Defining Codependency

Two people can have the exact same actions but for one it’s healthy and the other it’s codependent.

Photo Credit: Hilary Storm

The problem of codependency is difficult to define because our actions often look like what we are taught to do as a “good Christian.”  We always put others first and we sacrifice ourselves in the process of serving others.  Many of our co-dependent actions have been our attempt of loving others.  We don’t want to see others make poor choices, we want what is best for them, and we want to feel loved.  These things are not wrong until we make unhealthy choices.  The problem comes in the motivation behind our actions.  We do not act independently for the welfare of others.  Instead we act out of fear, guilt and/or manipulation to obtain a desired result or for the approval of others.  In other words, two people can have the exact same actions but for one it’s healthy and the other it’s codependent.  As co-dependents, we:

are unaware of and suppress our own emotions.

  • Have difficulty identifying and expressing what we are feeling
  • Appease or rescue in an attempt to avoid our own anger, or the anger of others
  • Worry about how others may respond to our feelings, opinions, and behavior
  • Minimize, alter or deny how we truly feel in an effort to protect ourselves from others’ disapproval.
  • Do not ask others to meet our needs or desires
  • Are very sensitive to how others are feeling and feel the same instead of having independent emotions.
  • Are afraid to express differing opinions or feelings
  • Value others’ opinions and feelings more than our own

are consumed by the emotional state of another.

  • Assume responsibility for others’ feelings and behaviors
  • Feel guilty about others’ feelings and behaviors
  • Have difficulty making decisions without approval

willingly go against our own convictions for fear of rejection or fear of another’s reaction.

  • Are afraid of being hurt and/or rejected by others
  • Feeling like we don’t have a choice in response to someone else’s choices
  • Feel a need to rescue others from their decisions
  • Willingly hide, lie, or remain silent to cover for someone else

do for others’ in hopes of approval, love, or control

  • we find ourselves resentful when we help others’
  • become angry when we don’t receive the approval we deserve
  • feel we don’t have choices and must do what others’ want us to do
  • try to control the actions of another through guilt and shame

The Process of Recovery

Many of our actions as codependents are similar on the outside to what the Bible teaches.  It is good to help someone in need, to care for and have empathy with those who are hurting, and to put others’ needs ahead of our own.  Many of us have good intentions and have a strong desire to follow and obey God.  But codependency occurs when we want to please man rather than God.  

Recovery begins by admitting our true emotions to God, to ourselves, and to someone we trust.  We take ownership of our own feelings. We let others have their own emotions without feeling guilty, anxious, or responsible for how they feel.  We learn to express our feelings and deal with others’ reactions in healthy ways.  We learn to offer help without rescuing others. We change when:

  • We begin to act out of mercy and not from a need to be needed.
  • We act with intention serving others by choice because Christ has served us, not out of guilt or fear.
  • We seek to please God, not people.
  • Our value comes because we were made in God’s image, not from our work, service, or performance.
  • Serving others becomes a choice, not a reaction based on our emotions.  Healthy Christian service comes out of joy, not guilt.
  • We make choices not allowing others to dictate our actions.
  • We learn how to have healthy boundaries with others and how to respect other people’s boundaries.
  • We learn to help others appropriately by allowing them to make independent choices rather than making them dependent on us.
  • We learn to live balanced lives by caring for ourselves as well as caring for others.
  • We are willing to begin the process of recovery and working through the 12 steps to heal and start living the life God has planned for us.
  • We will use the tools of recovery: calling our accountability partners, journaling and reading the Bible.

As we begin this process of recovery, it often feels like we are not loving others.  But as we learn that God has given us the freedom to act and love Him independently without compulsion, we learn to love others independently.  We also allow others to love us independently and without compulsion.  

It’s Time To Think Differently

So if there is a thinking pattern you have developed that isn’t helping your life, it’s time to think differently.  

Changing Our Minds
Photo Credit: Hilary Storm

Beliefs are very personal.  You believe what you believe and your beliefs drive your emotions.  You may even die for your beliefs.  And yet, if you’ve lived past a couple of decades you will have to admit that some of your beliefs have changed over the years.  They are not stagnant.  You’ve put old beliefs to the test and they failed so you’ve come to believe new things.  Or as you learn more about yourself and the world around you, you realize that maybe a belief you once held onto so dearly is no longer true.  It’s called maturing. (Young people can ask anyone over 40 if this is true.)  

I love what Graham Cooke says, “If the way that you are thinking does not allow you to feel good about who God is for you, it’s time to have another thought because that one is irrelevant, out-of-date and useless, and you are proving it all the time!”

While sometimes you can recognize that a belief system isn’t working for you, and you may even acknowledge that it isn’t true, it can come from an emotional place and therefore difficult to willfully change.  False belief systems often come from hurtful or traumatic events and sit in our limbic system (the emotional part).   Thinking patterns like ‘I’m not enough’, ‘I must be happy or people won’t like me’, ‘I’m not smart enough’, or any of a hundred other lies will always produce negative results in our life.  (See list at the bottom of this post for a partial list of lies you might possibly believe.)

Caroline Leaf is a scientist who has studied the brain for almost 30 years.  In her book Switch On Your Brain, she details her research on the dynamics for changing your thought life.  Apparently, scientists can now see toxic thinking patterns and healthy thinking patterns on MRI’s.  Mind Blown!  Click here for a video of her speaking on changing your toxic thinking. It is well worth the hour to listen to it.  Her theory is that it takes 21 days to develop a new neuro brain pathway and you can change any thinking pattern.

If you don’t believe me (or Caroline Leaf), think about the entire advertising industry.  It exists to change your mind to think that this thing-a-ma-jig or that whatcha-ma-call-it are amazing!  It manipulates your desires.  The news industry’s claim to fame is not to just report what has happened, but to shape our culture through opinion about what has happened.  Our minds, thoughts, and opinions are being conformed all the time.

So if there is a thinking pattern you have developed that isn’t helping your life, it’s time to think differently.  To help with the process of changing a thought pattern, I have developed a 21-day Plan.  It asks you questions, gives you creative tasks, connects you to people, and gives you assignments all pointed in helping you change a toxic thinking pattern in just 10 minutes a day.  I’m not sure I’m ready to say it can change any and every thinking pattern, but in the dozens of times I’ve handed it out and used it myself it hasn’t failed yet when used for 21 consecutive days.  The magic isn’t in any particular activity in the plan.  The magic happens because you go back to the root every day, for 21 days, and choose to adopt a True Belief System.  The repetition is what breaks the toxic thinking so it doesn’t work if you do a ‘catch-up day’ and do 7 days at a time.  If you would like a FREE copy of it fill out the form below.  If the form isn’t showing up then you can email and I will email it to you.  

“No one is more influential in your life than you are, because no one talks to you more than you do.” (Paul Tripp, You Talk To Yourself).   

Below is only a partial list of the hundreds of lies people commonly believe.  These are statements that come from an emotional/reactive part of your brain.  You might cognitively know these are lies, but emotionally you react as though the lie is true.  If there’s something in your life that is a problem, then there is probably a lie at the root of the problem.  If these lies don’t resonate with you, find a counselor or a trusted friend to help you discover the lie you are believing.  The Truth is what sets you free.

God is against me

If I’m really known I won’t be liked

I can’t trust anyone or I don’t need anyone

If I speak up no one will listen

I’m a victim

I’m superior to others

If I don’t feel I won’t hurt

I have no worth

My worth is in my looks, intelligence, ability to…

God won’t be there when I need Him

I’m not smart enough

I can’t cope without…(chemicals, food, something to do, my entertainment, etc.)

I can’t change

I can do recovery myself

Rules don’t apply to me

God doesn’t love me or care about my problems

Some sins are not forgivable

I don’t deserve to be happy or I don’t deserve good things

I can do it myself, I don’t need anyone

Whatever I do won’t be good enough

I am responsible for other people’s thoughts, actions, feelings

I’m a disappointment

My needs are not important

If I heal emotionally, it will mean…(it didn’t matter, the offender gets off, etc)

All men/women/ethnic group are alike

If I leave everything will fall apart and it will be my fault

I’m gross, dumb, the sum of my flaws

God is waiting for me to blow it so He can punish me

I will always be alone or I’m not worthy of friendships

If I stop to rest I’ll pay later

Having emotions is bad

I must do things perfectly or I’m a failure

God will betray me

I can’t show my weakness or people will reject me

Or any of a hundred other lies….


Sometimes You Gotta Let a Friend Feel Bad

A good friend will not try to stop these emotions, but will sit in the emotions with them.

Let a Friend Feel Bad
Photo Credit: Hilary Storm

When my husband, kids or friend feel bad I want to be there for them.  What kind of a friend would I be if I wasn’t there for them?  I have assumed to be ‘there’ means I try to fix the problem and make them feel better.  If I don’t at least try it’s somehow a reflection on my ability to be kind and compassionate.

Here’s the problem with this…what if my friend needs to feel bad?  I actually feel awkward writing that sentence.  I feel like a heel…like what kind of a friend would I be to think my friend ‘needs’ to feel bad?  Who am I to judge what my friend needs?

There are two areas of life where it’s good to feel bad; grief and regret.


When we have experienced a loss, we need to feel the loss.  It’s part of a mature life.  It takes time to understand how the loss has affected our life.  We need to consider how to continue without the thing lost.  We need to miss it.

When we don’t spend the necessary time to miss what has been taken from us, we run to addictions in order to not feel the loss.  In America, our favorite addiction is busyness in order to escape our emotions.

But a good friend will sit with someone who is recognizing a loss in their life.  They won’t rush in with platitudes and quick fixes such as, “at least you have other children”, or “God must have other plans for your life”, or “it’s just a house, you’ll get over it.”  No, a good friend will say, “Oh I miss that thing too.”   I’ve written more on grief here.


We’ve all felt regret at some point.  It is an awful feeling and we don’t like to sit in it.  In order to out run regret we blame, justify, and ignore the effects of our actions.   So, when a friend has regret we sometimes help them to do the same because we know how awful that feeling is. We can even feel good about ourselves because we helped them outrun regret.

This last week I had three people tell me of some very destructive behaviors of their spouses and each of them followed it up with, “but I told him I loved him and everything would be ok.  I forgave him and tried my best to make him feel good about himself.”  Instead of allowing them to sorrow, they fixed the problem.  They rushed in with a platitude of forgiveness instead of communication about resolving the issues at hand.  The rescuer wanted to be seen as kind and merciful.  They also didn’t want to sit in the grief and regret any longer.

I’m not suggesting making a person feel bad.  I am suggesting letting a person feel bad.  Let them bear the weight of the damage of indifference.  Let them experience the brokenness that breaking their word or lies create.  Let them understand the destruction of anger.  Let them suffer the panic of letting go of control.  Let them feel and let them make amends. This is the only way back to a healthy relationship.

The rescuer has many fears in this.  We fear the emotion will last forever.  We fear they will feel so bad that they will run.  We fear they won’t put the effort into changing.  And so, pretending the pieces are back together again is better than requiring the pieces be put back together.  Being seen as a person who holds it together is better than letting it fall apart.    

But here’s the thing… It’s only in the emotion of regret that we come to be ready to change. 

When we stop regret, we stop change and we leave our friend…we leave ourselves…in cycles of destruction.  “If we confess our sins, HE is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” 1 John 1:9.

Feeling Grief and Regret

I think Christians are particularly bad at letting anyone feel grief and regret because we know the end of the story.  We believe that victory is ours.  We believe that our sins are forgiven.  We believe God makes all things good.  But when we rush through to the end, we circumvent the very elements that get us to healing.  It’s as though we should get on a long train of restoration, but we take a teleportation shortcut and we end up in space.

Grief and regret are probably the worst feelings in this life.  Our human nature is to do anything to avoid them.  But these are the very emotions that change the world. A good friend will not try to stop these emotions, but will sit in the emotions with them.  God meets us in the valley of the shadow of death and He restores our soul.