Codependency: Counterfeit Charity

poor-boxI’ve had many reasons to consider charity and codependency over the past few months. As I have tossed ideas around in my head, it occurs to me that codependency is probably Satan’s counterfeit substitute for real charity. On the surface, they look very similar, but closer examination, one destroys while the other exalts.

Basic Definitions

In the Guide to the Scriptures, Charity is listed as the “highest , noblest, strongest kind of love, not merely affection.” It is compared to the love that Christ has for us, which included being willing to sacrifice everything (including mortal life) to rescue mankind without regard or reservation for those who would reject His gift. In thinking of charity that way, it sounds a lot like the martyr syndrome of codependency.

After doing a quick Google search, I feel pretty confident in defining codependency as being over passive or overly care taking in ways that negative impact relationships and life, placing the relationship above basic personal needs. Right now, I can’t see much difference between it and the definition I just gave of charity.

Looks like it’s time to turn to the scriptures.

From the Bible and the Book of Mormon

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and Moroni 7:45 contain nearly identical definitions of charity. Let’s look at most of the defining characteristics.

  • Charity is long suffering, … is not easily provoked:
    • A codependent individual will try hard to put up with the chaos, pain, and rejection that he or she feels in a relationship, but there is a deep-seated need for the other person to change and to be acknowledged and honored for the sacrifice. The codependent will continue being hurt, because they enable the other person to continue as they are and will be taken for granted.
    • Charity is given without strings attached. Long-suffering and patience are an acknowledgement that we all have imperfections, and that Heavenly Father is leading and guiding others on their own personal path of growth. I can put up with a lot because I don’t try to own anyone’s issues except my own, but I can walk away and take a break without feeling guitly — if that’s what I need so that I can maintain my sanity.
  • Charity doesn’t vaunt itself or become “puffed up”:
    • The codependent craves acknowledgement. The caretaker needs others to see how patient, kind, and loving he or she has been, despite the mistreatment being suffered. There is an element of “looking good” that pervades the assistance rendered, and it can get in the way of trying to do what is best for everyone in the relationship.
    • Charity, on the other hand, already has an intrinsic sense of worth that comes from knowing that God really is our Father, and that the life being lived is pleasing to Him. Since God is pleased, there is no need to be acknowledged by others, even if a word of praise here and there feels good. Any service, love, or time given is given freely as a gift.
  • Charity seeks not her own, … does not behave herself unseemly:
    • Codependency is always seeking to fulfill personal needs under the guise of selflessness. It is a transactional dance of helping someone else so that I will like me and others will like me, too. When that doesn’t happen, the codependent often strikes back, trying to force others in the relationship to give what is needed and desired.
    • Since charity is given with no strings attached, there is no pressure to receive something in return, no frustration for disappointed hopes, and the self-control to handle anger, disappointment, and frustration in healthy ways.
  • Charity bears, believes, and hopes all things:
    • Codependency loves this part of the definition! To the codependent, this signals to continue putting up while denying the reality that the relationship is unhealthy and cannot heal unless changes are made. It is living in denial of reality.
    • Charity can bear mistreatment and still hope and believe that the other person can change, because the misbehavior isn’t personal. Charity recognizes that behavior received is a reflection of the heart of the one acting, and that self-worth is intrinsically found.

Summing it Up

These are just a few of the thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head, and I worry that I haven’t voiced them well. I think I will be satisfied if I’ve given you the opportunity to pause and think.

Darla Isackson, a columinist for Meridian Magazine, has written some articles that explore these ideas, as well:

How to Avoid Giving Help that Hinders

What is Our Part in God’s Plan for Our Loved Ones?

One Illusion that Hurts Our Parenting