Why people confuse co-dependency for “Christian traits"
At it’s most basic level, “Codependency is beyond a healthy commitment. It is a state of being dependent on another person for more than just a mutual bond - but for your very sense of self” (Out of the Fog by Dana Morningstar). If you’re wondering more about what co-dependency is, read about that here.
I would say at least half of my practice these days is filled with people struggling with co-dependent behavior. On the outside, the “sacrificial” element of co-dependency can seem like a real Christian thing to do. In reality, it’s far from it.
Someone who is struggling with co-dependency is often in a relationship with someone who has unhealthy behavior - like an addiction, is abusive or a narcissist, a workaholic, or has anger outbursts, for example.
Why this co-dependent behavior can look “Christian” is because the partner often looks like they are “loving” and sacrificing for the other person's needs.
When we put the weight of loving someone entirely on ourselves and try to fix them or meet their every need, we don’t leave much room for God. Yes, we are to love and build others up, but leave room for God to do what only He can do. We are, often, actually robbing others of experiencing the gift of conviction when we try and rescue or fix them/their problems. Don’t deprive them of that!
Here’s a woman’s testimony of her experience with co-dependency and the church:
“I grew up in a Christian home and was very active in the church, always volunteering and spending most of my free time there. During my prime youth group days, I got into a relationship. What I didn’t realize at the time was that he was actually very abusive. Based on what I’d heard in the church I thought I was just loving him when I would put up with his anger, threats, and abuse. When he tore me down, I made the false assumption that I was doing as Christ calls us to do and “laying down my life,” “turning the other cheek,” “love as Christ loved us,” and being a “submissive woman.” In doing these things, I put my life in real jeopardy. The worst part is, people in my Christian circle encouraged these behaviors of mine. Mistaking enduring abuse as being a good Christian woman.” (used with permission).
This, sadly, is a familiar tale I hear often.
Let’s say you, too, are in an emotionally abusive relationship. To “endure” mistreatment isn’t loving someone through their mess. It’s you enabling the person’s sin while walking on eggshells out of fear (which can be mistaken for maintaining “peace”).
In reality, you’re giving up who you are as a person. There is a big difference between sacrificing for someone and loving them well versus giving up your voice and your personhood for the sake of another.
Christianity needs to let go of the idea that loving someone means forgetting ourselves entirely. We cannot truly love someone unless we know we are loved and taken care of. When we partake in this type of “love,” it is often to fill a wound in our own lives. We are trying to rescue, fix, or endure to gain some sort of acceptance, worth or love. It’s actually “loving” with an agenda to meet your own needs.
Co-dependency at its core is a lack of identity. i.e., we find our identity in “fixing” the other person. If you want to use Christian language - that means the other person is an idol in your life.
When we find our identity in Christ alone, and not in any relationship or person, it frees us up to truly love others the way the gospel intends. Your soul is satisfied knowing that you are deeply understood and fully loved. There’s then no agenda when you’re serving or loving another, just genuine, authentic love that meets another person where they’re at. When we know our value, we love others according to their God-given value, too. No agenda, no ulterior motives, just love.