Many of us struggle with codependency. When addiction is present in a relationship, the old model was that the addict was “dependent” and his or her spouse was “codependent.” But today we know that usually both the addict and spouse struggle with codependency in its various forms.
Codependency happens when we lose touch with our sense of self, and become over-dependent on how other people are doing, and/or how they perceive us. Since we are not “okay” with ourselves, we have to work overtime to ensure that other people around us are doing okay, and/or that they feel good about us.
So we wind up tolerating things we shouldn’t tolerate, feeling responsible for things we shouldn’t feel responsible for, and compromising what we want simply in order to please someone else. This inevitably leads to distress and frustration, which causes the addict to move deeper into their addiction, and for the addict’s spouse to cope in other ways.
The issue of codependence is complicated for Christians, because it gets mixed up with our desire to love and serve other people. The Bible tells us to “consider others better than ourselves.” But the same Bible also tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves, which presupposes some sort of healthy self-regard. The Bible also portrays Jesus himself taking time away from the crowds – not being “nice” and doing what they want him to do – in order to rest and reconnect with God the Father.
The trick to living a recovery life in relationships with others is to know how to separate healthy love with unhealthy codependence.
Melody Beattie has been a great help for me over the years with her many books on this topic. One of her best books on this topic is a daily meditation book called “The Language of Letting Go.”
In another article on this blog, I wrote about codepedence, and quoted at length from her book. But it’s so good and helpful that I want to quote some more! What follows are some excerpts about the issue of “Property Lines”:
A helpful tool in our recovery, especially in the behavior we call detachment, is learning to identify who owns what. Then we let each person own and possess his or her rightful property.
If another person has an addiction, a problem, a feeling, or a self-defeating behavior, that is their property, not ours. If someone is a martyr, immersed in negativity, controlling, or manipulative, that is their issue, not ours.
If someone has acted and experienced a particular consequence, both the behavior and the consequence belong to that person.
People’s lies, deceptions, tricks, manipulations, abusive behaviors, inappropriate behaviors, cheating behaviors, and tacky behaviors belong to them, too. Not us.
People’s hopes and dreams are their property. Their guilt belongs to them too. Their happiness or misery is also theirs. So are their beliefs and messages.
If some people don’t like themselves, that is their choice. Their choices are their property, not ours. What people choose to say and do is their business.
What is our property? Our property includes our behaviors, problems, feelings, happiness, misery, choices, and messages; our ability to love, care, and nurture; our thoughts, our denial, our hopes and dreams for ourselves. Whether we allow ourselves to be controlled, manipulated, deceived, or mistreated is our business.
In recovery, we learn an appropriate sense of ownership. If something isn’t ours, we don’t take it. If we take it, we learn to give it back. Let other people have their property, and learn to own and take good care of what’s ours.
Today, I will work at developing a clear sense of what belongs to me, and what doesn’t. If it’s not mine, I won’t keep it. I will deal with myself, my issues, and my responsibilities.
If you want to learn more about codependence, consider signing up for the Recovery Journey, an e-course for people in recovery from sexual struggles. If you are the partner of someone who struggles, note that we have a special module with materials just for the partners. You can learn more about this program at the website: http://recoveryjourney.com