Confessions of a Codependent
Instead of writing something myself this week, I wanted to share-with her permission–a post from my dear friend Adria Murphy. When I read this, it spoke words of truth and comfort to that fearful part of my heart that is always unable to understand or accept that God loves me unconditionally, forever. Hopefully, this will bring encouragement to you, wherever you stand in relation to God’s love. –Carolyn
I have boundary issues. Every time I sit on a therapist’s couch, nervously tracing the embroidery of a throw pillow, this is what I talk about: how do you say “no” to people? What’s the difference between “giving” and “enabling”? How do you look at people in need, and say, “I can’t save you”?
For me it isn’t a matter of having enough guts or willpower to say no. The problem is, my codependent tendencies are riddled with moral implications. I’m afraid when I write it all out, my problem will sound obvious and silly. I’m also positive, however, that I’m not the only good Christian girl whose upbringing and personality led to this bizarre complex. So here’s how my logic goes:
1. God wants us to love people. The Bible says so.
2. God especially wants us to show active love towards people in need. The Bible says so.
3. This active love should extend to the point of putting others’ needs above our own. This is what Jesus would do.
4. It is selfish and unloving not to help people in need.
5. If I am inconvenienced, or even hurt, when I try to show love to people, that’s okay. That is what Jesus would do.
6. The Bible never specifies a point at which we’ve given “too much” to other people. After all, Jesus died for us.
7. Arbitrarily deciding when to stop helping people—like when I’m “tired” or “don’t have time” or “am being used” is not what the Bible says to do.
8. If I stop giving to people—if I hold them at a distance—I am not loving, or being like Jesus.
9. If I don’t try to be Christ-like and loving like God wants me to be, He will be displeased with me.
10. I don’t want God to be displeased with me.
11. I can’t say “no” to people who need help.
I realize this list isn’t exactly linear—neither is my thought process. It’s a pretty twisted mess, actually. But this argument has kept me talking in circles to more than one therapist. When they told me, “You need to take time for you,” I translated this as, “You need to be selfish sometimes, which will make God sad.” It’s no wonder I kept making the same mistakes.
My codependency took several forms. I am chronically over-committed. I throw myself into ministries, projects, social events, and favors for friends. College culture, which practically worships over-commitment, did me no favors. It seemed virtuous to tell people, “Oh, I’m very busy, but I’m doing alright,” with a tired smile to suggest that I was Hard-Working Loving Savior Girl—authentic because I was open about my challenges, yet able to gladly shoulder the weight because Jesus loved me.
My codependency also led to a series of deeply attached, highly unhealthy friendships. Once, a therapist asked, “How long have you had unhealthy friendships?” I sputtered, “Well, at the beginning of college, there was—no! There were some friends in high school who… well, actually, that started in junior high—except, now I remember this one time in elementary school, and also this other time… actually, always….”
As a child with an insatiable appetite for books and weekly access to a sizable church library, I’m pretty sure I digested an unwholesome number of novelized missionary stories about solitary, intrepid souls who forsook comfort, country, and family to save the savages. I wanted to be Amy Carmichael, Mary Slessor, or David Livingstone—faithful and fearless. These were my heroes, and I reenacted a needy, playground version of their lives as I ate my heart-shaped PB&J sandwiches with the other Christian school misfits.
Probably around my third (or first) paragraph, anyone reading this will have easily spotted the error in my logic (well, actually, there are tons of errors, but let’s start with just one). I wrote, “9. If I don’t try to be Christ-like and loving like God wants me to be, He will be displeased with me.” Really, in my heart of hearts, I think I believed—and still do believe—that I’m constantly in danger of losing God’s love. If I sin—if I’m not strong enough or good enough to love people like I believe God wants me to—I’m afraid of God leaving me.
Over the years, I have gotten better at saying no. However, when my self-image gets low and the scripts in my head recite cruel words about me, I start saying “yes” to everyone and everything, again. I let myself be used. I play savior.
Driving home a few days ago, I realized the correlation between feeling poorly about myself, and my sudden regression into codependent habits. This isn’t at all about me loving other people. This is about me being loved—by God. This is about feeling unsafe in the arms of my Father.
That same evening, a friend observed to me that we often spend so much time struggling with who we are that we forget to think about who God is. I think about God as my Judge a lot. I think about how my actions demonstrate to God that I don’t love Him, and that He shouldn’t love or accept me. I view myself as constantly teetering on the edge of His mercy, one neglected good deed away from falling out of His hand.
I wish I could force myself to suddenly believe that God is Love. I don’t think forcing that truth from head to heart comes quickly or easily for anyone. But I do know that when my heart fleetingly grasps the joy that God loves me, and He isn’t going to stop, my relationships with other people suddenly get better. It no longer matters that I’m not John Livingstone or Mother Teresa. It’s okay that I get tired, and that I make mistakes. It no longer matters that I’m limited, except as a reminder that I need Him. I no longer view my relationships with this strange power divide, wherein I am the little savior, and “they” are the least of these who need saving. I see us all as broken, and needing a savior. And I see a Savior who will never stop loving and saving me.
Adria Murphy is a special education teacher in Irvine, California. She blogs at http://adriamurphy.wordpress.com