Personal note: After almost ten years of well-intentioned, but misguided and untrained (read unlicensed) “Christian” counseling, I found myself sitting alone and numb in a coffee shop in downtown Austin last August. Scarcely able to decipher the events of the past five years, all I knew was that I had deeply wounded my family, friends—and myself.
A new friend recommended I have coffee with someone he felt would understand my past. As we began our conversation, I immediately realized this was no average Joe. After sixty seconds of introductions and small talk, upon being gently prompted, I vomited my story as best I could. The articulate, perceptive words with which he responded dripped grace, empathy and firm but loving truth.
As the morning unfolded, I learned the layers of his empathy came from years as a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church (a high profile mega-church just outside of Chicago), and subsequently founding a church in Austin that also has grown to several thousand members. After twenty plus years of unbelievably successful ministry, he resigned—on his own—to teach at a college and pursue his entrepreneurial goals. His story was eerily similar to mine in many ways.
I told him I had been recommended a counselor and upon hearing his name, this new friend vehemently said, “No! There is only one counselor (and believe me, I know them all) in the entire Austin area that will be able to understand your journey, your mistakes, and the unspeakable strains of the mega-church and the demands and wounds of a platform such as ours.” He also said, “You won’t be able to get in, because he is incredibly backlogged, but he is a personal friend, and I will make a call.”
The man he was referring to is a highly trained and licensed psychologist with a doctorate, who happens also to be a christian, Dr. Steve. For the past 13 months we have met on a weekly basis, for the first six months fitting in whenever he had a cancellation. Dr. Steve is one of the most intelligent, empathic, caring and gentle persons I have ever known. Seeing him has been the most expensive, grueling, difficult, painful, yet best decisions I have ever made. And I am ever so slowly but surely healing from the catastrophic wounds I have caused others and myself.
Here are a few life-changing things I have learned (or should I say unlearned):
The Codependency Myth
The codependency movement and other currently popular self-help philosophies portray relationships in a way that is remarkably similar to the views held in the first half of the twentieth century about the child-parent bond.
Today’s experts offer advice that goes something like this: Your happiness is something that should come from within (God) and should not be dependent on your lover or mate. Your well-being (spiritual walk) is not their responsibility, and theirs is not yours. Each person needs to look after himself or herself.
In addition, you should learn not to allow your inner peace (relationship with God) to be disturbed by the person you are closest to. If your partner acts in a way that undermines your sense of security (spirituality), you should be able to distance yourself emotionally “keep the focus on yourself (God),” and stay on an even keel.
If you can’t do that, there might be something wrong with you. You might be too enmeshed with the other person or “codependent,” and you must learn to set better “boundaries (become a better Christian).”
If you develop a strong dependency on your partner, you are deficient in some way and are advised to work on yourself to become more “differentiated (spiritual)” and develop a “greater sense of self (God).” The worst possible scenario is that you will end up needing your partner, which is equated with “addiction” to him or her, and addiction, we all know, is a dangerous prospect.
*The parentheses are words that my previous “christian” counselor substituted.
While the teachings of the codependency movement remain immensely helpful in dealing with family members who suffer from substance abuse (as was the original intention), they can be misleading and even damaging when applied indiscriminately to all relationships.
Dr. Steve has helped me understand that while at first blush this philosophy sounds very spiritual, it is actually contextually unbiblical.
Question: What are your thoughts about codependency?