In its broadest sense, co-dependency can be defined as an addiction to people, behaviors or things. To the co-dependent, control or the lack of it is central to every aspect of life.
We are co-dependent because we allow the behavior of another person to affect our behavior so that we become consumed with that person and their problems.
As a co-dependent, you:
- Assume responsibility for others' feelings and behaviors.
- Feel guilty about others' feelings and behaviors.
- Have difficulty identifying what you are feeling.
- Have difficulty expressing feelings.
- Are afraid of your own anger, yet sometimes erupt in rage.
- Worry about how others may respond to your feelings, opinions, and behavior.
- Have difficulty making decisions.
- Are afraid of being hurt and/or rejected by others.
- Minimize, alter or deny how you truly feel.
- Are very sensitive to how others are feeling and feel the same.
- Are afraid to express differing opinions or feeling.
- Value others opinions and feelings more than your own.
- Put other people's needs and desires before your own.
- Embarrassed to receive recognition and praise, or gifts.
- Judge everything you think, say, or do harshly, as never "good enough."
- Are a perfectionist.
- Are extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long.
- Do not ask others to meet your needs or desires.
- Do not perceive yourself as lovable and worthwhile.
- Compromise your own values and integrity to avoid rejection or others' anger.
We don't have to live this way! We do have a choice. Through God's help we can learn to take responsibility for our own lives and allow others to take responsibility for theirs. Jesus taught the value of the individual. He said we are to love others equal to ourselves, not more than ourselves. The love of self forms the basis for loving others.
With Jesus Christ as our Higher Power we learn how to apply the 8 Recovery Principles and 12 Steps, designed to guide us through the journey we call "Recovery." If we are diligent to provide willingness, integrity, consistency and rigorous honesty, God will supply us with courage, strength and the ability to take the necessary steps to gain freedom from our compulsive behaviors.
In the context of caring and loving relationships, we learn to recognize our dependence upon God. We are then able to take a penetrating look at ourselves, and inventory both our own and other's contributions to our lives which have brought us to where we are today. As our defects of character are unearthed, we are able to come clean to ourselves, to God and to safe people. When our secrets cease, our freedom will increase. God provides us with tools and a will to do what we once thought impossible.
We begin to see relationships restored, old animosities put to rest and lives pieced back together. We learn to take daily inventory that we might continue to walk in truth, light and freedom. Most importantly, we can draw closer to God than ever before. We are being used by Him to share our lives and God's miracles with others that they might experience the hope and healing that we have experienced.
A Definition of Co-dependent Sobriety
Co-dependent sobriety is somewhat different in nature in that we do not have a substance from which to abstain. Our addiction is more relational in nature. The key is learning how to have healthy relationships and how to establish and enforce appropriate boundaries that we may accurately establish where we end and another person begins.
Therefore, we define co-dependent sobriety as a faithful commitment to consistently work the program; which includes working or having worked through the Celebrate Recovery® Step Study Group; steady attendance at the Friday night meetings; and responsibility to a Sponsor and Accountability Partners. We advocate journaling, daily inventory, transparency and rigorous honesty.
Enabling is defined as reacting to a person in such a way as to shield him or her from experiencing the full impact of the harmful consequences of behavior. Enabling behavior differs from helping in that it permits or allows the person to be irresponsible.
- Protecting others from natural consequences of behavior
- Keeping secrets about behavior from others in order to keep the peace
- Making excuses for another person's negative behavior to schools, friends, legal authorities, work, or other family members
- Bailing others out of trouble: debts, tickets, lawyers, jobs, rent, etc.
- Blaming others for the dependent person's behavior: friends, teachers, employers, family, yourself
- Seeing the problem as the result of something else: shyness, adolescence, loneliness, child, broken home
- Avoiding the chemically dependent person in order to keep the peace; out of sight, out of mind
- Giving money that is undeserved or unearned
- Attempting to control activities, friends, job, etc.
- Making threats that have no follow through or consistency
- Taking care of the chemically dependent person by doing what they should be expected to do for themselves
Co-dependency and Christian Living
On the surface, co-dependency may sound like Christian teaching:
- "Co-dependents always put others first, before taking care of themselves." (Aren't Christians supposed to put others first?)
- "Co-dependents give themselves away." (Shouldn't Christians do the same?)
- "Co-dependents martyr themselves." (Christianity honors its martyrs.)
These statements have a familiar ring to them, don't they? Then how can we tell the difference between co-dependency, which is unhealthy, and mature faith, which is healthy?
- I have little or no value
- Other people and situations have all the value
- I must please other people regardless of the cost to myself or my values
- Other people are allowed to use me without protest
- I must give myself away
- If I claim any rights for myself, I'm being selfish
Jesus taught the value of the individual. He said that we are to love others equal to ourselves, not more than ourselves. A love of self forms the basis for loving others. The difference between a life of service and co-dependency takes several forms. Motivation differs. Does the individual give his service and himself out of free choice or because he considers himself out of free choice or because he considers himself of no value? Does he seek to "please people"? Does he act out of guilt and fear? Does he act out of the need to be needed (which means he actually uses the other person to meet his own needs).
- Service should be an active choice; the person acts, co-dependency reacts.
- Co-dependent behavior is addictive, rather than balanced. Addictions control the person instead of the person being in charge of their life.
- Co-dependents have a poor sense of boundaries. They help others inappropriately (where it creates dependency on the part of the other person, rather than moving that person toward independence). They have trouble setting limits for themselves and allow others to invade their boundaries.
- A co-dependent's sense of self-worth is tied up in helping others. Christianity says that a person has worth simply because he is a human being created and loved by God.
- Co-dependents have difficulty living balanced lives. They do for others at the neglect of their own health and well being. Christian faith calls for balanced living and taking care of oneself.
- Co-dependent helping is joyless. Christian service brings joy.
- Co-dependents are driven by their inner compulsions. Christians are God-directed and can be free from compulsive behaviors.