SOURCE: June Hunt
The primary problem with codependency can be called “idolatry”—giving a greater priority to anything or anyone other than God Himself. Our God is the One who created you and who has a wonderful plan for your life. He is the Lord who loves you and knows how to fulfill you.
If you are in a codependent relationship:
• Your excessive care causes you to compromise your convictions.
• Your excessive loyalty leaves you without healthy boundaries.
• Your excessive “love” allows you to say yes when you should say no.
However, our Maker and Master has the right to have primary rule in our hearts and over our lives. Any other substitute is simply idolatry. The Bible says …
“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)
Key Passage to Read and Reread
Notice two thoughts in this passage that seem to be in opposition to one another:
“If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.” (Galatians 6:1–5)
Does Scripture Contradict Itself?
Verse 2 says, “Carry each other’s burdens,” and verse 5 says, “Each one should carry his own load.”
Since these two clear-cut directives seem contradictory to each other, which one is true? When you carefully analyze what is being said, there is no contradiction.
• Verse 1—Gently encourage another person to change from negative behavior, but beware of your own temptation.
• Verse 2—The Greek word for “burden” is baros, which means “weight,” implying a load or something that is pressing heavily. When you help carry what is too heavy for someone else to bear alone, your caring response fulfills the law of Christ.
• Verse 5—The Greek word for “load” is phortion, which means “something carried.” Clearly, when you carry what others should carry, you are not wise. You are not called by God to relieve others of their rightful responsibilities.
CONCLUSION: Those who are codependent try to get their needs met by carrying loads that others should be carrying. To move out of a codependent relationship, both individuals need to quit trying to be the other person’s “all-in-all” and instead encourage each other to take responsibility for their own lives and to live dependently on the strength of God.
KEY VERSE TO MEMORIZE
No other verse in the Bible is better at helping us set our priorities straight, put our relationships in the right order. We must put “first things first” or else we, in our relationships, will never have the fulfillment that God has planned for us.
“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)
RECOVERY STEP #1: Confront Your Own Codependency
Codependency does not flow from an unchangeable personality flaw or some genetic fluke. A codependent relationship is rooted in immaturity, a fact that should give great hope to those caught in its addictive cycle. While change is never easy, growing up is always within the grasp of anyone who desires to move from immaturity to maturity.
Any of us can move from codependency to a healthy, mutual give-and-take in our relationships. The key to change is motivation. What kind of motivation? When your pain in the relationship is greater than your fear of abandonment, the motivation for change is powerful. Moving away from the pain of codependency then becomes a matter of choice and commitment. If you feel that the relationship you are in is more a curse than a blessing—when it brings more death to your soul than life—this is motivation for change.
“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you … may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.” (Deuteronomy 30:19–20)
• Confront the Fact That You Are Codependent.
▆ Admit the truth to yourself. Before you can be free from the grasp of codependency, you must be honest with yourself about your emotional addiction to another person.
▆ Admit the truth to someone else. Identify the beliefs and behaviors that have perpetuated your emotional addiction and share them with an objective, trusted friend.
▆ Admit the truth to God. Realize that your emotional addiction is a serious sin in the eyes of God. Choose now to confess it to Him.
“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16)
• Confront the Consequences of Your Codependency.
▆ Accept responsibility for how your past experiences and reactions have hurt your adult relationships (such as your becoming manipulative, controlling, possessive, or angry).
▆ Accept responsibility for the pain you have caused yourself because of your codependency (such as your becoming jealous, envious, selfish, or obsessive).
▆ Accept responsibility for the ways in which your codependency has weakened your relationship with God (such as a loss of quantity time, quality time, and intimacy with the Lord).
“He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)
• Confront Your Painful Emotions.
▆ Understand that you will have pain no matter what you choose. If you leave the codependent relationship, you will hurt, but if you stay, you will hurt. However, the only hope for future healing is leaving the codependent lifestyle.
▆ Understand that when the intensity of the relationship diminishes you will experience emotional “withdrawal” from the exhilarating highs.
▆ Understand that you will need the support of others to get you through the initial pain of withdrawal and to help you avoid anesthetizing your pain with a “secondary addiction.”
“Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel.” (Proverbs 27:9)
• Confront Your “Secondary Addictions.”
▆ Recognize that, in an effort to numb the emotional pain of the relationship, codependency often leads to other addictions, such as a chemical dependency, sexual addiction, compulsive eating, or excessive spending.
▆ Recognize your “secondary addictions”; then seek counseling and spiritual support to overcome them.
▆ Recognize that recovery from a “secondary addiction” is dependent on recovery from your primary addiction.
“The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out.” (Proverbs 18:15)
• Confront Your Current Codependent Relationship.
▆ Acknowledge your codependent role in the relationship and cease relating through codependent patterns.
▆ Acknowledge your destructive behaviors. (Write them down.) Then replace them with constructive behaviors. (Write them down.)
▆ Acknowledge the natural pain of emotional withdrawal (common to the healing of addictions) and focus on God’s supernatural purpose (conforming you to the character of Christ).
“Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Romans 8:29)
• Confront Your Codependent Focus.
▆ Stop focusing on what the other person is doing and start focusing on what you need to do in order to become emotionally healthy.
▆ Stop focusing on the other person’s problems and start focusing on solving your own problems (those resulting from your neglect of people and projects in your life).
▆ Stop focusing on trying to change the other person and start focusing on changing yourself.
“The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception.” (Proverbs 14:8)
• Confront Your Codependent Conflicts.
▆ Do not allow yourself to become trapped in heated arguments or to become emotionally hooked by the bad behavior of the other person. Instead, say to yourself several times, I will not argue—and then disengage from the conflict. Decide ahead of time that, when agitation begins, you will distance yourself.
▆ Do not defend yourself when you are unjustly blamed. Instead, say only once, “I’m sorry you feel that way. That doesn’t reflect my heart.”
▆ Do not be afraid to leave if the conflict continues. State, “I will be gone for a while.” Then calmly walk away.
“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.” (2 Timothy 2:23)
• Confront Your Codependent Responses.
▆ Remind yourself that “problem people” have the right to choose wrong. Don’t react to their problem behavior—they are independent of you.
▆ Remind yourself not to return insult for insult—refuse to raise your voice.
▆ Remind yourself that your Christlike role is to respond with respect—even when others are disrespectful.
“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. … But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:9, 15–16)
• Confront What You Need to Leave in Order to Receive.
▆ Leave your childhood and your dependent thinking. (I can’t live without you.) Then enter into healthy adulthood. (I want you in my life, but if something were to happen, I could still live without you.) That is reality.
▆ Leave your immature need to be dependent on someone else and embrace your mature need to be dependent on the Lord, who will make you whole within yourself.
▆ Leave your fantasy relationships (thinking, You are my “all-in-all”) and instead nurture several balanced relationships of healthy give-and-take.
“Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (Proverbs 27:6)
• Confront Your Need to Build Mature Non-Codependent Relationships.
▆ Establish several interdependent relationships—not just one exclusive relationship. You need mature relationships in which your codependency issues can be resolved and your needs can be met in healthy ways.
▆ Establish emotionally balanced relationships without being needy of the extreme highs and lows of codependent relationships.
▆ Establish personal boundaries in all of your relationships, saying no when you need to say no and holding to your no.
“Let us … go on to maturity.” (Hebrews 6:1)
RECOVERY STEP #2: Look at Your Past Love Addictions
One effective way to confront codependent love relationships is by using the “written word.” Spelling out your thoughts, feelings, and actions will actually distance them from you so that you can look at them. Putting your relationships on paper helps paint a more complete picture, which in turn enables you to gain insights and devise a recovery plan. Putting your life on paper is not easy, but until you are ready to take a close look at your love addiction, you cannot expect to change it.
Write down the history of your codependent love relationships. First ask the Spirit of God to bring to mind what you need to know and then to teach you what you need to do. He will give you both understanding and wisdom to know how to free yourself of the fettered addictions and how to live in His glorious freedom.
“He who gets wisdom loves his own soul; he who cherishes understanding prospers.” (Proverbs 19:8)
Make a list of every person with whom you have had a codependent relationship. Think through your family and friends. Put each name at the top of a separate page and then answer the following questions for each relationship:
1. Write out …
• How did you meet and how were you attracted to this person?
• How did you pursue and draw this person to you?
• How did you feel and what did you fantasize about this person?
Conclude by answering …
• How do you think God felt about your choices?
• Realize that the Lord is ready to meet your deepest emotional needs. Yet, when we live with misplaced priorities, the Bible says we commit spiritual adultery.
“I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me, and by their eyes, which have lusted after their idols. They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices.” (Ezekiel 6:9)
2. Write out …
• How did the relationship progress through various stages (Fascination, Fantasy, Fog, Fear, Forsaking, Fixation, Frenzy)?
• How did you feel in each stage?
• How did you act during each stage?
Conclude by answering …
• How did you fail to involve God in your life during each stage?
• Realize how ready the Lord has been to intervene.
“When I came, why was there no one? When I called, why was there no one to answer? Was my arm too short to ransom you? Do I lack the strength to rescue you? By a mere rebuke I dry up the sea, I turn rivers into a desert; their fish rot for lack of water and die of thirst. I clothe the sky with darkness and make sackcloth its covering.” (Isaiah 50:2–3)
3. Write out …
• How did you become preoccupied with the relationship?
• How did you start neglecting yourself and start focusing on taking care of the other person?
• How did you come to expect that person to meet all of your needs?
Conclude by answering …
• How did you start neglecting God and when did you stop relying on Him?
• Realize how ready the Lord has been to make you fruitful.
“I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?” (Jeremiah 2:21)
4. Write out …
• How has this relationship replicated your painful childhood experiences?
• How were you mistreated in the relationship and how did you react?
• How does the relationship impact you today?
Conclude by answering …
• How is God replacing (or wanting to replace) your self-destructive, love-addicted patterns with constructive, healthy, holy patterns?
• Realize how ready the Lord is to “re-parent” you in order to meet your deepest needs and heal your deepest hurts.
“Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.” (Psalm 27:10)
5. Write out …
• How have you experienced fear, envy, jealousy, abandonment, and anger in the relationship?
• How did you assign a higher priority to this person than to everything else?
• How have you made the person the focus of your thought life?
Conclude by answering …
• How can you appropriate “the mind of Christ” in order to overcome destructive feelings and to live out of your resources in Christ?
• Realize how ready the Lord has been to give you His thinking.
“We have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:16)
6. Write out …
• How do you feel about the person and the relationship now?
• How has your perspective changed?
• How did things, people, and circumstances become factors in changing your perspective?
Conclude by answering …
• How do you think God has been involved in changing your perspective?
• Realize how ready the Lord is to complete His perfect plan for your life.
“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)
RECOVERY STEP #3: Get on the Road to Interdependent Relationships
We all love to see pictures of babies and then to see their stair step growth into young adulthood. Built within little, immature children is the ability to grow to maturity. Why should it be any less for immature adults? They too can move from their immaturity and develop mature relationships.
Once we understand the goal of each developmental stage for reestablishing healthy relationships, we can set out to accomplish those goals—without the aid of earthly parents. Many have done this by “taking the hand” of the heavenly Father and allowing Him to “re-parent” them. You too can do this by having a plan and then working your plan with the caring support of others. It is an enormously important journey with enormously gratifying rewards. This is the journey God intended for you to take from the beginning.
“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
• Make it your goal to develop an intimate relationship with God and to form interdependent relationships with significant people in your life.
▆ Commit to becoming actively involved in a group Bible study and in group prayer.
▆ Commit to reading God’s Word on a daily basis and memorizing Scripture.
▆ Commit to finding an accountability group and a Christian “relationship mentor” who will be available to you, spend time with you on a regular basis, be honest with you, and coach you in your relationships.
“Let us not give up meeting together … but let us encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:25)
• Make a plan to move toward maturity in your relationships.
▆ Ask God to help you discern where you are stuck in the relationship developmental stages.
▆ Ask your mentor or another wise person to help you identify your relationship needs (for example, sharing, problem-solving, listening, negotiating).
▆ Ask your accountability group to hold you accountable to establish appropriate goals in order to meet each of your relationship needs.
“Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4)
• Make your relationship with your parents complete.
▆ Choose to resolve any unhealthy patterns with your parents. Break any unhealthy bond and, if possible, establish mature, adult bonds with each parent.
▆ Choose to not be emotionally enmeshed, needy, or controlled by your parents. If necessary, separate yourself emotionally until you can respond in a healthy way with “no strings attached.”
▆ Choose to identify and process your “family of origin” problems, forgive your offenders, and grieve your losses. Say, “That was then; this is now.”
“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)
• Make a vow to be a person of integrity in thought, word, and deed.
▆ Learn to free yourself of any family secrets—refuse to carry them any longer.
▆ Learn to listen, to say no, to set boundaries, to give and receive, and to ask for what you need from people. Then practice, practice, practice these new, healthy patterns.
▆ Learn to feel your feelings, to express hurt, and to withdraw and think about what you need to do or say. Write out your action plan; rehearse it; then do it.
“Prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.” (1 Peter 1:13–15)
• Make a new job description.
▆ My job is to discern the character of a person and to respond accordingly with maturity.
▆ My job is to be a safe person for my friends and family and to be present and attentive in my relationships.
▆ My job is to take care of myself and to be responsible for myself without hurting, punishing, attacking, getting even, or lying to myself or to others.
“I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live.” (Job 27:6)
• Make a new commitment to yourself.
▆ I will let go of the “old,” self-centered me because I am growing into a “new,” Christ-centered me.
▆ I will exchange the lies I’ve believed about myself for God’s truth about me according to His Word.
▆ I will no longer betray myself by making immature choices, and I will redeem my past, bad choices by making good, mature choices.
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
• Make maturity, not emotional relationships, your highest goal.
▆ Focus on forming friendships in which you are free to learn, grow, and mature, not emotional attachments that lead to roller-coaster relationships.
▆ Focus on any potential relationships that might trigger your codependent tendencies and guard your heart from the emotional highs and lows.
▆ Focus on building relationships with trustworthy, mature Christians whose goal is Christlikeness.
▆ During a severe time of trial, David’s dear friend, Jonathan “helped him find strength in God.” (1 Samuel 23:16)
RECOVERY STEP #4: Find the Road to Freedom
When you are behaving in a codependent way, you are trying to get your needs met through a drive to “do it all” or to be another person’s “all-in-all.” However, you can “travel the road to recovery” by releasing your desire to control or to change the person you love.
RECOGNIZE that you are overly dependent on a person and instead place your dependency on God.
Admit that your codependency is a sin.
• Pray that God will give you the desire to put Him first and to please Him in all your relationships.
• Determine to look to the Lord to meet your needs for love, for significance, and for security.
• Realize that God did not create you to meet all the needs of another person.
“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)
EXAMINE your patterns of codependent thinking.
Don’t believe that pleasing people is always Christlike.
• Don’t think that you should always assume the role of peacemaker.
• Don’t fear losing the love of others when you allow them to suffer the consequences of their negative actions.
• Don’t say yes when you really believe you should say no.
“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” (Psalm 51:6)
LET GO of your “super responsible” mentality.
Confess that you are trying to be like God in the life of another person.
• Trust God to be actively working in the life of your loved one.
• Realize that you cannot make another person be dependable or responsible.
• Rest in God’s sovereign control over all people, events, and circumstances.
“What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.” (Exodus 18:17–18)
EXTEND forgiveness to those who have caused you pain.
Reflect on any type of abuse you have experienced in the past—verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual.
• What has been unjust and painful in your life?
• Whom do you need to forgive?
• Would you be willing to release this person and your pain to God?
• Choose to forgive again whenever your angry feelings resurface.
“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13)
APPROPRIATE your identity in Christ.
Learn to live out of your resources in Christ Jesus.
• Know the truth: “I can be emotionally set free because Christ lives in me.”
“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)
• Believe the truth: “I can change my dependency on people through the power of Christ in me.”
“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)
• Appropriate the truth: “I will nurture only healthy, godly relationships because I have been given Christ’s divine nature.”
“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Peter 1:3–4)
SET healthy boundaries.
Communicate the necessity for change.
“I realize that I have not been responding to you in a healthy way. I have been far too dependent on you to meet my needs. And I have sought to meet all of your needs. I am committed to having healthy relationships and to putting God first in my life. I know that I have had negative responses to you, and I intend to begin having positive responses by making decisions based on what is right in the eyes of God.”
• Establish what you need to ask forgiveness for.
“I realize I was wrong for _________ (not speaking up when I should have, not being the person I should have been in this relationship, etc.). Will you forgive me?”
• Establish what your limits of responsibility will be.
“I feel responsible for _________. But I am not responsible for _________ (making you happy, making you feel significant, etc.). I want you to be happy, but I don’t have the power to make you happy.”
• Establish your limits of involvement.
“I want to do with/for you, but I don’t feel led by God to do .”
“The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.” (Proverbs 27:12)
EXCHANGE your emotional focus for spiritual focus.
Make God and your spiritual growth your first priority.
• Attend an in-depth Bible study in order to learn the heart of God and to grow spiritually with the people of God.
• Memorize sections of Scripture in order to put God’s Word in your heart and to learn the ways of God.
• Redirect your thoughts to the Lord and take “prayer walks” (talking out loud to the Lord as you walk regularly in your neighborhood or on a trail).
“Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight. Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.” (Psalm 119:35–37)
The cure for codependency is rooted in developing an ever-deepening relationship with the Lord. Your increased intimacy with Him will naturally conform you to His character. When you let the Lord live inside you, you can live in His power. This means that because Christ was not codependent, you have His power to overcome codependency.
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
PRAYER OF FORGIVENESS
“God, You know the pain
I experienced in my past.
I don’t want to keep carrying all this pain for the rest of my life.
I release (list hurts) into Your hands,
and I ask You to heal my emotional pain.
Lord, You know what (name of person) has done to hurt me.
As an act of my will, I choose to forgive (name).
I take (name) off my emotional hook
and put (name) onto Your emotional hook.
Thank You, Lord Jesus, for setting me FREE.
In Your holy name I pray. Amen.”
“Lord Jesus, I renounce as a lie
the thought that I could ever be
truly abandoned or alone.
Thank You that You will
never abandon me
or leave me without support.
Thank You that no matter what I do
or what my circumstances,
no matter who is in my life
or not in my life,
You will be with me and
provide for my needs.
Thank You that Your plans for me
are for my good and that
You will carry them out.
Thank You that You are not
dependent on anything or anyone
other than Yourself to bring about
Your good intentions toward me.
I trust in You and You alone
to give me meaning and purpose and fulfillment in life.
In Your holy name I pray,
Help for an Unhealthy Relationship
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.
My Commitment Because of Christ in Me
Because Jesus lives in me … I will conquer codependency.
Because Christ was not a “people-pleaser” … I will not be a “people-pleaser.”
Because Christ refused to compromise … I will not yield to compromise.
Because Christ kept healthy boundaries … I will keep healthy boundaries.
Because Christ stood up to pressure … I will not cave in to pressure.
Because Jesus lives in me … I will conquer codependency!
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
Hunt, J. (2013). Codependency (june hunt hope for the heart). Torrance, CA: Aspire Press.