What Causes Codependency?

What cause people to be drawn into destructive, codependent relationships?

The answer is most often found in their childhood pain – a past pain that impacts their adult choices. In reality, codependent people are grown-ups who have issues in certain areas of their lives where they are not “grown up.” The Bible refers to immature grown-ups by using the analogy of infants feeding on milk instead of on solid food – Hebrews 5:12–13

All children progress through five developmental stages on their way to maturity and adulthood. God designed the family to provide the necessary structure for the healthy completion of each of these stages. If as children we fail to progress successfully from one certain stage to another, our development will be stunted at that stage, and we might grow up to be emotionally immature adults. We will develop adult bodies, but like children, we might be underdeveloped emotionally. As a result, we might be drawn into codependent, needy relationships. Out of tender concern for the protection of children, Jesus gave this general, but strong, warning to adults in Matthew 18:6 “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

God bestows on parents the major responsibility of nurturing their children so that they will not be love-starved – an emotional state that sets them up to “look for love in all the wrong places.”

  • Babies need to bond with their parents because they are helpless and totally dependent for all of their basic needs (love, significance, and security). If your parents did not meet your needs, you may have grown into a needy adult who feels “empty” inside – as if there is a hole in your heart.
  • Toddlers need to begin to push away from their parents as a way of exploring their environment and setting boundaries. If your parents did not allow separation, you may have grown into an adult who manipulates others in order to gain some sense of control.
  • Young children need to learn proper ways of resolving conflict as they begin to test their parents’ rules. If you did not learn healthy conflict resolution skills, you may have grown into an adult who lacks problem-solving skills in your adult relationships.
  • Preadolescent children need to grow in independence, but they still need direction and support from their parents. If your parents stifled your assertiveness, you may have grown into a needy, unassertive adult who is dependent on others to validate you.
  • Adolescents need to learn mutual give-and-take and even sacrificial sharing from their parents as they begin to pursue involvement within their own groups. If you did not see a healthy give-and-take between your parents or see ways of sacrificially helping others, you may have grown into a self-focused adult who forms unequal relationships in order to feel some sense of significance.

Children who grow up being emotionally needy and who are not allowed to learn the skills necessary for forming healthy, adult relationships never learn healthy independence. They have difficulty speaking the truth, asking for what they want, and setting boundaries. They may most probably become codependent adults who are addicted to unhealthy relationships because they never learned anything different. Ultimately, they are desperately trying to finish what they started in infancy, and that is to grow up!