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).
Victim Mentality - Codependent Relationship Avoidance
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 vengeance 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.