In my experience, the roots of codependency usually comes from, where a child feels responsible for and tries to control adult problems. Whether its addiction, mental illness, abuse or neglect, anger/ rage or divorce it is common for a child to try hold the family together. The child can also become addicted to being needed. In other words, “I feel value when someone needs me”, and therefore feeling the opposite when not needed. So, a better name for codependency is “relationship addiction” ––I need you to be ok, for me to be ok. In the recovery field codependency can also be called enabling. When I’m working with addicts who don’t want to change, the first thing I do is to take away all their Enablers. There’s an old saying that states:
Enablers kill more addicts than drugs and alcohol do.
It can be hard to know when our efforts to help others, are helping, and when they are hurting. Enabling (co-dependent rescuing) ends up hurting more than helping, because co-dependents are doing for others, what they need to be doing for themselves, out of their need to rescue thus creating dependency. Enabling is when someone, such as a spouse, friend, or family member, takes responsibility, blame, or makes accommodations, for a person’s bad choices and behaviors. They usually have good intentions, but their helping actually does more harm than good, because it minimizes the natural consequence of the person’s choices and behavior. It can actually shield the person from realizing that they have a problem and, thus, reduces their motivation to change.
“Pain is Gods megaphone to a deaf world” C.S. Lewis
It is pain that motivates us to change, so enablers minimize the consequences of the person’s choices, thus reducing their motivation to change, keeping them from hitting a bottom. Co-dependent helping always causes harm because you are doing something for others that they should be doing for themselves. Examples could be, calling in sick to work for an alcoholic and making excuses so they won’t be held accountable for their destructive choices, especially giving those addicted money. Another good example is; how we rescue our teenagers from the consequences of their choices i.e. saving the prodigals from the pigs. When we do that we actually inhibit them from growing up. Are we helping or hurting them? Grace is not enabling—it leaves room for the consequences for our choices. It is hard to trust God and not take control when people we care about are self-destructive.
In the next blog we will look at what drives co-dependency how it can be healed.