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Codependent No More Summary – Melody Beattie

Ariel Williams
by Ariel Williams
B.A. Psychology, UMHB. Solo-Mother of 3. Expert in Holistic Health and Wellness.
Codependent No More (1986)
How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself
TAoL Rating: Book Rating: 5/5 5.0

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One-Sentence Summary

Codependent No More is the definitive book on codependency, clarifying what it is, why so many struggle with it, and most importantly, how to overcome it — by former codependent and beloved self-help author Melody Beattie. (276 pages)

Note: This Codependent No More summary is part of an ongoing project to summarise the Best Codependency Books and Best Relationship Books of all time.

Codependent No More Review

I pushed my stroller down the aisles, partly glazing over the rows of books and partly relishing scent of old, worn, loved paper.

I’d left my husband just a month ago and was deep in depression — fear — anxiety — all the other yucky feelings that come along with that kind of decision.

In an attempt to lift my spirits and brighten my day, I’d gone to my favorite used book store in Dallas for some serious book-smell therapy (you’re on a site full of book summaries and recommendations, so I’m willing to bet at least some part of you is a fellow book lover).

As I walked past a dusty aisle, a bright yellow book caught my eye — I’d never heard of Melody Beattie. Heck — I didn’t even know what “codependent” meant.

I darn sure had no idea I was a codependent — nor did I understand that my codependent tendencies were a major factor in marrying my husband.

A husband who, over time, became verbally, emotionally, psychologically, and physically abusive, and who was determined to maintain his extramarital, alcoholic, and chemical dependencies.

So the title made next to no sense to me.

But I’m a person who lets a book call to me — and this one dang near sang.

Little did I know, it would change my life.

Codependent No More Summary

Codependent No More is a book about a book about letting go of codependence.

Written by a former codependent with extensive experience in the field, it explains what codependency is (a young term, but a concept as old as mankind) and, more importantly, how to break out of it.

Because, friend, it is entirely possible to step out of codependency and live our lives the way we desire.

This book isn’t about how to help the addict in your life — it’s about “your most important and neglected responsibility: learning to take care of yourself.”

“It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere.” – Agnes Repplier

What Is Codependency?

Codependency is a complex and theoretical term, particularly so at the time Beattie wrote this book.

Although people have shown characteristics of codependency throughout the ages, it wasn’t until the late 70’s that a term to describe the phenomena began to appear on the clinical scene.

Used to describe the actions of people in close relationships with folks battling chemical dependencies, codependency became an umbrella term to describe unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Alcoholism, as many know, is a family disease, and it seemed to foster codependency within family groups by inhibiting self-expression and open communication, and encouraging selfishness, narcissism, and the setting of unrealistic expectations.

Beattie provides realistic examples and case studies throughout the book — often sharing her own memories of codependency.

But she notes that, given how young the term is, there are myriad definitions of codependency.

So, after assessing her own experiences and those of so many clients she has helped, as well as the wealth of information she’s studied on the topic, Beattie provides us with her own definition of the term codependency:

“A codependent person is one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.”

Some experts consider codependency a disease — some consider it a normal response to abnormal people. Regardless, it’s a problem with problem behaviors — which means codependency has a solution.

And, as Beattie establishes in this book — the solution lies inside each of us.

Characteristics of Codependency

Although its clinical definition is still settling, the symptoms, problems, coping mechanisms, and reactions of all forms of codependency are consistent.

These characteristics are often learned in childhood, or adopted as coping mechanisms when we find ourselves enmeshed with unhealthy individuals.

Beattie goes into great detail throughout the book identifying the characteristics of codependency, but here is a condensed version.

Codependents often:

  • Feel responsible for other people’s needs, feelings, thoughts, behaviors and well-being;
  • Feel almost forced to help others, regardless of whether they actually want to help;
  • Say yes when they really mean no, doing things they don’t want to do;
  • Don’t know what they want or need, or feel their wants are unimportant;
  • Try to please others instead of themselves;
  • Feel safest when giving, and are attracted to needy people;
  • Blame others for their feelings and struggles;
  • Come from troubled, repressed, or dysfunctional families;
  • Have little to no self-worth, and border on self-hatred;
  • Feel overwhelmed with guilt and shame;
  • Get artificial feelings of self-worth from helping others;
  • Appear rigid and controlled;
  • Worry excessively over minor things;
  • Lose sleep over other people’s problems or behaviors;
  • Go to extreme lengths to control others (flushing alcohol, forcing therapy…);
  • Struggle with debilitating depression and wonder why they can’t get anything done;
  • Try to control events and people through helplessness, guilt, coercion, threats, advice-giving, manipulation, or domination;
  • Pretend circumstances aren’t as bad as they are;
  • Desperately seek love and approval, often from people incapable of providing it;
  • Don’t take time to see if other people are good enough for them;
  • Lose interest in their own lives when they enter into relationships;
  • Latch onto whatever or whoever they think can provide happiness;
  • Don’t say what they mean, or say only what they think others want to hear;
  • Struggle with setting and maintaining healthy boundaries; and
  • Feel controlled by other people’s emotions — namely anger.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. Every person is unique — some struggle only mildly with a handful of codependent traits, while others battle debilitating codependency that runs their life.

As Beattie notes…

“Codependency is many things. It is a dependency on people — on their moods, behaviors, sickness or well-being, and their love. It is a paradoxical dependency. Codependents appear to be depended upon, but they are dependent. They look strong but feel helpless. They appear controlling but in reality are controlled themselves, sometimes by an illness such as alcoholism.”

It’s important to assess yourself honestly and determine whether your codependency is a problem, and then — what needs to change, and when.

“Recovery from codependency is exciting. It is liberating.”

And it is doable because it revolves around a premise we often forget when we’re deep in the weeds of codependency — we are all responsible for ourselves.

How to Stop Being Codependent

If codependency is a life lived dependent upon another person, then the first and most important step to breaking the cycle is learning to live for ourselves.

And that step, Beattie tells us, begins with a process detachment.

But before we dive into detachment, let’s quickly discuss…

What Is Attachment?

Simply put, attachment is becoming overly involved and sometimes hopelessly entangled with others.

We may worry to the point of obsessing.

We may become reactive, caretakers, and emotionally dependent.

Attachment boils down to worrying too much about someone else, which helps nothing and is a complete waste of energy.

The main problem? Over-attachment to others results in detachment from ourselves.

So now that we’ve established that…..

What Is Detachment?

Detachment is releasing/detaching from a person or problem, and ideally, it’s done in love.

Detachment is not a cold turkey shutting off of any and all connection (although sometimes for our safety, this is necessary).

Detachment is mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically disengaging ourselves from unhealthy entanglements in another person’s life and problems.

“Detachment is based on the premise that each person is responsible for himself, that we can’t solve problems that aren’t ours to solve, and that worrying doesn’t help.”

When we detach, we allow people to face the consequences of their actions, to lie in the bed they made, to be who they are, and to bear the responsibility of their own growth. And notably — we give ourselves the same freedom.

By allowing the people in our lives to live their life, we in turn become able to live ours.

Detaching means we intentionally work out what we can change and what we can’t — and then we sit in that. We do what we can, and we have peace when we can’t.

Detachment is living in the present — letting go of our past regrets and our fears about the future — and choosing to not try to control every part.

Detachment is acceptance — it is release — it is surrender.

Detachment doesn’t mean we don’t care — in fact, it’s just the opposite.

When and How to Detach

Detachment becomes necessary when your constant worrying over another person is negatively affecting your life.

As a rule, you need to detach most when it seems the least likely or possible thing to do.

An old AA saying to use here is HOW — Honesty, Openness, and Willingness to try.

“When people with a compulsive disorder do whatever it is they are compelled to do, they are not saying they don’t love you — they are saying they don’t love themselves.”

Beattie lays out some helpful guidelines when learning to detach:

  1. Learn to recognize when you’re reacting and giving away your control to another person;
  2. Make yourself comfortable — step away (either mentally or physically) and actively do something to restore your sense of peace;
  3. Assess the situation honestly — and do so with compassion! Sometimes this means turning to a friend or professional to talk it out; and
  4. Establish what you need to do NOW — Apologize? Set boundaries? Let something (or someone) go? — But importantly, figure this out only once you’ve reached a peaceful state (step #2).

Part of detaching is becoming undependent, a term used by Penelope Russianoff to describe finding balance between our natural needs for love and from people without becoming dependent on them.

Attaining undependency calls for honestly facing events from your childhood that are still showing up today.

It calls for nurturing and caring for that inner child.

It calls for you to stop looking for happiness and contentment in others. The only approval you need is your own.

You must learn to depend on yourself — stop abandoning yourself for others — make promises to yourself and keep them.

And as Beattie notes throughout the book, you must learn to depend on God too.

Codependents and Emotions

As codependents we have a complex relationship with our feelings.

We’re so accustomed to feeling everyone else’s feelings that we don’t know what our own are — but it’s crucial that we learn to feel, express, and release them.

And one of the most important feelings we need to deal with is anger.

Here are just some of the unhealthy lies about anger codependents commonly believe:

  • That it’s not ok to feel angry;
  • That people will leave us if we get angry with them;
  • That others should never feel angry toward us;
  • That if others get angry, it must be our fault, and fixing it is our responsibility;
  • That if we feel angry, someone else made us feel that way and they’re responsible for fixing it;
  • That if someone feels angry with us, that person doesn’t love us and the relationship has to end.

Hear me loud and clear on this one: it is ok to feel angry.

It’s even ok to be angry with a sick person.

Your feelings of anger don’t need to be justified to be valid.

You are not wrong or sinful for feeling angry.

Your feelings are valid. They need to be felt.

Repressed anger creates bitterness, hatred, contempt, revulsion, and resentment.

It takes a physical toll on our bodies, and it always finds its way out of our systems. Often in unhealthy and unpleasant ways, and often on the ones nearest to our hearts.

Anger is a normal and understandable feeling after being in relationship with someone who is unhealthy, toxic, and battling chemical dependencies or other compulsive disorders.

And it absolutely must be addressed, dealt with, and released.

It’s ok for it to take a while when dealing with your repressed emotions — keep in mind how long it took to even get this angry.

So be patient with yourself and have compassion and kindness as you work your way through.

How to Deal With Anger

Beattie gives some great ways to deal with anger:

  • Acknowledge any lies you’ve bought into about anger and emotions in general. Remember — anger is an ok emotion, for you and for others;
  • Feel the emotion, along with any underlying emotions like fear or hurt. And always hold yourself with compassion and zero judgment as you walk yourself through;
  • Acknowledge your thoughts that come along with the feeling. Say them out loud. Evaluate any flaws in your logic;
  • Make a responsible decision about what to do about your anger;
  • Choose not to let anger control you — both your anger and anyone else’s;
  • Openly and honestly discuss your anger — but only once you’re at peace with it!

Life After Codependency

Life after codependency consists of one word (well, one hyphenated word) — Self-Care.

Now first of all, let’s talk about what self-care is not.

Self-care is not an excuse to charge $500 to your credit card on “retail therapy” without thought of your budget,

or an excuse to take advantage of people in your life,

or an excuse to do anything that is unhealthy and/or harmful to you and your family.

Sometimes, self-care is hard.

Sometimes, self-care is setting and sticking to a disciplined budget.

Sometimes, self-care is adjusting your meals so that you can nourish and feed your body the way it needs.

Sometimes, self-care is setting boundaries with certain people in your life.

The point is, self-care isn’t always about bubble baths and ice cream — although there are certainly times that call for that as well.

Self-care is about parenting yourself. It’s about taking care of yourself the way you need and maybe didn’t get when you were younger.

Self-care is recognizing that I must consider the rights and freedoms of others — and respect and value them enough to rest in them.

Self-care is identifying our needs, vocalizing them, and taking steps to see that they’re met.

Codependents have a common theme of low self-worth — of hating ourselves, our bodies, our thoughts, our actions, and thinking something’s wrong with us.

Self-care is about putting an end to that theme so that we can get to know and fall in love with ourselves.

In fact, the title of chapter 11 in the book is Have a Love Affair With Yourself.

When we decide to explore ourselves — to live our lives instead of living other peoples — to love and care for ourselves the way that we need and deserve — life blossoms in an entirely unexpected and magnificent way.

And friend — it is entirely possible.

“Each time you learn to act as if you are valuable, not desperate, you make it easier the next time.”

The Definitive Book on Codependency

Codependent No More is a New York Times Bestseller, and it’s easy to understand why.

Beattie humbly, honestly, and vulnerably shares stories of her own walk through chemical dependency, codependency, and eventual freedom — a method I’m particularly fond of because her transparency helped me realize I wasn’t alone in my chaos.

Beattie writes a chapter on 12-step programs after referring to these throughout the entire book. She is a major advocate for the model, and shares in-depth what the 12 steps are, provides quizzes for those wondering if they might benefit from a program, and lists out recommendations for the numerous programs out there.

If after reading this summary you feel certain that you are, in fact, codependent, I cannot recommend this book enough.

Her positivity and encouragement throughout the book will keep you going as walk the difficult path to healing and recovery, and her applicable activities and interactive questions at the end of each chapter will guide you further into your own healing and wholeness.

It is important to note, as fantastic as this book is, that there are times when professional help is needed.

Please seek professional help if:

  • You are thinking about suicide;
  • You’ve been the victim of physical or sexual abuse;
  • You’re experiencing problems with alcohol or drugs;
  • You’ve been physically or sexually abusing someone else;
  • You want to do an intervention and confront an alcoholic/addict;
  • You can’t seem to solve your problems and move forward by yourself;
  • You want it — because it is ok to want and need professional help.

Regardless of your steps ahead after this, you can be certain that healing is possible, and that you, dear friend, are capable.

Codependent No More FAQs

What Is the Definition of Codependence?

Codependence is when a person has let someone else’s behavior affect him or her and is obsessed with controlling other people’s behavior.

Codependence is what happens when a child is not allowed to feel or express their genuine feelings and then grows up never learning how.

Codependence is when a person forfeits their needs either because they are too focused on others or because they simply don’t know what their needs are.

Codependence is an addiction — it is a person depending on another person because they don’t depend on themself.

What Are the Signs of a Codependent Person?

Signs of a codependent person revolve around how their actions, feelings, and thoughts are influenced by the people in their lives.

A codependent person often is unaware of or disconnected from their own feelings, needs, and desires.

Their moods, likes, and dislikes will shift based on the person next to them — either to resemble the same or in reaction to.

They often go to extreme lengths to control others and are resentful when their efforts go unappreciated.

A codependent person is often a people pleaser with little to no boundaries, struggles to say no, and overall lacks healthy communication skills.

A codependent person is, in essence, a person no longer aligned to their true self, and is therefore quite difficult to put into words.

What Is a Healthy Relationship?

A healthy relationship allows space for love and affection, respect and honor. Individuals feel free and safe to live life true to themselves, and both provide and receive space for independence.

Manipulation and coercion are nowhere in the picture and are replaced with healthy respect and admiration.

Each person makes their own decisions and allows the other to do the same, holds space for the others thoughts and feelings, and communicates with honesty, transparency, and openness.

Needs and wants are communicated, listened to, respected, and met.

A healthy relationship is two whole, complete, content individuals finding extra joy and fulfillment in one another.

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Read More: 5 Books Like Codependent No More

Enjoyed this Codependent No More summary? You might enjoy the rest of the books on these lists of the Best Codependency Books and Best Relationship Books of all time.

And in the meantime...

Here are 5 top books like Codependent No More...

Books Like Codependent No More: The Language of Letting Go
1. The Language of Letting Go - Melody Beattie
Daily Meditations on Codependency
A restorative collection of daily meditations for those who struggle to let go of their codependent tendencies — by self-help author and codependent, addiction, and recovery expert Melody Beattie. This book provides rejuvenating inspiration and motivation that reminds us to own our responsibility of self-care — perhaps one of the most important components of breaking codependency.
Published 1990 // 408 pages // Rated 4.3 over 7,600 reviews on Goodreads
Books Like Codependent No More: Beyond Codependency
2. Beyond Codependency - Melody Beattie
And Getting Better All the Time
The book to pick up after you’ve finished Codependent No More and are ready to learn how to master self-care and walk into self-sufficiency — by self-help author and codependent, addiction, and recovery expert Melody Beattie. This book takes her previous work one step further and provides practical ways to release old, self-defeating survival tactics so that you can step into life and live.
Published 1989 // 276 pages // Rated 4.2 over 3,100 reviews on Goodreads
Books Like Codependent No More: Boundaries
3. Boundaries - Henry Cloud
When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life
Boundaries is a landmark book that has helped over 4 million people understand boundaries, where they are lacking in setting them, and how to confidently establish them. — by New York Times bestselling American Christian self-help author Dr. Henry Cloud. If you’re exhausted from doing everything for everyone and need help breaking the loop, this book is for you.
Published 1992 // 314 pages // Rated 4.2 over 62,100 reviews on Goodreads
Books Like Codependent No More: Healing the Shame that Binds You
4. Healing the Shame that Binds You - John Bradshaw
The definitive, #1 New York Times Best Selling book on how shame erodes every area of our lives and how we can comfortably abide in wholeness. — by founding father of the self-help movement, philosopher, counselor, theologian, and educator John Bradshaw. This book outlines how toxic shame is the bedrock to so many of our addictions, compulsions, and codependencies.
Published 1988 // 336 pages // Rated 4.0 over 10,300 reviews on Goodreads
Books Like Codependent No More: Codependents' Guide to the Twelve Steps
5. Codependents' Guide to the Twelve Steps - Melody Beattie
New Stories
The New York Times Bestselling self-help book on how to find the right recovery program for you — because Alcoholics Anonymous is not the only program available to us. This book takes the famous 12 steps we’ve all heard of and specifically tweaks them for codependents to apply at home or in a group setting. — by self-help author and codependent, addiction, and recovery expert Melody Beattie, this is the book to turn to for practical, applicable ways to end the cycle.
Published 1990 // 224 pages // Rated 4.3 over 700 reviews on Goodreads

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