by Sue Gibbings



1.       Are you a workaholic?

2.       Are you easily angered?

3.       Do you like to help bear another’s burdens?

4.       Is your love for that significant other person in your life the kind that always protects, always trusts, always hopes & always perseveres?

5.       Do you love your neighbour as yourself?





Work is God honouring and “All hard work brings a profit” (Prov. 14.23), but there is a difference between hard work and workaholism. The latter is a compulsive behaviour and one of the means of avoiding self and dealing with emotional baggage.


To suggest to someone on the mission field that if they hope to serve effectively they must first take care of self causes neon lights to flash. Surely good Christian workers must put self aside? We’re to deny self, yes, but that doesn’t include denying even the sensible, ordinary needs of self. In that context workaholism is a distortion of the Christian ethic of service to others.




In 1 Cor. 13:5 we read that love is not easily angered and yet this is often misinterpreted as a call to repress anger. Christians often believe that it’s very un-spiritual to own any negative emotion like anger. Yet it is very necessary to acknowledge the feeling because it is a fundamental human need to have our feelings validated. Naturally, we need to find acceptable ways to express our anger if it is valid. Acknowledging the anger is healthy even if the reasons for it are wrong, but denying the feeling is unhealthy. In an attempt to anaesthetize emotional pain we all practise denial at times, but co-dependents become experts at denial and they usually have a lot of anger to work through.




Actually we are called to bear one another’s overburdens but our motive is suspect if we do it because of a need to be needed. Each person should carry his own load in terms of personal responsibility but the co-dependent feels inordinately responsible for others and wants to take on the whole load and feels quite noble and self-righteous about doing so. It is not surprising then that burn-out is an inevitable consequence.

Moreover, when we allow a person to feed off us in that dysfunctional way, we encourage the growth of a parasitic relationship. We need to stop and ask ourselves whether our love and caring has resulted in a relationship where there is one person who is LESS responsible and MORE self-centred.




By way of example, let us consider the woman who is married to an alcoholic. She believes she is acting in his best interests when she regularly phones his boss to excuse him from work, when she bails him out of scrapes and takes steps to ensure that his problem remains a secret - because “love protects & perseveres”.


Embodied in our Judeo-Christian ethic is the teaching that we should always respond with compassion and generosity to someone with a problem. She believes that if she stops rescuing him he will fall apart, and she applauds herself for her long-suffering and care taking.

In fact, her husband needs to fall apart before real change can occur, and she is just as sick as he is.

Her enabling and rescuing are part of the baggage she is carrying. Her behaviour arises from a need to change and control others, in order to experience the security that was not present in her own childhood. By keeping her focus firmly on another’s pain, the rescuer avoids attending to her own unmet needs and pain. Interestingly, it is often the caring professions, i.e. medicine, counselling, teaching and the pastoral ministry that attract people who are rescuers.




We are called to love our neighbour as our self, not instead of our self. We may always be very willing to do anything and everything for our neighbour. However, we need to learn to say no, and not always to say yes because we fear criticism and rejection and want to be a people-pleaser. Co-dependents do not love their neighbour the same way they love themselves. They love as they would like to be loved in return. Their apparently sacrificial and unconditional love has a hidden agenda. In essence, they are loving in order to be loved, caring in order to be cared for, and giving in order to receive.

Few of us have ever loved another person unconditionally. Even less, I suspect, are those of us who have ever experienced truly unconditional love.

Hence the pain - and the co-dependency.



Now, if you were to take the quiz again, would your answers still be the same?


Our theology often masks deep insecurities, fears and pain. Many Christians are unwittingly locked into co-dependent patterns of behaviour when biblical principles are taken out of context and misinterpreted. They may make a sincere attempt to obey God’s Word and live according to His precepts, but they are trying to obey a false “word”.

According to Christ who gave us the Second Commandment, the mark of true spirituality is how well we love.


Many to Many Issue 3 February 1993

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