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Codependency, Christian Love, and Liberty

This guest post is by Rev. Donald Ehrke. He is a Libertarian, a former GOP campaign manager, and ordained minister living in Alexandria, Virginia. Many thanks to Donald for his excellent work! For guest post opportunities, please use the LCC Contact Page.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4: 7).

Love is the essential element of a sanctified Christian existence. Scripture repeatedly exhorts believers to practice a generalized love for mankind as evidence of the faith that the Holy Spirit has created inside of them. It may well be impossible to imagine Christian life absent the affection for one’s fellow man.

Nevertheless, that which is good can – according to our sinful inclinations – be transformed into evil. Love itself does not escape the predatory nature of sinfulness; love can be twisted into sickness. The discussion of love’s occasional conversion from good to evil could be limited to theological dissertations were it not for its cultural and even political consequences.

Christian counselors frequently encounter maladaptive love. In the name of keeping God’s command to love, individuals have frequently learned to love at all cost. People love others despite the horrible treatment they receive in return. Desperate husbands, wives, parents, and children anxiously attempt to cure the ills of those they adore. Their smothering affection creates enabling behaviors, disappointment, destruction, and ultimately unhappiness. In the current lexicon, their love has become “codependent.”

Codependency is a dysfunctional relationship model common not only in Christians but throughout the American population. The prevalence of codependency is difficult to ascertain – some estimates suggest that over 90 percent of the American population demonstrates codependent behavior. A study by Crester and Lombardo (1999) found that nearly half of surveyed college students showed middle or high codependent characteristics.

Codependency’s prevalence is difficult to determine, in part, due to its uncertain definition. There is no single, universal description of codependent behavior. Most clinicians would agree that a “codependent” is someone who alters their behavior in order to enable or support the maladaptive behavior of another person. Melody Beattie, author of the seminal work on codependency “Codependent No More,” describes a codependent person as someone “who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.” Accepting Beattie’s definition, we can begin to differentiate between an individual who tries to cheer up a distraught colleague (low level codependent behavior) and a spouse who alters their behavior to support the dysfunction of an alcoholic husband or wife in the hope of saving them (high level codependency). Low level codependency almost certainly exceeds a prevalence of 90 percent while middle or high dependency may, indeed, be present in somewhat less than 50 percent of the American population.

Before addressing the issues that codependency creates for our political environment, one more glance at codependent behavior – and its “cure” – is worthy of presentation. In “Codependent No More” Beattie describes (at great length) some codependent characteristics. A few are listed below:

  • think and feel responsible for other people – for other people’s feelings, thoughts, actions, choices, wants, needs, well-being, lack of well-being, and ultimate destiny
  • feel anxiety, pity, and guilt when other people have a problem
  • feel compelled – almost forced – to help that person solve the problem…
  • feel angry when their help isn’t effective
  • anticipate other people’s needs
  • …doing things other people are capable of doing for themselves
  • feel bored, empty, and worthless if they don’t have a crisis in their lives, a problem to solve, or a person to help
  • believe deep inside that other people are responsible for them
  • get artificial feelings of self-worth from helping others
  • try to catch people in acts of misbehavior
  • become afraid to let other people be who they are and allow events to happen naturally
  • think they know best how things should turn out and how people should behave

Also telling is Beattie’s description of how codependents can improve their lives. In the chapter “Live Your Own Life” she writes:

Self-care is an attitude toward ourselves and our lives that says, I am responsible for myself. I am responsible for leading or not living my life. I am responsible for tending to my spiritual, emotional, physical, and financial well-being. I am responsible for identifying and meeting my needs… I am responsible for my choices.

Self-care is an attitude of mutual respect. It means learning to live our lives responsibly. It means allowing others to live their lives as they choose, as long as they don’t interfere with our decisions to live as we choose. Taking care of ourselves is not as selfish as some people assume it is, but neither is it as selfless as many codependents believe.

Although Christians are committed to loving others, we understand that our virtue can transform into codependency. A grave question to ponder is what effect this has on democracy: what occurs when power is exercised by an electorate which may be forty percent codependent? Our society’s obsession with pressing our beliefs and morals upon our neighbor, the progressive willingness to steal from one another to lend assistance to a third party, our deficit spending dedicated to saving the world or helping the poor or bailing out a business…all are traits of the active codependent. The solution is simple – behave as a functional, responsible, healthy, independent, free individual. Our advice is to not offer advice – we let others be as responsible for themselves as we are for ourselves. We love, but we do not obsess, and by not obsessing we do not destroy.

We should, however, be sobered by the resiliency of codependent behavior. Liberty-minded individuals will typically present their arguments in a logical manner and will support their positions with reliable, valid research. We expect that listeners and readers will be persuaded by the thoroughness of research and the reasonable conclusions that research implies. Yet progressivism remains an extraordinarily prevalent political and social movement. The liberty-minded are shouted down by opponents, accused of being uncaring, and characterized as extreme. If the dissenting person is a Christian, they may also endure the label “hypocrite.”

Codependency resembles a compulsive behavior. The codependent is codependent because they believe they must be codependent – they do what they do because they accept no other choice. Even when their actions are demonstrably self-destructive they will not cease their behavior – codependents will destroy themselves to maintain their system – whether at home, work, or even at a state or national level. Codependents must be responsible for someone else; they become angry at people who attempt to stop them. Is there any wonder why well explained positions and research does not persuade them?

As long as codependents both fail to change their behavior and continue to vote, progressivism will continue to thrive. Given the compulsive nature of codependency, when progressive “solutions” fail, codependents respond by being even more progressive. This is the nerve center of progressivism – even demonstrably destructive behavior does not cease because the progressive sees no other option.

The liberty-minded Christian can answer codependency by speaking to its source – the obsessive need to improve others by controlling their behavior. When a person exerts control over another individual, he robs the person of both his or her free will and the opportunity to experience both the consequences of sin and the joy of sanctification. How frequently does a person discover God through the pain of sin’s results? Solomon writes, “It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7: 5). By removing sin’s consequences, codependency isolates individuals from both God’s rebuke and its resulting personal growth. Similarly, doing well (sanctification) increases confidence and encourages faith. We would do well to remind one another of this; the most loving action we can take is to let people experience both rebukes and successes that improve their lives. This is a much better alternative than codependent progressivism, the song of fools.

Christians are called upon to love one another as a reflection of God’s love for all people. To be uncorrupted, love must remain beneficial to its object as well as its source. Let us embrace such love by encouraging liberty.