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The Daughters of Patriarchy: Codependency

It is a term that implies that we are dependent upon one another. How is this necessarily harmful? Of course we need others in our lives; we need interaction and relationship, wisdom and discourse. However, when these things are rampant within unhealthy, imbalanced, and ungodly environments, potentially very grave problems are allowed to fester. Wounds develop, which only the light of Christ can illuminate and heal.

A deeply religious, extremely conservative lifestyle fosters codependency like no other. Closely identified with enmeshment, it has always been a vague expression uttered by those in the mental health industry which, as I am sure we all learned, is inherently "anti-christ." "Christian psychologist? Bah! No such thing."

I am going to present an exhaustive amount of material that comes from many different sources. A few things I ask that you remember are these:
  • Not every symptom will be manifested in every person or situation.
  • Some of these concepts are promoted by those who do not necessarily hold a Christian worldview. If there is anything here that you recognize, that seems familiar or strikes a chord, note that symptom and take it before the Father who loves and ask that truth be revealed to you.
  • I myself am not a doctor, mental health professional, or anything other than a woman who has embarked upon a journey of grace, seeking the healing of Jesus from deep emotional and spiritual pain. Learning balance and becoming aware of the issues I raise {in other words, discovering the truth of the situation} has been a key element in seeking wholeness. For many years I had vague unrest, knowing there were things that were wrong, but unable to place my finger upon the precise element that was troublesome. God showed me that there is wisdom to be found in the experiences of others, and He has used these things to help me immensely. Each of us have relationships with Him that are deeply personal. I believe that this is intentional on His part, for He wants us to know that He loves us and wants us, as an individual soul, and yearns that we know Him in a way that is intimate and for us alone. So, as in everything that I write and present, please weigh the information here according to the heart of Almighty God, and Scripture.
Codependency

What is it, why is it harmful, and how do we overcome it?

A codependent person is defined by Melody Beattie, author of Codependent No More, as "one who has let another person's behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person's behavior." Some codependents have an inherent need to be controlled by others instead. Often, codependent people are preoccupied with the opinions of others, and are overly concerned with what others might think.

All About Life's Challenges features information on Codependency which goes into a little more detail.

[Codependents] often feel tremendous guilt, responsibility or need to "fix" by controlling the actions of others, especially the one who owns the original problem. The codependent develops intense feelings and will try anything to make the family or relationship survive.

It's very common to "cover up" the behavior of their loved one; this is called enabling. By enabling, they are allowing the behavior to continue and cause avoidance of natural consequences. Codependents don't want to "rock the boat." They therefore are willing to do most anything just to keep peace. This too is where other family members learn to function in this manner creating the all too common "dysfunctional family."

The codependent will often accept blame for the situation. For instance, in a dysfunctional relationship the codependent will either accept or proclaim that "It's entirely my fault; it's because of something I did wrong."

This fits the source of dysfunction or dependent just fine since the person looks for others to blame for their actions. The dependent is denying, floundering, and usually very capable of using whatever means of escape possible. They are not beyond threats, coercion, or manipulation to avoid taking responsibility.

We don't have to struggle alone. God has not left us alone in our troubles; He wants to come alongside us and within us to help. His Spirit will empower us. The secret to a changed life, our own and our loved ones, is to submit to His control and let Him work.

Symptoms of codependency/codependent behavior

From All About Counseling:
  • controlling behavior
  • distrust
  • perfectionism
  • avoidance of feelings
  • intimacy problems
  • caretaking behavior
  • hypervigilance (a heightened awareness for potential threat/danger)
  • physical illness related to stress

Melody Beattie writes:
Codependency involves a habitual system of thinking, feeling, and behaving toward ourselves and others that can cause pain. Codependent behaviors or habits are self-destructive.

The following are characteristics of codependent persons: (We started to do these things out of necessity to protect ourselves and meet our needs.)

Care Taking

Codependents may
1. Think and feel responsible for other people---for other people's feelings, thoughts, actions, choices, wants, needs, well-being, lack of well-being, and ultimate destiny.
2. Feel anxiety, pity, and guilt when other people have a problem.
3. Feel compelled --almost forced -- to help that person solve the problem, such as offering unwanted advice, giving a rapid-fire series of suggestions, or fixing feelings.
4. Feel angry when their help isn't effective.
5. Anticipate other people's needs
6. Wonder why others don't do the same for them.
7. Don't really want to be doing, doing more than their fair share of the work, and doing things other people are capable of doing for themselves.
8. Not knowing what they want and need, or if they do, tell themselves what they want and need is not important.
9. Try to please others instead of themselves.
10. Find it easier to feel and express anger about injustices done to others rather than injustices done to themselves.
11. Feel safest when giving.
12. Feel insecure and guilty when somebody gives to them.
13. Feel sad because they spend their whole lives giving to other people and nobody gives to them.
14. Find themselves attracted to needy people.
15. Find needy people attracted to them.
16. Feel bored, empty, and worthless if they don't have a crisis in their lives, a problem to solve, or someone to help.
17. Abandon their routine to respond to or do something for somebody else.
18. Over commit themselves.
19. Feel harried and pressured.
20. Believe deep inside other people are somehow responsible for them.
21. Blame others for the spot the codependents are in.
22. Say other people make the codependents feel the way they do.
23. Believe other people are making them crazy.
24. Feel angry, victimized, unappreciated, and used.
25. Find other people become impatient or angry with them for all of the preceding characteristics.

Low Self Worth

Codependents tend to:
1. Come from troubled, repressed, or dysfunctional families.
2. Deny their family was troubled, repressed or dysfunctional.
3. Blame themselves for everything.
4. Pick on themselves for everything, including the way they think, feel, look, act, and behave.
5. Get angry, defensive, self-righteous, and indigent when others blame and criticize the codependents -- something codependents regularly do to themselves.
6. Reject compliments or praise
7. Get depressed from a lack of compliments and praise (stroke deprivation)
8. Feel different from the rest of the world.
9. Think they're not quite good enough.
10. Feel guilty about spending money on themselves or doing unnecessary or fun things for themselves.
11. Fear rejection.
12. Take things personally.
13. Have been victims of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, neglect, abandonment, or alcoholism.
14. Feel like victims.
15. Tell themselves they can't do anything right.
16. Be afraid of making mistakes.
17. Wonder why they have a tough time making decisions.
18. Have a lot of "shoulds".
19. Feel a lot of guilt.
20. Feel ashamed of who they are.
21. Think their lives are not worth living.
22. Try to help other people live their lives instead.
23. Get artificial feelings of self-worth from helping others.
24. Get strong feelings of low self-worth ---embarrassment, failure, etc...from other people's failures and problems.
25. Wish good things would happen to them.
26. Believe good things never will happen.
27. Believe they don't deserve good things and happiness.
28. Wish others would like and love them.
29. Believe other people couldn't possibly like and love them.
30. Try to prove they're good enough for other people.
31. Settle for being needed.

Repression

Many Codependents:
1. Push their thoughts and feelings out of their awareness because of fear and guilt.
2. Become afraid to let themselves be who they are.
3. Appear rigid and controlled.

Obsession

Codependents tend to:
1. Feel terribly anxious about problems and people.
2. Worry about the silliest things.
3. Think and talk a lot about other people.
4. Lose sleep over problems or other people's behavior.
5. Worry
6. Never Find answers.
7. Check on people.
8. Try to catch people in acts of misbehavior.
9. Feel unable to quit talking, thinking, and worrying about other people or problems.
10. Abandon their routine because they are so upset about somebody or something.
11. Focus all their energy on other people and problems.
12. Wonder why they never have any energy.
13. Wonder why they can't get things done.

Controlling

Many codependents:
1. Have lived through events and with people that were out of control, causing the codependents sorrow and disappointment.
2. Become afraid to let other people be who they are and allow events to happen naturally.
3. Don't see or deal with their fear of loss of control.
4. Think they know best how things should turn out and how people should behave.
5. Try to control events and people through helplessness, guilt, coercion, threats, advice-giving, manipulation, or domination.
6. Eventually fail in their efforts or provoke people's anger.
7. Get frustrated and angry.
8. Feel controlled by events and people.

Denial

Codependents tend to:
1. Ignore problems or pretend they aren't happening.
2. Pretend circumstances aren't as bad as they are.
3. Tell themselves things will be better tomorrow.
4. Stay busy so they don't have to think about things.
5. Get confused.
6. Get depressed or sick.
7. Go to doctors and get tranquilizers.
8. Become workaholics.
9. Spend money compulsively.
10. Overeat.
11. Pretend those things aren't happening either.
12. Watch problems get worse.
13. Believe lies.
14. Lie to themselves.
15. Wonder why they feel like they're going crazy.

Dependency

Many codependents:
1. Don't feel happy, content, or peaceful with themselves.
2. Look for happiness outside themselves.
3. Latch onto whoever or whatever they think can provide happiness.
4. Feel terribly threatened by the loss of any thing or person they think proves their happiness.
5. Didn't feel love and approval from their parents.
6. Don't love themselves.
7. Believe other people can't or don't love them.
8. Desperately seek love and approval.
9. Often seek love from people incapable of loving.
10. Believe other people are never there for them.
11. Equate love with pain.
12. Feel they need people more than they want them.
13. Try to prove they're good enough to be loved.
14. Don't take time to see if other people are good for them.
15. Worry whether other people love or like them.
16. Don't take time to figure out if they love or like other people.
17. Center their lives around other people.
18. Look for relationships to provide all their good feelings.
19. Lost interest in their own lives when they love.
20. Worry other people will leave them.
21. Don't believe they can take care of themselves.
22. Stay in relationships that don't work.
23. Tolerate abuse to keep people loving them.
24. Feel trapped in relationships.
25. Leave bad relationships and form new ones that don't work either.
26. Wonder if they will ever find love.

Poor Communication

Codependents frequently:
1. Blame
2. Threaten
3. Coerce
4. Beg
5. Bribe
6. Advise
7. Don't say what they mean.
8. Don't mean what they say.
9. Don't know what they mean.
10. Don't take themselves seriously.
11. Think other people don't take the codependents seriously.
12. Take themselves too seriously.
13. Ask for what they want and need indirectly --- sighing, for example.
14. Find it difficult to get to the point.
15. Aren't sure what the point is.
16. Gauge their words carefully to achieve a desired effect.
17. Try to say what they think will please people.
18. Try to say what they think will provoke people.
19. Try to say what they hop will make people do what they want them to do.
20. Eliminate the word NO from their vocabulary.
21. Talk too much.
22. Talk about other people.
23. Avoid talking about themselves, their problems, feelings, and thoughts.
24. Say everything is their fault.
25. Say nothing is their fault.
26. Believe their opinions don't matter.
27. Want to express their opinions until they know other people's opinions.
28. Lie to protect and cover up for people they love.
29. Have a difficult time asserting their rights.
30. Have a difficult time expressing their emotions honestly, openly, and appropriately.
31. Think most of what they have to say is unimportant.
32. Begin to talk in Cynical, self-degrading, or hostile ways.
33. Apologize for bothering people.

Weak Boundaries

Codependents frequently:
1. Say they won't tolerate certain behaviors from other people.
2. Gradually increase their tolerance until they can tolerate and do things they said they would never do.
3. Let others hurt them.
4. Keep letting others hurt them.
5. Wonder why they hurt so badly.
6. Complain, blame, and try to control while they continue to stand there.
7. Finally get angry.
8. Become totally intolerant.

Lack of Trust

Codependents
1. Don't trust themselves.
2. Don't trust their feelings.
3. Don't trust their decisions.
4. Don't trust other people.
5. Try to trust untrustworthy people.
6. Think God has abandoned them.
7. Lose faith and trust in God.

Anger

Many Codependents:
1. Feel very scared, hurt, and angry
2. Live with people who are very scared, hurt, and angry.
3. Are afraid of their own anger.
4. Are frightened of other people's anger.
5. Think people will go away if anger enters the picture.
6. Feel controlled by other people's anger.
7. Repress their angry feelings.
8. Think other people make them feel angry.
9. Are afraid to make other people feel anger.
10. Cry a lot, get depressed, overact, get sick, do mean and nasty things to get even, act hostile, or have violent temper outbursts.
11. Punish other people for making the codependents angry.
12. Have been shamed for feeling angry.
13. Place guilt and shame on themselves for feeling angry.
14. Feel increasing amounts of anger, resentment, and bitterness.
15. Feel safer with their anger than hurt feelings.
16. Wonder if they'll ever not be angry.

Sex Problems.

Some codependents:
1. Are caretakers in the bedroom.
2. Have sex when they don't want to.
3. Have sex when they'd rather be held, nurtured, and loved.
4. Try to have sex when they're angry or hurt.
5. Refuse to enjoy sex because they're so angry at their partner
6. Are afraid of losing control.
7. Have a difficult time asking for what they need in bed.
8. Withdraw emotionally from their partner.
9. Feel sexual revulsion toward their partner.
10. Don't talk about it.
11. Force themselves to have sex, anyway.
12. Reduce sex to a technical act.
13. Wonder why they don't enjoy sex.
14. Lose interest in sex.
15. Make up reasons to abstain.
16. Wish their sex partner would die, go away, or sense the codependent's feelings.
17. Have strong sexual fantasies about other people.
18. Consider or have an extramarital affair.

Miscellaneous

Codependents tend to:
1. Be extremely responsible.
2. Be extremely irresponsible.
3. Become martyrs, sacrificing their happiness and that of others for causes that don't require sacrifice.
4. Find it difficult to feel close to people.
5. Find it difficult to have fun and be spontaneous.
6. Have an overall passive response to codependency -- crying, hurt, helplessness.
7. Have an overall aggressive response to codependency -- violence, anger, dominance.
8. Combine passive and aggressive responses.
9. Vacillate in decisions and emotions.
10. Laugh when they feel like crying.
11. Stay loyal to their compulsions and people even when it hurts.
12. Be ashamed about family, personal, or relationship problems.
13. Be confused about the nature of the problem.
14. Cover up, lie, and protect the problem.
15. Not seek help because they tell themselves the problem isn't bad enough, or they aren't important enough.
16. Wonder why the problem doesn't go away.

Progressive

In the later stages of codependency, codependents may:
1. Feel lethargic.
2. Feel depressed.
3. Become withdrawn and isolated.
4. Experience a complete loss of daily routine and structure.
5. Abuse or neglect their children and other responsibilities.
6. Feel hopeless.
7. Begin to plan their escape from a relationship they feel trapped in.
8. Think about suicide.
9. Become violent.
10. Become seriously emotionally, mentally, or physically ill.
11. Experience an eating disorder (over- or under eating)
12. Become addicted to alcohol or other drugs.


In “Codependency And Family Rules: A Paradoxical Dependency,” Robert Subby and John Friel offer this definition:

Co-dependency is a dysfunctional pattern of living and problem-solving which is kept in place by a set of the rules within the family system. These rules make healthy growth and change very difficult.

These rules are described by Subby and Friel as follows:

1. It's not okay to talk about problems.

2. Feelings should not be expressed openly.

3. Communications is best if indirect, with one person acting as messenger between the other two (triangulation).

4. Be strong, good, right, perfect. Make us proud. (Unrealistic expectations.)

5. Don't be “selfish.”

6. Do as I say, not as I do.

7. It is not good to play or be playful.

8. Don't rock the boat.
The dangers of codependent behavior, and how to heal

I will use religious codependency here as an example, but the principles outlined can be applied to many different situations.

Jeff VanVonderen writes a fantastic article on religious codependency that reveals much about its nature.
If you find a leader who is a religious addict–whose mood depends not only on the amount of his or her own religious activity but also on the amount of religious activity performed by the members of the congregation [or family]–then you can be sure there are some religious codependents in the neighborhood. Religious codependents may believe that their behaviors are a simple matter of devotion to God, to God’s people and to the leadership that God has appointed, just as codependents to alcoholics often vigorously defend their behaviors. But the real motivations are often much more complex. If I feel good only when the leader feels good, if I feel bad only when the leader feels bad, it’s probably for a reason other than being “committed and dedicated.” It’s probably some form of religious codependency. This is especially true if my need to please a leader [or even a father] leads to compromises in my own integrity, peace, rest, and “that sense of blessing I once had.” [emphasis mine]

There is a curious phrase in Jeremiah 5:31: “The prophets prophesy lies,/the priests rule by their own authority,/and my people love it this way.”
My people love it this way? How can that be? Well, I suppose one reason could be that some people prefer to not think, and so they are happy to have someone else do all their thinking for them. It is more likely, however, that some people in religious circles are happy only when they can be in control of spiritual things, even if their authority is a figment of their religious addiction and is not from God. And for every religiously addicted leader there is almost always a group of religiously codependent followers. There are people who are happy only when their spiritual leader is happy. This is not just dedication and commitment, no matter how vigorously the dysfunction is defended.

In the example of religious codependency, we see evidence that followers, or offspring, are not self-controlled, or working out their own salvation . . . things necessary for our walk with the Lord, in righteousness and holiness.

VanVonderen continues:
A second, related form of religious codependency results from serving a codependent God. Suppose for a moment that God has poor boundaries. Or that God spends his days in a frenzy, trying to get us to make the right choices. Or that God’s mood is completely dependent on the choices we make: happy when we make good choices, but sad when we make bad choices. Or suppose that God is full of resentments because he is always the one who has to solve the world’s problems. Or suppose that God is manipulative, trying to get things to work his way by using indirect and dishonest means. If we serve a Higher Power with any of these characteristics, we are probably in for a very troubled relationship. It is possible to serve a codependent God, but it is physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausting.
If we were raised in an environment where codependency was common, we may gravitate to a “God” of this kind. This form of religious codependency is typically learned early in life. As young children many of us were taught that God’s mood was dependent on our behavior. If we did certain things, God was happy. If we did other things, God was sad. We were, apparently, powerful enough to be in charge of God’s mood! Now, does it make sense for a six- or seven-year-old child to be in charge of God’s mood? Clearly not. And what does it say about God? Does God have such poor boundaries that his mood will swing in response to my behavior? In spite of how little sense this makes, this distorted image of God leads many of us to tip-toe through our Christian lives, trying to do everything possible to prevent God from having a negative mood-swing. Because, after all, you know what happens if we do something that puts God in a bad mood. We are in deep trouble and are going to pay the price one way or another. We need to get up in the morning and look to see what God’s little flip sign says today. Is it “Today God is happy,” or “Today God is sad”? If the answer to that question determines the things we have to try harder to do, or not do, in his name today, we can be pretty sure that some element of religious codependency is involved.
Most Christians, of course, understand that their relationship with God involves dependency. We depend upon God for our needs, for our identity, for life itself. This is not a problem that needs to be solved. We are dependent on God. Unfortunately, however, many Christians have a difficult time distinguishing between a healthy dependence on God and an unhealthy dependence, or codependency. And that inability to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy relationships is the vulnerability that makes religious codependency possible.

Moving Beyond Religious Codependency

If you find yourself stuck in religious codependency, here are a few ways to move forward. First, if your higher power is a religious addict or a codependent god, fire him. These gods do not deserve your worship or service. They have become what the Bible calls idols. You don’t negotiate with idols. You don’t compromise or make deals. You don’t hope for improvement in the future. Instead, you clean house. That’s what has to happen first: house-cleaning of all idolatrous attachments. Easy to say but difficult to do.
Second, get help. Most of us can’t make the necessary changes by ourselves. Religious codependency usually has very deep roots; most of us learned it very early. That means that the changes we need to make must not be superficial changes. They require major surgery. For example, we need to develop healthy boundaries in our relationship with God. If that sounds strange, or just plain wrong, well, that’s a hint of how deep the problem goes and how deep the healing needs to be. That means it’s important to find a therapist, sponsor, pastor or friend who understands these issues. This also is easy to say but sometimes difficult to do.
Third, expect the healing process to take some time. It will take time to find the resources you need. It will take time to become the kind of person who is capable of being honest about these issues. It will take time to grieve over the losses, betrayals and neglect that have helped cultivate the codependency.
Last, and perhaps most important, believe that recovery from religious codependency is possible. Codependency is learned behavior. That means it can be unlearned. It’s not easy to unlearn it. But it is possible, because God also wants a healthy, noncompulsive relationship with us. And that is good news.
--Jeff VanVonderen


Conclusion

In my humble observations, codependency perpetuates both deception and denial. These things do not originate from the Father of Truth. Do you have trouble saying no? How many times have you said "yes" to someone, when you knew that "no" would have been a healthier response? Jesus says, "Let your yes be yes, and your no, no. For whatever is more than these is from the evil one." This links the issues of boundaries, which we will discuss again in the future.

Codependency leads to idolatry. Even unintentionally, when we elevate other people, servanthood, and works of righteousness to places designed for God alone, we reap the fruits of serving that which isn't God. We recognized the destructive fruits of this at the beginning of this article.

Remember that the yoke, or burden, of Jesus is gentle and light. It is good to lay down our lives for others but we must do so in submission to God, not in submission to our fears, the opinions of others, or the ungodly demands of others. We must be able to separate bone from marrow, identifying our core motivations. Do we keep family peace because we feel we should? Because we feel more comfortable? Because it makes things easier? In doing so, do we enable the sin of others? Do we trust that God is able to work mightily, with or without our efforts?

I know intimately the struggles, the tensions, the tears that drive us to practice what is considered codependency. God is merciful, and knows our hearts and the pain that we feel; He sees the abuse, the offense, the lack of true righteousness that affects us.

I believe that the root of our codependent behavior is fear.

Fear that others will think we are ungodly.
Fear that we will be disliked or branded with hurtful labels.
Fear of pain.
Fear of neglect or abandonment.
Fear of stress and exhaustion.
Fear that God will not intervene.
Fear that we will walk "in the flesh".
Fear that we will be "disobedient".
Fear of verbal abuse.

I believe that one of the biggest keys to overcoming codependency lies in 1 John 4.

17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love Him because He first loved us.

Are we not deeply acquainted with the fear which involves torment? We must seek to be made perfect in love. Note the words: because as He is, so are we in this world. What a fellowship to have! As you face the situations that foster codependency in your relationships, facing the fear, the weariness, the torment, remember that Jesus is with you and has endured all kinds of abuse and abandonment . . . from the religious leaders of the land, as well as those closest to Him in His hour of deepest need.

In addition to love, faith is the key to victory over the things of the world, which includes sin, and our struggles with our own nature and the sinfulness of others.

1 John 5 4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?


As you journey and begin to recognize and seek healing from codependent behavior, cling to your Source for wisdom, strength, and the love that you need. Allow yourself the grace to make mistakes without berating yourself, for while mistakes are deeply disparaged in many families, they are not so with God. He is patient and kind, drawing us towards Him with tenderness and love. You will learn much about yourself as you recover; more importantly, you will grow in your walk and relationship with God. It is worth every agonizing step.

5 comments:

  1. Thank you so very much for your blog Hilary - it's been my comfort over the last few weeks. I'm really looking forward to your book.

    -Agnes

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Hillary! This is an amazing piece of writing. Thanks for all of the hard work that you put into getting the Truth of the Lord Jesus out there! You are a woman of courage, faith, strength, and inspiration!

    Heather

    ReplyDelete
  3. Many years ago, there was this country/western song called "Down on Bitter Creek" or "Cripple Creek". It basically describes a co-dependent woman the singer is pining for.

    The chorus of the song goes:
    "A Drunkard's Dream if I ever have seen one".

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you so much for posting this. I am crying reading it. I finally know why I feel and act the way I do and I am so grateful. I am not a failure, and I can overcome this. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for this list, I've been studying co-dependency for awhile, realizing about a year ago that I have some of these issues...especially "the rules" listed last. And the protective nature and again, I recognize fear being at the root. I struggle with intimacy, wanting to be close to others, but ultimately pushing them away. There are a lot of things that play into this , from my past/childhood and personality, but with God's help I am working on overcoming this.

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