Church Co-Dependency Characteristics

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In her book, Codependent No More, Melody Beattie makes clear being co-dependent

“does not mean we’re bad, defective, or inferior. Some of us learned these behaviors as children. Other people learned them later in life. We may have learned some of these things from our interpretation of religion…most of us started doing these things out of necessity to protect ourselves and meet our needs. We performed, felt, and thought these things to survive – emotionally, mentally, and sometimes physically [I would add spiritually]. We tried to understand, cope with our complex worlds in the best ways…Many of us have been trying to cope with outrageous circumstances, and these efforts have been both admirable and heroic. We have done the best we could.” (pp.41-42).

She goes on,

“However, these self-protective measures may have outgrown their usefulness. Sometimes the things we do to protect ourselves turn on us and hurt us….Can we change?…We can learn to do things differently. We can change…But many of us don’t know it is okay to do things differently. Many of us don’t even understand that what we’ve been doing that hasn’t been working…Many professionals say the first step toward change in awareness.” (p.42).

She then lists characteristics of codependent people. Here is an excerpt from her extensive list on pages 42-52:

  • 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.
  • Anticipate other people’s needs.
  • Find themselves saying yes when they mean no, doing things they don’t really want to be doing…
  • Feeling bored, empty and worthless if they don’t have a crisis in their lives, a problem to solve, or someone to help
  • Feel harried and pressured
  • Feel angry, victimized, underappreciated and used.
  • Think they aren’t quite good enough
  • Take things personally
  • Be afraid of making mistakes
  • Feel a lot of guilt
  • Feel ashamed of who they are
  • Push their thoughts and feelings out of their awareness because of fear and guilt
  • Become afraid to let themselves be who they are
  • Appear rigid and controlled
  • Worry about the silliest things
  • Think and talk a lot about other people
  • Try to catch people in acts of misbehavior
  • Focus all their energy on other people and problems
  • 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.
  • Ignore problems and pretend things aren’t happening
  • Stay busy so they don’t have to think about things
  • Become workaholics
  • Lie to themselves
  • Wonder why they feel like they’re going crazy.
  • Try to prove they are good enough to be loved
  • Tolerate abuse to keep people loving them
  • Blame, threaten, coerce, beg, bribe, advise
  • Don’t say what they mean
  • Don’t mean what they say
  • Take themselves too seriously
  • Ask for what they want and need indirectly
  • Gauge their words carefully to get the desired effect.
  • Try to say what they think will please people.
  • Let others hurt them
  • Don’t trust themselves, their feelings, their decisions, other people
  • Feel controlled by other people’s anger
  • Repress their angry feelings
  • Place guilt and shame on themselves for feeling angry
  • Become martyrs, sacrificing their happiness and that of others for causes that don’t require sacrifice.
  • Find it difficult to feel close to people
  • Find it difficult to have fun and be spontaneous
  • Combine passive and aggressive responses
  • Be confused about the problem
  • Cover up, lie and protect the problem.
  • Wonder why the problem doesn’t go away

Does this sound like the culture of some of our churches to you? It does from much of my experience. We are an anxious fellowship. We have to have everything right and if it isn’t you are lost. We developed a codependent culture that is riddled with anxiety and guilt. It keeps us from speaking directly or talking about problems because we don’t have any problems (the same thing the alcoholic says) because everything we do is found in the Bible. We are, the theory goes, the only ones doing it right. So to question anything is to call into question our unique (in our own minds) position against the denominations. So they system goes unchallenged and its unhealthiness unchecked.

Until we put our finger on this there is no moving forward. More on how to move forward next.

This article is in a series of articles. Here are the rest:
Co-dependent Churches – A Major Barrier to Change
Church Co-dependency & Naming the Elephants: TraditionChurch Co-dependency & Naming the Elephants: Fellowship
Church Co-dependency Characteristics

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