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Posts tagged ‘breaking codependency’

Codependency and Parenting: Break the Cycle in Your Family

SOURCE:   Kathy Hardie-Williams, MEd, MS, NCC, LPC, LMFT/

There are some common misunderstandings about what codependency is. It used to be that when one heard the term codependency, it was associated with being in a relationship with someone addicted to drugs or alcohol. The term codependency is now more commonly associated with being emotionally dependent on others in relationships. While we are all emotionally dependent on others to some degree, when we make decisions that go against our value system in order to avoid rejection and anger, we are creating a codependent dynamic within the family system.

As parents, we want to avoid family dynamics that perpetuate codependency. Research (1999) indicates that patterns within the family system can be passed down through generations. Parents need to be aware of codependent patterns within the family system so that they can recognize when it’s necessary to break the cycle. If the cycle continues and is passed down as codependency patterns within the family system, the children may be likely to enter into codependent relationships and pass codependency patterns down to their children as well.

Some behaviors for parents to be aware of in order to recognize and avoid perpetuating codependency patterns include:

Being too rigid: When parents are so controlling of their children’s behavior that children don’t have the opportunity to explore their own choices, parents send a message to their children that they aren’t responsible for their choices and that someone else has all the power. Their children may then be more likely to choose relationships where they feel powerless.

Using your child to get your needs met: Parents need to ensure that they get their own needs met in other areas of their life such as hobbies, work, and relationships so that they don’t live vicariously through their children. Parents who live vicariously through their children risk sending their children the message that they must have their parents’ approval. While it is normal for children to go through a phase where they seek their parent’s approval, the need for parental approval could carry on into adulthood.

Acting on the desire to solve their problems: When children talk about their problems, parents need to listen more without offering advice as opposed to becoming reactive and/or trying to rescue children from their problems. If given the opportunity through a safe place to explore their feelings and options, children may be more successful at learning how to solve their own problems. Parents can provide support to encourage their children to be creative in finding ways to solve their problems.

When parents come up with a plan of action instead of allowing their children to develop a plan of action, they are interfering with the opportunity to develop problem solving skills. Children then receive the message that they are not capable of solving their own problems and that someone else needs to solve their problems for them. As adults, they could potentially be more likely to enter into relationships where they are told what to do.

How Can Parents Avoid Perpetuating Codependency Patterns Within the Family System?

In order to avoid passing down codependency patterns within the family system, parents need to facilitate children in developing a strong sense of self. By implementing some of these practices, parents can be proactive in helping their children develop a solid and healthy sense of self-esteem:

  • Be mindful of their safety, but give children the freedom and opportunity to solve their own problems.
  • Don’t emotionally neglect children.
  • Don’t be overly controlling or overly pampering. Doing so may result in some children creating a dependency on others and an inability to make independent decisions, while other children take on too much responsibility and are forced to give up their childhood.
  • Be mindful of your own patterns of behaviors such as passive-aggressive comments, giving children the silent treatment, disrespecting children’s boundaries, or being dependent on children for emotional support.
  • Encourage positive self-talk.
  • Teach children that value doesn’t come from pleasing a parent.
  • Parents need to practice self-care and ensure they are taking care of their own needs. This will help a parent avoid building resentment that often gets turned inward.


Burris, C. T. (1999). Stand by your (exploitive) man: Codependency and responses to performance feedback. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 18(3), 277-298. Retrieved from


Am I Helping or Harming Others?

SOURCE:  Living Free/Dr. Jimmy Ray Lee

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” Colossians 2:6-8 NIV

Codependency can be compared to seasickness. If you have ever been seasick, the image will have an especially powerful impact.

One cause of seasickness is the motion of the boat, tossed about by waves. But the primary reason people get seasick is that they don’t have a stationary object on which to focus. The horizon moves up and down, and the water keeps moving too. That causes the balance mechanism to overload, and the results can be quite unpleasant.themselves.

The key word is focus.

Are we focused on Christ, or are we trying to focus on the circumstances that keep turning and swirling and changing? When a loved one is trapped in a life-controlling problem, we can be drawn into focusing all our attention and energy on that problem. This leads to all kinds of unpleasantness. But when we focus on Christ, all areas of life come into balance, including our relationships.

We all need to look at whether we are helping or harming the struggling people in our lives. Although we cannot change overnight, we can begin the process. We can start by telling our loved ones we are going to stop harming them by trying to fix their problems or protecting them from the consequences of their bad choices. Then we must turn our focus to Christ and allow him to develop the much-needed balance in our life.

I have focused on circumstances and allowed them to overwhelm me. Help me turn my focus back to Jesus. I know that only then will I find peace and calm. Only then can I become the person you have designed me to be. And only then will I be able to help others; your way. In Jesus’ name . . .


These thoughts were drawn from …


Close—But Not Too Close by Dr. Jimmy Ray Lee.

Codependency: Balancing an Unbalanced Relationship

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.

The Cycle

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.
—June Hunt


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.

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