One of my greatest strengths lies in my ability to lay down my own desires in order to make someone else happy. One of my greatest weaknesses lies in the fact that I am willing to give up my desires in order to make someone else happy. A bit of a paradox, that. You see, I am a happiness manipulator. We are used to seeing manipulation in a particularly virulent form on the dramas on television. Characters lie and set up situations in order to gain power, wealth, whatever. But me, I just want you to be happy. And if you are not happy, then I will go to great lengths to make you happy. I am codependent.
Just one problem. Or ten. I can’t make anyone happy. It shocked me to learn that. It really did. In fact, I was a bit let down. As a formerly dedicated people pleaser, I felt as if my whole identity was at stake. And to be honest, being a Christian did not help. At least not a Christian in today’s church. If I served my little heart out, then I was being a good Christian. I was my brother’s keeper. I had a servant’s heart. All the Christianese phrases applied. In fact, I was actually codependent. And I believe that the church often rewards codependency. Several pastors have rewarded me for the very thing that was killing my spiritual life.
You see, to be codependent is to be convinced one knows what is best for everyone else. One has all the answers or one knows where to get them. To be codependent is to forget the word, ‘No’.
Codependency is to be passionately invested in people who can’t be bothered to be invested in themselves.
In the end, I couldn’t feel safe or happy unless everyone else felt safe and happy. Sadly, that event has yet to come in my lifetime. After all, I have six to eight kids, depending on who you ask. Never have all of them been happy at the same time. I still dream of that day.
I learned to ask myself or make observations regarding what I should and should not do in order to make anyone else happy.
If you find yourself very tired, juggling too many things, have people who are simultaneously angry at you and clingy, you might be a little codependent.
Five questions I ask myself:
- Am I doing this good thing because I want to or because I am afraid not to? If I am serving another because I feel guilty, then I probably shouldn’t. Guilt is a prime motivator of the codependent Christian. That is why the people who rely on codependents pull out the old guilt gun all the time. Worried people will think less of you if you don’t do the thing? Worry about whether God is calling you to do the thing. Haters gonna hate. There is no fear in love.
- Is it sacrificial love or false martyrdom? If performing gives me an edge over someone, I am not loving them. I am trying to guilt them right back. Christ died on the cross and begged God to forgive us while we watched Him die. That is sacrificial love. And we humans, with Christ incarnated in us, are capable of that. But I promise you, even a little bit of smugness is codependence. God is not smug. He is love.
- Am I angry when people don’t take my advice? People ask for advice regularly. And a codependent loves to dispense it. But the truth is, most people know what they need to do, and they will do it when they are ready. If I am investing a lot of time and emotion into someone else’s life, God better be calling me to do it. Otherwise, I am meddling and wasting my time.
- Am I making assumptions about others and what they need? The real calling of a person who is codependent is probably to be a burden bearer. If I am torn up over the pain in someone else’s life, it could be simply that the situation triggers me. Sometimes we project our pain onto others. Or perhaps my job is to bear that burden to Christ, not to carry it myself. If I need people to need me, I am playing God.
- Am I telling the truth? I have a saying I say to myself often. “It is what it is, and not something else.” I have a tendency to believe, “It’s not what it is; it is something way better.” Codependents are fabulous at denial. Sometimes things are bad. They aren’t easily fixed. I don’t have the power to make it ok. And lastly somethings only heal if I let them be bad, really bad. Pretending things are ok when they are not is to deny reality. Jesus, as the Truth, is reality. You deny Christ when you deny what is real.
In the end, I found that Jesus’ yoke was so much lighter than the one I insisted on carrying. I learned to feel safe when others were unhappy. I can stay in myself and just feel my own emotions. I am not called to feel anyone else’s. And now that I am not trying to fix anything, I am actually more empathetic. You see, you have to put up your defenses around codependents while they hammer away at all the solutions to your problem.
Now that I know which circus and monkeys are actually mine, I don’t have to go around trying to subdue anyone else’s.
Not sure what I mean by codependent? Here is a website or two to help you understand.