ACCOUNTABILITY: Establish accountability for your new and refreshed personal relationships.
  1. MAINTENANCE: Embark on a maintenance program that will keep you on track for the remainder of your life.  Think in terms of your social, psychological, physical, and spiritual well-being.  Think in terms of normal Christian discipleship.  Ask God for patience and let time go by!


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