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What does the Bible say about codependency?

codependency, co-dependency audio

Codependency is a mental health designation for relationships in which people use one another to get their own emotional needs met, but in a selfish and destructive manner. Codependency is not a mental health diagnosis, but a symptom associated with many psychological disorders. Originally, codependent was a term used to describe partners in chemical dependency or in a relationship with an abusive person. Today, however, the term has been broadened to describe several types of destructive relationship patterns.

Codependency comes in many forms, but they are all similar in nature. They all revolve around what a person can get from someone else by giving him or her something in return. For example, a parent may expect to control an adult child because of the parent’s financial support of the child. Another common scenario is when a friend will not confront another friend about his drug use for fear of losing a relationship with him. At the core the relationship is a focus on using one another rather than giving unconditional love and honest acceptance. This stems from our selfish human nature. Codependent people each use the other to get something for themselves. Such relationships are not helpful, because neither party is willing to be truthful, and both parties are selfishly clinging to whatever it is they are getting (money, sex, friendship, admiration, power).

One result of a codependent relationship pattern is that God takes second place to people. Codependents rely on each other for emotional needs and even some physical needs rather than take care of themselves. They also lack faith and trust in God to care for their needs and, as a result, manipulate others to get what they want. Codependent people typically are attracted to one another and will keep each other stuck in a dysfunctional blind spot by telling each other what they want to hear. This way, they both can feel okay, despite the chaos their choices are creating. Obviously, people who avoid telling the truth in love have trouble recognizing their own sinful habits or need for repentance.

Related to codependency are other issues such as pride, fear of man (Proverbs 29:25), and boundaries. Pride blinds us from seeing our true self the way God sees us. While God loves us regardless of our sin, He has declared that we are 100 percent wicked and in need of a savior (Mark 10:18). That message offends our pride, which tells us we are basically good. Codependent people are loyal—in a destructive way—to their friends, so that they support sinful or even illegal behavior. Through denial or idealization, codependents keep each other feeling that they are not the ones with the problem. Codependency is a way to keep the blinders on and so ignore our sin.

The same is true with the fear of man. We want people to think highly of us. Many times, this results in people-pleasing behaviors to create a façade to hide the genuine, flawed self.

Finally, everyone needs healthy boundaries to maintain convictions and avoid being manipulated. However, codependent people don’t feel like a whole person and tend to copy others or attach themselves to people to gain a sense of identity. This results in an inability to make their own choices, because they want to preserve their dependent relationships. They also overstep others’ boundaries and try to control others rather than focus on themselves.

The Bible addresses these issues by telling us how we ought to relate to one another. One concept found in Scripture is interdependency, which is the state of being mutually responsible to others while sharing a common set of principles. In the case of husband and wife, the Bible indicates that both spouses are dependent on each other for completion. Genesis 2:24 says, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." Both Jesus and Paul quoted this verse, and these three elements—leaving, cleaving, uniting—are often cited by marriage counselors as the major principles of a biblical marriage. Other passages also show this interdependence of husband and wife: Ephesians 5:22-33; 1Timothy 5:8; and Proverbs 31:10-31. As each spouse fulfills his or her role, the other benefits. This is biblical interdependency, and it should be embraced, not avoided. The Lord’s emphasis in dependency is on service, not on self.

We also find the concept of interdependence in regard to spiritual gifts: "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms" (1 Peter 4:10). Both Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 expand this teaching in the explanation of spiritual gifts. Ephesians 4:11-16 exhorts us to work with, depend on, and serve one another as the Lord has enabled us. In so doing, "the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." Hebrews 10:24-25 commands us to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. . . . Let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Christian interdependence is vital to the body of Christ and its individual members. We are to love one another, eschew selfish ambition, and exercise the gifts of God for the benefit of others (John 13:34-35; Romans 12:3-6; Philippians 2:3-4). This is diametrically opposed to the selfishness, dishonesty, and destructiveness of codependency.

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What does the Bible say about codependency?
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This page last updated: January 4, 2022