LOVE IS A CHOICE,a book by Doctors Hemfelt, Minirth, and Meier, describes in detail the meaning of co-dependency. By using real life scenarios, the authors identify the roots of co-dependency; the traits;the behaviour of co-dependent people, and lastly, the solution on how to break free from the cycle. According to the authors, co-dependency can be defined as an addiction to people, behaviour or things. “Co-dependency is the fallacy of trying to control interior feelings by controlling people, things, and events on the outside. The co-dependent person may be addicted to another person to a point where his or her own self-concept and identity is severely restricted or crowded out by the other person’s identity and problems. A co-dependent individual is not only addicted to another person, but to other things such as alcohol, drugs, money, food, sexuality, or work.”
Co-dependency affects relationships between spouses, parents and their children, friendships, and colleagues negatively. From infancy I lived with relatives, moving on to a boarding school. Not living with my parents made me feel that they abandoned me which caused me to be extremely co-dependent. It began from an early age by seeing men who showed sexual interest in me as father figures. Friendships were exaggerated because I expected my friends to take the role of my mother; to validate and teach me feminine things. As I began attending church and realised how cared for, validated, and affirmed as someone able to contribute something worthwhile; I began seeing my spiritual leaders- guys as big brothers who could protect me from men who wanted to use me sexually, and sisters who could place all their attention on me, and make their worlds revolve around me. When I contemplated a romantic relationship; I saw my significant person as the saviour not only from sexual frustrations, but a saviour that will meet my unmet childhood emotional needs or fill my empty love tank.
As stated above, co-dependent people seek to control their inner feelings by controlling external circumstances. In interpersonal relationships co-dependents seek to control people by expecting others to take the role of the person they feel abandoned by, and in most cases such as mine; the parents. When people don’t behave or say things that are appropriate to the role we’ve assigned them; we get angry which may lead to depression and difficulties in enjoying interpersonal relationships. Hence many people who are co-dependent on church leaders leave churches when the leader doesn’t do what the co-dependent expected. Also many people end from, and jump into one relationship from another because they expect the other person to fill their empty love tank which they realise in the long run it’s impossible. Parents tend to also expect their children to fill their emotional needs that their partners aren’t filling that’s why it becomes difficult for them to let go of their child once they’re adults. It is also realised that no matter how much you give into a friendship; you can never expect friends to be your source of happiness. So you don’t have to compromise yourself, finances, or values in order to buy friendship. Things ought to be done freely, out of love, by choice. LOVE IS A CHOICE.
The authors summarised the traits of a co-dependent person which I have given below; with a touch of my own examples. I hope that as you read this; you will ask Our Father God to break the chains of co-dependency. You will then begin to find your identity in Him and see Him as the source of your life. You will come to an understanding that the only true unconditional love you will ever experience is from our Lord Jesus; see Him as the ultimate example of true love. His Word says that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews13:5). David also said that though his mother and father may forsake him, the Lord will receive him (Psalm27:10).Relationships are beautiful and people are really fun to hang out with. We just have to come to an understanding that our love is flawed, but God’s love is perfect. Ours has limits, His does not. Ours depends upon the responses we receive, He’s is unchanging. Ask Him to fill you with His love.
THE TRAITS OF A CO-DEPENDENT
1) The co-dependent is driven by one or more compulsion. Compulsive behaviors can range from being mild to extreme. An example of mild would be the need to keep the house spotless; and if that is fiddled with, it may easily anger the co-dependent. On the extreme end; your answer to the question, “What do you seek most in life?” may reveal some compulsion. For example; if someone is in pursuit of being rich; he or she might dismiss everyone around them and chase solely after money. Such a person addicted to having money might cause their family to suffer by assuming that giving money and gifts is more important than being present.
2) The co-dependent is bound and often tormented by the way things were in the dysfunctional family of origin. For example; if you grew up with a very critical parent who was never satisfied by anything you do, you might see criticism from your partner as an attack even though it could be constructive criticism.
3) The co-dependent’s self-esteem (and frequently, maturity) is very low. An example would be being unable to defend yourself in unfair situations. Because of low self-esteem you’re afraid to speak up for yourself so people inevitably run all over you.
4) A co-dependent is certain his or her happiness hinges on others. An example would be if you only get happy by having someone validate you; and if they don’t you become extremely sad.
5) A co-dependent feels inordinately responsible for others. You feel that you are responsible for other people’s attitudes, behavior, or emotions.
6) The co-dependent’s relationship with a spouse or significant other is marred by a damaging, unstable lack of balance between dependence and independence. One moment you are deeply and extremely in love with your spouse; they’d feel like royalty; but at other times you make them feel worthless. You render unbalanced love which is quite confusing.
7) The co-dependent is a master of denial and repression. Denial might be refusing to look at a situation in a true light or refusing to see someone for who they truly are, but always making excuses for them. Repression might involve refusing to talk about hurtful things caused by other people.
8) The co-dependent worries about things he or she can’t change and may well try to change them. For example; worrying excessively about your partner’s values and beliefs; and trying by all means to make him adopt your beliefs. You cannot change anyone.
9) A co-dependent’s life is punctuated by extremes. Personal relationships are marked by extreme ups and downs, hots and colds. Lover’s quarrels recapitulate World War 2 and the loving moments are nothing compared to the love story in the Titanic movie.
10) A co-dependent is constantly looking for the something that is missing or lacking in life. An examples would be singles obsessing over marriage and thinking that if they are married life would be more enjoyable.
Note that we all experience the above at some point in our lives, but co-dependents take it to the extreme.