Breaking the Silence: Codependent

I asked for some suggestions on blog topics and have received a number of various ideas. While the topics themselves are unique, I noticed a common "theme" and that is most of these issues are never really addressed or talked about. (I'm not sure if I should be flattered that you all trust me to discuss such sensitive topics or offended that I am the one pegged to take the heat!) Either way, I'm going to do my best to tackle a few of these rarely discussed ideas in what I will call "Breaking the Silence." Disclaimer: While I do hold a master's in counseling, I am not a licensed practicing counselor, nor am I an expert. I am simply a willing vessel with an outlet called a blog and a lot of friends who trust me to seek God first and then write about it. So here goes...

"Why did the codependent person cross the road? .............
To help the chicken make a decision!"

"If you leave me, can I come too?" says the codependent person.

"Good morning, dear, how am I doing today?" 

I know. Bad humor. I'll stick to blogging and not quit my job to become a comedian. (However, these are recycled jokes.)

All kidding aside, there's some truth to the above humor. Codependent can actually be defined as an unhealthy addiction to a person or relationship.

Consider this definition by Dr. Edmund Bourne:
"Co-dependency can be defined as the tendency to put others needs before your own. You accommodate to others to such a degree that you tend to discount or ignore your own feelings, desires and basic needs. Your self-esteem depends largely on how well you please, take care of and/or solve problems for someone else (or many others)."
There are two types of codependent people. The needy person who requires fixing - this is the person who cannot make a decision without someone else's advice or assistance. (The one who asks, "How am I today?") The other type is the fixer - and this is the person who runs to the rescue of the "needy" person. (The one who helps the chicken.)

You can see how these two "naturally" go together. Without even trying, they find each other. The very essence of their codependency exists because of one another. Despite what may even come as an awareness of unhealthy behaviors and patterns in their relationship, they become so comfortable in the "uncomfortable" and they either can't, or choose not to, depart from the perpetuating cycle.

Needy verses being needed. "I need you to help me," versus "You can't survive without me." I've seen and experienced both sides. What I've also witnessed is the role reversal that a truly codependent team can play, meaning there are times when one takes on the role of being needed and other times when the same person becomes the needy party.

Much of this develops from family and environmental patterns that are established and learned early in life. Typically, this results from never discovering "Who I am" and developing their own individual identity.

This "Breaking the Silence" series will also come with practical steps. We can't simply address the problems - we must work to overcome them.

Consider Dr. Bourne's conclusion if this goes unaddressed:
"The consequences of maintaining a co-dependent approach to life is a lot of resentment, frustration and unmet personal needs. When these feelings and needs remain unconscious, they often resurface as anxiety -- especially chronic, generalized anxiety. The long-term effects of co-dependency are enduring stress, fatigue, burnout and eventually serious physical illness."
(Other research suggests diagnoses of generalized anxiety disorder all the way to sociopathic behavior. This is another topic for another day, but this solidifies my firm belief that along with real chemical and biological imbalances, environmental and circumstantial factors can be just as monumental in contributing to mental and emotional disorders.)

The fixer must stop trying to fix and control. Ah. I said it. Control. Underneath this pattern is a need to control. Recognize the inability to make people's choices for them and turn the desire to take care of people toward self-discovery. It becomes a regular act of surrender. "Lord, I give you ______ (person's name, situation, relationship, whatever is out of my control). Each and every time I am prompted to act, even when I know I should be still, I have to ask the Lord to intervene and stop me.

The needy person must also go through a journey of self discovery, and it may be harder for them to identify ways to overcome without gaining confidence in their own ability to make decisions. Working through fear and shame and calling on wisdom and direction from the Lord will help this person be mobilized out of their paralyzed state of indecision.

There's a shift in thinking that must occur. Rather than gaining self-esteem from being productive and helping others, I should strive to be productive which will bring about self-esteem. When I identify my abilities as part of my contribution, it affirms who I am and what I am capable of - instead of looking to people for approval or affirmation to tell me who I am and what I'm worth.

As always, I don't ask you to trust MY words but to hear HIS words:

"My salvation and my honor depend on God ; he is my mighty rock, my refuge."
Psalm 62:7

Your worth and your identity depend on GOD alone. You need not look to others to define or determine who you are. (Read Psalm 139)

"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 spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ."
Colossians 2:6-8

Oh here it is. Releasing yourself from the deception that can hold you captive - the false belief that you are who PEOPLE say you are. Being rooted in Christ and looking to Him to replace and break any chain that binds you to unhealthy relationships or cycles that seek to strip you of YOU.

"Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody."
I Thessalonians 4:9-12

Here's my take away from this passage: If you are codependent, you know you care about people - to an unhealthy extent. So your love for others isn't questioned. And while it may seem this verse is asking you to do "more," what I'd like to offer instead is to do more by doing less. I know it seems like a contradiction but just as verse 12 says to "mind your own business" this is the idea I was discussing above to be productive which will lead to gaining respect from others which ultimately builds self-esteem. AND - don't miss the end - where you are dependent on NO ONE. Get it?! I know. It's tough to swallow. But remember, I'm learning with you.

Today I'm praying for those who are seeking to break free of codependent tendencies and unhealthy relationships. As always, I invite you to share.


  1. I look forward to reading your future posts! I took a lot away from this post!

    I am now following your blog!

    1. Thanks! I'm glad it was a blessing to you. I'm following your blogs too. How did you find this post?

  2. Dr. Barnhouse,

    I am a survivor of domestic violence and director of a home for women in crisis. The domestice theme is "Break the silence on domestic violence". And purple is our color. So when I opened the link I was amazed at this connection because women directly stay in these violent situations because they are very co-dependent. Thanks so much for this avenue in which you share hope and educated women. I was both examples of the co-dependent person,to which God has so graciously transformed me so I can minister to others. Still there are times it raises its ugly head, but the difference is, NOW I reconize it and do the best I can to change it daily. You are young and a beautiful woman of God and I enjoyed this very much. God has great and mighty things ahead for you!

    Your student,
    Laura Nesbitt(53 year old grandma:)
    My Grandmothers name was Carrie, and I named by oldest Carrie. Beautiful name.


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