The Codependent Behavior that Kills Your Joy

codependent behavior

I spent most of my life thinking that codependent behavior was buying alcohol for alcoholics. I pictured a weak but loving person giving some drunk on the street a bottle of booze because at least the addict would be happy for a little while. Or maybe going to the bar, picking their loved one off the floor and taking them home, putting them to bed, only to do it again the next day. My ideas were mostly informed, I believe, by the movies.

Turns out codependent behavior is a little more complicated. Turns out I didn’t just have codependent tendencies, but full blown behaviors that needed to be addressed. So this is my personal list of codependent behavior that has made my life miserable. Addressing it has made my life much more enjoyable. And to be honest, this has caused me to face and recover from griefs from which I thought I could not recover.



So here is my own list of codependent beliefs and behaviors that stole my joy and prevented healing in my relationships:

  1. I knew what was better for others than they did. This is a pretty typical codependent approach to the lives of others. When we genuinely believe that if others only took our advice, then they wouldcodependent behavior be fixed, we come from a place of pride and not love. This is a difficult one. After all, wisdom and experience do teach some hard lessons. And we want to share those lessons.

Here is the difference. Love tells the truth without judgment or condemnation. The young wealthy man asked Jesus what he needed to do to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Jesus told him. He didn’t want to follow Jesus at that high of a cost. He wasn’t ready to. Jesus did not argue. He treated the young man’s choice as a real choice, which it was.

Many Christians will disagree with this one. After all, we point the way to Christ. We are to make disciples of all nations. But codependent behavior is all mouth and no ears.

To be codependent is to prescribe simple fixes for broken people rather than to grieve with the grieving and to mourn for the lost.

  1. I got angry when people didn’t take my advice. Codependent behavior means constant frustration. After all, people don’t take advice most of the time. They do what they are going to do because of a series of complex emotional realities. But codependency says that if I have pointed out to you the solution to all your ills and you fail to heed my advice, there must be something wrong with you.

This approach is again prideful. John 5:22 says, “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son.” And Jesus is not judging us, but inviting us to be one with Him and interceding for us continually. Jesus was not angry at the wealthy young man; He was grieved. Grief is an expression of love and loss. I am reminded of the story of the disciples telling Jesus to rain fire and brimstone on a village that rejected Him. Jesus’s response was to rebuke the disciples, not the people whose hearts were closed.

If you find yourself eager for people to reap the consequences of their mistaken actions, you do not operate in love, but judgment. This codependent behavior will keep you from enjoying relationships and will cause your heart to grow cold.

  1. I took on responsibilities that were not mine because I was the ‘only one who cared if things were done right’. To be codependent is to be exhausted and busy all the time. If you come behind codependent behaviorpeople and finish their tasks for them, you judge them and elevate yourself to martyr status at the same time.

Here is one way to tell if you are codependent. Do you finish people’s sentences, interrupt their explanations, or tell their stories for them because they aren’t doing it right? If your first response to people is, “Well, actually…” then you are not only insufferable, you are codependent. You are co-opting their testimony right out of their mouths. If you listen to others, they will listen to you. Relationships will be much more enjoyable for everyone.

  1. I feared others’ failures as much as I feared my own. To be codependent is to be anxious all the time. After all, failure is the great enemy of all that is right and good in the world. Or is it? If you interfere with the failures of others, you deny them their learning curve. You, in fact, prevent them from acquiring the wisdom gained from painful experience. You are complicit in their repeated failures.

This is the province of helicopter parents. Their children’s failures are their own. Failure must be avoided at all costs. But if a parent takes on the responsibility of their child’s education, what will that child learn?

  1. I protected others from the truth because ‘they couldn’t handle it’. Walking on eggshells is the uncomfortable fate of the codependent. If you have someone who is unpredictable in their reactions to the point you lie to them, you are enabling an abusive relationship. If you keep painful secrets because others can’t handle the weight, you are again, living in a dangerous zone of pride.

People must carry the weight of their own lives. Protecting others from truth is the same as lying. We mustn’t set ourselves up as keepers of truth or as sacrificial lambs. We put ourselves in God’s place when we do. Additionally, if you do not tell others the truth about how their behavior affects you, then you enable them to continue the behavior. No good comes of this. Ever.

One of the games my kids liked to play in high school around the dinner table was ‘The Mating Call’. It sounds terrible, but was incredibly funny. It stemmed from a romance I read in my youth. The heroine threw herself into the arms of the hero, a brilliant and wealthy businessman, and cried, “Darling! Administrate me!” For instance, the mating call attributed to my husband was “We need a system.” And with six kids between us, it is no wonder he said this phrase often.

My point here is that the mating call of the codependent and the narcissist is the same.

While they come from very different places, the message that both send the world is “I can save you!”

The narcissist wants to be glorified as the hero in their own grandiose narrative. The codependent wants the world to be perfect and safe with everyone following the rules, which just happen to coincide with their own world view.

To give up codependent behavior is a double edged sword.

Establishing healthy boundaries is hard and people who have hitherto enjoyed your hard labor on their behalf resent losing that service.

codependent behaviorBut living with far less anger and without the constant encroachment of exhaustion is pretty awesome. The catch is that you share in the sorrows of Christ.

Living in reality means that you understand you are not a savior… of anyone. It also means that you learn to grieve as you watch natural consequences overtake loved ones. But wait it out, for lessons get learned and battles get fought. Our participation matters.

Prayer, unconditional love, basic honesty, and good boundaries win far more battles than the impossible battle of living someone else’s life for them.

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12 Replies to “The Codependent Behavior that Kills Your Joy”

  1. So much wisdom in here!

  2. susanhomeschooling says: Reply

    “Love tells the truth without judgment or condemnation.” Wow! This sentence jumped out as I was reading your blog post, because I have gotten so much condemnation from others, without them actually telling me exactly what they see as sin. When there is only tongue lashings from people in spiritual authority, and they are not specific, they are always from the enemy, twisting reality to fit into their authoritarian boxes. Claiming that Scripture is supreme, they won’t listen to Scripture. Judgment and condemnation without love is what is happening, and they are always shocked when I dare to rebuke them back. I get so fed up when evil is good and good is evil.

    As far as being co-dependent, I feel that what you are describing is more of a controlling nature, where you try to help by eliminating the wrong choices from someone, resulting in everyone blaming you for being controlling when all you wanted was to help the person move in the right direction.

  3. This is such important information for anyone in a care-providing role. These are tough lessons to learn and abide by because it can be so easy to fall into the belief that you know more than the other person. And even if you do in some situations, it’s important to remember always truth in love! Thank you for sharing your vulnerabilities to help others!

  4. This is such a unique topic – thanks for tackling it! You share a lot here – I love when people are honest and true about deep issues like this. It’s how we all learn and grow together. Thank you!

  5. this looks like a great book. and we all need this! we all have some of this going oin

  6. very good.

  7. Very insightful. I have never really thought about this type of dependency before. Thanks for opening my eyes! Great post!!

  8. I so appreciate how you break down codependent behavior. I too had the idea of giving alcohol to an alcoholic. I’d never thought of being codependent in the ways you described but it makes total sense.

  9. Really helpful information, i just realized how codependent I am. I love being the ‘savior’ I am the girl trying to fix everyone and save from their troubles.

  10. Very good information for each of us to know. Thanks for sharing this. – Amy

  11. Whew this full of great wisdom. I had to learn many of these the hard way.

  12. Wow! This was an eye-opening article. Thank you for the insight and for sharing 🙂

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