Co-dependent or Selfless?

April 19, 2012

Julie Ganschow

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Julie Ganschow

Co-dependent or Selfless

“Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Phil. 2:1-5, NASB).

In the mid-1980’s, the term “co-dependency” began to be used in various self-help groups to describe behavior patterns in people who were in relationships with self- destructive people. Typically, their spouses or family members were addicts or alcoholics who were irresponsible and the “co-dependent” stepped in to shield them from consequences or to protect them from harm.

I do not think it is godly to shield someone from the consequences of their actions; a person who is involved in sinful behaviors needs to repent and change for the glory of God. I also agree that some people can take “love” too far and become idolaters of others. These people, too, need a balanced view of what loving one another looks like.

Ed Welch calls co-dependency behaviors “fear of man” in his books, When People are Big and God is Small and What Do You Think of Me? Why Do I Care? I agree with his conclusions on the matter. There are people who desire the approval of others so deeply that they are willing to sin to get it.

My concern is centered on the thinking that includes the biblical roles of mothers and wives as being “co-dependent.” The balanced view will always be found in Scripture, and for the Christian that is our ultimate authority.

Oneness Is Not Co-dependency

“Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him’” (Genesis 2:18, NASB).

Adam found that he was incomplete without a woman. God created the woman as the only suitable helper for a man, she is his counterpart. Man and woman are biblically designed to meet each other’s legitimate needs and to address the physical deficits in one another. The Bible says that two individuals become one in marriage; one in the most intimate physical sense and one in several other ways as well.

Very often in marriage, husband and wife are so well connected and in tune with each other that they know each other’s thoughts, beliefs, and desires. For instance, I can always tell when my husband has something troubling on his mind. I am so aware of his movements and characteristics that I can tell when something is amiss. When I hurt, he hurts; when he rejoices I rejoice too. We share a connectedness that goes beyond sharing a home and a bed; we are literally soul-mates.

This is not unusual for a couple who has been married for a number of years. They are one in heart and soul, especially when they share a love of Christ through salvation. They can anticipate each other’s needs and actively work to place the other before themselves.

When children come along the family dynamic changes as both mother and father now include the needs and desires of the little ones along with those of their spouse. The greater share is taken by the wife and mother as she is the primary care-giver in the traditional family. She sets herself aside for the well-being of her child. Mothers are considered to be the nurturing parent and she is usually more in tune with the cries of the baby and the “language” of the toddler.

I think because of the unique physical relationship we share with our children as we provide food and shelter for them within our bodies, we have a God-given understanding of them from even before they are born. Mothers will say they are aware of what the baby’s cries mean, what a certain gesture means, or what a facial expression is communicating.

I am thankful that many Christian women are fulfilling the biblical mandate of Titus 2:3-5:

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored (NASB).

What is concerning to me is how these God-honoring attitudes and actions are being labeled as co-dependent and how women are being discouraged from a life of serving others in the name of “mental health.” I maintain that it is simply living the gospel to be selfless and to put others before self. In so doing, we are following the example of Christ and the other heroes of our faith who lived and died for the benefit of other people. There can be no higher calling than that.

Join the Conversation

Is labeling “oneness” as “co-dependency,” especially for women, an attack on biblical principles and the roles of women from those who would discount the Bible as relevant and applicable in today’s world? What do you think?

4 thoughts on “Co-dependent or Selfless?

  1. hi, hello…I am a Christian and I too am working in the area of mental health. I know that this co-dependency issues has become overrated if not absurd over the years.  In my opinion, everything will boil down to one’s motive in doing good.  If an action springs out of love and compassion, then this is biblical…the one that Christ has manifested on us.  But there are actions that springs out of guilt and low opinion of self.  I have seen people who has gone out to reach the needs of others almost to a fault i.e. they encourage others to become too dependent on them in order for them to feel good.  For them, it gives them purpose to live but at the expense of other’s realizing their own potentials.  These people will find it hard to let go of the other/s should they decide to fly on their own wings.  They enslave people, not nurture them.  That’s why a dependent and a co-dependent person goes hand in hand.  This kind of relationship are also seen in friendships.   The problem with a co-dependent type of person is she doesn’t see this or even if she sees this, she will not deny this as if carrying the burden of others is more bearable than facing her insecurities and massive longing for love and real approval.  The good news though is once it is confronted in the reality of God’s love, this person can be a great gift to the ailing humankind.  Once the bleeding starts, healing can begin.  Once she realizes her value to God, she can begin to learn to value herself and see how she can truly give and help others. 

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  3. I really appreciate this article! I have struggled often with what the difference is between self-less love and codependency. For many years, I was the one who “stepped in to shield them from consequences or to protect them from harm.” I was one of those “who desire the approval of others so deeply that they are willing to sin to get it.” God has been gracious to show me where I was sinning so that I could stop that behaviour. I enjoy one of those relationships with my husband where we are very intune with each other. On the negative side, I knew when and how he would struggle in his personal life, and would do whatever it took to “protect” him from exposure. God showed me how this was actually harming him and our marriage. I was standing in God’s way of dealing with my husband and his sin. I was actually helping my husband to stay in bondage, when I really thought I was trying to help him. I was sinning as well. When I finally learned how to join my husband in the battle in a healthy and Biblical way, we began moving toward freedom. I am free to love him, pray for him, intercede for him. I am not free to protect him from natural consequences of sin and God’s loving discipline. I love my husband very much, and I thank God for his never-ending love, grace and mercy in our marriage.

  4. The key to self-less love is in doing what is best for another person. Sometimes doing what is best for another is hard and the recipient may not like you anymore. A co-dependent will not risk that. They will choose easy, safe and whatever will hurt less because anything that hurts is bad. They want to make “everything all better.” But real love sacrifices and speaks the truth. There is a HUGE difference between Titus 2:3-5 and co-dependency. It’s a matter of the heart. We also can’t judge one another because circumstances differ. One women who helps her husband by doing all household chores (as an example) may truly be helping him because of health problems, while another who does everything is giving in to his laziness. Same action but different motives. I have usually found that when given two options to “love” (1: love someone by sacrificing and without conflict or 2: love someone by not “making it all better” for them) whichever is the harder of the two options is truly loving them.

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