Whose Burden Is It?

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ                                      Galatians 6:2

Enjoy this Reflection from the archives as I take a weekend off…

The whole discussion about “Codependence” really revved up in the 1970’s although the concept had been around since Karen Horney’s work in the 1940’s. The essential elements are about the dysfunctional ways that people try to make relationships work. We are called to “bear one another’s burdens”, but not to carry the ones they should and can bear themselves. In other words, we don’t do things for people that they can or should do for themselves.

There is nothing wrong, of course with helping people out of our sense of love or generosity. The question is, what is the motive? Is it to ensure that the other person will love and accept me? Is it out of fear of rejection? Or is it simply that I want to see the other person’s joy, satisfaction and growth?

None of us have perfect motives, but it is important, as I have suggested often, to be aware of my real motives in an honest reflection of myself.

We are called upon to bear one another’s burdens but not to meet our own ego needs of being “the helper”. We must always answer the question “Whose needs are being met here?” Co-dependents tend to lose themselves (or run from themselves) by “caretaking” another person.

In teaching care-givers at church, I used this concept to help them to see what good care-giving is. The bottom line was: Our goal is empowerment, not caretaking

That is, we give tools and assistance at the time to people in order to help them do what they need for themselves. Our job, I told them, was not to solve another person’s problem, it was to get them to the One who can.

In some relationships, ones that tend toward being unhealthy, one partner is dependent on the other person’s poor functioning to satisfy their own emotional needs. We find this, of course in addiction situations, as well as abusive ones that may end up in domestic violence.

Some of the characteristics listed below are from the work of Friel & Friel (1988), and they are instructive on warning signs that may be present in codependent relationships…

My good feelings about who I am stem from being liked by you.

My good feelings about who I am stem from receiving approval from you.

My fear of your anger determines what I say or do.

I use giving as a way of feeling safe in our relationship.

My social circle diminishes as I involve myself with you.

I put my values aside in order to connect with you.

So, we are called to be responsive to the needs of others, and we should respond out of love, and the desire to bring people to health in all ways. That, I believe, is the focus of Galatians 6:2. We just need to be aware of what is going on in our own mind in that decision.

Prayer: Lord, we are all in need at one time or another. Thank you for the comfort of other people in those times, Amen.

One thought on “Whose Burden Is It?

  1. I love how you succinctly describe the difference between codependency and support. I have often referenced Friel & Friel’s list in both my own relationships as well as in assisting clients in checking their motivation and propensity for codependency in their own relationships.


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