Codependent No More: Summary & Review

codependent no more book cover

Codependent No More (1986) is the first main popular book dedicated to codependent relationships. Melody Beattie, the author, shares what codependent relationships are, how they form, and how to get out of them.

Bullet Summary

  • Codependency is an addiction
  • Codependent people lack self-esteem and they caretake out of a need for control and security
  • Excessive codependent almost never helps dependent people and makes everyone worse off
  • Healing from codependence starts with awareness and with taking care of oneself.

Full Summary

About The Author: Melody Beattie is a self-help author who has been focusing on abusive relationships and codependent relationships. She doesn’t have a psychology-related background, but she has grown her expertise over decades of personal research and experience.

Introduction: Everyone’s Unique

The author says Codependent No More is not a cookbook for mental health because each person is unique.

Codependent Definition

This is how Melody Beatty defines a codependent partner:

Someone who has let someone else’s behavior affect them and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior

The heart of not definition is not in the other person though. It’s in the supportive partner who, as codependent, allows the loop to exist.
Curing codependency means fixing ourselves, not the dependent partner.

Codependent Are Also Addicted

Codependents aren’t as crazy and sick as alcoholics, but they hurt just as much.
And they might be just as addicted as their troubled, substance-addicted partners.

The author is not sure whether codependency can be labeled a disease, but it can make you sick. Over-involvement indeed can lead to anxiety and if you forget about taking care of yourself, you can get dragged down into the dependent’s abyss.

Also, it’s not helpful to help anybody: the codependent might actually contribute to the dependent partner staying sick.

Codependents Don’t Act, But React

Codependent people don’t really act, but they are always reacting to others’ behavior, troubles, and misdeeds.

The author says that learning how to non-react or to act less and/or in smarter ways, is one of the keys to fixing codependency.

Codependent’s Need for Control

The author says that codependents become obsessed with helping and pandering to their dependent partner as a way of controlling their environment.

They have often been hurt in the past, and caretaking becomes a way of achieving some type of stability and security in their lives.

What they don’t realize though is that their controlling and caretaking behavior is actually controlling them.
But they don’t realize it because they don’t have good emotional intelligence to understand their own feelings, thoughts, and drives.

Codependent’s Psychology

Codependents tend to come from troubled families, but they deny it.
They tend to have low self-esteem and blame themselves for everything.

They set their feelings aside, fail to listen to them, and repress themselves (including anger).
Codependent people tend to be pushed over like too nice guys, and they often resort to passive aggressiveness.


  • Deny their problem
  • Pretend it will get better
  • Binge-spend, over-eat
  • Have temper outbursts (and are ashamed of their anger)
  • Seek love from people incapable of loving them (avoidants and emotionally unavailable partners)
  • Wonder if they will ever find love
  • Have sex when they don’t want to
  • Can get sexually repulsed by their partner
  • Fantasize of extramarital affairs
  • Sacrifice themselves (for things that don’t require sacrificing sometimes)

You Must Detach Yourself

I thought it was particularly deep when the author says:

The codependent feels responsible so much because the people around them are responsible for so little. They are just picking up the slack

However, if you have been codependent for a while, it’s safe to assume that you can’t help the dependent.
And you’re not helping him/her by caretaking. And you’re certainly not helping yourself.

The best of all is to detach.

Stop feeling like you have to intervene.
Stop feeling embarrassed or guilty for someone else’s behavior

God hasn’t abandoned you. We abandon ourselves. He is there, waiting for you to cooperate by taking care of yourself.

Let’s quickly review the steps to healing:

How to Heal

  • Awareness: understand you are codependent and you have an issue
  • Accept you have an issue
  • Accept yourself and accept your feelings
  • Understand you cannot cure or change the dependent
  • Detach yourself
  • Learn you can listen with empathy without taking on the problems
  • Deal with your feelings
  • Rebuild your self-esteem (even a part-time job helps)
  • Attend alcohol anonymously
  • Make yourself a priority and take care of yourself

To me, this sentence is the very best one-sentence summary of the whole book (and the whole codependency issue):

She kissed the frog hoping to get a prince. She turned into a frog instead

codependent no more book cover

Real-Life Applications

Don’t Get Into Troubled Relationships
Don’t get involved with low-quality men and low-quality women. You can only get dysfunctional relationships and it can easily turn into an abusive relationship.


  • Lacking in Psychology

Codependent No More is a bit lacking in good, deep psychology.

The author, for example, says the codependent has been sometimes hurt in the past, but I didn’t find a good explanation on how that has affected them.

Or she says that the codependent learned that it’s wrong to state their needs. An alcoholic parent or spouse was happy to teach those rules. However, people don’t usually internalize rules just by listening to other people.
That’s why I found the psychological analysis a bit lacking.

Check Will I Ever Be Good Enough for a book that explains very well -and deeply- how someone can end up in a codependent relationship.

  • Fuzzy Description of Codependent

I found the description of the codependent to be way too generic to be helpful.
It’s basically everything and the opposite of everything.
We didn’t need such a long list of traits if there are no clear-cut attitudes that closely describe a codependent. It only makes the book less clear.

  • Lots of Off-Topics

I felt a few sections went on too far and too long off topics.
The goal-setting chapter, for example, explains goals through The Magic of Thinking Big. Or alcoholism. Or whole chapters on anger.
Not that it’s an issue talking a lot about anger, but is it really a defining trait of codependents? I wasn’t convinced…


Before Melodie Beattie and Codependent No More, there was no widespread understanding of the codependent phenomenon. That’s a huge testament to her work.

Warm, Down to Earth Tone
The author could well blow her horn to have almost single-handedly codified a new dysfunctional relationship dance.
Instead, she’s warm, vulnerable, and down to earth.
Much appreciated.


Codependent No More has been a groundbreaking book in related literature.
I find it to be a good explanation of the dependency/codependency phenomenon, yet not excellent

I thoroughly enjoyed it, but personally didn’t find it deep enough to warrant a five-star.
Still, I can highly recommend it to people who are struggling with codependency.

Check out the best relationship books or get the book on Amazon.

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