Tight-knit, familial relationships are amazing. When you feel like you know what someone is going to say or can finish their sentence, it’s really meaningful. Knowing someone deeply and being united is a powerful thing. It’s actually what God designed us for. He said it was “very” good.
However, codependency in a relationship is not good. This type of bond is unhealthy for everyone involved. Codependency can be mistakenly seen as a loving, connected relationship when in reality it’s a relationship built on need instead of love. Certainly love can exist in these types of relationships, but need is the driving force.
A “need” in this situation is when someone requires another person to fulfill their sense of worth, well-being, or identity. The issue with this from a biblical perspective (in addition to other relational, psychological, and health related issues) is that Jesus is the only person we are to “need” or “depend” on.
This article will begin with a discussion on the complexity of codependency and how it manifests in relationships. Following the issues, we will focus on the importance of looking to Jesus as our primary provider of all our needs.
Codependency and What it Looks Like
Codependency occurs when a person does not possess the internal resources to feel confident and secure. It can also be rooted in a lack of self or identity, thereby being forced to rely on someone else to provide them a sense of self/identity.
In a healthy upbringing, infants, toddlers, children, and adolescents develop internal resources from the people in their lives. As a result, they are prepared to be adults and are less likely to develop codependent relationships.
So, what does it look like? What are the characteristics and behaviors of codependency? In other words, what does it look like for someone to meet internal needs through external means? Here is a list of common examples. Please note these are written from a first person perspective to help you decide any if resonate with you personally.
- I take responsibility for other people’s behaviors and feelings.
- I change my plans regularly to make things work for you.
- I’m fearful of others hurting or rejecting me.
- I respond/react based on other people’s attitudes and actions.
- I will sacrifice my values to connect with others.
- The fear of rejections rules my behavior.
- My self-esteem is highly influenced by external influences, and I struggle to see the good in me.
- I avoid doing things independently from you because they would lack meaning.
- I use generosity as a way to feel connected and needed in our relationship.
- I have fewer friends since being involved with you.
- I am more aware of how you feel than how I feel.
- My sense of worth comes from you.
- My self-confidence comes from being liked by you.
- Your opinion is more important than my own.
- I’m overly loyal.
- I struggle to make decisions.
- I’m jealous when you spend time with other people.
- I’m overly critical of myself.
- I often hide how I really feel.
- I don’t ask or expect others to fulfill my desires or needs.
- I second guess or compromise my personal values to connect with other people.
- Other people’s opinions matter to me more than my own.
- I don’t know what I want—I know what you want.
- Your behavior is dictated by my desires as I feel you are a reflection of me.
- I will become whatever you want me to be in order to stay in the relationship.
- I feel out of place and lost when you are gone for more than a few days.
What becomes evident again and again in codependent behaviors and characteristics is the theme of being reliant on someone else. When you are a child, it’s appropriate and normal to be reliant on our primary caregivers for things like making decisions, safety, confidence, emotional understanding, and identity.
However, according to God’s design, as we grow older, we are meant to be less tied to and dependent on our primary caretakers and more reliant on ourselves.
For example, a child will likely need their mother or father to watch them jump off the diving board several times until they feel confident. But hopefully, this same child won’t need the same affirmation when he is 36 enjoying the pool at a barbeque.
Another example is when a child feels a little lost while their parents are away for the weekend. It’s natural for a kid to feel a bit uncomfortable while staying with extended family or a baby sitter. But hopefully, they won’t feel lost at the age of 28 when their significant other goes on a work trip.
God’s intention for us is to be less and less reliant on others for a sense of completion or identity. He doesn’t want us to be codependent. But, he also doesn’t want us to be disconnected from others. Disconnection definitely wasn’t his design.
So where is this headed? We’re not supposed to rely on people, but we alone can’t fill our own intrinsic needs? What’s going on? God, in his wisdom, designed us to look to Him and his son, Jesus Christ, as the true source of our worth, identity, and sense of wholeness.
Aside from our brief experience of dependence as a child, God does not intend for us to be totally dependent on someone or something else. He is the only true source of wholeness and freedom. Only He can make us feel secure. Codependency will never be able to provide the true and lasting peace founding in knowing our identity in Jesus.
The Great Exchange
So what is our ultimate identity in Christ? What is this marvelous new identity that makes a position in the royal family of England seem commonplace?
First, when we place our faith in Jesus Christ, we are adopted in as children of God. We are welcomed into God’s family. And what is more beautiful than being a child of God? In 1 John 3:1, the Apostle John states, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.”
When we are in a relationship with Jesus, we are also made complete. Colossians 2:10 reads, “So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority.” No one else can do that. No one can complete us. Not even the most codependent relationship can complete us. Jesus is the only one who is able to complete us. And what’s crazy is that he yearns to complete us.
According to John 15:14, when we are follow Christ, we will we obey him and Jesus says that we are His friend. This is a tremendous statement about our identity. When we are in Christ, we are not only saved but welcomed in as a friend. And talk about a good friend to have! Friends do everything from help you move to give you gifts. They cry and celebrate with you. But even the best friend can’t compare to the friendship Jesus offers.
When our identity is rooted in Christ, we are also loved with the most extravagant love. Colossians 3:12 states that we are “chosen of God, holy and dearly loved.”
Romans 8:38-39 further expounds on this love saying, “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow–not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.
One of the main desires in codependency is peace. Since you don’t feel peace with yourself, you search for it in someone else. Jesus promises us peace. We don’t have to seek it from other people or things. In John 14:27, Jesus states, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”
Finding our identity in Christ also gives us a sense of inadequacy. Codependency seeks to fill our needs to feel adequate through someone else. But the truth is you are adequate in Christ. You are a child of God. The Apostle Paul makes this very clear in 2 Corinthians 3:5, where he writes, “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.”
In light of these truths, I want to invite anyone reading this who identifies with codependency to exchange your codependent relationship for a relationship with Jesus. He will fulfill you in ways that codependency cannot, so you can finally release your compromised identity. He is the only thing that will truly satisfy your longing to be known and accepted.
Get Help for Your Codependent Relationship with Christian Counseling
If you are concerned you may be struggling with codependency, a professional therapist may be your best next step. A therapist is equipped and prepared to help you discover the source of your codependency and create healthy internal structures so you can be self-sufficient and confident.
Finding a Christian therapist is one of the best ways to rid yourself of codependency and to replace it with the truth. The truth is that Jesus fulfills all of our needs and a Christian therapist will be able to do the psychological, clinical work while encouraging you to find your true source of life in God. Go on and surrender the needs (codependency) to receive an abundance of good in Jesus, the one who can satisfy.
“Hold My Hand,” courtesy of Ezra Jeffery, magdeleine.co, CC0 Public Domain License; “Woman in Autumn”, Courtesy of Free-Photos, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Traveller”, Courtesy of Finding Dan, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Bible Reading”, Courtesy of Ben White, Unsplash.com, CC0 License