SOURCE: Adapted from an article by June Hunt
After 11 years of conflict, turmoil and tears, Patricia found the courage to end an on-again/off-again relationship with her abusive boyfriend. Yet instead of feeling relieved, she was overwhelmed with sadness and confused by thoughts of taking him back.
Desperate for direction, she called Hope In The Night, my live 2-hour call-in counseling broadcast, to share her heart:
I know I did the right thing by walking away, but all I can feel is sorrow. Why can’t I feel angry for how he treated me? Why can’t I just say, “Thank you, God” because he’s finally gone?
When I asked Patricia to explain more about her relationship, she described an enmeshed bond with a man whose substance abuse caused conflict and chaos. Early in their relationship, Patricia began regretting their choice to live together and asked him to move out. He moved alright – straight into another woman’s apartment. But four months later, he was back on Patricia’s doorstep. …
He vowed he’d always love me, so I allowed him back into my life. But he still smoked marijuana and abused pills. One day I finally told him I couldn’t do this anymore.
Clearly, Patricia yearned for God’s strength as she tried to make a fresh start, but her emotions had overtaken her reasoning, erasing memories of all the pain he had caused her.
She said …
In my head, I know breaking up was the right thing … but I can’t get my heart to follow. I still love him. How can I get to the point where my heart follows my head?
I shared John 12:35 with Patricia: “Walk while you have the light, before the darkness overtakes you” and then added, “True love – in its highest form – seeks the very best for the other person. As long as you support him in his destructive lifestyle, you are not loving him. To make matters worse, he will drag you down with him.”
For Patricia to experience lasting peace, I explained that she would need to deal with codependency – her role of obsessing over and being compulsively driven to help, please and rescue her boyfriend. Like so many codependent relationships, Patricia’s was founded on control and manipulation. She had formed an unbalanced, unhealthy attachment that had become obsessive. Her childhood history of being controlled and abandoned served as the perfect setup for her future dysfunctional relationships.
I reminded Patricia of God’s first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).
To expand on this, I said:
The message is clear. We must not allow any person to become our “god” … to take the place that He alone must occupy in our heart. A life excessively focused on another person’s needs, desires and well-being causes a misplaced dependency, which leads to a destructive cycle of control and manipulation.
For Patricia’s codependent wounds to heal and for her to experience the fullness of God’s peace, she would first need to place her total trust in the Lord alone. With relief in her voice, she said she understood and wanted to make a fresh start. She told me she had already trusted Jesus as her Savior. And now, in her desire to surrender to Him, she needed to allow the Lord to truly be Lord of her life.
Colossians 1:27 says it “… is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Believe and count on this Scripture to counter your fear of abandonment. Realize that you will never be abandoned. With Christ in you, you are never alone … never overlooked … never forgotten.
By the end of our conversation, Patricia confirmed her desire to begin a new life without her abuser, giving full control of her life to God. She affirmed that, whenever she started to feel controlled by emotion or to be drawn back into codependency, she would immediately say out loud, “I reject that feeling,” and then she would fill her mind with truths from God’s Word. She also made a commitment to join a codependency support group at her church and to seek out godly women in her life who could support her in her journey. Together we prayed, thanking God for His promise: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
Patricia’s story illustrates a dynamic that’s common in codependent relationships – the cycle of the “weak one” and the “strong one.” Here’s how it works:
The Weak One
As a child, the weak person had emotional needs that were never met by their parents. Later, as an adult, the weak person dreams of meeting and being swept away by a responsible, strong, take-charge fantasy mate. A woman may fantasize about her “knight in shining armor,” while a man may dream of finding a woman who idealizes and nurtures him. Weak people tend to be “love addicts,” continually yearning for someone else to complete them – to fulfill their emptiness and longings. Although they are strongly attracted to caregivers, they are terrified at the prospect of true emotional intimacy.
The Strong One
As a child, the strong person was enmeshed in an unhealthy relationship with a parent – often serving as the parent’s caregiver, confidant and/or surrogate spouse. (Typically, the other parent was absent, either emotionally or physically.) As an adult, the strong person needs to be needed and is drawn to struggling, vulnerable people who seem to need rescuing. Deep down, though, the strong person is terrified of being smothered in an intimate relationship.
When a strong person enters into a relationship with a weak person, they can easily become “addicted” to one another and yet live in denial about the addiction. To break the cycle, at least one of them must recognize the misplaced dependency and seek to become God-dependent.
Replacing an unhealthy need for another person with a healthy need for the Lord accomplishes two things: As individuals, their foundation becomes the love of God – an unconditional love that will never be taken away. Also, they need no longer fear being unloved or abandoned, and they are empowered to stand alone and grow as individuals, while encouraging the other person to reach their highest potential.
Shining God’s Light on Codependency
If codependency is undermining your relationships, I’d like to offer a couple of tools. The first is a checklist to assess core beliefs and thought patterns. The second helps identify codependent behavior patterns within relationships. Together, they can provide important information to help guide [one with] misplaced dependency, setting boundaries and healing childhood wounds.
Profile of a Codependent Person
Think about the person with whom you are closely involved, and then check the statements that apply to you:
__ I feel responsible for the feelings, needs and actions of the other person.
__ I try to fix the problems of this person, even to the detriment of my own well-being.
__ I know the thoughts, feelings and needs of this person, but I do not know my own.
__ I do things for others that they are capable of doing for themselves.
__ I feel angry when my help is not wanted.
__ I judge myself more harshly than I judge others.
__ I have been told that I deny my own feelings and needs.
__ I feel guilty when I stand up for myself.
__ I feel good about giving, but I have difficulty receiving.
__ I look for my worth in the approval of others.
__ I find that I am attracted to needy people and that needy people are attracted to me.
The Codependency Relationship Checklist
To help you determine whether you’re involved in a codependent relationship, check the following statements that apply to you:
__ Do you struggle with feeling loved and, therefore, look for ways to be needed?
__ Do you throw all of your energy into helping someone else?
__ Do you have difficulty saying no when you should say yes, and do you say yes when you should say no?
__ Do you feel compelled to take charge of another person’s crisis?
__ Do you feel drawn to people whom you think need to be rescued from their problems?
__ Do you have difficulty setting boundaries with others and then keeping those boundaries?
__ Do you find it difficult to identify and express your true feelings?
__ Do you rely on the other person in your relationship to make most of the decisions?
__ Do you feel lonely, sad and empty when you are alone?
__ Do you feel threatened when the person closest to you spends time with someone else?
__ Do you think other people’s opinions are more important than your opinion?
__ Do you refrain from speaking in order to keep peace?
__ Do you fear conflict because the other person could abandon you?
__ Do you become defensive about your relationship with another person?
__ Do you feel stuck in a relationship with another person?
__ Do you feel you have lost your personal identity in order to fit into another person’s world?
__ Do you feel controlled and manipulated by another person?
__ Do you feel used and taken advantage of by another person?
__ Do you plan your life around another person?
__ Do you prioritize your relationship with another person over your relationship with the Lord?
A “yes” response to four or more of these questions means that [one] may be involved in a codependent relationship.
I conclude our Biblical Counseling Keys on Codependency with the following focus on living a life of freedom by maintaining a “releasing” mind-set. Freedom from codependency represents the highest and best thing we can do for ourselves … and for those we love.
Releasing is not to stop loving you,
but is to love enough to stop leaning on you.
Releasing is not to stop caring for you,
but is to care enough to stop controlling you.
Releasing is not to turn away from you,
but is to turn to Christ, trusting His control over you.
Releasing is not to harm you,
but is to realize my “help” has been harmful.
Releasing is not to hurt you,
but is to be willing to be hurt for healing.
Releasing is not to judge you,
but is to let the divine Judge judge me.
Releasing is not to restrict you,
but is to restrict my demands of you.
Releasing is not to refuse you,
but is to refuse to keep reality from you.
Releasing is not to cut myself off from you,
but is to prune the unfruitful away from you.
Releasing is not to prove my power over you,
but is to admit I am powerless to change you.
Releasing is not to stop believing in you,
but is to believe the Lord alone will build character in you.
Releasing you is not to condemn the past,
but is to cherish the present and commit our future to God.
See also Melody Beattie, Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself (New York: Harper, 1987), 29–30; June Hunt, Codependency: Balancing an Unbalanced Relationship, The Biblical Counseling Keys (Dallas: HOPE FOR THE HEART, 2008), 7–8.
Hunt, Codependency:Balancing an Unbalanced Relationship, 31.
Names have been changed to protect anonymity.
HOPE FOR THE HEART CEO & Founder June Hunt is a dynamic Christian leader whose life work has yielded landmark contributions in the field of Christian counseling. An author, singer, and speaker, she founded HOPE FOR THE HEART in 1986. Throughout the two decades since then, the organization has offered hope and help through biblically-based counsel and encouragement to people in more than 60 countries.