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.
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.