Before we answer the question "What makes codependency qualify as Christian codependency?" we need to understand the history of the term. In the 1980s, codependency was originally used to describe the dysfunctional patterns of family members of chemically dependent people who were also called the "co-addict" or "co-alcoholic." It was later broadened to include other people dealing with other types of difficult relationships and later to describe people who had a pattern of relating to all people in a codependent manner.

"Codependency" can be described as a pattern of behaving in relationships where people allow someone else's behavior to affect them in a way that causes them to react in ways that are unhealthy. It generally involves patterns of control, obsession, self-sacrifice, self-denial, enabling, and caretaking.

Caring about the people we love and wanting to help the people we love when they are hurting is normal. It is when this normal caring and loving becomes maladaptive and harmful to ourselves that we become codependent. Healthy relationships involve giving and sacrificing and adjusting one's needs to adapt to the other person; this can become codependent when the other person doesn't reciprocate or when it is extreme and results in a loss of self, as one woman expressed when she summed up her marriage this way: "When we got married, we became him." Some people are codependent in all relationships and others in a particularly difficult relationship.

People can also be codependent in the way they interact in their jobs, ministry, and life. In this situation, they feel compelled to give, give, and give in order to feel good about themselves, to be worthy of God's love, and to feel needed by others.

There are several causes of codependency. Codependency is a pattern of relating that is learned in a dysfunctional family of origin. Codependency can also develop as a result of being in a difficult relationship with someone who is abusive, addicted, irresponsible, physically or mentally ill, or dysfunctional. And finally, codependency results from misunderstanding what the Bible says about relationships.

So what would make codependency "Christian codependency?" It is when the justification for the behavior comes from a belief that God wants you to be codependent. These Scriptures are commonly used as a justification for codependency:

1. John 15:12-13 where we are told to love others as Christ loved us and to lay down our lives for others.

2. Colossians 3:3 where we are told to die to ourselves.

3. First Corinthians 9 where the Apostle Paul said he waived his rights and put up with anything to save as many as possible.

4. Ephesians 5:22-24 where wives are told to submit to their husbands.

5. Mark 12:31 where Jesus told us to love others as ourselves.

The interpretation of these Scriptures is taken to mean we should deny ourselves and endlessly sacrifice for others. This is where the mistake is made. When these Scriptures are accurately understood and balanced against other Scriptures, they mean we die to our sin natures, give up our rights for the benefit of the gospel but not to please selfish and irresponsible people, and care for others as much as ourselves. There are many other Scriptures that tell us to care for our bodies (Ephesians 5:26), balance our needs with others (Philippians 2:4), and say no to mistreatment (Ephesians 4:25, 5:8-11; Matthew and 18:15). Jesus' example to us was one of balance. He gave sacrificially but took time to rest, pray, and have relationships with those he cared for. He wasn't a doormat either; to the contrary, he was assertive, confrontational, and spoke the truth at all times.

Christian codependency does harm as it causes us to make choices in relationships that come from unhealthy compulsion rather than healthy choice. Second Corinthians 9:7 tells us that our giving should be from freedom and choice not from bondage and compulsion. An accurate understanding of Scripture sets us free to love others in a way that values ourselves.

Author's Bio: 

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Karla Downing is an author, speaker, licensed marriage and family therapist, and Bible study teacher. Karla's passion is to help people find freedom in Christ in the midst of their difficult relationships and circumstances through Biblical truths and practical tools.