codependence, independence, interdependence

kathyescobar church stuff, healing, incarnational, relationships, spiritual formation, the refuge 13 Comments

the #1 word that i use at the refuge (other than nutty, messy, wild and beautiful) is relationship.  to me, when Jesus summed up the law and said it’s about loving God, others, ourselves that he was basically saying “it’s about relationship, people.”  it’s not about stuff or knowledge or words–it’s about love.  i also believe that love can be a very ethereal word that doesn’t sometimes translate down to practice.

if you’ve been reading here for a while you know that i believe that “the church*” is supposed to be the place to practice love not just talk about it.  not sit and learn about it.  not philosophize about it.  but really, really practice it.  and one thing i can say about our community is we may not have any bells and whistles or money or tricks, but we sure do have a lot of practicing going on. (*if you’re new to the carnival, my definition of church is: people gathered together in some way, shape or form to learn & practice the ways of Jesus & pass on love, hope, mercy, justice, and healing in a broken, weird world.)

right now at our wednesday night house of refuge we are walking through the 12 steps together (we did the same thing last summer, using some material that i wrote that makes the steps assessible to those in touch with their basic need to change some unhealthy patterns.  email me if you’re interested and i can send you the file).  so many think that the 12 steps are just for addicts or people in relationship with addicts. nothing could be farther from the truth; based on the beatitudes, they really are a practical guide to becoming more loving, grounded, honest, compassionate, kind, free human beings.  a word that often comes up in 12 step circles is “codependence.” many think that codependence is about really-messed-up-people-who-are-in-relationship-with-an-addict-or-in-an-abusive-relationship.  yeah, it goes far wider and deeper than that.  in a conversation a few weeks ago, we talked very briefly about the difference between “codependence “and “interdependence.”  the more i thought about it, the more i realized that “independence” should be thrown into the conversation, too.   as i’ve been reflecting on these 3 words i see how they apply not only to us individually in our every day relationships, but also in our relationship with God.  and because communities/churches are made up of people & develop a certain innate culture that they live from, they can also collectively embody these patterns, too.

so what’s the difference between codependence, independence, and interdependence when it comes to our relationship with God & others, both individually and corporately?


to me, codependence is essentially an unhealthy pattern of control, care-taking, enabling, people-pleasing, suppressing our own wants & desires for the sake of keeping the peace & our little world as we know it spinning around.  i believe codependence is a human condition and that most of us suffer from it in some shape or form; even those that appear very squared away and confident, often have very strong codependent characteristics underneath.  codependents tend to:

  • give but never allow themselves to receive
  • be out of touch with what they really want or need
  • be martyrs, peace-makers, victims, care-takers
  • act out of fear instead of freedom
  • live an “if i do or say this or that then God will be happy with me” kind of faith

independence is what i always call “the american way.”  it’s the i-don’t-really-need- anyone-else mentality.   i don’t really need close people in my life, i can handle things on my own, i’ve got it covered.  independence isn’t necessarily a bad thing in that it is good to be free and strong apart from other people; the problem is that typically it means that the person isn’t very engaged in the real stuff of other people’s lives.  underneath a lot of independence is fear.  independents tend to:

  • never really connect on an emotional level with other people
  • reject input
  • believe that things are “just fine the way they are”
  • think their way is right
  • not really need God much, have their own bases covered

honestly, i believe most people–most churches–tend to stay stuck in codependent or independent patterns, either being addicted to caretaking, people pleasing, holding-back-the-truth with God & others or standing apart, being strong and prideful, and not really allowing themselves to be engaged in real relationship with God or others.

i think Jesus call of love is to learn the ways of interdependence.  true interdependence means we rely on one another in a way that is not unhealthy or creates imbalanced power.

  • interdependence requires a vulnerability, a willingness not only to be transparent with how we are doing and feeling but also let others’ love, mercy, wisdom, and help into our lives.
  • interdependence is a letting go of self-protection to pursue connection.
  • interdependence is a freedom to be ourselves–with all of our uniqueness, strengths and weaknesses–and love others in all of theirs, too, without being compelled to change, reject, or avoid them.
  • interdependence is a solid awareness of our own need for grace and the ability to pass it on to others, too.
  • interdependence is a heart open to feel others pain but not let it suck the life and hope out of us.
  • interdependence requires a courage to risk money, time, and status to stand for justice on others behalf instead of stand by and watch others get taken advantage of.
  • interdependence is being willing to need other people and be needed at the same time.
  • interdependence is showing up in our relationship with God in an honest and real way instead of faking or avoiding.
  • interdependence is a life of spirit-infused sacrifice connected to other people instead of a life of narcissism.

i think it’s fairly easy to be codependent and independent people in our relationship with God and others. it’s some kind of weird crazy human default many of us seem to have.

i think it’s also fairly easy to be codependent and independent communities, either being overly concerned with approval & making everybody happy or thinking we’ve got it mastered & don’t need anyone else.

it’s much harder to be interdependent people (and churches)–the kind that paul talks about in 1 corinthians 12 where the parts of the body are all intertwined  together, doing what they are meant to do, forming a wholeness that they could never form alone.

for me, i know i often teeter between codependence and independence in my own life.  i have that typical adult-child-of-an-alcoholic-keep-the-peace-and-make-everyone-happy tendency and also the i-really-don’t-want-to-need-or-rely-on-anyone independence (honestly, i think independence is just a subset of codependence).

i need to keep remembering that real interdependence–which i believe are the ways of Jesus lived out together in relationship–are usually counterintuitive to so much of what i have been taught both in my personal-family-history-systems as well as my faith experiences. the codependent good girl initially helped me move up the christian ladder, and the independent-got-it-all-covered girl helped me survive in more ways than i can say.  but over the years, i have become more and more aware of how lonely & limiting & not-the-ways-of-Jesus this kind of living is.  it is prideful & self-centered & fearful & far from free.

codependence and independence are ways to control our world & avoid pain & failure instead of living the real, uninhibited, tangled up ways of the kingdom in true-blue interdependent relationship with people & God.

i am trying to risk my heart, my pride, so much of what i have known & engage in real, scary, unpredictable, beautiful, healing interdependent relationships with other men & women on the journey.

and i am hoping our community will learn how to be more interdependent in the wider body of Christ as well.

there’s no question, i/we have a lot to keep learning.

i love what jean vanier says in my all-time-favorite-book-on-inclusive-deep-and-healing-missional-community, community and growth:

“there is always a warfare in our hearts; there is always the struggle between pride and humility, hatred and love, forgiveness and the refusal to forgive, truth and the concealment of truth, openness and closedness. each of us is walking in that passage toward liberation, growing on the journey toward wholeness and healing.”


may we become more whole, interdependent people.

and may we cultivate more whole, interdependent communities.

God, please help us break free of codependence & independence and learn your ways of interdependence.


there’s so much more that could be said about these 3 patterns of doing relationship with other people & in our faith, but i’ll stop here for now.  as always, i’d love to hear some of your thoughts, perspectives & experiences on the differences between codependence, independence & interdependence.