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The Tie that Binds
by Chris Gambrell
7/30/2014 / Relationships
Codependence is a strange word. Growing up, I never heard of it. Even into my late teens, the early 90's had I only begun to hear the word dysfunctional. It was just things that people didn't talk about, or should I say, only began to talk about.
Most psychologists define codependency as an excessive and unhealthy compulsion to rescue and take care of people. Still others define it as one who has let another person's behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person's behavior. Rescuing, caretaking, and controlling are the essential characteristics of the problem, but it usually has other causative characteristics as well, such as hurt, anger, guilt, and loneliness.
Codependency is often a pattern that develops over time, so it can be hard to see. It is also reinforced by occasional payoffs - both on the conscious and unconscious levels. Conscious payoffs may include feeling needed and useful. And you need not feel alone, even when you are, because that other person is on your mind. Other conscious payoffs may include the experiences of infatuation or drama, which can give rise to feelings of romance or excitement that one might be afraid, would otherwise pass them by.
Unconscious roots of codependency run deeper. Sometimes, people develop codependency as a life-long strategy of handling fear and trauma by focusing on others. In some families, about the only positive attention a child gets is when they are being useful and undemanding. As adults, these people often end up care taking others beyond what is useful to either person. A person who is frequently criticized and judged at any age can become vulnerable to believing that they are not worthy of their own support and attention. These are just a few of codependency's causes.
When you recognize some of these causes within your own life, you can focus on changing the pattern by learning how you have been affected by dysfunction in your relationships, how you can act and react to the problems you are dealing with in a different way, and understanding the truth about what the Bible says about what you should do in your difficult relationships.
The Bible provides words of wisdom, strength, guidance, and healing for those living a roller coaster life of codependency. Often times we wonder how, when, or why we've become entangled in unhealthy, stressful relationships. As codependents, our focus is not always on Christ's will for our lives. But instead often times we look only at our own will or to others for our fulfillment. No doubt, we all need human relationships, companionships, and support from family and friends. This alone is not the solution. Jesus tells us, "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you." ~Matthew 6:33(HCSB)
Our ultimate dependency needs to be on God alone and His righteousness! Trusting God to be our rock, salvation, and provider changes our entire outlook on life. No longer are we held captive by hurtful treatment from others. We are freed to follow an in control unchanging, protecting, loving God.
Psalm 62:7-8 says, "My salvation and glory depend on God, my strong rock. My refuge is in God. Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts before Him. God is our refuge."
The Lord says in Jeremiah 17: 5, "This is what the Lord says: The man who trusts in mankind, who makes human flesh his strength and turns his heart from the Lord, is cursed."
In this account, there are two kinds of people compared, the wicked and the righteous. In times of trouble the wicked are already fallen and spiritually weak, so they have no strength to draw on. The righteous have God-given abundant strength and in times of crisis will have enough to share with others.
Our Master, Jesus can heal relationships and redirect our paths toward healthy ones. Have confidence that by trusting in Him, we have stability and His assurances. In giving charge of our lives to Him, we are given His favor; He will be our solid foundation and will never leave us or desert us. And we must learn to let go of control, trusting that He holds our loved ones in His hands as well.
Too many times we turn to God as the last resort; He should be the first place we turn in all things. Prayer is our communication with the Lord, and we are to come "boldly unto the throne of grace." Come with reverence, for He is our Savior. Come with bold assurance, He is our friend and counselor. "Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time." Hebrews 4:16(HCSB)
The Other Foot
I personally deal with codependency in my life, and dealing with it can be really hard. Identifying it in others and how it affects you comes with a watchful eye, but what would happen if we turn that eye on ourselves. My greatest fear is that some may believe that I am a narcissist. This fear is derived from the constant bombarding of emotional distress on me by those who are close to me. While I am aware of their conscience, or unconscious want to unbalance my emotional state; their preferred location of any public area is what literally destroys me. Granted, I should be strong enough to withstand them, but as all family and close friends are able to find the smallest vulnerabilities, I get upset.
Does this make me a narcissist? What scares me most is what a narcissist is. While not all these things describe me, I have noticed myself doing some of them. A narcissist is a person with tendencies of being two-faced; charming and polite in public, while critical, rude, arrogant, sarcastic and passive/aggressive in private; usually to the people who are closest to them and who give them the most love and care.
This person will pretend to have high standards, but in reality will be low in perfectionism: resulting in them being flaky, hypocritical or even an outright phony or fake. They will not follow through on promises and may trade off others' hard work or reputation. They will spend most of their energy seeking people who will admire them or who they can vent their negativity and aggression on, either directly by put downs, sarcasm or passive/aggression, trying to provoke a fight so they can vent their own aggression, or by talking people down, friends included.
A person with narcissistic tendencies will shift blame and may become aggressive if anyone attempts to hold them accountable for their actions. They will not accept responsibility for their own failings and instead blame their mistakes and/or bad behavior on the shortcomings of others.
Reading a definition like that makes me feel like a monster. In my experience, being in the presence of such people makes me want to run. Should I be running from myself? We are told through the scriptures that narcissism is damaging and should have no room for it in our lives. Instead we must be obedient and humble always living in submission to God. 1 Peter 5:5 and James 4:7 tells us to live with "...submissiveness and humbleness, with patience and abstinence with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the harmony of the Spirit in the union of peace." So in other words the bible is telling us that God wants us to love one another as equally and as strongly as we love him, for none of us is more valuable than the other.
At some point in our lives we all face humility and we should remember that feeling and carry it with us everywhere we go. Not so that we may be miserable but so that we may treat others with the same regards that we wanted to be treated when we were down and humiliated and needed to find comfort in a friend. We must serve others and not simply worry continuously with ourselves and our own needs but make sure our neighbor has what they need and help out whenever we can.
Traditionally, emphasis was placed on harmful behaviors such as depression, abusive tendencies, and eating disorders -- all the products of low self-esteem. However, there is now a general trend towards "too much" self-esteem, i.e. narcissism. Attitudes of self-love lead to such statements as "If I ruled the world, it would be a better place" and "I can live my life any way I want to." Biblically speaking, narcissism is simply selfishness. Left unchecked, this fixation results in a breakdown of personal relationships, appearing emotionally "impervious."
Philippians 2:3 addresses the true nature of narcissism. "Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves." The mind-set of someone who is humble views others as being worthy of preferential treatment. A narcissist considers himself to be the center of the universe, disregarding the value of other lives, even displacing God from the throne of his life. His life soon becomes void of any peace. "But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, don't brag and deny the truth. Such wisdom does not come from above but is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For where envy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every kind of evil." ~James 3:14-16(HCSB)
There is help for narcissism, for anyone battling issues of self-worth. Instead of drowning ourselves in a pool of our own distorted reflection, we can accept we were created in God's image . . . how God reflects upon us. "God, how difficult Your thoughts are for me to comprehend; how vast their sum is! If I counted them, they would outnumber the grains of sand; when I wake up, I am still with You. ~Psalm 139:17-18(HCSB) God highly values us. By letting go of our egotism, we grasp how highly God treasures us. The psalmist, David, reflected upon man's position as God's representative of all Creation. "what is man that You remember him, the son of man that You look after him? You made him little less than God and crowned him with glory and honor." ~Psalm 8:4-5(HCSB)
In close, I have never thought of myself as narcissist despite the accusation of those who engage me. I have never considered myself the center of attention, the seeker, or the enforcer of it. At most, the perceived narcissism is in fact a reaction to the dominance, or attempted dominance over me. As I still learn, someday I will be able to cancel out the negative connotations that cause me to react. Until that day, it will continue, for no matter how much I want to change, it is those around me who do not.
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Read more articles by Chris Gambrell
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