There are a number of books out there on codependency, with considerable commonality among them. But what is distinctive about treating codependency in Christian counseling? That is, is there a biblical approach to codependency? Are there ideas that are transcendent and yet transferable, ideas that can be real game changers for someone who is already aware of the basic approach to overcoming codependency?
The Codependent Person
If you are codependent, then you are living according to what another thinks of you. This accounts for whether you feel approved or not. It affects the satisfaction you feel at doing well rather than blowing it. And it determines whether you feel valuable or simply a burden to be endured. You derive those feelings from the messages you get from other people. But since those other people are subject to whims, are up and down, and in fact often depend on what is being reflected back to them, your feeling of worth is all over the map. You spend a lot of time trying to control the feedback you get from others, which often means that you are trying to control them, and that makes you coercive and angry.
The Christian Answer to Codependency
The answer to codependency is to live with a sense that you are okay. This cannot be dependent on another whimsical person, however wonderful they may be. The reasons that ensure that you know that you are okay are the core values that you live by.
For a Christian, the Gospel tells you why you are approved, valuable, and, in short, okay. We all know this in our heads. Christians are continually saying things like, “Well, I know that on paper, I know the facts. But I would like to really know it for real.” That is, they want those things to be a working reality for them in their relationships. Marriage, or any relationship, serves the great purpose of driving you to struggle to fully own and experience aspects of the Gospel.
Making Your Core Values Your Own
I often give counselees the homework assignment of writing out the core values that they derive from the Bible. How do you set out to write your core values? It is very hard but you just have to sit down and start. You might only get one at first, but you can modify them many times. In fact, you probably should modify them as you grow in your walk.
As you set out to do this exercise, ask yourself the question: “If I am confronted by accusers, either others or myself, what in the Gospel assures me that I am OK?” Here are some suggested starting points.
1) What Does God Think?
When you are confronted with a demeaning or devaluing expression or innuendo, ask yourself: “What does God think? Would He say that?” And then: “He’s always right, so I don’t need to defend myself at all. I can remain actively pursuing good in this engagement instead of spending time grasping for validation or exoneration.”
This core value was ready at hand for me one day when someone I knew well was in a frenzy and I got in the way of their frustration. They turned to me and said, “You jerk!” They said it twice – and were very sincere. I said to God, “You would never say that. You don’t think I’m a jerk, and You are always right.” This enabled me to dismiss any self-protectiveness and to genuinely care for the other person’s distress. As a result, we became closer in the wake of the event. This encounter also increased my self-esteem. Not only did I own more of what God does think of me, getting it off of paper and into the reality of everyday functioning, but I also was aware that I had become more courageous myself.
2) You Are Not Blamable
In Romans 8:33 we read: “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” In other words, God has already rendered a verdict that you are not blamable. He does not hold your sins, mistakes, failures, indiscretions, or anything from an extremely broad category of lack against you anymore. Such an economy no longer exists between you (Heb. 10:17; Ro. 4:8).
3) The Cross has Paid for Everything
The reality of the Cross means that you are prepaid on all fronts. Whatever engagement with others you enter, you are not blamable, No accusation against you is admissible because the Cross has paid for everything.
The Cross is the Great Override. There is no system of debt, lack, inadequacy, failure, or any other kind of owing that it does not override. If you want a practical everyday application of Matthew 28:18 and Ephesians 1:20-22, then here it is. To say that Christ has all authority is to say that He overrides any economy that you have held yourself to.
4) If God is For Me…
In Romans 8:31 we read: “If God is for me, who is against me?” This needs no explanation, but I would suggest that you have it ready at hand and you will begin to relish opportunities to own it.
5) God Can Save to the Uttermost
In Hebrews 7:25 (KJV) we read: “He is able to save to the uttermost those that come unto God by Him.” God does not disparage your stuff. He is onto it and is working to bring “many sons unto glory” – and that means you. There are no obstacles to His intentions. He can do this.
6) Remember Your Own Intentions
If I have just been accused, whether directly or by implication, I need to remind myself what I am all about and focus on that. I want to love the LORD with all of my heart, and go forward in every way that I can in loving you well. If I have lost sight of that intention, then I need a good readjustment to get back on track. If I am already pursuing that intention with you, then I can take any nastiness (including blame) that you send my way. Sometimes people are not nice and taking flak is part of the deal – that is what Jesus did and this is the purpose for which you too have been called according to 1 Peter 2:21.
My Intentions are to Love You Well
I accidentally tripped my nine-year-old boy one morning and he hit the deck really hard. I immediately scooped him up in my arms and held him while he was crying … and kicking and screaming, “I hate you! I hate you!” I didn’t have to waste my time being offended, or even to insist that it was accidental. I could be fully engaged in caring for him. He went on his way happy and loved and we never had to spend any time sorting out the event, or fussing over what would have been worrying. According to my core values, I am the big kid, I can take the flak, and my intentions are to love you well.
Christian Counseling for Codependency
Codependency provides a stellar example of how Christian counseling at its best should be a bridge that enables you to enact the Gospel in your life. If you would like help in making that connection, whether with codependency or with any other situation in your life, we would be happy to work with you.
“Changing Oil,” courtesy of Emily Poisel, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Img20130908_19000380 (2),” courtesy of Patrick Denker, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Le temps de la confrontation (2),” by L’Echappee Volee, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0)