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Codependent No More by Melody Beattie.
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Codependent No More is a guide to reclaiming your life from codependency: a reaction to stress in which a person becomes obsessed with another and loses sight of themself. Codependents forget to take care of themselves in their attempts to manage other people’s lives, and they are often wracked by stress and guilt. Melody Beattie encourages readers to overcome codependency with powerful messages of finding yourself, recovering self-esteem, and living a life that is free and full of joy.

Known as the “queen of codependency,” Melodie Beattie introduced codependency to the wider world. She draws on her own experience as a codependent, addict, and counselor to present a realistic yet compassionate image of codependents and their struggles.

In this guide, we’ll first explore what codependency is and how it forms, and then we’ll discuss how to overcome it. Finally, we’ll discuss Beattie’s primary recommendation for codependents: joining a 12 Step Program.

What Is Codependency?

According to Beattie, codependency is a stress-induced pattern of behavior that dictates how a person treats another and how she allows that other person to influence her. The codependent obsesses over the other person and seeks to control them.

(Shortform note: Defining codependency is a difficult task, even decades after Beattie’s work first brought attention to the condition. Part of this difficulty is that codependency is not technically a mental illness according to the DSM-5, which provides information for diagnosing mental illnesses. There is no single, clear definition agreed upon by experts.)

Characteristics of Codependency

We’ve synthesized Beattie’s characteristics of codependency into three critical categories:

1) Codependents put responsibility in the wrong place. They see themselves as responsible for everyone else but don’t take responsibility for themselves. (Shortform note: Taking too much responsibility for others comes from thinking yourself so independent that you have to control everything. In reality, no one controls everything. Simultaneously, the inability to take responsibility for yourself comes from low self-esteem: You base your worth on your actions, so admitting a mistake damages your esteem. If you focus on other people, though, you don’t have to worry about yourself.)

2) Codependents neglect themselves in favor of others. They focus on other people so much that they struggle to take care of themselves or let others help them. (Shortform note: Codependents neglect themselves and can’t ask for help because they fear being a burden. You can combat this fear by being open about your needs and boundaries.)

3) Codependents can’t see themselves clearly. They can’t receive help or take responsibility because they’ve repressed their feelings, needs, and personality. (Shortform note: You can avoid repression by expressing your needs, feelings, and personality instead of pushing them away.)

What Causes Codependency?

Beattie states that codependency is a reaction to prolonged and often extreme stress. This stress leads to unhealthy coping mechanisms, which become habitual over time. These habitual coping mechanisms result in “reaction mode”: You’ll react to things in both healthy and unhealthy ways, but you’ll almost never act on your own volition.

(Shortform note: When a habit forms around a stressful situation, your brain makes a connection between the situation and your stress. The next time you’re in that situation, you’ll feel stress even if the situation doesn’t call for it, and the connection will be strengthened. To stop this process, identify the habitual stress connection. If you start to feel stressed because of the connection, do something enjoyable: This alters the connection your brain makes and reduces your stress.)

Codependency is associated with substance abuse because substance abuse is a clear cause of stress. However, the source of stress can be subtle, too, Beattie explains, such as underlying family systems. All families have unspoken rules that govern how members behave and interact with one another. Families that discourage open communication are at high risk for codependency.

Why It’s Important to Recognize Your Family System

Underlying family systems like those Beattie describes are also called rules of engagement, and you learn them through trial and error. When you engage in a certain behavior and receive negative reactions, your brain prohibits the behavior in the future.

If you know your family system discouraged communication, caused stress, and therefore left you at high risk of codependency, be proactive in preventing codependency by using the techniques discussed in this guide. This is important because there aren’t established solutions for healing family systems like there are for addiction, so you need to take charge of your healing.

Practice Self-Care Through Detachment

Now that we’ve established what codependency is and how it forms, let’s discuss how to overcome it. Beattie notes that the most important step in recovery for codependents is detaching from other people by practicing self-care. Codependent people are often attached to others. According to Beattie, **being attached to...

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Codependent No More Summary Shortform Introduction

Codependent No More is a guide to reclaiming your life from codependency: a reaction to stress in which a person becomes obsessed with another and loses sight of themself. Codependents forget to take care of themselves in their attempts to manage other people’s lives, and they are often wracked by stress and guilt. Melody Beattie encourages readers to overcome codependency with powerful messages of finding yourself, recovering self-esteem, and living a life that is free and full of joy.

About the Author

Melody Beattie is an author of self-help books. Born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1948, Beattie had a traumatic childhood that led to her becoming an alcoholic before she turned 13 and a drug addict before she graduated high school.

Beattie’s life turned around after a judge sentenced her to complete addiction treatment. She experienced a spiritual awakening that led her to recognize the mess her life had become. Beattie decided that instead of wasting her energy on harmful behaviors, she was going to use that energy for good. After becoming clean and starting work as a counselor at a substance abuse clinic, Beattie realized that addiction wasn’t her only concern: She...

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Codependent No More Summary Part 1: Defining Codependency | Chapter 1: What Is Codependency?

In Codependent No More, Melody Beattie explores codependency and how it affects people. She draws on her own experience as a codependent, addict, and councilor to present a realistic yet compassionate image of codependents and their struggles. Furthermore, she shows how codependency can ruin lives just like addiction, and how, just like addiction, it can be overcome.

In Part 1, we’ll look at what codependency is and how it forms; we’ll discuss how to overcome it in Part 2. In this chapter, we’ll cover the definition of codependency, its characteristics, and its causes.

The Evolving Definition of Codependency

According to Beattie, codependency is a stress-induced pattern of behavior that dictates how a person treats another and how she allows that other person to influence her. The codependent obsesses over the other person and seeks to control them.

Beattie cautions readers, though, that hers is not the definitive definition. Codependency occupies a nebulous place in the psychological field. Many definitions of codependency exist, all capturing an aspect of the condition. These definitions vary between doctors, clinics, and individuals. Some experts maintain...

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Shortform Exercise: Identify Your Family’s Rules of Engagement

According to Beattie, the unspoken rules that govern family interaction can either promote or stifle open communication. Families that discourage communication have a high risk of codependency. Understanding these rules of engagement can help you communicate better and foster better relationships.


Identify some of the unspoken family rules that determine how you interact with others. For instance, are there any emotions you feel unable to express or any topics that are taboo due to your family’s expectations? Were you taught you have to act or look a certain way? Write down all the examples you can think of.

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Codependent No More Summary Part 2: How to Heal | Chapter 2: Practice Self-Care Through Detachment

In Part 1, we learned what codependency is and how it comes about. Now we’ll look at different ways to heal from codependency. We’ll cover the following strategies:

  • Practicing self-care through detachment
  • Nurturing self-esteem
  • Surrendering control and taking responsibility
  • Moving through grief to acceptance
  • Processing emotions healthily
  • Making healthy goals
  • Final tips

The first method of healing we’ll look at is practicing self-care through detachment. This is important because codependent people are often attached to others. According to Beattie, this means you focus on another person’s behavior while ignoring your own. You also focus on the other person’s feelings while losing touch with your own emotions. This leads to anxiety, obsession, and controlling behavior.

Being attached to someone else means that all your energy goes into their life, leaving none for yourself. Attached people feel depressed and like life has no meaning outside of the other person. You may think you’re controlling another person’s life, Beattie states, but your obsession is controlling yours.

The most important—and most difficult—step in recovery for codependents is focusing on...

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Shortform Exercise: Practice Detachment

According to Beattie, detaching means focusing your energy on your own needs and wants and allowing other people to fulfill their own responsibilities. Learning to recognize situations where you’re attached to someone can help you prioritize self-care.


Think back to a situation where you prioritized someone else’s responsibilities over your own wants and needs. (Maybe you did your teenage son’s laundry, rather than reading the book you’ve been looking forward to.) What happened? What did you need or want, and what did you do instead?

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Codependent No More Summary Chapter 3: The Importance of Nurturing Self-Esteem

Codependents struggle to detach themselves from others in the way we’ve described because of a lack of self-esteem. People with low self-esteem rely on others to validate their worth, Beattie explains. This validation can be people complimenting you, agreeing with you, or behaving in ways you want them to.

While everyone likes validation, Beattie warns that relying on external validation is dangerous because your confidence and happiness depend on another person. The other person’s bad mood could ruin your entire day. Relying on someone with a disorder like alcoholism, which results in unstable moods and negativity, could ruin your entire life.

On the other hand, Beattie maintains that strong self-esteem lets you take control of your own life and act in your best interests, rather than reacting to and trying to control other people’s opinions of you. In this chapter, we’ll look at the effects of low self-esteem on codependents and strategies for nurturing good self-esteem.

The Modern Addiction to Validation

Beattie’s warning against over-reliance on external validation is especially important today, as [social media has turned this over-reliance into an...

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Shortform Exercise: Stop Caretaking and Start Empowering

Beattie’s caretaking cycle is based on the Karpman Drama Triangle and its roles of rescuer, persecutor, and victim. You can escape the Drama Triangle by shifting your mindset to the Empowerment Dynamic and its roles of coach, challenger, and creator.


Describe a time you started the caretaking cycle by “saving” someone from their responsibilities and what happened when you “saved” them.

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Codependent No More Summary Chapter 4: How to Nurture Self-Esteem

Now that we’ve explored the harm low self-esteem can cause, we’ll discuss how to increase your esteem. As a codependent suffering from self-esteem issues, you need to learn to trust and love yourself, even when other people won’t. In this chapter, we’ll look at some strategies for doing this.

Trust Yourself and Your Mind

Beattie explains that many codependents were taught that they can’t trust their own minds. They don’t believe they can assess a situation or make decisions. This doubt paralyzes them from making even minor decisions. They cope with this anxiety by ignoring or passing off decisions, hoping someone will rescue them.

Beattie adds that this self-doubt also inspires perfectionism. If you believe you shouldn't be trusted to make decisions, then every time someone trusts you anyway, you feel pressured to be perfect so they don’t regret their trust. Impossible standards further increase anxiety and self-doubt.

Gaslighting and Perfectionism

While Beattie doesn’t put a name to it, being taught that you can’t trust your own mind is gaslighting, a form of emotional control. Robert Greene...

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Shortform Exercise: Trust Your Mind

Many codependents struggle to trust their own judgment. You are more capable than you think, and reminding yourself of times you’ve succeeded in the past can build your confidence and help you make decisions in the present.


Describe a decision you’re worried about making and why you’re worried about it. What do you think will happen if you make the wrong decision?

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Shortform Exercise: Release Unhealthy Guilt

Many codependents struggle with unhealthy guilt. Unhealthy guilt is based on thoughts and feelings rather than actions, and it makes you anxious instead of motivating growth. Releasing unhealthy guilt will let you grow as a person and live a happier, more authentic life.


Make a list with two headings: Healthy Guilt and Unhealthy Guilt. Think about times you felt guilty, or things you feel guilty for right now. Ask yourself, “Is this guilt based on an action (healthy) or a feeling (unhealthy)? Does it motivate (healthy) or paralyze (unhealthy) me?” and divide the situations under the headings accordingly.

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Codependent No More Summary Chapter 5: Surrender Control and Take Responsibility

As we noted in Chapter 1, codependency is a response to prolonged stress. Usually, the codependent lost their sense of security, whether financially, emotionally, or in another person. They try to control the rest of their lives in the hope of not losing anything else. Ironically, while focusing on controlling other people, they lose control over their own behavior. To live a healthy life, they need to focus on controlling their own actions. In this chapter we’ll examine the dangers of controlling others and the importance of personal responsibility.

(Shortform note: Some people handle losing their sense of security better than others. These people have a large amount of resilience. Resilience is the opposite of self-victimization: It means knowing that you can determine your own life. Resilience means accepting that outside events can affect you, but not allowing them to define you. Whereas codependents try to control everyone else, resilience takes back control of your own actions.)

Trying to Control Others Does More Harm Than Good

Beattie explains that **codependents spend their time and energy...

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Shortform Exercise: Figure Out Your Real Responsibilities

Codependents are bad at taking responsibility. They try to control things that aren’t their responsibility while ignoring their real duties. Determining your real responsibilities will let you focus your energy where it needs to be.


Write out the things you feel responsible for. To aid with this, look at your past actions and see what they can tell you about the things you feel responsible for. (For example, you might not consciously think you’re responsible for your sister’s mood, but if you’re always avoiding conversations that might upset her and ignoring your own needs to keep her happy, you probably feel that way subconsciously.)

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Codependent No More Summary Chapter 6: Move Through Grief to Acceptance

Another way to heal from codependency is to reach a state of acceptance. According to Beattie, acceptance means understanding and working with reality. Many codependents struggle with acceptance. They live in a constant state of uncertainty, robbed of physical, emotional, and financial security. As discussed previously, this means they hold onto what they do have even tighter. Unfortunately, this often manifests as rejecting reality and clinging to the past or a fantasy of how things should be. This will only cause them more pain.

(Shortform note: Living in a fantasy is dangerous. Your subconscious is just as affected by imagined events as real ones. The longer you focus on a fantasy, the more real it will feel and the more you’ll believe it. For example, if you’re in an abusive relationship and convince yourself that your partner will change her behavior on her own, that belief will become so ingrained that you can no longer see reality. This does not mean reality disappears, however, and ignoring reality means the situation and the codependent’s state of uncertainty will get worse.)

Beattie explains that...

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Codependent No More Summary Chapter 7: Process Emotions Healthily

Another important strategy for overcoming codependency is learning how to process emotions healthily. This is a difficult area for a lot of codependents.

According to Beattie, most codependents repress their emotions because it seems safer not to feel anything than to risk being hurt again. (Shortform note: Repression can also be caused by a lack of confidence or a desire to keep a relationship.) However, repressing feelings doesn't work. When you don’t process your emotions, they start controlling you. Repressed emotions act like quicksand, keeping you in place, unable to change or grow. Once you learn how to process your emotions, you can climb out of the quicksand and take back control of your life. In this chapter we’ll look at some helpful concepts for processing emotions and then examine one of the most stigmatized and feared emotions: anger.

The Importance of Processing Emotions

How can you stop repressing your emotions? Margaret Cullen explains that [the key is in feeling the emotions in the...

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Shortform Exercise: Process Your Emotions

Processing your emotions is a vital skill. When you process your emotions, you are in control of your actions and can make good decisions. By walking through the healthy and unhealthy ways to react to your emotions, you can get some distance from the situation and decide how to react with a clear head.


Think about a difficult emotion you’re feeling or felt recently. Describe why you’re feeling that emotion, what you think about it, and what you’ve done to process it. (Have you taken responsibility for the emotion? Have you remembered that it doesn’t define you?)

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Codependent No More Summary Chapter 8: Set Healthy Goals

According to Beattie, setting goals is another important part of recovery for codependents. Goals let you look forward to the future: They are a healthy method of acknowledging your desires. For many codependents, goal-setting can revitalize their will to live for themselves. In this chapter, we’ll look at how to set goals and some examples of good goals to set.

(Shortform note: Setting goals helps codependents by generating positive pressure. Positive pressure motivates you and keeps you focused, rather than inspiring anxiety. This positive pressure keeps codependents focused on themselves and their healing.)

How to Set Goals

Beattie maintains that needs and wants make the best goals because they let you live the life you want. Unfortunately, many codependents base their lives on “shoulds” instead. Anytime you think, “I should be doing this,” or “I shouldn’t be enjoying this,” you are falling for should-based thinking. Shoulds suck joy from life. They disparage your actions and goals as not good enough and pressure you into doing things you don’t want.

(Shortform note: Beattie puts wants and...

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Shortform Exercise: Set Goals

Goals let you look forward to the future: They are a healthy method of acknowledging your desires. By examining your goals and planning how to complete them, you can improve your self-esteem and find motivation to live for yourself.


Write down a list of your goals. Be creative and don’t limit yourself. You can put down wants, needs, pipe dreams, anything you’d like! (If you’re not sure about your goals, pick some of the example ones discussed in the previous chapter.)

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Codependent No More Summary Chapter 9: Final Tips for Leaving Codependency Behind

Now that we’ve covered the main principles of healing from codependency, we’ll examine some final tips to help you on your healing journey. In this chapter, we’ll look at Beattie’s primary recommendation—joining a 12 Step Program—and cover some miscellaneous tips.

Try a 12 Step Program

According to Beattie, 12 Step Programs help codependents start living for themselves. Joining a 12 Step Program can change your life and set you on the path to healing. In this section we’ll look at how these programs work and the principles that underpin them.

How 12 Step Programs Work

12 Step Programs work well because of three elements: the lack of requirements, the focus on fellowship, and the length of the programs, Beattie explains. The lack of requirements means you can work through the program at your own pace, and if one group isn’t helping you heal, you can find another that suits your needs and personality.

These programs revolve around fellowship, Beattie adds. Everyone in the group is struggling with the same problems of family illnesses and codependency. Honesty is easier when everyone can connect with and understand each other. Members encourage and hold each...

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Shortform Exercise: Process the Past

Processing the past is a necessary part of healing. Giving yourself permission to feel bottled-up emotions from your childhood lets you complete the grieving process and find acceptance. Writing about your feelings gives you the distance to understand and learn from them.


Note: Processing past traumas can bring up a lot of negative and powerful emotions. Though you need to experience these emotions to heal, make sure you are in a safe place both physically and mentally first.

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Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • Shortform Introduction
  • Part 1: Defining Codependency | Chapter 1: What Is Codependency?
  • Exercise: Identify Your Family’s Rules of Engagement
  • Part 2: How to Heal | Chapter 2: Practice Self-Care Through Detachment
  • Exercise: Practice Detachment
  • Chapter 3: The Importance of Nurturing Self-Esteem
  • Exercise: Stop Caretaking and Start Empowering
  • Chapter 4: How to Nurture Self-Esteem
  • Exercise: Trust Your Mind
  • Exercise: Release Unhealthy Guilt
  • Chapter 5: Surrender Control and Take Responsibility
  • Exercise: Figure Out Your Real Responsibilities
  • Chapter 6: Move Through Grief to Acceptance
  • Chapter 7: Process Emotions Healthily
  • Exercise: Process Your Emotions
  • Chapter 8: Set Healthy Goals
  • Exercise: Set Goals
  • Chapter 9: Final Tips for Leaving Codependency Behind
  • Exercise: Process the Past