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Q: What is codependency, and how do I know if I’m in such a relationship? What do I do?

A: Perhaps one of the most misunderstood (and, frankly, overused) words used in modern society, “codependency” has been thrown around in psycho-babble circles for so long and so often that it has taken on a kind of homogenized—and often benign—character. Make no mistake, though: Someone caught in the bondage of true codependency often lives at best a deeply compromised, self-destructive life…and a life in which the person suffers desperately to find true intimacy with Christ.

The definition of codependency is often, well…vague at best. The term originally appeared within the substance abuse treatment community in the mid seventies, but no one is sure about the identity of its originators. In the beginning, the word was used to describe those people whose lives and behavior were being deeply altered because of their close involvement (spouse, child, lover, etc.) with alcoholics and drug abusers. For some time professionals working in the field had identified a variety of specific emotional, physical, and spiritual symptomatic conditions exhibited by those living in close relationship with addicts. This awareness goes back to at least the late 30’s/early 40’s, when not long after the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, wives of the men struggling with their addiction founded their own adaptation of the 12-Step support groups—the organization known today as Al-Anon.

Today, the word codependency is painted with a much broader stroke, now embracing relational dynamics beyond those involving alcohol and drugs. Author Melody Beattie, in her now-classic book Codependent No More, gives us this definition: “A codependent person is one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.” My definition might read like this: “Codependency is a compulsive investment of time, thought, and energy into the attempted maintenance of someone else’s life, to such a self-destructive degree that their own identity, serenity, and connection with God is compromised or lost.” Mike S. O’Neil, is his classically brilliant but simple style, says that recovery from codependency essentially means discovering this one truth: “I am not you.”

This subject is so widespread, and its identification and treatment so complex, we couldn’t begin to cover it all here. I would recommend to anyone who believes they might be struggling with this thing a few starting points: First, the afore-mentioned book Codependent No More (Beattie) is a wonderful, compassionate, and informative source. For a workbook style approach, none are better than O’Neil’s Boundary Power. Both books are available through most major bookstores. Also, call this toll-free number for the national offices of Al-Anon—888-4AL-ANON. You can also find online meetings at www.Al-Anon.Alateen.org.


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