When our needs for love, security, worth, or significance are not met, we attempt to meet these needs through depending on ourselves, relying on others, trying to control others, or using substances or things to make us happy. Today, in the recovery movement, this is called codependency. This term was originally coined to refer to a person married to an addict who was somehow dependent on the addict continuing to drink or use drugs. However, this excessively dependent or independent pattern is now recognized to be much more widespread in our society and has been identified as the underlying cause of numerous other problems.
Probably everyone in our society has a number of codependent characteristics, but for at least one-fourth or more of our population, these characteristics have become a predominant pattern of coping that result in dysfunctional relationships. In the United States and much of Europe, we teach codependent principles from the cradle up with nursery stories like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, our romantic and Country Western music, and our movies. After discussing codependency, one pastor who primarily works with lower income families stated, "That's everyone in my congregation." Codependency makes up a large part of the psychological dysfunction that occupies a position between normal or healthy, and the mental disorders described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV).
It is difficult to produce a specific list of codependent characteristics because codependency includes a number of different styles for coping within the same basic problem. In fact, even the most well known books on this subject suggest widely differing traits and definitions. Part of this difficulty is because codependency includes both of the extremes of being too dependent or too independent on people or things. Therefore, a codependent may exhibit one extreme or the other extreme of a particular characteristic, or even oscillate frequently between both of these extremes. Notwithstanding these difficulties, in order to help the reader get a better understanding of this subject, I will present a list of the most common codependent characteristics based on my observations and experience in treating codependents.
1. They are driven by compulsions to fill the void within them for love, security, worth, and/or significance. Although they may initially deny it, codependents are selfishly attempting to meet their own needs, but will give to others in an attempt to get what they need back in return. They are also prone to addictions. According to Love is a Choice, the average codependent has at least two addictions. (Hemfelt, Minirth, and Meier, 1989).
2. They are usually people pleasers. This is because they are desperately trying to please others in order to get approval so that they can feel better about themselves. They fit in with and become like the people around them. Consequently, they have no set identity. On the other extreme, they may even declare that they do not care what others think about them as a defense against rejection.
3. They have unresolved issues with their dysfunctional family of origin. Many times they come from families that struggled with alcoholism, drug addictions, over-control, workaholism, or abuse. They may have been emotionally abandoned. Someone close to them in their family may have died or was severely handicapped. Their parents may have had numerous partners or may have married and divorced several times. They may have been adopted. It is even possible that they grew up in a codependent family and learned codependency as a way of functioning in life. Codependency is a problem that is propagated from generation to generation. In many cases, the codependent may actually recreate the original situation in new relationships in a vicarious attempt to resolve the original problem. This is why children from alcoholic or abusive families most often marry someone with similar problems. Since codependents tend to marry at approximately equivalent levels of codependency, they usually end up in dysfunctional relationships themselves.
4. They are driven to accomplish and may become perfectionists as an attempt to compensate for their feelings of inadequacy. They usually have a hard time admitting they are wrong, react strongly to criticism, and blame others for their feelings of rejection. They may also be critical and judgmental of others in order to make themselves feel more equal. They usually believe that if they could just fix their mate everything would be all right.
5. Relationships are based on conditional love and usually result in ongoing conflict typified by a series of fights, separations, and making up again. Demands for love drive the other person away. Unfortunately, codependents have little to give emotionally to their mate; since they are so empty themselves. Usually one mate that cannot be alone marries another that is a "loner." Consequently, one of the spouses feels smothered and the other deprived.
6. They have problems dealing with anger. Either they stuff their anger and eventually blow up, or they react in rage when others do not meet their needs in the way they want them to be met. Their anger level is excessive because they are so insecure that they view the negative events of life as catastrophic. They are easily rejected or offended. They tend to take everything personally.
7. They are emotionally overly or under-connected with others. They may believe they are responsible for the happiness of others. They cannot be happy if others are not happy. If one codependent falls into the emotional ditch, the other will fall too. They tend to feel guilty for what others have done, for how they have been treated, or if not everyone is pleased with them.
8. They are on an emotional roller coaster. Because they are so insecure, their emotions rise and fall according to the circumstances and what others say or do. Although they may suppress or cover up their feelings, they will usually admit that inside they are in constant emotional turmoil.
9. They want to be rescued or enabled, or they tend to rescue or enable others. They will do for others what they can do for themselves, or they will expect others to fix them or do for them what they themselves are capable of doing.
10. They are controlling, manipulating, or passive-aggressive. Although they may deny it, they will do whatever it takes to get others to meet their needs. They will either control or abuse others to get their needs met or; if they are in a controlling relationship themselves, they will manipulate or act in passive-aggressive ways.
In order to understand better the confusing array of symptoms that typify codependency, I have identified three basic types and six subtypes of codependency in order to more clearly address this subject. Each of them has a distinct example and an in-depth model for recovery in the Bible. Each subtype will be covered in more depth later in this book.
1. The codependent dependent, which is the most obvious to the untrained observer, is better understood as the result of a deep hunger for love, a product of abusive relationships, and a lack of boundaries. Codependent dependents are usually women, but this is not always the case. The basic underlying characteristic is that she is overly insecure and dependent on others to meet her needs. She is the damsel in distress.
2. The codependent independent is the knight in ego-protective armor, who deals with his feelings of inadequacy through denial, performance, people pleasing, and rescuing. His external characteristics will differ significantly depending on his apparent worldly success or failure.
3. The codependent avoidant is a person controlled by fears. This type may avoid failure by engaging only in activities in which he knows he can succeed. He may find a mate to take responsibility for him in order to insulate himself against failure or he may withdraw from society and take on the role of a victim. Many times he or she is strongly attached to a number of pets or animals. The ultimate expression of the codependent avoidant is found in the homeless street person looking for a handout.
Inevitably, those coming from alcoholic, dysfunctional, controlling, abusive, or codependent families of origin learn to cope with life in a codependent way. The codependent dependent is the most commonly identified type of codependency. Codependent dependence approximates a milder form of the Personality Dependence Disorder in DSM IV. It is seen clearest in a Cinderella looking for a prince to rescue her or in the over-responsible wife enabling the alcoholic husband to continue his alcoholism. From a boundary standpoint, this is the person who allows others to violate her personal boundaries, wants others to carry her load of personal responsibility, or who attempts to carry another's load in order to please them. Galatians Chapter 6 distinguishes between helping others that cannot help themselves and enabling others by taking responsibility for them that they should shoulder themselves. This distinction is clear in Young's Literal Translation: Ga 6:2 Bear one another's (unbearable) burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. 5 For each one will bear [his] own load. (Life's responsibilities) (YLT)
The Codependent Dependent Passive
As we have studied the problem of codependent dependence in more depth in our Christian counseling practice and the classes that we teach at Word of Life Institute, there appears to be two subtypes within this type of codependency. The first I call the Codependent Dependent Passive because she is attempting to meet her needs by being a “good girl” and doing what everyone wants her to do. She allows others to violate her boundaries so that her needs will be met. She is the damsel looking for a rescuer who will kill the dragon of life that is holding her captive and take them both off to the castle to “live happily ever after.” Unfortunately, in many cases these rescuers turn out to be codependent independents who are over-controlling, abusive, or, at least, boundary violators.
The most extensive biblical example of this subtype is found in the story of Sarah, the wife of Abraham. Some might object that they have been taught that Sarah is an example of what a Christian woman should be. Like most of the people in the Bible, Sarah did not begin life as a heroine of faith. She progressed step-by-step through faith in her recovery from codependency until she became a definite model of Christian womanhood. Unfortunately, some churches today make the mistake of applauding some of Sarah’s dysfunctional traits as those typifying the ideal Christian woman. I we examine Sarah’s life I believe that the reader will be able to clearly identify her codependent dependent passive traits. Her story begins in Genesis Chapter 11.
1. The codependent dependent passive woman is seeking to live out the classical story of Cinderella in her life. This is suggested by the meaning of her name and that of her husband (before they were changed by God) in the original Hebrew language. Abram means “exalted father” and Sarai means “my princess.” He was to be her exalted father figure or prince to meet all her needs, and she was to be his princess to be taken away to the castle to “live happily ever after.”
2. Shame and feelings of inadequacy are the basis of codependent dependence. Sarai was barren without children. This was a great disgrace during the time in which she lived.
3. Low self-image is a prime characteristic of all types of codependency. Abram’s family lived in Ur of the Chaldees, a region known for false religion and soothsaying. Soothsaying is associated with witchcraft and the use of drugs, possibly suggesting the origin of their codependency. They went to the land of Canaan, which we have already identified as meaning “lowland” or low self-image.
4. The codependent allows her personal boundaries to be violated in order to have her needs met. She usually fears that her “prince” will get angry or might leave her if she offends him by saying no. Abram was afraid that the people of Egypt might kill him to get his beautiful wife, Sarai. He asked her to lie and say that she was his sister. Because she denied that she was married, she was taken into Pharaoh’s harem! Abram was not willing to admit his mistake or make any attempt to rescue her. God, Himself, had to intervene. We are not told that she even complained to Abram even once concerning this clear boundary violation.
5. Codependents try to manipulate their mates and their circumstances in order to get their needs met. When Sarai did not have any children she blamed God by saying, “the LORD hath restrained me from bearing.” (Genesis 16:1) She suggested that Abram should impregnate Hagar, her maid, and she would count the child as hers. In this way, her shame of being barren might not be so obvious to strangers.
6. Codependent dependent passive traits include wanting approval, angry outbursts, jealousy, blaming others, and passive-aggression. When Hagar did become pregnant, Sarai became jealous because Hagar was able to conceive and became angry when Hagar despised her. She blamed Abram even though it was her idea. Sarai treated Hagar so badly that she had to flee. God had to intervene to rescue Hagar from Sarai.
7. The first step to recovery is developing an intimate relationship with God. Without salvation, codependent traits die hard because they are the flesh’s way of coping with life. When God made a covenant (Old Testament salvation) with Abram (and Sarai since she was his wife), God changed their names to Abraham, which means father of multitudes, and Sarah, which means princess of God or noblewoman. Both were to be great, whole persons who relied on Him to meet their needs instead of being so dependent on each other. Through faith in God, their low self-image and inadequacy was to be transformed into complete wholeness.
8. Deliverance from shame, codependent traits, and the development of faith takes time. When God stated that he would take away Sarah’s shame by giving her a son, she laughed; and when she was confronted by God Himself, she denied that she had laughed. Maybe one of the reasons God named the boy Isaac (which means laughter) was because He knew that he would get the last laugh when He proved that nothing (not even infertility or codependency) was too difficult for Him. Again, Abraham asked Sarah to lie and say that she was not his wife. This time she ended up in Abimeleck’s harem. Again, Abraham did nothing to rescue her and God had to step in to deliver her. Yet, she continued to put up with the abuse and said nothing. Codependency dies hard.
9. Deliverance from shame is a key element in recovery. When Sarah conceived, her whole attitude changed. In the same way, when codependents finally realize that God loves them just the way they are and will meet all their needs through faith, the fear of inadequacy leaves, and for the first time they become whole people. In Genesis 21:6, Sarah said, “God hath made me to laugh, [so that] all that hear will laugh with me.” Laughter often indicates that we feel accepted, that we have accepted ourselves as we are, and that we are enjoying life.
10. The second key element for recovery is learning to recognize and use boundaries appropriately. When the son of Hagar mocked Sarah’s son Isaac, she did not just put up with it or attack Hagar as she had previously done. She took the problem to Abraham for resolution. Abraham took the problem to God who directed that Hagar and her son should be sent away. Distance is an excellent boundary.
11. Blessings, spiritual strength, and healthy relationships are the final signs that an individual has recovered from codependency. Sarah died at 127 years old and was buried in a grave at Machpelah (double portion) in Mamre (strength and fatness) which is in Hebron (association or relationships). To me this indicates that she achieved blessed, spiritually strong, and healthy relationships prior to her death. We are told that Abraham wept for her when she died.
12. Victory over codependency is achieved when we overcome our insecurity and learn to meet our needs through faith. This is summed up in the verses below:
1 Peter 3:6 Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well (act righteously), and are not afraid with any amazement (not insecure).
Hebrews 11:11 Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.
This type of client is most easily detected by her excessive neediness and dependence on others. An in-depth study of the life of Sarah usually is sufficient to help the client begin to understand and accept her part in her dysfunctional relationships. Clearly the most important part in recovery is helping her develop a close, trusting faith that God loves her and will meet all of her needs even in the most dire circumstances. She should also resolve any outstanding family of origin issues and establish her worth in Christ. If possible, she should attend a Christian Codependent Support Group to learn more from others who are in the process of recovery and to receive the emotional support that she needs. I believe that Love is a Choice (1989), and its associated workbook (1991), by Hemfelt, Minirth, and Meier are the most appropriate additional resources for helping the codependent dependent passive.
Steps for Overcoming Codependent Dependent Passivity
1. The client must understand that the root of the problem is over-dependence on people instead of God to meet personal needs.
2. The codependent is desperately seeking love and approval through people pleasing, trying to be and do what others want, and allowing others to violate her personal boundaries in order to get her needs met.
3. She is a “good girl” and will do for others what they should be doing for themselves and blame herself if she is taken advantage of, mistreated, or abused.
4. She must realize that her true motivation is selfishness and trying to cope with her own feelings of inadequacy by being good, caring for other people, pleasing, and enabling them.
5. The client must repent of her selfish efforts to meet her needs through people and learn to meet her needs through a close personal relationship with God.
6. The codependent must overcome her low self-image and feelings of inadequacy by accepting her position in Christ and God’s evaluation of her.
7. She must understand that overly depending on others is the sin of idolatry and learn to use personal boundaries to develop healthy balanced, interdependent relationships with others.
The Codependent Dependent Rescuer
If the type of dependent passive relationship described in the previous Chapter has failed in her life or in the lives of her parents, a client will many times adopt a performance coping strategy and become the rescuer of a dysfunctional mate or addict. This type, I call the Codependent Dependent Rescuer. She believes that if she can rescue another, he will be grateful to her and will meet her needs in return. Unfortunately, for the dependent rescuer, this almost never happens. Deep within, she still would rather have him be the leader and rescue her. Many codependent dependent rescuers are nurses or members of other helping professions. Helping people just comes naturally to them. Of course, most of the time they do not realize that they are doing too much to help others, and are actually enabling them to continue in their dysfunctional lifestyles.
It was not until I read The Way Out of the Wilderness by Henslin that I understood the story of Abigail in the book of 1st Samuel as a model of a codependent dependent rescuer. Until then, I had seen her as a model of how to deal with difficult circumstances. This is how most codependent rescuers initially view themselves—as the heroine or rescuer in a bad situation. Both Abigail and her husband, Nabal, were codependents. Abigail was a codependent dependent rescuer. Nabal was an alcoholic and a codependent independent worldly failure (which will be discussed later in more detail.) Most codependents have at least two addictions. (Hemfelt, Minirth and Meier, 1989). The story begins 1st Samuel 25:2.
1. Codependent dependent rescuers almost always marry someone who is also codependent and dysfunctional in some way. Unresolved issues from the family of origin result in a reparative drive (we naturally want to try to fix our past) which influences the selection of a mate to recreate the unresolved problems in the new marriage. As already discussed, every damsel (codependent dependent) needs a knight (codependent independent) to rescue her. If the knight fails in the task, many times it is the damsel who ends up trying to fix her dysfunctional knight so that he will meet her needs. Abigail was married to Nabal. Her name means “my father is joy” indicating her desire in life is to be happy. Unfortunately, Nabal, whose name means, “fool,” was stubborn, severe, evil, wicked, disagreeable, and a drunk. His underlying problem was feeling worthless (he was from the house of Caleb, which means "dog").
2. Most mates of codependent dependents are incompetent, controlling, or abusive in some way. Initially the codependent dependent rescuer is the "perfect" mate to enable a dysfunctional, abusive, or controlling husband. In order to please him, she avoids dealing with offenses and buries her emotional pain. Many times, she has had abusive or alcoholic parents, has "chosen" a husband to work out unresolved issues in the family of origin, and has learned codependent ways in order to cope with her husband’s behavior. We are told that Nabal, instead of appreciating what David and his men had done to protect his sheep, "railed on them" and directly insulted David as a servant who "broke away from his master." (1 Sam 25:10)
3. The codependent dependent usually becomes the family "rescuer" protecting the mate from the consequences of his actions. The young men did not go to Nabal when they realized that they were in danger, but to Abigail because "a man cannot speak to him (Nabal)." Clearly, things like this had happened before, and she had stepped into the gap to rescue the family time and time again.
4. She believes that her mate is the problem and that if she could just fix him everything would be fine. Note that Abigail in no way defended her husband when the young man called him “a man of belial"—an extremely derogatory phrase. They all saw Nabal as the problem, but no one was willing to confront or help him with his problems.
5. Rather than deal with the situation directly by expressing her feelings, codependents just fix the problem. Without asking her husband, Abigail loaded up enough food for 400 men and left to meet David and his men.
6. They see themselves as the real hero or savior of the family. In the times recorded in the Bible, it was almost unbelievable that a woman would attempt to confront 400 armed men and even expect them to listen to her message. She had numerous other options. She at least could have sent one of the young men as a messenger with the food to apologize, but it appears that she saw herself as the only one competent enough to handle the situation. Clearly, she had to do something at this point; or her family would have been destroyed. However, it was because she had enabled Nabal for so many years, rather than allow him to face his consequences, that this problem occurred in the first place. Without her, he would have had to face numerous less-critical consequences on other occasions and possibly would have learned from them.
7. The codependent tries to cope with life herself in her own strength in worldly ways. Abigail took two (division) hundred loaves (human efforts), and two bottles of wine (a worldly way to have joy), five (human weakness and infirmity) sheep (our own foolish ways) ready dressed, five measures of parched corn (temporal, earthly prosperity) and a hundred clusters of raisins (dried up fruits of human life and thoughts), and two hundred cakes of figs (our human attempts at righteousness), and laid them on asses (our own capabilities).
1 Sa 25:18 Then Abigail made haste, and took two hundred loaves, and two bottles of wine, and five sheep ready dressed, and five measures of parched corn, and an hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and laid them on asses. 19 And she said unto her servants, Go on before me; behold, I come after you. But she told not her husband Nabal.
8. The codependent fails to communicate and resolve issues with her mate out of fear of rejection. Abigail did not tell Nabal what she was doing. She even had the servants leave first in order to hide it from her husband. The codependent fears her husband’s anger and disapproval. It is as if he becomes a “false God” to be feared.
9. Trying to completely meet a codependent’s needs will fail. Because of the codependent’s intense need-deficit, no amount of loving support will ever completely fill her needs. She will only turn on you, not appreciate what you did, and demand more. Nabal was also codependent. David states, "Surely in vain have I kept all that this [fellow] (Nabal) hath in the wilderness." We are not told to what extent Nabal ever tried to meet Abigail's needs; but if he had tried, his efforts would probably never have been enough.
10. The codependent either is under- or over-responsible for others. When Abigail met David, she initially claimed complete responsibility for what happened, and then degrades her husband Nabal (calling him a man of Belial or worthless one) and puts all the responsibility on him; since she was not there when David’s messengers came. She avoids the thought that she had never confronted Nabal about his actions and had enabled him to remain like he was.
1 Sa 25:24 And fell at his feet, and said, Upon me, my lord, upon me let this iniquity be: and let thine handmaid, I pray thee, speak in thine audience, and hear the words of thine handmaid. 25 Let not my lord, I pray thee, regard this man of Belial, even Nabal: for as his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him: but I thine handmaid saw not the young men of my lord, whom thou didst send.
11. God does not want the church to take vengeance on codependents even though many times they deserve it. I believe that David, here, represents the church. Codependents cause much havoc in churches, demanding love and an excessive amount of the pastor's time, and spreading gossip when someone fails to meet their needs in the way they want them to do. Eventually they will attack the church and pastor as unloving, and move on to another church. The answer is not excluding, ignoring, or putting them down. David did not degrade Abigail or even Nabal.
12. The codependent is many times extremely critical and derogatory toward his or her mate. Abigail cursed those who seek evil for David with the curse that they would all become as bad as her husband!
1 Sa 25:26 Now therefore, my lord, as the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, seeing the LORD hath withholden thee from coming to shed blood, and from avenging thyself with thine own hand, now let thine enemies, and they that seek evil to my lord, be as Nabal.
13. The codependent thrives on people pleasing. Much of her conversation with David was flattery. She told him that she knew he would be king and that his house would succeed. She said that she believed that God fought his battles and that Saul, his enemy, would be "slung out, [as out] of the middle of a sling." She even told him that she believed that he had been without evil all his days.
1 Sa 25:28 I pray thee, forgive the trespass of thine handmaid: for the LORD will certainly make my lord a sure house; because my lord fighteth the battles of the LORD, and evil hath not been found in thee all thy days. 29 Yet a man is risen to pursue thee, and to seek thy soul: but the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with the LORD thy God; and the souls of thine enemies, them shall he sling out, as out of the middle of a sling. 30 And it shall come to pass, when the LORD shall have done to my lord according to all the good that he hath spoken concerning thee, and shall have appointed thee ruler over Israel;
14. In truth, the codependent is only interested in taking care of herself. Although they profess to love and care for others, everything they do has the ultimate aim of taking care of themselves. Abigail tried to protect herself, her family, and her prosperity from destruction by David and his men. When she asked for forgiveness, she only asked for herself and not for her husband. The last thing she requested was "when the LORD shall have dealt well with my lord, then remember thine handmaid."
1 Sa 25:31 That this shall be no grief unto thee, nor offence of heart unto my lord, either that thou hast shed blood causeless, or that my lord hath avenged himself: but when the LORD shall have dealt well with my lord, then remember thine handmaid.
15. The church is to help the codependent by giving unconditional acceptance and love but not enable her so that she can learn from her own consequences. David thanked Abigail for her advice that he should not take vengeance. He accepted what she had to offer and stated that he would accept her person, indicating that he unconditionally accepted her.
1 Sa 25:32 And David said to Abigail, Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, which sent thee this day to meet me: 33 And blessed be thy advice, and blessed be thou, which hast kept me this day from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with mine own hand. 35 So David received of her hand that which she had brought him, and said unto her, Go up in peace to thine house; see, I have hearkened to thy voice, and have accepted thy person.
16. The codependent usually is also addicted in some way. Nabal handled his emotional problems by feasting, drinking, and taking false pride in his achievements. The Bible says that he was "very drunken." Trying to fix inside feelings with outside means, leads to addiction. We are not told what addictions Abigail might have had. The most common addictions for women are eating and buying things.
1 Sa 25:36 And Abigail came to Nabal; and, behold, he held a feast in his house, like the feast of a king; and Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunken: wherefore she told him nothing, less or more, until the morning light.
17. The codependent becomes skilled in manipulating people. Abigail had learned not to try to deal with Nabal while he was drunk. She waited for the next morning to tell him of his folly and her rescue. As is usually the case, instead of taking responsibility for his deadly error, he withdrew inside of himself, and became "as a stone." I believe that the phrase "his heart died within him" indicates that he gave up on life—the internal pain of feeling worthless that he had desperately tried to hide had become too great.
1 SA 25:37 But it came to pass in the morning, when the wine was gone out of Nabal, and his wife had told him these things, that his heart died within him, and he became as a stone.
18. The codependent's enabling eventually leads to the mates continuing dysfunction and many times death, especially when an addiction is involved. Because Nabal had been protected from the consequences of his actions by Abigail and others, he was never forced by those consequences to change his life. The codependent many times actually believes that she is doing the right thing, but in fact is only selfishly protecting herself. Henslin, in Out of the Wilderness, suggests that Nabal died of an alcoholic seizure, stroke, or heart attack related to his alcoholism. (Wilderness, p. 55)
1 Sa 25:38 And it came to pass about ten days after, that the LORD smote Nabal, that he died.
19. The problems of codependency do not go away just because she remarries. Most codependents believe that if they could just get out of the current situation or marriage, then things would be better. Abigail was still codependently people-pleasing when summoned by David to be his wife. She states, "Behold, [let] thine handmaid [be] a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord." She took five damsels with her. Five stands for the weakness of every human being. (Wilson's, p. 192) Even marrying David, a man after God's own heart, did not totally resolve Abigail's codependent problems. David also had some of these tendencies, as is clearly seen in the later part of his life. As I have stated before, codependents usually marry another codependent.
1 Sa 25:39 And when David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, Blessed be the LORD, that hath pleaded the cause of my reproach from the hand of Nabal, and hath kept his servant from evil: for the LORD hath returned the wickedness of Nabal upon his own head. And David sent and communed with Abigail, to take her to him to wife.
20. Although it is only the first step, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and His church is one of the most important steps to recovery. Again, I believe that David, in this story, stands for the church. Abigail married David. The answer to codependency is a personal relationship with Christ, since He alone can heal the deep hurts within and provide the infinite supply of unconditional love needed by the codependent.
21. Just because a codependent is saved and joins a church does not necessarily alleviate all the codependent's problems. Salvation is the process of complete wholeness, but it helps only to the degree the codependent yields her flesh to the lordship of Jesus Christ. Abigail, due to David's error of trying to escape from Saul by joining the Philistines, was captured by the Amalekites (the flesh). Because the church many times has had almost no understanding of codependency; it has mishandled its relationship with many codependents, and, as a result, many of them have been overcome again by the flesh. Many codependents end up feeling rejected by the church and continue to have issues with church leaders and members.
1 Sa 30:3 So David and his men came to the city, and, behold, it was burned with fire; and their wives, and their sons, and their daughters, were taken captives. 4 Then David and the people that were with him lifted up their voice and wept, until they had no more power to weep. 5 And David’s two wives were taken captives, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail the wife of Nabal the Carmelite.
22. Each time the codependent relapses and is again controlled by the flesh, the church is to do what it can to help. David strengthened himself again in the Lord, and rescued his wives and children from the Amalikites (the flesh). Codependent support groups in the church provide one of the best ways to assist the codependent through unconditional love, acceptance, and support. Care must be taken for the church in doing this, just as David cared first for the 200 men who were too weary to continue.
1 Sa 30: 6 And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God. 18 And David recovered all that the Amalekites had carried away: and David rescued his two wives. 19 And there was nothing lacking to them, neither small nor great, neither sons nor daughters, neither spoil, nor any thing that they had taken to them: David recovered all. 21 And David came to the two hundred men, which were so faint that they could not follow David, whom they had made also to abide at the brook Besor: and they went forth to meet David, and to meet the people that were with him: and when David came near to the people, he saluted them. 24 For who will hearken unto you in this matter? but as his part is that goeth down to the battle, so shall his part be that tarrieth by the stuff: they shall part alike.
23. The codependent must eventually turn all judgment over to God, instead of judging themselves or allowing other people to judge them. Codependents are devastated emotionally by their own judgments of themselves and their perceptions of the judgments of others. They need to learn to accept God's judgment of them; that they are very good and that there is nothing they can do to change that, good or bad. David and Abigail's son was named Daniel which means "God is my judge." It is critically important for codependents to turn from pleasing people to accepting God as the only judge of their worth.
24. The codependent must deal with her own codependency or their children will also become codependent. What we are is passed on to the next generation. We are not told why, but God and David chose Solomon over Chileab (Abigail’s son), who was next in line to be king after the death of Amnon. Possibly Chileab was too codependent, or maybe Bathsheba convinced David to choose Solomon, and Abigail did not protest. We do not even have an indication that Abigail protested about David's adultery. Maybe, like many codependents, she felt too unworthy to be treated with respect; or she had so many boundary violations in her marriage with Nabal that she did not know how to assertively stand for her rights.
Recovery from codependency is a process that usually takes a significant period of time. One secular counselor has estimated that it takes a period of five to six years. With God's help and answers, we usually expect therapy to last at least six months and that the client should remain in a support group for one to two years. After helping the client understand what codependency is and identifying her particular type of codependency, I always encourage them to start attending church and support group meetings immediately. Learning from others who are recovering or have recovered from codependency builds hope that recovery is possible, and provides the relationships and a source of unconditional love to assist in the recovery process.
As a primary resource I use Conquering Codependency (McGee and McCleskey, 1993). I believe it is more appropriate for the codependent dependent rescuer while Love is a Choice (Hemfelt, Minirth, and Meier, 1989) is more appropriate for the codependent dependent passive. I conduct Marriage and Family Therapy for couples, and some time during the recovery process, I assign the book Boundaries (Cloud and Townsend, 1989) and its associated workbook (1995). This helps the client develop healthy personal boundaries useful in correcting current relationships and developing new healthy ones.
Steps for Overcoming Codependent Dependent Rescuing
1. The root of the problem is over-dependence on people instead of God to meet personal needs.
2. The codependent is desperately seeking love and approval because of a low self-image and will control, manipulate, rescue others, or allow the violation of personal boundaries in order to get her needs met.
3. She will do for others what they should be doing for themselves, become overwhelmed with all she is attempting to do, and eventually become bitter when other people do not meet her needs in return.
4. She tries to overcome feelings of inadequacy by people pleasing, rescuing, or enabling. She believes that if she could just fix her mate then he would meet all her needs.
5. The client must repent of her selfish efforts to meet her needs through people and learn to meet her needs through a close personal relationship with God.
6. The codependent must overcome her low self-image and feelings of inadequacy by accepting God’s evaluation of her and her position in Christ.
7. She must understand that controlling others is sin and learn to use personal boundaries to develop healthy relationships with others.
The pursuit of prominence is a problem that pervades our entire society. As I have become more experienced in the area of codependency, I have identified this form of striving for prominence as codependent independence. This person copes with feelings of low self-worth and inadequacy through performance, people pleasing, over-achievement, and rescuing. He is or wants to be the proverbial "knight in shining armor" looking for a damsel (the codependent dependent), corporation, or cause to rescue. As a general (but almost absolute) rule, a codependent usually marries another codependent. Every damsel needs a knight to rescue her from the dragon of life, and every knight needs a damsel to rescue. As already discussed, the Amorite tribe represents problems with prominence. The Bible warns us about this problem when it asks in Mark 8:36, "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"
The codependent independent's performance, accomplishments, and achievements are his attempt to heal his low self-worth and feelings of inadequacy. I divide the codependent independent psychological complex into two basic types: worldly failure and worldly success. Of course, a client will most likely fall somewhere between these two extremes and show some symptoms of each. King David might be an example of this combination, especially after his adultery with Bathsheba.
Codependent Independent Worldly Failure
In a competitive world, all will eventually fail. As long as a person succeeds, they will be promoted to more difficult tasks and greater responsibility. Even those who have reached the very top of their field will eventually have to step down due to age or circumstances. However, when failure becomes chronic it is usually due to significant underlying problems. Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether the client should be considered a worldly success or failure because of the extensive facades developed by both. Extreme anger and jealousy are usually the tip-off. Both may be equally competitive and aggressive, but the real difference is how they view themselves. Sometimes they view themselves a success in one area and a failure in another.
In looking for a biblical model, King Saul is a clear example of a codependent independent worldly failure. (He was the first codependent that the Lord personally identified to me.) Codependent traits are more subtle and harder to detect in the independent type of codependency. This is because they usually develop strong ego-defenses and an elaborate facade to cover any signs of inadequacy. Only by carefully watching their actions and observing their defenses can we see between the cracks in their carefully built suit of armor. It is usually even harder to see this problem in Christians, because they may have correct Christian beliefs, be walking to some degree in the Spirit (which masks codependent symptoms) and be using the church and religion as their area of accomplishment. Therefore, counselors inexperienced with codependency may not even recognize it as a problem. At its root is pride in being overly independent and a façade of outward confidence in order to cover up feelings of deep inadequacy. The codependent independent is attempting to become his own god and meet all of his own needs. It is usually very difficult to convince the codependent independent that he has a problem. Let us investigate what the Bible tells us about this problem beginning in 1 Samuel Chapter 9:
1. The root problem is an attempt to deal with feelings of inadequacy through performance. These feelings of inadequacy many times come from a child's inability to measure up to his parent’s expectations, the result of a family dysfunction, or "learning" how to cope with life from a codependent parent. Saul's father's name, Kish, means to bend, which I interpret to mean that he was flexible in his relationships or a people pleaser—one of the main traits of codependency. Kish's father's name was Abiel (God is my father) and Abiel's father was Zeror (bundle or complex). Saul means, “to ask, inquire, or demand,” which is a list of the ways a codependent meets his needs. The asses of Saul's father were lost, and he was sent to find them. Asses or donkeys symbolize capability to do work. Therefore, Saul's father sent him on a quest to prove himself capable or useful to his father. Not being able to live up to one’s father’s expectations is a precursor to codependency. Although this may seem to be reading too much into this situation, I believe that these events, at a minimum, show Saul's feelings of inadequacy and his attempt to meet these needs through performance—the very basis of his problem. Without any question, he was being taught to be a rescuer.
2. The codependent independent looks very good on the outside to compensate for the emptiness within. In his appearance, Saul was a head taller that everyone else. Saul looked good on the outside, which is another possible indication of codependent independence.
3. Many codependent independents become an over-achiever to compensate for how they feel inside. Many times in stories, the Bible uses the locations where the person travels to indicate something about the person himself. Consequently, I believe these verses give us a list of some of Saul’s codependent characteristics and ways that he tried to meet his needs. Saul and his servant passed Mount Ephraim, which means “double ash-heap” which many times stands for shame; possibly indicating how he felt inside. They then traveled through the land of Shalisha which means, “to do a third time” or possibly to be an over-achiever or perfectionist. Since they still did not find the asses, they proceeded to the land of Shalim, which means, “foxes” possibly indicating that he tried to act as if he was smart. Next, they went through the land of the Benjamites, which means, “son of the right hand,” possibly suggesting that he was still trying to please his father. Following this, they journeyed to the land of Zuph, which means, “honeycomb” and possibly indicates that if all else failed he would just seek pleasure. Finally, after many failures, Saul began to worry about his dad's possible disapproval of his continuing fruitless search and suggested that they return home. Possibly, for Saul, as with many codependents, continuing to try and fail seemed more emotionally damaging than just giving up.
4. The real answer for codependency is to seek God to meet the client’s innermost needs. Saul's servant suggested that they inquire of God about the location of the asses. As with many codependents, Saul believed that he must do something to get the favor of God and the prophet (just as codependents try to please people to get their needs met) and, therefore, felt he needed to give money to the prophet. The prophet Samuel told him that his father's asses had been found (indicating that seeking God will result in an answer to any problem). In fact, the ultimate answer to codependency is believing that God will meet all of our innermost needs.
5. Every person is called by God to help others, but not to help them in a codependent manner. God had told Samuel that he would send him someone who would "save my people out of the hand of the Philistines." Samuel told Saul that he would tell him "all that is in thine heart." Saul, as most codependent independents, truly wanted to be a rescuer and a hero.
6. The codependent's fear of being inadequate conflicts with his desire to "be someone." Even though it was his deepest desire to be king, Saul protested that he and his family were too insignificant for the task.
7. The fastest most effective method for recovery from codependency is to walk in the Spirit. Samuel anointed Saul's head with oil, which represents the anointing of the Holy Spirit. The codependent must take steps to acquire the power of the Holy Spirit, which are outlined in the verses that followed this event: a. Quit trying to meet his innermost needs himself. (The asses had been found) b. Obtain a revelation of God. He came to the plain of Tabor (location of the mountain of transfiguration) c. Appropriate the sacrifice of Jesus (the kid goats) d. Appropriate the body of Christ (the bread) e. Accept the forgiveness of sins (the bottle of wine) f. Obtain a double portion of these (they gave him two loaves) g. Acquire the ability to speak for God (the spirit of prophecy)
1 Sa 10:1 Then Samuel took a vial of oil, and poured it upon his head, and kissed him, and said, Is it not because the LORD hath anointed thee to be captain over his inheritance? 2 When thou art departed from me to day, then thou shalt find two men by Rachel’s sepulchre in the border of Benjamin at Zelzah; and they will say unto thee, The asses which thou wentest to seek are found: and, lo, thy father hath left the care of the asses, and sorroweth for you, saying, What shall I do for my son? 3 Then shalt thou go on forward from thence, and thou shalt come to the plain of Tabor, and there shall meet thee three men going up to God to Bethel, one carrying three kids, and another carrying three loaves of bread, and another carrying a bottle of wine: 4 And they will salute thee, and give thee two loaves of bread; which thou shalt receive of their hands. 5 After that thou shalt come to the hill of God, where is the garrison of the Philistines: and it shall come to pass, when thou art come thither to the city, that thou shalt meet a company of prophets coming down from the high place with a psaltery, and a tabret, and a pipe, and a harp, before them; and they shall prophesy: 6 And the Spirit of the LORD will come upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man.
From this time on until the Spirit departed from Saul because of his disobedience, Saul became a fairly good king and avoided most of his codependent tendencies. Even after he was rejected by some Israelites at his coronation, he did not take revenge but held his peace.
8. The codependent needs to learn to listen to spiritual leadership instead of trying to do what he wants. Saul was directed to go down to Gilgal (the church) and await direction from Samuel.
9. The underlying feelings of inadequacy cause the codependent to oscillate between overconfidence (pride) and a fear of failure. Saul hid in the baggage when he was to be crowned king. This is a clear indication of his inner feelings of inadequacy. God, Himself, had to reveal where he was hiding. Although God understands the codependent's emotional problems, He many times chooses to use him anyway. Saul’s prideful ways became apparent later.
10. Codependency is actually idolatry. At its heart, codependency is an attempt by a person to be his own god and rely on himself to meet his own needs in his own strength. Therefore, it is a rejection of God. At Mizpeh, Samuel accused the Israelites of rejecting God because they wanted their own earthly king. This is exactly what the codependent does. The choice is between serving the vain things of this world or God. Samuel said in 1st Samuel 12: 20-21, "...turn not aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart; And turn ye not aside: for [then should ye go] after vain [things], which cannot profit nor deliver; for they [are] vain."
11. Codependents usually refuse to acknowledge their ever-present fear of failure. This is clear from the actions of the people when the Philistines pitched at Michmash (hidden), eastward from Bethaven (house of hollowness). All the people "followed him trembling." The leader sets the mood for his followers. (1 Samuel 13:7)
12. When God does not do things in the way a codependent desires, the codependent will usually make it happen himself. Because Samuel was late and the people were deserting him, Saul decided to offer the sacrifice himself. The codependent has an inner tendency to want to do it himself so he can get the credit and feel good about himself. The tendency of the codependent is to use God to meet his needs rather than to serve God. Most codependents try to use God as their genie.
13. They tend to blame others for their mistakes. Saul blamed the people and circumstances for "forcing" him to violate Samuel's directions. In Chapter 14, when Saul put a foolish curse on anyone who ate food before they killed all the enemy soldiers, he was willing to kill his own son Jonathan (who had not heard the curse and ate something) rather than admit he had made a mistake. Only the people kept him from killing the very person who had brought the victory.
14. The children of the codependent will be like him. The names of Saul's children hint at codependent traits: Jonathan (Jehovah has given—sees God as someone who is to give to him), Ishui (he resembles me—pride), Melchishua (my God is wealth—relying on riches), Merab (increase—what he is striving for), and Michal (who is like God—what he wants to be). Codependency is a sin that passes from one generation to the next.
15. The codependent avoids crucifying the flesh and his pride. When called to utterly destroy the Amalekites and all they had, he left all the good livestock and King Agag (pride) alive. Amalek stands for the flesh where the very root of codependency resides. Pride is usually a defense mechanism for low self worth. Saul did not want to completely destroy the flesh, just as the codependent has a very hard time "crucifying his flesh."
16. People-pleasing is one of the most prominent traits of codependency. Saul tried to deny his failure by saying it was the people who did it, and that they had taken the sheep and oxen for a sacrifice to the Lord. Samuel then got to the heart of the issue: "Saul had rejected the Word of the Lord." (1 Samuel 15:23) Saul finally admitted that he did it "because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice." (v 24) Even after he was told that because of his rebellion, God was going to take away the kingdom, he wanted Samuel to go with him to worship so that the people would not realize that anything was wrong.
17. Without the moderating spirit of God, the underlying codependency will take control of the person’s life. When the Spirit of God departed from Saul, an evil spirit took over (codependency). Because codependency is a work of the flesh, the absence of the power of the Holy Spirit allows it to dominate the soul. Galatians 5:16 makes the issue clear: “... Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” This power of the spirit is so important in treating codependency that I have called this verse the “Band-aid of codependency.” By simply giving or rededicating their lives to Christ, I have seen almost unbelievable changes in codependent clients. However, this help only continues as long as the client maintains a close relationship with God. Unfortunately, most codependents, like Saul, have so many problems in their relationship with God that they find walking in obedience to God’s Spirit extremely difficult.
18. Extreme jealousy and domestic violence are many times manifestations of codependent independence. In 1st Samuel Chapter 18, David was given more credit for victory in the songs of the women than Saul. Saul became so jealous that he threw a javelin at David and did what he could to kill him even though he was Saul’s son-in-law. He even threw a javelin at Jonathan, his own son, because he thought that Jonathan had sided with David. In 1st Samuel Chapter 22, he killed Ahimelech, the priest, all his relatives including women and children of Nob; because he thought they had supported David.
19. Underneath his facade, the codependent feels less than others. When in 1 Samuel 24:7, David spared Saul’s life in a cave, Saul said, “Thou [art] more righteous than I: for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil.”
20. Many times the codependent believes God is against him and blames God or others for his failures. In verse 18, Saul said that he believed that God had delivered him into David’s hand.
21. The codependent quickly forgets his insights into his own feelings of inadequacy and his promises to change. In 1 Samuel 26:21, Saul again tried to kill David, and David again spared him. This time Saul said, “I have sinned: return, my son David: for I will no more do thee harm, because my soul was precious in thine eyes this day: behold, I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly.” Saul finally quit pursuing David when he escaped to the land of the Philistines. Distance must sometimes be used as a boundary against codependent behavior.
22. The real issue is righteousness—making unbiased, just decisions and being able to carry them out. Righteousness, especially in this case, includes having the right amount of dependence or independence from each person or thing. A similar term used in the recovery movement is “interdependence.” David responded to Saul in 1st Samuel 26:23, “The LORD render to every man his righteousness and his faithfulness.”
23. Either faith in God will overcome our codependency or the codependency will overcome our faith in God. Saul got to the point where he could no longer hear from God at all. His trust in God had turned to fear. He finally went to the witch of Endor to learn his future (1 Samuel 28:18-25). Saul had preciously ordered all witches to be executed.
24. The key issue in codependency is a battle with the flesh. Saul was told by Samuel (or a familiar spirit impersonating him) that he and his sons would die in battle the next day. This occurred, “Because thou obeyedst not the voice of the LORD, nor executedst his fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath the LORD done this thing unto thee this day.” (1 Samuel 28:18) Saul’s ultimate downfall was because he had refused to decisively deal with the dominance of the flesh (Amalek) in his life.
25. Codependent Independent Worldly Failure will eventually result in self-destruction. In spite of the prophecy that he and his sons would be killed in battle the next day, he chose to go into battle anyway in order to save face. After being wounded, he asked his armor-bearer to kill him and when the armor-bearer would not, he fell on his own sword. Many codependent independent worldly failures eventually resort to self-destructive behaviors like alcohol, drugs, or suicide.
26. Often the codependent’s family is also destroyed by his behavior. Codependency is a generational sin. All of Saul’s sons died in battle with him even though at least Jonathan had not gone along with many of his actions.
Codependent independent worldly failures are difficult clients to counsel. They usually come to counseling only after a major failure or when their family is threatening to leave them. They have a difficult time admitting their mistakes, are usually very angry, and quit counseling as soon as they get a minimum level of relief or are allowed to return home. Pride is a major barrier and their strong desire to perform makes them want to fix themselves. Many times domestic violence or verbal abuse is involved. They must stop this behavior before other issues can be addressed. A model for helping abusers will be discussed in detail later in this book. Because of their strong desire to control others, I believe that Conquering Codependency (Springle, 1993) is the best resource to deal with codependent independent clients.
Steps for Overcoming Codependent Independent Worldly Failure
1. The root problem is attempting to meet feelings of inadequacy without God through personal accomplishments and failing in the attempt.
2. He is an angry controller who blames others for his problems and failures because of his feelings of inadequacy.
3. The client builds an external facade, tries to force others to meet his needs rather than deal with his own problems, buries his emotions, and hides his insecurity. He is dependent on his performance and other’s opinions in evaluating his worth. He is defensive, takes criticism personally, and reacts angrily.
4. The client must realize that he is trying to be his own God, repent of his efforts to direct his own life, and take responsibility for his own actions, instead of blaming others. He must learn to manage his anger and trust God to meet his needs.
5. He must understand that controlling others is sin, set others free to make their own choices, deal with his own emotional problems and trust God in his relationships.
6. The client must overcome his low self-image, feelings of inadequacy, and defense mechanism of pride by accepting God’s evaluation of him and his position in Christ.
7. He must actively reject the lie that his successes make him more worthwhile and that failures make him worthless. He must accept his worth in Christ and the unconditional love that God has for him.
Workaholism--Codependent Independent Worldly Success
Today our society is driven primarily by a desire for success. Consequently, probably the hardest type of client to convince of his problem is the codependent independent worldly success. He is a workaholic. Even when he realizes that he has a problem, the codependent independent worldly success is even less likely to remain in therapy for an extended period of time than the worldly failure. Because everything goes his way, this over-achiever climbs to the top of his profession, receives all the acclaim that the world offers, but eventually finds out that all he has done is empty and meaningless. His inner pain and feelings of inadequacy remain. In the end, many times he has sacrificed his family and all that is dear to him for what turns out to be nothing at all. The best and most well known biblical type of this significant, seldom identified, psychological problem is King Solomon.
1. They may come from what seems like a great Christian heritage and have everything going for them. Solomon, on the surface, had absolutely everything going for him. To understand at all how he could be codependent, we have to look at the dark secrets of David's dysfunctional family: David’s affair with Bathsheba, His murder of Uriah, the rape of Tamar, the murder of Amnon, Absolom’s rebellion, his refusal to discipline his children, and his ability to act as if nothing was wrong. Solomon admitted his feelings of inadequacy in the words, "I am but a little child," (1 Kings 3:7) when he requested wisdom to rule from God. On the other hand, David may have actually spent more time with Solomon than the rest of his sons (Proverbs 4). Davis had commanded Solomon to follow God with all his heart, so that one of his descendants would sit on the throne of Israel forever. (1 Kings 2:3, 4)
2. God wants to bless the codependent independent, but the more he is blessed the greater danger that he will try to run his own life. God offered Solomon any wish, but he chose wisdom to rule and judge between good and evil. Because he chose this, God blessed him with riches and honor which are sometimes also the result of wisdom. These became part of his downfall.
3. Close observation is sometimes required to see the signs of codependency. In Solomon’s case, we first see these signs of his codependency when he married Pharaoh's daughter and later sacrificed in the pagan high places to please his wives. Israelites were not to marry anyone outside of Israel, and they were prohibited from sacrificing in the high places. In fact, they were supposed to tear the high places down. Solomon’s marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter suggests an alliance with the things of the world (Egypt), and his sacrifices in the high places suggest worshiping his own intellect or wisdom.
4. The codependent independent struggles with being too independent. Although he was told that everything in his future was contingent on his obedience to God, his actions showed that he was convinced that he could do a better job of running his own life. Many times the codependent actually is unaware that he is running his own life instead of yielding to God. Some codependents even believe that whatever they think or want to do is what God is telling them to do. God clearly warned Solomon, but the warnings went unheeded.
5. The underlying issue is trying to meet their needs themselves, even if it is at the expense of others. In the story of the two harlots in 1st Kings Chapter 3, one of the prostitutes accidentally rolled over on her baby while she slept during the night; and it died. This tragedy represents the inner loss and hurt that has been experienced by the codependent. Instead of accepting and dealing with the loss, the first prostitute took the other's child and said that it was hers. In the same way, the codependent independent uses what others have (their baby) to meet his need for worth and significance. He plays "king of the hill" in the "rat race" of life so that he can be “successful” and feel good about himself but he does not really care about other people. Codependents are more interested in their success than the needs of the people that work for them or even the members of their own families. In this story, Solomon was able to determine which prostitute really loved the baby when he threatened to have it cut in half. The true mother loved the child and had its best interest in mind; even ahead of her own interests. The codependent independent only wants a child (or corporation) to meet his needs and would rather have it killed than to let another have it! This is the "toxic," selfish "love" of codependency. King Solomon gave himself the answer to his own problem of codependency: The king (God) will give real success (the live baby) to those who will really care for it and cares about the needs of other people.
1 Ki 3:16 Then came there two women, that were harlots, unto the king, and stood before him. 17 And the one woman said, O my lord, I and this woman dwell in one house; and I was delivered of a child with her in the house. 18 And it came to pass the third day after that I was delivered, that this woman was delivered also: and we were together; there was no stranger with us in the house, save we two in the house. 19 And this woman's child died in the night; because she overlaid it. 20 And she arose at midnight, and took my son from beside me, while thine handmaid slept, and laid it in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom. 21 And when I rose in the morning to give my child suck, behold, it was dead: but when I had considered it in the morning, behold, it was not my son, which I did bear. 22 And the other woman said, Nay; but the living is my son, and the dead is thy son. And this said, No; but the dead is thy son, and the living is my son. Thus they spake before the king. 23 Then said the king, The one saith, This is my son that liveth, and thy son is the dead: and the other saith, Nay; but thy son is the dead, and my son is the living. 24 And the king said, Bring me a sword. And they brought a sword before the king. 25 And the king said, Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other. 26 Then spake the woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her bowels yearned upon her son, and she said, O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it. But the other said, Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it. 27 Then the king answered and said, Give her the living child, and in no wise slay it: she is the mother thereof.
6. In order to recover from codependency we must experience God’s unconditional love and learn to trust Him. Solomon gave the child to the real mother. This child needed the love of its real mother. As she loved and cared for him, the child would learn to trust her to meet all of its needs. In the same way, the codependent needs to feel loved by God so that he can learn to trust God for his worth, significance, love and security. He must face the pain of his own emptiness and turn to God for help, or he will continue to attempt to be his own god and try to meet his own needs.
7. Natural wisdom, talent, approval and accomplishment are never enough. Solomon exceeded all the wise men of his time. He was one of the most learned men. He studied science, wrote 3000 proverbs, and 1005 songs. All the people and even kings came to hear him. He had all the approval any man could ever have, but it was never enough. He had to do more. This is the problem with trying to use external accomplishments to fix how a person feels about himself internally. The external “solution” develops into a lust or addiction which can never be satisfied.
8. Even great religious accomplishments can be motivated wrongly by codependency and legalism. The temple symbolizes Solomon's heart. We are told that "he loved God." He started with all the best intentions to accomplish something for God. He wanted to please God, just like he wanted to please everyone else; so he performed well at the task of building the temple. Solomon built the majestic temple for God, but when the Ark of the Covenant was brought into it, it contained only the tablets of the law (which stand for legalism and our attempts to please God in our own strength). I counseled a pastor who had fallen into this same trap. Only after a great failure was he able to see his codependent independent motivation. He had always performed in order to please his father, and now he finally understood that he had been driven to do the same for God.
9. Overly independent people are not known for their love for the Word of God, their desire to submit to authority, or their admission of sin. Noticeably missing from the Ark when it was brought into the temple was the manna (God's word), Aaron's rod that budded (God's authority), and the gold hemorrhoids given by the Philistines when the Ark was taken in Samuel's time (a sacrifice for sin). (1 Kings 8:9) However, this is not always the case. Sometimes a codependent might read the Bible, submit to authority, and confess his sins if he thinks that these actions will accomplish his goals.
10. A codependent is unable to maintain appropriate priorities. Because of his drivenness and perfectionism, he is unable to keep his life in balance. Selfishness, accomplishments, and people-pleasing overshadow everything else. Solomon’s priorities can be clearly seen in the fact that it took him seven years to build God's house and thirteen years to build his own. (1 Ki 6:38, 7:1)
11. God wants to fill the codependent's heart and meet his needs. When Solomon dedicated the temple, even though the Ark of the Covenant contained only the stone tablets of legalism, God filled the temple (Solomon's heart) with the cloud of glory. Solomon's excessive attempts to please God are clearly seen again in the 22,000 oxen (work) and 120,000 sheep (sin atonement) that he sacrificed.
12. Complete submission to the will of God is required in order for the codependent independent to recover. To God obedience and relationship are more important than performance (sacrifices). This is exactly what God said to King Saul after he failed to completely destroy the Amalekites (the flesh). (1 Samuel 15:22) In 1st Kings Chapter 9, we are told that God again appeared to Solomon and promised that if he would obey (surrender control of his life) he would be blessed. We can understand why God emphasized this point every time he appeared to Solomon.
13. If the codependent refuses to truly submit to God's direction, destruction will follow. God put it this way:
1 Kings 9:4 And if thou wilt walk before me, as David thy father walked, in integrity of heart, and in uprightness, to do according to all that I have commanded thee, [and] wilt keep my statutes and my judgments: 5 Then I will establish the throne of thy kingdom upon Israel for ever, as I promised to David thy father, saying, There shall not fail thee a man upon the throne of Israel. 6 [But] if ye shall at all turn from following me, ye or your children, and will not keep my commandments [and] my statutes which I have set before you, but go and serve other gods, and worship them: 7 Then will I cut off Israel out of the land which I have given them; and this house, which I have hallowed for my name, will I cast out of my sight; and Israel shall be a proverb and a byword among all people:
14. The codependent independent brings on his own destruction by using and abusing other people and things in an attempt to meet his needs. We see this beginning to happen when Solomon gave Hiram substandard cities in payment for cedar and fir trees. Instead of destroying the remaining Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, he put them to forced labor. As has already been stated, these tribes stand for psychological problems of prominence, fear, lack of boundaries, addictions, and abuse. Instead of dealing with his problems, he tried to use them for his service. Like Saul, Solomon refused to deal with the problems of his flesh and this led to his downfall.
15. The praise of others only stimulates the desire for greater accomplishments—overachievers hang together and validate each other. The Queen of Sheba fed Solomon's ego, and he gave her anything she wanted.
16. The codependent independent, who originally oscillates between pride and feelings of inadequacy, easily becomes victim to his own defense of pride. Solomon made 200 targets of gold (goals) and 300 shields of gold (defenses), an ivory throne with six steps (man's sufficiency) and 24 lions (strength) of gold (deity). The Bible warns us that God resists the proud and that pride comes before the fall. (James 4:6, Proverbs 16:18)
17. A codependent will eventually be overcome by the things that he worships. Solomon bought more and more horses and chariots (worldly means) and eventually took 1000 women to meet his needs. He had so much gold and silver that silver was not even counted as valuable during his reign. Relationship addiction, sexual addiction, and possibly alcoholism seem to have predominated in his later life, possibly after his accomplishments proved hollow. God specifically prohibited kings from accumulating large amounts of gold, having many horses, or many wives, but Solomon seems to have felt that he was exempt from these laws. He chose to follow his lust rather than God's law, and eventually, these things (especially the women) led him astray.
De 17:15 Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother. 16. But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way. 17. Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.
18. The lusts and addictions of the flesh will eventually overcome all resistance. Solomon's wives were Moabites (lust), Ammonites (selfish desire), Edomites (earthly), Zidonians (getting things), and Hittites (fear). In 1st Kings 11:2, it tells us that "Solomon clave (to cling strongly) unto these in love (human love or sex)." His 700 wives and 300 concubines demonstrate the level of his addiction. These turned his heart from the Lord. As we will clearly see when we study addictions in depth, either the addict's faith will overcome his addictions, or his addictions will overcome his faith.
19. Lust and addictions will corrupt the codependents morals and lead him to do what he said he would never do. In 1st Kings 11: 5 it states that Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians (sex), and after Milcom, the abomination of the Ammonites (selfish desires). These all led him away from God:
20. A codependent will go so far as to sacrifice his family to meet his needs. Solomon built a high place of worship for Chemosh (which means subduer, a god which required human sacrifice) the abomination of Moab (lust), and for Molech (the god for which first born children were burned alive on the altar) the abomination of the children of Ammon (selfish desires). I believe this symbolizes that the codependent worldly success will sacrifice his family for achievement and lust, through neglecting and abusing them.
1 Kings 11:7 Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon.
21. His addictions and his abuse of others will lead to more and more trouble for the codependent. The world (Egypt) and the people around him will eventually oppose the codependent when they are tired of being used by him. Solomon overtaxed the country so much to meet his insatiable thirst for accomplishment that the people rose up to demand relief of this burden from his son Reheboam. Because Reheboam stated that he would even accomplish more than his father, the people rebelled and made Jeroboam the king over ten tribes. Jeroboam means “the people will contend.” (1 Kings 4: 4-16)
22. All of his accomplishments and addictions will eventually prove hollow. Solomon wrote many proverbs to warn others not to go the way he did. The entire book of Ecclesiastes is Solomon's final answer to life. He tells us "that all is vanity (worthlessness).” (Ecclesiastes 1:14) This is the final realization of the codependent independent.
23. The codependent independent many times has to learn things the hard way. In Proverbs 4:3, Solomon tells of the importance of listening to your father; and in verse 23 he warns, "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it [are] the issues of life." In Proverbs 5:3-5, he warns, "For the lips of a strange woman drop [as] an honeycomb, and her mouth [is] smoother than oil: But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell." In Proverbs 20:1, he warns against alcoholism, "Wine [is] a mocker, strong drink [is] raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise."
24. He may eventually understand his error and realize that he has been trying to be his own god. Although authorities disagree on whether Solomon returned to God at the end of his life, it does appear that he at least understood his error in disobeying God. In Ecclesiastes 7:13, he gives us his advice concerning how to escape from codependent independence: "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this [is] the whole [duty] of man."
25. The ultimate consequences will fall on the next generation. Reheboam, reflecting the pride of his father, lost 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel; because he would not turn from his father's way of using others. Adoram (pride), his tax collector, was stoned to death; and Reheboam barely escaped alive, when they attempted to collect the taxes. Codependent independence works only for a limited time until the consequences of using others destroys all that has been built.
In treating the codependent independent worldly success, I start by challenging them with three questions: 1. What is it that you have accomplished so far in your life that will still be worth something 200 years from now? 2. What is going to happen to you tomorrow? 3. What is the mission that God has assigned you on this earth? Of course, there is almost nothing that we can do that will last 200 years; we cannot even predict what will happen tomorrow, and without God we have no idea what our mission on earth is supposed to be. I conclude, that if this is so, how do they think they can control and direct their lives? All the rats in the rat race of life are just running around in circles and the faster ones who are lapping the others still have no idea where they are going. Of course, this is the message of the book of Ecclesiastes, which I then ask them to read. As an overall program for recovery, I have found that codependent independents seem to relate better to Conquering Codependency (1993) by Pat Springle, rather than other programs, because it is more concrete and action-oriented. In addition, many times it is necessary to help the client deal with anger, abusive behavior, and addictions. These issues will be dealt with extensively in subsequent Chapters.
Steps for Overcoming Codependent Independent Worldly Success
1. The root problem is trying to meet feelings of inadequacy through personal accomplishments without God.
2. He is excessively driven to be an overachiever, controller, rescuer, and enabler in his relationships because of his insecurity.
3. The client builds an external facade, buries his emotions, and hides his insecurity.
4. He is overly dependent on his performance and other’s opinions in evaluating his worth.
5. The client must realize that he is trying to be his own god. He must repent of his efforts to direct his own life and meet his own needs through excessive accomplishment, and trust God to meet them.
6. He must understand that controlling others is sin. He must set others free to make their own choices and trust God in his relationships.
7. The client must overcome his low self-image, feelings of inadequacy, and defense mechanism of pride by accepting God’s evaluation of him and his position in Christ.
8. He must actively reject the lie that his successes make him more worthwhile and realize that all his accomplishments are vanity.
Codependent Avoidance--Irresponsiblity and Procrastination
In conquering the land of Canaan, it was not just the City of Jericho (fear) that had to be overcome but the entire Hittite tribe or complex of fear. In the story of the conquering of Jericho, we learned the basic principles: that it is faith working through love that overcomes fear, and that fear must be confronted or it will increase. At that time, I briefly discussed the simpler problems of anxiety attacks, worry, phobias, panic attacks, and obsessive-compulsivity. As I have already stated, faith combined with systematic desensitization is a very effective means of dealing with most simple fears. In this section, I intend to concentrate on the more difficult, complicated problems related to fear.
I have defined codependency as "excessive dependence or independence on people or things." I have identified three basic types of codependency. Those who try to meet their needs by being over-dependent on others (dependent), those who try to meet their needs through performance and rescuing others (independent), and those who try to meet their needs through avoiding responsibility and relationships (avoidant). In this part, I will elaborate on the problems of the codependent avoidant whose primary characteristic is an attempt to avoid fear.
For those familiar with DSM IV, the problem of codependent avoidance is a milder form of what is called Avoidant Personality Disorder. When fear of responsibility and relationships becomes a primary part of a client's personality, it affects almost every area of his life. It is typified by the overly dependent person who has experienced ongoing hurt and failure to such an extent that the fear of responsibility or relationships has all but immobilized them. They have given up trying to meet higher-level needs. They are satisfied just to be “safe” and might typically be labeled neurotic. A productive and abundant life is out of the question. Defenses have taken over. Many times these are ingrained welfare recipients, people-users, the chronically unemployed, or homeless vagrants.
Codependent Responsibility Avoidance
The codependent responsibility avoidant uses a strategy for life that minimizes failure at all costs. If he only does what he knows he can succeed at, he will be a success. Of course, for this strategy to succeed he needs someone else who will do whatever tasks he wishes to avoid. For this job he usually enlists a codependent dependent rescuer either in the form of a mate, a parent, or a friend. In order to understanding this problem from a biblical perspective and learn how to assist clients with this problem, let us examine the familiar story of Jonah in the Book of Jonah.
1. The codependent avoidant sees himself as powerless, defenseless and overwhelmed by life. Jonah's name means "dove." Doves are weak, powerless, and defenseless against anything that might attack them. Their only hope is to escape by flying away.
2. He does not see the untapped potential in his life. Jonah was the son of Amittai which means “faithful, right, sure, and truthful.” This was the untapped potential that was in Jonah.
3. He had a victim mentality based on all the hurt he has experienced. In 2nd Kings 14:25 we find out that Jonah was from Gathhepher, which means "winepress of digging." I interpret this to mean that just as it takes work to dig a winepress and as grapes are crushed in a winepress, he had worked hard only to have a crushing experience. This verse also suggests that one of his prophesies did not take place until the time of the kings of Israel. Possibly, when his prophecy was not immediately fulfilled, he came under sharp criticism.
2 Kings 14:25 He restored the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain, according to the word of the LORD God of Israel, which he spake by the hand of his servant Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet, which [was] of Gathhepher.
4. A codependent sees the challenges of life as overwhelming. Jonah was called to go to Ninevah, the capital of Assyria, whose God corresponded to Hercules—a man-god of great size and strength. The codependent avoidant feels like a dove asked to take on Hercules. Life just requires too much to bear. The avoidant usually feels inadequate to do almost anything.
5. He responded by fleeing into fantasy (Tarshish means contemplation) to get away from God, who he believes required too much from him. The avoidant is usually angry with God because he believes that God expects too much of him and that God should have made things work out the way he wanted them to be. Consequently, Jonah ran from God to try to find a nicer, easier, protected life (Joppa means bright, beauty, fair) and, in doing so, he cut himself off from the very thing he needed—faith and trust in God.
6. The codependent avoidant will try to get others to meet his needs. Ships usually stand for the capability to accomplish things. Jonah tried to use someone else's capability (a hired ship) to escape from what he saw as the overwhelming demands of life. He expected someone else to take care of him.
7. The avoidant is overwhelmed by the problems of life, many of which he has created through his attempt to escape his fears. Jonah was the one who chose the ship for his attempt to escape from God. Even though the tempest was life threatening, Jonah was asleep, trying to ignore his problems. He was awakened by others (usually the codependent’s relatives and friends) who saw the destruction coming on all their lives. Because the codependent does not carry his own weight in life, his problems affect and threaten everyone involved.
8. He will frustrate all the attempts of others to really help him. The last thing he wants to do is call on God, whom he blames for the overwhelming demands of life. Others, especially relatives or friends who unsuccessfully try to help him, eventually realize that it is the codependent avoidant (Jonah) who is the root of their problems.
9. When all attempts to help fail, he will eventually be abandoned by family and friends. When the sailors were finally forced to throw Jonah overboard the seas became calm. In the same way, those who finally give up trying to help the codependent avoidant find their lives returned to normal. When they finally quit trying to help, the family and friends may feel guilty because they have abandoned the codependent avoidant (just as the sailors of Jonah's ship did).
10. The underlying problem is that he expects others to do for him what he is capable of (but afraid of) doing for himself. The codependent's extreme neediness, combined with fear, results in dysfunctional ways of coping with life, which result in further rejection and hurt.
11. The underlying cause is that the codependent avoidant feels unloved and unworthy. To understand this, we must turn to the end of the story of Jonah. Jonah was exceedingly angry at God, because God did not destroy Ninevah when its people repented of their sin. The codependent avoidant becomes very angry because he perceives that others are more blessed than he is. He sees this "mistreatment" as a sign that God must love others more. This triggers feelings of being unloved, worthless, and inadequate, which most codependents have experienced in past relationships, especially in their families of origin.
12. A predominant trait is that he is overly concerned about what people think about him. If God spared the Ninevites, others might think of Jonah as a false prophet because he prophesied that in 40 days the city would be destroyed. He did not care as much for the 120,000 people of Ninevah as he did for his own reputation.
13. He sees himself as a victim and is totally focused on his own problems. The codependent avoidant is in a perpetual pity-party. He believes that the world owes him a living because of all that "God" and others have done to him. It is almost as if he is challenging God to prove that He loves him, just as other types of codependents attempt to manipulate others around them into showing love in order to meet their needs.
14. The codependent avoidant sees everything as catastrophic. Jonah was so mad at God for being so kind to the Ninevites by sparing them, that he asked God to kill him. He felt it was better for him to die than for his prophecy not to come true, or for others to be blessed instead of him.
15. The codependent avoidant is really codependent on God. We find this final insight into the problem in the episode about the gourd. The sun was hot. This represents the difficulties of life. The codependent avoidant sees himself as a victim because of all the problems in life that have happened to him. God made a gourd grow which protected Jonah from the sun. When a worm killed the gourd, Jonah became "angry enough to die," and said that he felt justified in his anger. Jonah expected God to do for him what he is capable of doing for himself. God makes it plain that He will not do this. An example of this would be a 15-year-old who still wants his mother to tie his shoelaces because he is afraid he might do it wrong. God expects us to do our part and take responsibility for our own life, just as any healthy parent expects his own child to do what he can to meet his own needs.
The Biblical Solution
1. Helping the codependent avoidant begins with refusing to do for him what he can do for himself. This is based on a correct Greek translation of Galatians 6:2, 5 (see the earlier chapter on boundaries) which tell us that, as Christians, we should assist other people with "mountains that are about to crush them," but that we are to "let everyone carry their own backpack." As long as "helpers" enable the codependent so that he does not have to face his own consequences, he will not be motivated to face his fears and deal with his problems.
2. The codependent avoidant must repent! After being cast overboard, God prepared a fish to swallow Jonah. I believe that the fish stands for the problems of this world that seem to engulf but are unable to digest the codependent avoidant. He must get so sick of his pity-party and victim mentality that he loses any hope of ever getting his needs met through his dysfunctional manipulations. Only then will he turn in desperation to God for help.
3. He must recognize that dying to his selfishness and trusting Jesus is the answer. The Bible tells us that Jonah's three days and three nights in the fish are a type of Jesus' death and resurrection. Matthew 12:40 states, "For as Jonas (Jonah) was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." The client must learn to trust in God for his needs as Jesus did, and be willing to die to himself (delay gratification). His fears will dissipate only as he relies on Christ's provision for him instead of relying on his ability to manipulate others.
4. The client must choose to call out to God for help. Most clients will not cry out to God for help until they are absolutely overwhelmed by their circumstances. Jonah to finally cry out to God for help when he had run out of options:
Jonah 2:1 Then Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish's belly, 2 And said, I cried by reason of MINE AFFLICTION unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, [and] thou heardest my voice. 3 For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me. 4 Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple. 5 The waters compassed me about, [even] to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. 6 I went down to the bottoms of the mountains (problems); the earth with her bars [was] about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God. 7 When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.
5. The codependent avoidant must realize that, without God, his own attempts are futile. Until he is willing to do his part and trust God, God will not have mercy on him and deliver him from his codependency. This is clear from Jonah 2:8: "They that observe vanities (fruitless attempts to deal with his problems themselves) forsake their own mercy."
6. He must see God on his side, be thankful for all God has done for him, and be willing to obey God. Unless a person is willing to obey, God cannot help him because God will not override an individual’s free will. When Jonah repented, the fish vomited him out onto dry land. I believe the dry land stands for the security that the client will have when he chooses to trust God to meet his needs through faith.
7. The client must do what God directs in spite of his fears. Jonah had to go back to Ninevah and do exactly what God had directed him to do. In the same way, the codependent avoidant must go back to face the same fears he has tried to avoid and, this time, do as God directs. Forty (days) stands for testing in human life. This usually includes the process of overcoming fear through progressively trusting God to deal with those fears, as discussed in the conquest of Jericho. A slow, systematic desensitization process is required for reentering life as faith and trust in God grow. It took Jonah three days to cross the city. Three stands for completeness. The codependent avoidant is not done until he has faced all of his fears and has overcome them in the real world. The people of Ninevah repented. The very people, and even the leaders, that Jonah feared so much, heeded his prophecy. In the same way, the fears that have bound the codependent avoidant have to yield to God's wonderful word of deliverance when the codependent avoidant trusts God and faces them.
8. He must speak what God tells him to speak. The client must learn to speak faith about his future (prophesy) and to not speak anything God does not say (negative self-talk). Speaking what God says about our future builds faith.
9. The client must start doing what he can do for himself. Jonah built a booth to shadow himself from the sun. God responded by preparing the gourd to show that he did love him and would respond when Jonah did his part. Jonah was "exceedingly glad." The codependent's emotions are very much tied to his circumstances. Jonah had made some progress, but he was not yet completely recovered. God prepared a worm (which stands for degraded men) and it destroyed the gourd (God's provision). Men and circumstances in life will attempt to destroy the client's blessings. Jonah was able to function in good circumstances, but reverted to codependent behavior when circumstances became unfavorable.
10. The codependent avoidant must learn to face even negative circumstances without a victim mentality. A very hot wind came up and made Jonah almost faint. Codependent avoidants usually see any reversals of circumstances as a sign that God does not really love them. Jonah again wished to die. The final victory will come only when the client realizes that he is not a victim, and that God loves everybody equally, treats everyone with mercy, and loves His children unconditionally no matter whether he succeeds or fails. The codependent avoidant should also understand that the mercy of God does eventually end if we continue to refuse to repent. The people of Ninevah later returned to their sin and the city was destroyed and never rebuilt again. (Nahum 3)
Because codependent responsibility avoidants fear failure and believe that life is too difficult for them, their relationship and trust in God needs to be rebuilt. Experiencing God : Knowing and Doing the Will of God (1990) by Henry Blackaby and Claude King, is an excellent resource. Through the use of boundaries, the client needs to be forced to take more and more responsibility for their own lives. This should be done slowly, starting with areas where success is more probable. In the case of an over-under responsible marriage, boundaries are also required for the dependent rescuer to stop her from trying to require him to meet her perfectionistic standards and from being overly critical of her mate. Many times the mate will have to refuse to enable the avoidant in a particular area. He or she must be willing to suffer whatever consequences result before the responsibility avoidant realizes that if he does not do it, he will fail. This realization is key to motivating him to take on the responsibilities that he wishes to avoid.
Steps for Overcoming Codependent Responsibility Avoidance
1. The overall problem is a fear of failure, which causes the client to avoid situations in which he might fail or not perform as successfully as he wishes.
2. He must take responsibility for his own life and others must refuse to do for him what he can do for himself.
3. The client must repent of his desire to protect himself at all costs by refusing to do things which might result in failure.
4. The client must quit blaming others and trust God to meet his needs.
5. He must realize that his attempts to manipulate others to meet his needs are futile and that, without God, he is powerless to meet them.
6. The client must cry out to God for help to make him adequate for the tasks he is called to do.
7. The client must understand that God is on his side, be thankful to God for what he has done, and be willing to obey God.
8. The client must do what God directs in spite of his fears.
9. He must speak to himself only what God tells him to speak.
10. The client must start doing what he can do for himself and trust God to make him adequate for every task.
Codependent Relationship Avoidance--Victim Mentality
The codependent relationship avoidant many times begins life in her family of origin as the “lost child,” and has been so badly hurt in intimate relationships that she avoids them, and spends the rest of her life as a victim looking for society or someone else to vindicate her or take revenge on her perceived abusers. The problem of Codependent Relationship Avoidance is best described in the story of Tamar, the daughter of King David. Her story begins in 2nd Samuel Chapter 13.
1. God’s plan for codependent avoidants is that they have a victorious life even under difficult circumstances. Instead, they see life as oppressed, emotionally broken, and a victim. Sometimes they develop a proud, defiant attitude. Tamar’s name means “palm tree” which in the Bible typifies victory under adverse circumstances. (Wilson, 1957) She is the daughter of Maacah which means “oppression,” who was the granddaughter of Talmai which means “furrowed or broken up.” Talmai was the king of Greshur, which means “proud beholder.”
2. Because of extremely negative experiences, usually by people they trusted who have taken advantage or excessive liberty with them, they withdraw in fear from relationships. David’s firstborn son, Amnon, wanted to have sex with Tamar, his half-sister. His friend Jonadab suggested a plan. Jonadab means liberty. King David was unknowingly brought into the plot. I believe that this suggests that David’s sexual sin with Bathsheba was being repeated in the next generation. David even directed Tamar to go to Amnon’s house.
3. Many times they start out as naive “good girls’’ who are set up to be hurt. Tamar naively went to Amnon’s house, fixed food for him, and even went into his bedroom without suspecting anything.
4. They want to do what is right but are ashamed about the abuse they have suffered. They allow the abuse it to affect their self-image. Tamar complained in 2nd Samuel 13:13, “And I, whither shall I cause my shame to go?” She even suggests that David might allow them to marry.
5. Sometimes the abuser will even despise the codependent, because they seem so weak and passive. In 2nd Samuel 13:15, it states that “Amnon hated her exceedingly; so that the hatred wherewith he hated her [was] greater than the love wherewith he had loved her.” Subsequently, Amnon threw her out.
6. They are usually abused again and again. She made it clear that the evil of sending her away was greater than the rape itself. Statistics suggest that women that have been raped once have a 200% greater chance of being raped again than a person who never has been raped before.
7. Because they allow the shame to affect how they perceive themselves, it goes deep within their character, and they become desolate and withdraw from close relationships. Tamar ripped the garment she was wearing (her character), put ashes on her head (shame for the past), laid her hand on her head (actions based on how she feels). She took the shame for the injustice perpetrated on her. Her brother Absalom suggested that she hide what happened and took her into his home. When shame is hidden, it turns to toxic shame—I am a bad person. In 2nd Samuel 13:20, it states that, “Tamar remained desolate in her brother Absalom's house.”
8. Through a victim mentality and pity-party, they seek someone to take up their cause. King David, who should have defended her as her father, was angry but did nothing. I believe that she recruited her brother Absalom who became her avenger and killed Amnon two years later. Again David was unwittingly used in the plot (suggesting a generational tie to his sin with Bathsheba), and Jonadab (liberty) had a hand in it.
9. The consequences fall on the avenger and all who try to help the codependent relationship avoidant. Although it was Tamar who was originally abused and sought vengeance, Absalom was blamed for killing Amnon and had to flee for his life.
10. The codependent relationship avoidant will help from behind the scenes but only as part of an alliance. Tamar’s part in this plot is clear when we realize that Absalom escaped to stay with Talmai, Tamar’s grandfather. Absalom also named his daughter Tamar.
11. Her anger and a desire for vengeance will eventually be turned on those who they perceive failed to protect or bring justice for them. After Amnon’s death, Tamar’s anger turned against David. I believe she instigated Absalom’s rebellion against their father, King David. He barely escaped with his life. Absalom’s complaint against King David was that he failed to carry out justice. He felt he could do better himself. (2 Sam 15:4) It is interesting to note that victims of abuse are usually angrier with the person who should have protected them than they are at the abuser himself.
12. The codependent relationship avoidant views the entire matter as an attempt to seek justice; but, in fact, she is seeking to justify herself and to get revenge on her abusers. Absalom brought Ahithophel, David’s advisor, into the conspiracy. Ahithophel was also seeking revenge. He was Bathsheba’s grandfather. David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and had killed her husband Uriah to cover up his sin. When Ahithophel realized that his vengeance against David would not succeed because Absalom would not follow his advice, he committed suicide.
13. Because he believes he has been recruited into a “just” cause, even the objectivity of the rescuer is distorted, Instead of listening to Ahithophel, Absalom listened to Hushai the Archite, one of David’s best friends. Absalom probably also justified what he was doing because in biblical times it was the brother’s duty to protect his sisters. Somehow, he seems to have forgotten that he was also to honor his father. He even had sex with his Father’s concubines on the roof of the palace.
14. The “rescuer” ends up paying the price for his attempt to obtain vengean
ce for the codependent avoidant. When Absalom lost the battle to David’s men, his head and hair (pride) became caught in an oak tree (which stands for “bitter sorrow”). Joab thrust three darts through his heart and killed him. It is the rescuer who pays the price for the bitterness of the victim.
15. The rescuer will only be remembered as being a monument to the “fruitlessness” of doing for others what they should be doing for themselves. In 2nd Samuel 18:18 we are told, “Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and reared up for himself a pillar, which [is] in the king's dale: for he said, I have no son to keep my name in remembrance: and he called the pillar after his own name: and it is called unto this day, Absalom's place.”
Healing the Relationship Avoidant
Unfortunately, as far as we know, Tamar never recovered from her codependency. In order to find the solution for the codependent relationship avoidant client, we must turn to the New Testament and the ministry of Jesus. First, let us review in John Chapter 5 the problem that we find at the Pool of Bethesda and then observe how Jesus handled it.
1. The underlying factor in codependent relationship avoidance is an extreme level of human neediness. We are told that at the pool of Bethesda there were five porches. Five stands for the weakness of every human being. Bethesda means “house of mercy.”
2. Codependent relationship avoidants are waiting for a miracle because they see themselves in an impossible situation. Relationship avoidants are afraid that if they get emotionally close to healthy people they will be rejected and hurt again. They know that they need relationships, but because they do not want to be hurt again, they will only relate to those with problems like their own. At the Pool of Bethesda, there were only other dysfunctional needy people. They all believed that somehow an angel was going to come, stir up the water, and heal them. Relationship avoidants are usually mad at God for not doing a miracle and healing them in the manner that they want to be healed. Deep down, however, they really do not believe that it will happen. They are too worthless for God to want to help them. To them, this is obvious because if He loved them; He would have already healed them a long time ago.
3. If relationship avoidants are not looking for vengeance, they are consumed with a “pity party,” spending their years hopelessly complaining. The man in this story had been crippled for 38 years and was just sitting around with other crippled people (probably complaining).
4. The first question to be answered is whether they really want to be whole. Pity loves company, and commiseration has its benefits. In John 5:6, Jesus asked him, “Wilt thou be made whole?” Many homeless people begin to “enjoy” their role as a victim and their “freedom” from responsibility and close relationships. It all feels so safe. If they became healthy they would be expected to be responsible and have healthy relationships, the very things they fear the most.
5. Codependent avoidants have an excuse for everything. The crippled man answered Jesus that the reason he was not healed was because no one helped him so that he could be the first one into the water to be healed. He saw the problem as a lack of help, not a lack of initiative. (If he really believed he would be healed, He could have sat at the edge of the pool and fell in when the water was stirred.) Avoidants see everything as somebody else’s fault; never their own.
6. Jesus has the power and the desire to make them whole if they are willing. Jesus told him that if he was to be healed, he would have to do his part by first acting according to his faith. When He believed and took up his bed, he was able to walk. When codependent avoidants are willing to face their fears and do their part, healing will quickly follow.
7. Codependent avoidant are looking for someone to tell him what to do; so that if it fails, they can blame them and avoid responsibility. The Jews complained that Jesus had healed and had told the man to carry his bed (which they considered work) on the Sabbath Day. The man blamed Jesus.
8. They become angry when confronted with the fact that what they are doing is sin. Jesus later found him in the temple and warned him to quit sinning. He responded by telling the Jews that it was Jesus who was to be blamed for telling him to work (take up his bed) on the Sabbath day. Confronting and helping codependent avoidants should be done with caution.
It is usually a clear indication that your client is a codependent relationship avoidant when they want you to take responsibility for directly fixing their problem or guarantee their safety. The counselor must be extremely careful that they do not allow the client to become overly dependent on them. If this occurs, and the counselor does not do what they ask, all the pent up rage from the past abuse may become displaced on the counselor. Since the real issue is fear of rejection caused by abuse or injustice, the client needs to be helped to address the abuse and then to progressively take action to face the fear. If appropriate, he can seek redress of his wrongs himself, according to biblical principles. In many cases, the client will have to forgive and grieve the past losses before he is able to put his past behind him. He needs to learn to give up his perceived right for vengeance, trust God, and put his situation into God’s hands. Only God is able to bring true justice. As resources, I use The Wounded Heart (1990) by Allender and an appropriate codependent workbook.
Steps for Overcoming Codependent Relationship Avoidance
1. The overall problem is a fear of rejection causing the client to avoid situations in which he might be rejected or to find someone to help him get revenge for past rejections or abuse.
2. He must take responsibility for his own life. Others must refuse to do for him what he could do for himself, especially taking responsibility for redressing his wrongs.
3. The client must repent from his desire to protect himself at all costs and quit blaming others for not protecting or meeting his needs.
4. He must realize that he is powerless without God to meet his own needs or bring true justice to his situation.
5. He must repent of his own sin, low self-image, defensiveness, reliance on others, and desire for getting personal revenge.
6. The client must cry out to God for justice, become willing to forgive past hurts, take responsibly for his part in the rejections or abuse, and, if the offender repents, be willing to reconcile with the abuser or those who failed to protect him.
7. The client must see himself as God sees him—not as a victim, but through the help of God, as an overcomer—and be thankful to God, and willing to obey Him.
8. The client must start doing what he can do for himself to build healthy relationships, set healthy boundaries, and trust God to make him adequate for every task.
Summing Up Codependency
Now that we have discussed all six subtypes of codependency, let me summarize what we have learned. It is clear that this problem is caused by an attempt to meet our deepest needs without God. This is what the Bible calls idolatry. However, our new idols are ourselves, others, our accomplishments, or the things of this world. The codependent dependent passive tries to make someone else into her savior. The codependent dependent rescuer tries to get her needs met by saving a dysfunctional man. The codependent independent is trying to become his own God. If he succeeds, he becomes addicted to his own work or accomplishments. If he fails, he looks for a codependent dependent rescuer to help and support him. The responsibility avoidant tries to avoid failure by finding someone to do the things he feels inadequate to do. The relationship avoidant is trying to get others to care for, avenge, and save him. These strategies lead directly to becoming overly dependent on what they believe will meet their needs. Beginning with Luke 12:27, the Scriptures make the error of this approach to life elegantly clear:
Lu 12:27 Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more [will he clothe] you, O ye of little faith? 29 And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. 30 For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. 31 But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.