Codependent No More
Codependent No More was the debut book of self-help author Melody Beattie. It was originally published in 1986 by the publishing division of the Hazelden Foundation, and became a phenomenon of the self-help movement, going on to sell over eight million copies, six million copies of them in the United States.
Melody Beattie popularized the phenomenon of codependency through the dramatic success of her bestseller. The subtitle of the book offers a hint at the apparent contradiction that accompanies codependency: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself.
History of term
The term codependent originated as a way to describe people who use relationships with others as their sole source of value and identity, and built on the experience of Alcoholics Anonymous that the addict's problem could be compounded by the enabling role of those who made up their network.
Beattie maintained in her bestseller that a codependent is a person who believes their happiness is derived from other people or one person in particular, eventually becoming obsessed with controlling the behavior of the people/person that they believe is making them happy: hence codependents often end up in relationships with drug (including alcohol) addicted spouses or lovers.
Similar to Bill Wilson's Alcoholics Anonymous five decades earlier, Beattie's early work took the previously complex object relations theory and interpersonal theories of psychoanalysts like Heinz Kohut, Wilfred Bion and Otto Kernberg and put them in language the average reader could easily grasp. The book also re-phrased many of the notions expressed in the Al-Anon Twelve-step program movement into more modern language, and made the notion of addiction to a person (who was addicted to a substance or a behavioral process) part of the western cultural lexicon.
Influence of Melody Beattie's work
Codependent No More was preceded by professional literature like Timmen Cermak's Diagnosing and Treating Co-Dependence, but Beattie's book was the first popular work on the subject, and paved the way for a new Twelve-step program, called Co-Dependents Anonymous. "CoDA" has a conference-approved, AA-like, "big book" of its own. Beattie's works continue to be staples in the CoDA meeting rooms.
Co-Dependents Anonymous has influenced over a million people, and is increasingly "prescribed" by members of the professional mental health community as a self-help adjunct treatment for marital, family of origin and other relationship difficulties well beyond involvement with practicing substance or process abusers.
Beattie's view of codependency starts from the (counter-intuitive) premise that rescuing someone, in the sense of solving their problems for them, is a less benevolent act than it might at first seem. To avoid the destructive aspects of enabling in the guise of helping, she highlighted how "Co-dependents are care-takers - rescuers. They rescue, then they persecute, then they end up victimized".
"Codependents need boundaries. We need to set limits on what we shall do to and for people".
Critics have highlighted what they see as the loose-thinking, over-generalisation, and substitution of attitudes for ideas of Beattie's book, as well as the way it has leant itself to a commodification of mental health.
Like other self-help publications, Codependent No More is open to the charge of being a modern version of nineteenth-century amateurism, drawing large conclusions from very limited evidence, and moralising under a thin scientific veneer.
The popularity of Beattie's attack on codependency can be seen in part as fueled by the wider social shift away from concern for others and self-denial, in favour of consumption and a cult of self, that marks late capitalism.
Beattie has also been criticised to the extent that her concept of codependency blames women for following what has traditionally been seen as the caring feminine role.
- J. S. Rice, A Disease of One's Own (1998) p. 2
- David Hawkins, Breaking Everday Addictions (2008) p. 180
- Lennard J. Davis, Obsession: A History (London 2008) p. 178
- Melody Beattie, Codependent No More (Minnesota 1992) p. 85
- Beattie, p. 84
- Scott Egleston, quoted in Beattie, p. 83
- Beattie, p. 62
- Beattie, p. 95 and p. 57
- Beattie, p. 217-8
- Rice, p. 202
- Davis, p. 171 and p. 173
- Rice, p. 162-5
- Jennifer Drew, "Codependency", in Sex and Society, Vol I (2009) p. 136