'The church is notorious for supporting codependency. Refuse to play this game and you’re considered cruel.'This is a statement from the nakedpastor's blog, and it has fascinated me since I read it. I keep wanting to email him to expand on it a bit more, but in the end decided that was lazy and I will try to do it myself.
First I will try to explain what I think codependency means. It was a term that was coined when successful programmes for alcoholics were created, and it was discovered that the partners or relatives of the alcoholics were sabotaging the sobriety of the alcoholic. The relationship between say an alcoholic husband and a codependent wife was a mutual bind, the alcoholic needed someone to look after him, the wife needed someone to need her, so they were dependent and codependent. If his dependency lessened then their relationship became meaningless and her identity was at stake. Better to sabotage the sobriety.
Codependents don't have to be married to addicts, they can be in any sort of relationship with someone they perceive of as needy, so for example, those with personality disorders, eating disorders or mental disorders, but for ease here I will call all these things addictions. The codependent sublimates all his or her needs to concentrate on the addict. All the problems in the codependent's life are centred on the addict, they take responsibility for them, plead with them to stop drinking, drive them places, lie for them. The codependent gradually loses any sense of self and cannot get away. Previous attempts to leave result in recriminations about how they don't love the addict and threats to commit suicide or the like. The addict continues the addictive behaviour without seeking professional help ad infinitum and the Danse Macabre continues endlessly.
What has this to do with the church? In some churches this relationship is acted out, I've got a feeling it is in more prevalent in Charismatic Evangelical churches where obedience to the scriptures is put above one's own needs and feelings. Hence, no matter how little you feel like rescuing, the scripture tell you to be the Good Samartitan once again. As everyone is practising codependency it is easy to get sucked in. And, let's face it, being a pastor is a great job for a codependent, there are often needy people to look after. The church is seen as a great place if you are an addict or perceive yourself as needy to find someone to be codependent with you. After all there are scriptures in the Bible advocating it:
If someone messes up you life with an addiction, turn the other cheek and let them mess it up some more.
Take up your addict and follow me.
Blessed is the codependent who lays down his/her life for his addict.Well, something like that. In these churches the pastor is often the grown up, taking all the responsibility and many of the congregation act like children in that context, even though they might be very mature and successful in their careers. They expect the pastor to tell them what to do, to be their parent. In these churches, if the pastor puts in some boundaries they are considered cruel.
So how is it to be avoided? I don't know, but here are some fledgling thoughts on the side of the pastor:
1. Don't tell the congregation what to do, help them come to their own conclusions.
2. Trust people to make their own decisions about their own lives, threat them like adults.
3. Respect people's personal decisions, do not interfere in their personal relationships.
4. Recognise your own need to be needed, be honest about codependent behaviours.
5. Put boundaries in relationships, never get into the situation of 'if only they were ..... it would be ok'.
6. Enforce 'Tough Love', allow people to suffer the consequences of their own behaviour.
7. Be yourself, do not control others by pleasing, being a chameleon or manipulating situations.
8. Be very honest.