“My biggest struggle is codependency. It’s probably the way I grew up, but I feel like I rely heavily on others and I find myself getting into relationships where they need me as well. I would say, and I’ve been told, that I’m an enabler. I know that adversely affects my kids so I’m trying to work on that. I feel like I need to make everyone happy and I even do that at the expense of my own happiness and peace.” – Sarah, newly divorced Mom of two kids.
A common experience we hear about often from single parents is codependency. “Codependency is a behavioral condition in a relationship where one person enables another person’s addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, underachievement. A core characteristic is an excessive reliance on other people’s approval for a sense of identity. It can be a serious condition that wrecks relationships often unseen or identified until it’s too late.” Codependency hurts us because we are never meant to be the end all for somebody else and it hurts them because they end up becoming entitled or reliant on others for their own happiness.
Grammy nominated musician and mentor, Paul Colman, shares his wisdom, strength and experience after learning some hard lessons about himself and about codependency during divorce. Paul started therapy after his wife asked for a divorce over ten years ago. He went for two years and at each session he found himself exploring what seemed like the dark corners of a house where he kept bumping into things that were sharp and unknown. The process was challenging, but through it, he learned he struggled with codependency. Wanting approval from others had become an idol and a drug. With his big personality, Paul could never be invisible enough and was bullied as a child. By the time he got married, he was broken and even though he loved his wife, his brokenness impacted his marriage. His heart was beating but he couldn’t see his wife for who she was, he wasn’t able to reach out and embrace and to listen well to her, to himself or to others. Codependency was a disease that plagued him, but it was hidden by the image he projected. What he found out through therapy and by getting to know himself, is that he didn’t need the projection, he just needed to be present for those in his life.
Part of Paul’s journey out of codependency was realizing the depth of God’s love for him so he no longer needed to seek approval and acceptance from others. This is the key for all of us. Sometimes that realization only comes after significant loss. When all is stripped away, we are faced with an opportunity to evaluate and learn and grow. It’s like turning on the lights in all the dark rooms and coming to terms with what we find. Not everyone leans into that but if we do, we can discover who we are and who God is so we can love ourselves and others in an authentic and healthy way. Getting to the root of our behaviors helps us get rid of them. When we struggle with control, we must identify the root which is fear. When we confront our fear, we can then change the behavior of control.
Paul said the process of getting to the root of his behaviors and finding truth led him to surrender all areas of his life to God, without holding back. He had to accept who God said he was and let God rebuild his identity from the ground up. That process set him free from the drug of codependency, leading him to peace even as his recovery from codependency continues.
Paul defines codependency as “not knowing I’m okay without needing someone’s approval” and “not feeling comfortable in my skin without needing something from others”. We can want or desire friendship from others without feeling like we need it or must grasp for it or behave in a way to get it. Codependency is like jail. It’s being trapped in feelings of not being okay when others are not happy with us. Instead, when we seek God for approval and surrender to Him, we find a sense of happiness, esteem and good feelings that comes from within, without needing to gain those things from others. This allows us to approach relationships with freedom so we can genuinely connect and give to others without requiring something in return.
As single parents, learning about codependency, identifying it, and working through it, is a gift to our kids. We teach them how to have healthy relationships with God, themselves and others through our growth and example. The journey allows strength and health for us individually but also brings us genuinely closer to our kids and others too. When God shines the light on codependency in our lives, it is His kindness to help us see ourselves through His lens so we embrace the reality of who we are, seeing both our strengths and weaknesses with clarity.
If you struggle with codependency, Paul says an important first step is telling a few close friends what is really happening in your life. You may not even describe it as codependency, but you must get honest about where you are. We all need outside perspectives to have our blind spots revealed. And we need to read God’s Word. We need to read it and let it reveal truth to us, in us, and through us. Paul shared a key life verse for him about codependency, Jeremiah 17:5-8:
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
6 That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.
7 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
8 They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”
One of the fundamental lies of the enemy to curse us and keep us trapped is the lie that if we tell someone what’s really going on, they won’t like us. The fact is when we get honest with ourselves and others, they will like us more. They will likely say, “me too”. This type of gut level honesty is the key to finding peace and overcoming codependency. It can be a scary process but it’s worth it. Dumping our shame and sin at the foot of the cross gives us the ability to move forward more freely. It requires action and commitment. It’s an admission that we can’t be all things to all people. Only God can do that. In confessing this honestly to ourselves, to another person, and to God, we start the journey toward freedom and toward genuine lasting peace. And it takes time. Don’t get discouraged in the journey. Just keep going, one step at a time.
Find Paul’s music here: www.paulcolman.com
As part of your practice to anchor your mind with truth, our Solo Parent app has a daily resource called Sound Mind Set. It’s a great new tool for single parents to use to pause and reflect every day. You can find it on our Solo Parent app and it’s FREE!
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