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.
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.