• Melody Beattie's Codependent No More has sold over 7 million copies

  • The revised edition has new chapters on anxiety and trauma – watch our interview with Beattie below

  • We have therapists who can support you with codependency and relationship issues – find them here

Now aged 74 and living in Malibu, Melody Beattie is one of the best known self-help authors in the world. Her books are often recommended by therapists (including those on Welldoing) and Newsweek named her seminal Codependent No More as one of the four best self-help books ever. 

The book has sold 7 million copies, but has recently been revised and updated, partially for what now appears dated language, but also because she wanted to include anxiety and trauma (interestingly, little talked about in 1986) and be more up-front about her own story.

Meeting over Zoom, I found a warm, relaxed and humorous woman, with a strongly spiritual centre. She also did a CPD session with our therapist members, who were delighted and impressed by the wisdom she shared. 

Her life story is pretty incredible. She started to drink at 12 and was soon an alcoholic; she become a drug addict at 18, but still managed to graduate from high school with honours. Eventually, in her 20s, she landed in a substance abuse facility in her home state of Minnesota. Following treatment she had become a drugs counsellor and was asked to work with the family and partners of those with substance abuse problems. 

Out of these sessions she developed the concept of codependency. There are many different ways of looking at it, but for Beattie it comes down to this: “A codependent person is one who has let another person’s behaviour affect them and is obsessed with controlling that other person’s behaviour.”

It fits easily into the drug treatment works, where parents or partners end up being part of the problem, but it can also be true of parenthood, where controlling parents focus too long and hard on their child, stopping them from finding their own independence. 

In fact, she says, “I think most of us are susceptible to codependency, getting so caught up with others that our efforts don’t work, but we choose to suffer in silence. Especially with the social media now. Who wants to go on social media and say you all have perfect relationship, but mine sucks! Too many of us are all striving to be something that isn’t good, isn’t right for us.

"Codependency traits or behaviour include having this misguided notion that we can control other people’s behaviour, as if the more we love them, the more we can do that. But its just not so. Difficulty setting boundaries, not knowing who we are and what we want — throw all that in as well and the issue of codendency is rampant right now,” Beattie tells me.

"Faced with the choice of loving ourselves and what we think is loving other people, we often wonder if we are being selfish. The ultimate guideline is to slow down enough to really check on ourselves. How do I really feel? Am I going so fast, with such anxiety, that I don’t even know who I am and what I am doing any more. Am I just treading water in my relationships? ”

The book doesn’t pull punches, urging readers to put themselves first, dig deep into their upbringing to understand the models they may be following, and then figure out what they want their lives to be, as individuals. For example, “Caretaking doesn’t help; it causes problems. We we take care of people and do things we don’t want to do, we ignore personal needs, wants, and feelings. We consistently give more than we received then feel abused and neglected because of it.” 

Thirty-seven years after she wrote it, Beattie’s book is still strong, encouraging, and — in its new version — highly relatable. If you think you might be codependent — always helping others, or seeking to control — I’d urge you to take a look. 

Melody Beattie is the author of Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself

Further reading

Setting boundaries will set you free: beating codependency

Exploring love addiction and codependency

Loving someone with an addition: do you need help too?

Addiction and codependency in relationships