In the movie When a Man Loves a Woman, Michael is married to an alcoholic named Alice who becomes dangerously reckless when intoxicated. After every drunken binge, Michael would pick up the broken pieces and patch Alice back together.
Michael struggled to see the full scope of the problem because all his “fixing” was adding to it. Subconsciously, he needed his wife to remain “sick” so he would have someone to care for.
Michael’s unhealthy efforts to navigate the stormy waters of his wife’s drinking problem represent a pattern that in my field of counseling is called “codependency.” Many codependent people latch on to those they try to “save” because they’re re-enacting a childhood role that required them to neglect their own needs to focus on others.
People do need each other. When we carry “each other’s burdens,” we become conduits of Jesus’ compassion (Galatians 6:2). But in a codependent relationship, mutually leaning on each other is sorely missing. The codependent person readily gives help but rarely receives it.
For codependent people, “helping” others is often excessive and ultimately unhelpful, something they feel they should do rather than something they’re meant to do. Driven by a deep-seated need to be needed (and therefore valued), people who struggle with codependency end up enabling harmful behavior.
Do you tend to take care of others and neglect yourself? Do you feel guilty for expressing your own needs? Know that you have valid needs too—and that Christ’s command to love includes yourself (Matthew 22:39). Even if others’ needs seem more pressing, we have more to offer others when we are cared for and rooted securely in Christ.
NLT 365-day reading plan passage for today: Matthew 7:1-12
Read Luke 5:15-16 and see how Jesus, despite the ever-pressing needs of others, pursued His personal need to recharge through prayer.
What does it mean for you to “love your neighbor as yourself”? What’s one thing you can do today to take care of yourself?