The Codependency Circle

A young woman lying on her couch

I had to work at not being codependent, it took years of counseling, books, praying and care groups to help open my eyes to what codependency is and how not to live in it.

As the word describes Codependent is a term used in dysfunctional relationships where one or more people/persons support or enables another persons’ problems.  Another term used for it is “relationship addiction”.

What kind of things are we talking about enabling:  alcoholism, drugs, gambling, mental health, hoarding, pornography, anger, sexual addiction, control, abuse, irresponsibility, immaturity, jobs, homework, to name some.  ( I added homework from my stint in the library, wow are there some codependent parents who try to give their kids an excuse for everything).

Usually, the person/people who are enabling are only trying to “help” the other person, their heart has the right motives but they are not actually helping. Instead, they get tangled up in the mess and the person they are “helping” never has to take responsibility for their own problems.

It can be one to one relationships or larger groups: families, churches, boards, workplaces.  In the case of family dysfunction, it could be “this is the way we have always done it” meaning this is a generational pattern. I have seen this pattern in some churches as well. Dysfunctional families or groups have members filled with fear, anger, pain or shame that is ignored or denied.  Dysfunctional families’ never talk about the pain or the problems, they learn to gloss over them or push them inward into themselves creating a havoc of other problems.

The sad thing is that often we do not recognize that the enablers are as emotionally wounded as the person they are helping. Codependency is a one-sided relationship that is emotionally damaging and can border on abuse. Codependency destroys happiness, home life, work life, and relationships. Codependent people believe they need to self-sacrifice their needs for the sake of another to “help them”.

I call the codependent lifestyle as a cluster circle.  The person I am trying to help is a mess, usually, some kind of addiction is involved and I get tangled into the mess “trying” to help so I get just as caught up in the addiction because I am too close.  Cluster circles go around and around and around for years and even longer.  They continue until one person decides they are going to break the circle.

Typical pattern: the person with addiction does what they do, they cause damage to themselves and others with careless words and the abuse. The enabler gets wounded in the process and says careless words, or says nothing, sadness or depression prevails. The addicted person says “I am so sorry, I will never do that again”. The enabler believes the addicted person because it is said so sincerely and we live happily for a short while until it happens all over again.  The cluster circle.

How do you know if you are codependent:[1]

  1. You feel responsible to solve other people’s problems.
  2. You offer advice to others whether it is asked for or not.
  3. You expect others to do what you say.
  4. You feel used and unappreciated.
  5. You try to please other people so you can feel loved or appreciated.
  6. You take everything personally.
  7. You feel like a victim.
  8. You often use shame, guilt, manipulation to control others behavior.
  9. You are willing to lie to yourself or lie to others for the addicted person’s behavior.
  10. You fear rejection and being unlovable.

If you recognize any of the above behaviors in yourself it might be also wise to ask these next ten questions:[2]

  1. Do you avoid confrontation?
  2. Do you neglect your needs to attend to another’s first?
  3. Do you accept verbal or physical abuse by others?
  4. Do take responsibility for the actions of others?
  5. Do you feel shame when others make mistakes?
  6. Do you do more than your share at work, at home or in organizations?
  7. Do you ask for help?
  8. Do you need others’ validation to feel good about yourself?
  9. Do you think everyone’s feelings are more important than your own?
  10. Do you suffer from low self-esteem?

For me, I found that I have heard many sermons and teachings on - love your neighbor as yourself or you must serve and you must look after others that I had forgotten one basic flaw.

In the following scripture that is the guideline for all “loving” :

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37

The huge flaw is this question – where does the “self” come in?

We are so busy helping fix and help others that we forget ourselves in the process.

Wrong! Just like on an airplane the announcement says “You must put on your own oxygen mask first before you go to help others.”  How can you help others if you are not healthy or in the case of the airplane – dead?

Jesus taught us some really healthy boundaries to follow to prevent Codependency. Jesus was NOT codependent.  Some might view Jesus as Codependent because He poured Himself out for others, which He did when He died on the cross, but that was something He chose to do.

Jesus was selfless, He was a servant, He cared deeply for hurting people, He did try to fix hurting people.

Oh dear, sounds like a contradiction to the top of the blog – right?  NOPE. Jesus loved in a healthy way.

Jesus was selfless but He only took His orders from His Father – not people. He never got absorbed into other peoples “stuff”.  Codependency lifestyle is driven by the demands and lifestyle of others.

Jesus was a servant but He only did things that helped other people better themselves. He was not a doormat and He had boundaries. He took care of Himself. He rested, He ate, He prayed and spent time with God.

Jesus cared deeply for other people but He did not excuse people for their sin. He called them on it with truth. He let consequences happen for behavior.  He did not enable them. Codependents feel they need to give excuse after excuse for other people’s behavior.

Jesus tried to fix hurting people by offering them life with God and truth. He did not chase them down if they did not accept it. He respected people’s choice and let them walk away.  Codependents try to force others to do things “their” way – which is a form of crazy making.

If you have gone down the 2 lists above and you had a lightbulb go off and you suspect you might need some help in a few areas – Good For You!  That is Awesome! That is the first step.

Some things to do:

  1. Pray and ask God for direction.
  2. Seek out a counselor and take the lists with you.
  3. Seek out some good friends who will help keep you accountable to decisions you make.
  4. Go online to the website in the footnotes or just google Codependent
  5. Pick up some great reading at the Library – Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend; The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner;  Codependent No More by Melody Beatty is a classic or Women Who Love Too Much by Robin Norwood
  6. Seek out a self-help group and there are many great ones out there: Al-anon, Al-ateen, Addictions Centers have family support groups for all kinds of addictions.  Christian based recovery: Celebrate Recovery, Freedom Session, Griefshare,  DivorceCare.   Pornography: Pure Life Ministries, Pure Desire Ministries, The Conquer Series is for men and they have a series for women who have spouses addicted
  7. Do not go through recovery alone, You are NOT alone and Codependency would love for you to believe you are – do not believe it for a second. There is help out there, God will direct you,  go find it for your sake and the sake of those you love.




Written by : Jane Wheeler

3 responses to “The Codependency Circle

  1. O my. I guess I’ve always suspected that I am an enabler of a sort. I’ve worked on it over the years and truly I am getting better. I have a child who just cannot seem to get her life together. The trouble isn’t allowing her to reap the “rewards” of her choices, but how they affect the two little ones. That is what often drives me to help when I know I probably shouldn’t.
    Little by little I am letting go…but I keep a close eye for the little sake. Is that wrong? I do recognize that self care needs to happen here….life just has a way of making it all about something else, and there is never enough time for self so it would seem.
    Time with the Lord in the morning and daily art is the only thing keeping me sane right now….and for now it is enough. Thank you for this perspective Jane. Codependent need the reminders!


  2. This is a great post. I’ve often struggled with christian teachings I was brought up with believing that to be a person of faith, I must put others ahead of myself, turn the other cheek (ALWAYS forgive and accept irrespective of the abuse/damage caused). It is only in recent years I’ve been able to understand the point you make Jane that self love and boundaries MUST be a part of the equation. Difficult to get to this point though if brought up with abuse and these teachings drummed into you, possibly by individuals misrepresenting teachings to reinforce silence! Hurrah for you and your recovery, and hurrah for all those on the same journey :)! Maggie


    • Thank you Maggie. I think the journey for most women is hard and long to get to this point but God is faithful to keep prodding us on to recovery!

      Liked by 1 person

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