I remember as a kid watching General Conference when Pres. Benson gave his historic talk on pride. I remember, as he listed off what pride was comprised of, thinking how this applied to this person I knew and that element of pride applied to someone else, all the while feeling rather smug. Then he said something to the effect that if you are only finding evidence of pride in other people, then you were being prideful, too.
I was dumb-struck. I had never considered that I had much, if anything, that I needed to correct in my life. Yet here I sat and clear as day realized that a Prophet of God was calling me to repentance. He told me that I was prideful.
It was not that dissimilar of an experience when someone told me that I was co-dependent.
The only thing I knew about co-dependence was that someone dear to me proclaimed herself to be co-dependent. And though I love her very much, we have many notable differences. So, I figured, if she was co-dependent then I, obviously, wasn't.
Wrong. I am co-dependent and so are you. At least, that's the statistical likelihood. Co-dependence, in layman's terms, simply means attaching your emotions to someone else's behavior. If you've ever been ticked that someone cut you off in traffic or marched through a store fuming because someone stole your parking spot, then you're co-dependent too.
The real issue with co-dependence comes in the application in our close interpersonal relationships. Imagine that the person who stole your parking spot isn't some stranger, but your spouse, sibling or child. Obviously, they are the problem since they stole your parking spot. If their behavior was different, then you'd be happy. Most of us would pull that person aside and give them a piece of our mind. We'd explain how they "made" us mad and how changing their behavior would solve the problem.
And it might. Until said loved one did something else that annoyed, offended or bothered us. Like leaving the toilet seat up or not clearing their place after dinner or dropping their socks on the floor. Then, only if they changed their behavior again can we be truly happy.
See the problem with that?
The tendency for a co-dependent is to work on solving the problem as we see it, which, pretty much always, is working to get someone else to change. We nag. We cajole. We threaten. If left unchecked, we begin to blame, shame, guilt, and embarrass our loved one in an effort to get them to change. We are doing everything we can to manipulate and control someone else so that they can solve the problem, which is them. They are the problem!
In our head, we are justified because we are not the one leaving the toilet seat up/dirty dishes on the table/socks on the floor. We are not the problem! The longer this behavior goes on, the more mad we get. Sometimes we start behaviors of suffering, letting other people know that we are a victim of someone else's behavior!
"Look at how hard I have to work," we might say. "After doing 9000 other things I now have to pick up after you."
If the other person's behavior gets more extreme, so does our co-dependence. Once we're sure that someone is "messing up their life" the obvious solution is for us to either a) jump in and fix it for them or b) worry ourselves to death about someone else's decisions.
"My intentions are so honorable," we say as we hunt for a job for someone else, or drop off a book or article on cleaning/organizing/loosing weight/living more righteously.
Because most of us also interact with co-dependcnts, we know how being on the receiving end of this kind of "help" feels. We find ourselves fuming when someone has dropped by with an article called, "30 Easy Ways to Keep Your Yard Looking Nice" or "Why Children Who Watch Too Much TV Get More Ear Infections."
"Stay out of my life!" we think as we search for an article for them on why it's important not to butt into other people's business.
"That's so silly," you might think. "Who cares about dishes/laundry/losing weight. These aren't big problems. But my loved one has a BIG problem. You see, my loved one is drinking/smoking/doing drugs/living immorally/not going to church. If I don't save them they might not go on a mission/get married in the temple/go to the celestial kingdom!"
Thankfully, the Lord has weighed in on this problem, too. He said, "When we undertake...to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men ... the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved." (D&C 121:37)
Our loved ones already have a Savior and--here's the good news--it isn't us! No matter what the problem is, when we use manipulation and control, not only are we not solving their problem, we're driving ourselves away from the Spirit.
Even in the little everyday things, we just don't need to nag, embarrass or manipulate. You see, the Lord will take care of that too. He's promised, "I give unto men weakness that they may be humble. (Ether 12:27) [I] show unto men their weakness (Jacob 4:7) and out of weakness [they] shall be made strong. (2 Nephi 3:13)"