A friend writes in to ask about codependency. He works with addicts and wants to make sure that he approaches the theme from a viewpoint of biblical counseling. Since I worked in the same sort of ministry years ago, and wrote a little about the subject of the Christian and addiction, I’ve had some time to think through the theme.
My friend had read a blog from a ministry that implies that codependency is precisely what God wants from us, to depend on others, to regard others as better than ourselves, to serve others. The author freely uses the term “psycho-heresy” to describe those with whom he differs and seems to believe he has a corner on “biblical counseling.”
I would hope that I believe in “biblical counseling.” I like to see a distinctively biblical/Christian paradigm as the basis, guide and judge of all counseling methods. My biblical take on codependency: despite the overuse of the term, I do think it is a definable phenomenon that affects loved ones of addicts, victims of abuse, etc. Part of the Fall is that people crave to find both security and personal autonomy apart from God. The addict, for his/her part, seeks to control the world through the use of a substance or behavior. The codependent seeks to control his/her world by means of controlling the addict through pleasing, excusing, controlling, denial. So, I must define both addiction and codependency as spiritual issues, since they have to do with who is in control, primarily in one’s relationship with God, secondarily with the self and others.
While self-esteem is perhaps an issue in play, I find little help for the codependent in bolstering one’s self-esteem, setting boundaries, letting go of fear and other tools. Having healthier boundaries may be a part of the process, but what good are they if there isn’t One for whom you are ultimately living?
Besides which, all too often the “codependent” person achieves little success simply by seeking desired ends (better boundaries, personal dignity). We all have that one friend, who know all about the pop psychological remedies for codependency, but who simply will not or cannot put them into practice. What is needed is radical change from outside oneself, not more knowledge.
I would highly recommend this book by Ed Welch, When People are Big and God is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man. http://www.amazon.com/When-People-Are-Big-Small/dp/0875526004/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpi_1
Among other things Ed says that “Having more fear of man than God is idolatry.” “We should love people more and need them less (only God can truly provide for our needs).” To me this is a good way forward for a distinctively biblical/Christian paradigm. Ed is the best: he is sound biblically and theologically and has a PhD in psychiatry (brain chemistry).
“The 80’s are over, how come you’re still codependent?” Gary Shogren, San José, Costa Rica