Do you feel like you are in a one-sided relationship? Does your loved one accept the sacrifices you make for them, but doesn’t seem willing or able to reciprocate? Do you feel unable to function properly without their love or approval? Have you ever thought, “My relationship feels so one-sided”? Do you hope, pray, and offer kindness, wanting them to change their behavior, only for them to seem unwilling or unable to change? If you answered yes to any of these questions, Christian counseling for codependency may be for you. Codependent relationships are unhealthy and can prevent you from achieving emotional wholeness and living life to the fullest.
Not only can codependency hinder your personal growth, but it can also enable unhealthy patterns in your loved one’s life, preventing natural consequences that might motivate them to change. Christian Counseling can offer compassionate, life-giving help and guidance. We can help you identify unhealthy patterns and find freedom.
What is Codependency?In the 1940s and 50s, mental health experts began to identify dysfunctional patterns in the families of alcoholics, particularly in the relation between an alcoholic and his or her spouse. For many alcoholics, their secret weapon was an enabling spouse.
The enabler was acting in the mistaken belief that they loved the alcoholic and were doing what was best for them, but unfortunately, enabling destructive behavior only makes it worse.
Eventually, psychologists realized that codependency was a relationship pattern also found in other types of relationships, not just with alcoholism involved.
The American Psychological Association defines codependency as:
- “The state of being mutually reliant, for example, a relationship between two individuals who are emotionally dependent on one another.
- A dysfunctional relationship pattern in which an individual is psychologically dependent on (or controlled by) a person who has a pathological addiction (e.g., alcohol, gambling).”
In essence, codependency causes one-sided, dysfunctional, overly reliant relationships.
Common Signs of Codependent Relationships
- Low self-esteem
- Consistent desire to please people at any cost
- Fear of saying “no”
- Poor boundaries
- Hypersensitive to other people’s thoughts and feelings
- A persistent habit to take things personally
- Strong need to care for or “fix” other people
- Ongoing attempts to control the behavior of others
- Poor communication skills
- Obsessing over relationship issues
- Fear of rejection or abandonment
- Difficulty ending unhealthy relationships
- Denial that you have a problem, often blaming others or circumstances
- Emotionally guarded, often from fear of rejection
Recognizing these symptoms in yourself can be distressing, but it’s the first step on the path to freedom.
How do codependent relationships develop? It often stems from unmet childhood needs for love and validation. If these issues are not resolved in adulthood, they can lead to seeking unhealthy fulfillment, including in an enmeshed relationship.
Once you’re in a codependent relationship, you can feel stuck and like these patterns can never change, but the good news is that once you recognize that these patterns are unhealthy, you do have the potential to change. Counseling for codependency can help you identify codependent dynamics and take steps to become healthier.
Types of Codependent Relationships
As discussed above, codependency was first identified in spouses of alcoholics, but there are other situations where codependent relationships tend to flourish. In cases of emotionally and/or physically abusive households, a child or spouse may develop codependent behaviors. Keeping the abuser happy can make the abusive situation feel survivable for the abuse target.
Caregiving for someone with a chronic physical or mental illness can also lead to codependent dynamics. When there is an inordinate focus on the one who is sick, others’ needs, including the caregiver’s, children, a spouse, etc., can be ignored or dismissed entirely.
Codependency often develops slowly and subtly. Untangling the invisible threads of over-reliance doesn’t involve feeling guilty for others’ behavior. They make their choices; you make yours. If you became codependent to appease an abuser, for example, please know that their abuse was never your fault, and you did what you needed to do to survive, but being fully free of abuse means finding healthier ways to be in relationships with others.
However, sometimes codependent behavior can be actively harmful, rather than just passively enabling. For example, if you have knowledge of someone else being harassed or abused, and you enable it to continue, then you do bear some responsibility for the harm that’s done. That is just one example of why recognizing codependent patterns is vital to create healthy dynamics at home, in the workplace, at church, and in friendships and social settings.
God has created us to walk in freedom and love for others, which means we want what’s truly best for them – grace, holiness, and freedom from sin. When we enable sin, we are not loving the person we are enabling; instead, we’re encouraging them to remain a slave (Galatians 5:1). Christian counseling for codependency can help you cut through the confusion and find out how to love someone well without enabling them.
Treating Codependent Relationships
What are some specific signs that a particular relationship may be codependent? Psychology Today offers six questions you can use to assess whether you are in a codependent relationship:
- Does your sense of purpose involve making extreme sacrifices to satisfy your partner’s needs?
- Is it difficult to say no when your partner makes demands on your time and energy?
- Do you cover your partner’s problems with drugs, alcohol, or the law?
- Do you constantly worry about others’ opinions of you?
- Do you feel trapped in your relationship?
- Do you keep quiet to avoid arguments?
If you are unsure of your answers, it might help to take some time to consider them in quiet or to journal about them. If you answer yes to one or more of these questions, consider contacting our office at to meet with a counselor for a risk-free initial session.
Counseling Methods for Treating Codependency
During your intake session, you can share the specific concerns you would like to address during your sessions. Your counselor will work with you to identify your treatment goals and decide which method(s) will be helpful for your treatment.
One common method used to treat codependency is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): talk therapy that addresses negative thought patterns to change them to influence behavior positively. A combination of treatments is often helpful for treating codependency. Some codependents, especially those with a family member who is an addict, attend a twelve-step program such as Al-Anon or Codependents Anonymous, in conjunction with counseling.
Your counselor will also identify and treat any co-occurring conditions. According to Good Therapy, some of the common mental health conditions associated with codependency are depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, and eating and food issues. If you are struggling with other mental health issues at the same time as codependency, treating them can greatly enhance your healing.
How We Can Help
Self-sacrifice is praised in Christian settings, but there’s a distinction between self-sacrifice and over-functioning for another person. When you are highly dependent on someone else’s approval, you are unable to flourish in your unique personhood as God designed you.
According to God’s Word, you are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139). As discussed earlier, walking in love for others means wanting what is truly best for them, not just what they want at the moment.
Recognizing this truth can help set you free from enabling behaviors, but it’s often a long process to uncover your core beliefs and recognize how to find healthier, more life-giving ways of thinking and acting.
In your sessions with a Christian counselor, you can learn truths that help you see the self-destructive nature of codependent behaviors, and you can learn to set healthy boundaries as well as practice compassion not just for others, but for yourself. As fellow believers, we desire to see you walking in the freedom Christ offers.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some common questions we hear regarding codependent relationships.
Is recovery possible?
Dysfunctional patterns in families are often deep-rooted and passed down from one generation to the next. Codependency often stems from childhood trauma or dysfunction in your family of origin. When codependent coping mechanisms are deeply ingrained, overcoming them may seem next to impossible, but we have seen many people overcome these patterns and learn to have healthier, more life-giving relationships.
What causes codependency?
Often, though not always, codependency has its roots in a dysfunctional family of origin. Dysfunction stems from abuse, addiction, physical or mental illness, or simply the ongoing denial of emotions and individual perspectives. Problems and conflicts are not addressed, discussed, or solved; they are simply ignored. This type of home environment can lead to codependency in the family, and for children who grow into adulthood.
What problems does codependency cause?
The reason codependency is a negative pattern is precisely that it is an unhealthy relationship style and can cause further problems, including enabling addiction or abuse and repressing emotions. According to Mental Health America, codependent relationships are often one-sided: “When codependents place other people’s health, welfare, and safety before their own, they can lose contact with their own needs, desires, and sense of self.”
How do I find the right counselor?
Browse our online Christian counselor directory or feel free to call our office to ask about setting up a risk-free initial appointment. Your counselor will work with you to establish a treatment plan.
If you have decided that you want to resolve any relationship addiction in your life, please don’t hesitate to reach out today. With a simple email or phone call, you can set up your first counseling appointment and experience the refreshing beginning of a new journey towards health and freedom.
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