When people hear the word codependency, thoughts of a clingy girlfriend or boyfriend come to mind. What most people don’t know is that there’s more at play in codependent relationships than just appearing to be excessively needy. Codependency has many layers that often go unnoticed.
This article will explain the dynamics of a codependent relationship and how to recognize the signs of a codependent.
What is a Codependent Relationship?
Before trying to understand if you are codependent, we must first define it. A codependent is someone who has toxic relationship patterns and behaviors that are emotionally destructive. Usually, a codependent empties herself or himself for an enabler who finds satisfaction in seeing the codependent person sacrifice on their behalf. Codependents want others to depend on them.
Many people struggle with codependency and the signs often go unrecognized. For codependents, their self-esteem depends on the validation of those around them. They often fall into a caretaker role and lack the ability to set firm boundaries.
Codependents can often look like heroes on the outside because they are often the professional volunteers who go above and beyond to fulfill their need for worth. They constantly find themselves doing favors for others or anticipating the needs of others to influence how others receive and react to them.
Signs of Codependency
Codependency can impact every relationship. Codependent behavior is not limited to only romantic relationships. The following traits are associated with codependency.
- Relying heavily on others’ approval or acceptance to determine self-worth
- Sacrificing oneself in an unhealthy way, usually stemming from a fear of being alone or unwanted
- Repressing their own feelings or always feeling misunderstood
- Extreme difficulty saying no or setting healthy boundaries
- Constant anxiety about what others are saying about them
- Unable to make decisions on their own,
- Taking on the role of caretaker or acquiring a rescuer mentality
- People pleasing or manipulating others into liking you
- Difficulty identifying their own feelings apart from the other person
- Low self-esteem
- Obsessive fear of abandonment
- Lost sense of self or losing oneself in others
Codependency is dynamic and these are just a few traits that a codependent might have. During sexual relations, a codependent person usually is unable to say no when something that they are uncomfortable with is going to happen to them. They choose submissiveness over speaking up for what they think or feel.
If codependency has been a lifelong battle, the person struggling with codependency could develop depression or addictive behaviors to cope with the feelings they are trying to repress. Codependents sometimes struggle to believe they can overcome their unhealthy behaviors and thoughts, but this is completely untrue. Many people who get help with their codependency are now in thriving, flourishing relationships.
Upon analysis of codependent relationships, the person who is codependent is understood to be trying to manipulate others’ feelings, thoughts and actions out of fear of abandonment.
If you lived in a home where your dad would shout and physically abuse you, then you could have a real fear when a man starts to yell at your or in your presence. Your brain can recall the sequence of events that happened in the past and that familiar fear comes rushing back in without warning.
As a way to cope, children in these situations learn how to behave to avoid abuse and control the moods of the abuser. This behavior can spill over into adulthood and fear arises when a male’s voice escalates. Subconsciously, you might be attempting to control others so you don’t end up in the same childhood situation.
Codependent behaviors often stem from childhood trauma. Children learn unhealthy ways to control their dysfunctional home environment. These coping mechanisms naturally transfer to adulthood unless worked through and taught new behaviors that create healthy relationships.
Codependency vs. Being a Good Christian: Where Do You Draw The Line?
Codependency and being a good Christian are sometimes hard to separate. Some codependent traits resemble Christian traits like the call for Christians to serve others and love their enemies. Let’s take a look at some of the verses that express this call.
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. – Romans 12:10
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. – Luke 6:35
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. – 1 Peter 4:10
Each of these Scriptures is calling us to be good, sacrificial, selfless, and forgiving and it could be easy to excuse codependent tendencies as following God’s instruction. But a deeper look at the Scriptures shows that even Jesus set boundaries too. He constantly spent time away from people to pray. He wasn’t focused on pleasing people but doing what he saw his Father in Heaven doing.
In John 5:19 Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”
Jesus looked to his father for love and acceptance, not to other humans. Galatians 1:10 says, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Living for people’s’ acceptance will result in constant changing beliefs and behaviors that might not be consistent with God’s call on our lives.
It’s normal to worry about the opinions of others. Of course, we should listen to the wisdom of people, but not at the expense of following God’s word. Sometimes having someone highlight our character flaws is hard to digest, especially if you are prone to enter a downward spiral after hearing constructive feedback. Christian accountability is critical to mature as Christians and to continue following God’s plan for our lives.
Codependents’ Guide to the Twelve Steps: Melody Beattie
Melody Beattie authored a phenomenal book for those struggling with codependency. In Codependents’ Guide to the Twelve Steps, Beattie provides practical ways to work through codependency traits and understand codependent behaviors and patterns in your life.
You are not alone in your battle with codependency. The shame you might be feeling has been experienced by many codependents who isolated themselves. This book reminds readers that codependency can be overcome and that there is hope.
Maybe you didn’t relate to all the signs of codependency mentioned earlier in this article. This book can still be a helpful resource to grow in constructing healthy boundaries and to have mutually beneficial relationships. If you want to replace your codependent behaviors with positive actions, this book is the tool to help navigate codependency.
What Should I Do Now?
The first step is always acceptance. Are you able to acknowledge that you are a codependent or at least struggle with some of the codependency traits mentioned in this article? Once you have accepted this fact, the next best step is to reach out for help navigating codependency and replacing unhealthy behaviors with God-honoring behaviors.
Deciding to look for help, can take many forms. You could talk to a professional Christian counselor, talk to a close friend or mentor, join a recovery group like Codependents Anonymous or Celebrate Recovery, and educate yourself with professional resources designed for codependents.
A counselor that specializes in codependency, offers expert input and has helped a host of others that struggle with codependency. A codependency counselor knows how to navigate through codependency behaviors while encouraging your growth.
Change is never easy and rewiring your brain to respond differently in relational situations will be challenging. Don’t expect change to happen overnight. There’s a high probability you have engaged in codependent behaviors for an extended period of time.
When you begin to set firm boundaries, those that relied on the codependent version of yourself could be resistant to the changes you are making. They are accustomed to you bending over backward and going the extra mile for them whenever asked. This can cause some conflict or tension in relationships that you should be prepared for.
Enlisting the proper support and accountability will help you remain strong during your season of growth. If you isolate yourself, it’s easy to give up or move backward instead of forward. There is strength in numbers. Take the time to find a recovery group or accountability partner that you can trust to be truthful and loving.
If you find yourself battling codependency, please reach out to a counselor. You do not have to walk this road alone anymore. God has designed us to have mutually beneficial relationships with healthy boundaries.
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