In the 80s, evangelicals eagerly read Love Is A Choice and Codependent No More (neither of which I’ll link to, lest people misunderstand me as promoting them). As I read Love Is A Choice, I convinced myself that my mom’s perceived character flaws somehow caused me to behave in a codependent manner. I began evaluating her, silently making note of all her supposed faults that I would no longer tolerate.
Friends reinforced my view of Mom, encouraging me to stand against those things in her that allegedly locked me into codependency. For the most part, I relished their validation. Heaven knows (I assured myself), she never validated my feelings! I nodded in agreement as I turned the pages and identified multiple ways that she apparently failed to “fill my love tank.”
The more books I read by “Christian” psychologists, the more harshly I blamed my mother for my sins of anger and anxiety. Of course, back then I didn’t really acknowledge them as sins. Rather, I considered them “psychological damage.”
Deep down, however, I wrestled with the thought that all the material I read on codependency (and especially the book, Love Is A Choice) gave me convenient excuses to disobey God’s command to honor her (Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:1-3). Could it possibly be that the counseling ministry I worked in and the women’s ministry in my church influenced me to subjugate the clear teachings of Scripture to psychological principles? Yes, in the name of Christian ministry, I indeed created a way to extricate myself from God’s command to honor Mom.
Jesus had pointed words for those of us who use religion as a reason to dishonor our parents.
9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” ~~Mark 7:9-13 (ESV)
And just as the Pharisees concocted traditions that allowed them to violate God’s Law, so “Christian” psychology and its embrace of codependency theories allow evangelicals to blame their parents for their sins. I’ve shared my experience, not as an exercise in catharsis, but instead to demonstrate that teachings on psychological principles such as codependency actually lead people away from Biblical Christianity.
As with much of psychological counseling (whether or not that counseling labels itself as Christian), counseling that targets codependency issues puts the emphasis on self, convincing the counselee that she is the victim. She may, according to her counselor, be loving others in a desperate attempt to earn their love, God’s approval or both. As a result she loses her own sense of self, thereby placing herself under the control of others. Rather than freely loving them, says the teaching on codependency, she makes herself their slave.
When a counselor identifies codependency as an issue, the counselee is shamed for putting others before self, and therefore encouraged towards putting her self-interest ahead of the needs of others. As I plan to discuss in an upcoming blog post, this attitude directly contradicts the Bible’s teaching.
For the purposes of this essay, we must recognize that the recommended selfishness leads the counselee away from honoring her parents by encouraging her to dwell on ways they’ve supposedly wounded her. Although the counselor pays lip-service to the importance of forgiveness, the bulk of the counseling explores various ways that the parents have, knowingly or unknowingly, inflicted damage.
As Bible-believing Christians, we must reject counseling for codependency, seeing its obvious opposition to basic Biblical doctrine. Its enticement to dishonor parents is just one of the ways it encourages disobedience to the Lord, but it’s a major one. And even without the other ways it distorts the Word of God, it grieves the Holy Spirit. In obedience to our Heavenly Father, then, we must choose to honor our parents.