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The New Codependency: Help and Guidance for Today's Generationby Melody Beattie
In Codependent No More, Melody Beattie introduced the world to the term codependency. Now a modern classic, this book established Beattie as a pioneer in self-help literature and endeared her to millions of readers who longed for healthier relationships. Twenty-five years later concepts such as self-care and setting boundaries have become entrenched in mainstream culture. Now Beattie has written a followup volume, The New Codependency, which clears up misconceptions about codependency, identifies how codependent behavior has changed, and provides a new generation with a road map to wellness.
The question remains: What is and what is not codependency? Beattie here reminds us that much of codependency is normal behavior. It's about crossing lines. There are times we do too much, care too much, feel too little, or overly engage. Feeling resentment after giving is not the same as heartfelt generosity. Narcissism and self-love, enabling and nurturing, and controlling and setting boundaries are not interchangeable terms. In The New Codependency, Beattie explores these differences, effectively invoking her own inspiring story and those of others, to empower us to step out of the victim role forever. Codependency, she shows, is not an illness but rather a series of behaviors that once broken down and analyzed can be successfully combated.
Each section offers an overview of and a series of activities pertaining to a particular behavior -- caretaking, controlling, manipulation, denial, repression, etc. -- enabling us to personalize our own step-bystep guide to wellness. These sections, in conjunction with a series of tests allowing us to assess the level of our codependent behavior, demonstrate that while it may not seem possible now, we have the power to take care of ourselves, no matter what we are experiencing.
Punctuated with Beattie's renowned candor and intuitive wisdom, The New Codependency is an owner's manual to learning to be who we are and gives us the tools necessary to reclaim our lives by renouncing unhealthy practices.
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Crossing Lines and Getting Back over Them Again
1 • Taking Care of Ourselves
I know what it's like to lose yourself so badly that you don't know if there's a you or ever was one. I spent thirty years not knowing what boundaries were and another ten learning to set them. I gave until I was depleted and needed someone to take care of me. I threatened, begged, hinted, and manipulated to get what I wanted. I was convinced that I knew what was best for other people. I got so busy teaching them their lessons that I forgot to learn mine.
Within minutes of meeting a man, I was sure I'd met my soul mate. A few hours later, I'd fantasize about the wedding. That's how it happened on television. Isn't that how it happened in life? I'd spend two years trying to get into a relationship, and the next five trapped, clawing my way out. I obsessed until my head ached. Literally, it hurt. I didn't know what feelings were. Whenever I said I felt something, people said, "Don't feel that!"
Like millions of other women and men, I was victimized as a child. Instead of holding the perpetrators responsible, I blamed myself. There's something wrong with me, I thought. I didn't see the bad things that happened to me happening to anyone else. Feeling like we caused the problem is a legitimate stage of grief. Feeling ashamed is normal when we've been abused. Blaming ourselves is a survival skill. It helps us feel in control when life doesn't make sense and being abused doesn't make any sense at all.
Besides, aren't women supposed to suffer? We sacrifice ourselves. I became a martyr. I thought taking care of other people was my job. If I took care of them, I hoped they'd return the favor and take care of me. But that didn't happen. People expected me to take care of them once I started that pattern. There were many reasons I didn't take care of myself. The word no wasn't in my vocabulary. Good people were selfless. Loving myself was out of the question. Selfish! But the biggest reason I didn't take care of myself is that I didn't know how to.
Many of us didn't (or don't) know about self-care. It wasn't written about in books or talked about in school. We get user manuals for simple products, but we don't get a handbook for life. We stumble through complex situations, figuring things out for ourselves. Controlling and taking care of others -- the entire package of codependent behaviors -- become survival tools, living skills that we think will keep us safe. Then one day these behaviors turn on us. Our relationships and lives stop working and we don't know why. By then these survival behaviors are habits. They're all we know how to do.
If I had the years back I spent worrying about how the things I couldn't control were going to turn out, I'd have a third of my life to live over. That would be a life in which I wouldn't feel responsible for everyone or feel guilty all the time. I wouldn't waste energy controlling, enabling, and obsessively rescuing people -- the "helpful" things codependents do that don't really help. I'd let people take care of their responsibilities and I'd take care of mine. I wouldn't let people hurt me. I'd set boundaries -- say no. I wouldn't do only what other people wanted me to do; I'd do what I wanted, too. This time my giving would come from my heart, and my helping would actually help. I wouldn't judge everything that happened as wrong, including what I did, said, thought, and felt. I'd let life unfold, people be who they are, and I'd let myself be me. This time, I'd have the courage to experience true love.
I'd trust my intuition. If something didn't feel right, I'd know it probably wasn't. If I felt sad, I'd cry. If I felt angry, I'd feel that. I wouldn't ignore emotions until I imploded in illness or exploded in rage. I'd get out of my head and into my heart. I'd deal with my and others' feelings without all the drama; as much as possible I'd handle uncomfortable situations with diplomacy and tact. I wouldn't feel obligated and trapped. I'd know I had choices -- whether that means choosing attitude, gratitude, meditation, or prayer. Instead of protecting myself with fierce independence, I'd ask for help. I wouldn't be controlled by people and external events. My control center would be where it belongs -- in me. I wouldn't let other people's approval determine whether or not I approved of myself. I'd be energized by nature, God, and Life. I wouldn't drain other people, and I wouldn't let them drain me so much that my battery would die.
My relationships would be equal ones. I'd share power instead of one of us controlling and the other being controlled. I wouldn't have to create chaos to feel alive; I'd know I'm real. As one friend reminds me, instead of running headfirst into trouble, I'd go around it whenever I could (without resorting to denial). I know the value of peace. I'd create beauty, be of service, and have fun. I'd live and love at the same time. I'd admit my mistakes. But I'd also appreciate what I did well and let myself enjoy success.
This time I'd know what it means to love and take care of myself.
2 • How to Use This Handbook
To prepare for writing this handbook, I reread books I wrote years ago: Codependent No More (1985-86), Beyond Codependency (1988-89), The Language of Letting Go (1990), and The Codependents' Guide to the Twelve Steps (1990). I was surprised by how much I have changed. I barely recognized who I am now compared to who I was back then.
When I first wrote about codependency, I couldn't get the word past my computer's spell-checker. Most of the world didn't recognize the word yet either. For a book originally rejected by twenty publishers ("Nice idea," they said, "but there aren't enough codependents to make publishing the manuscript worthwhile"), Codependent No More -- strictly by word of mouth -- became a best-seller. It hit the lists and is still a backlist best-seller. My Beverly Hills internist read it as part of his medical training. It's part of many school and college curriculums. Therapists recommend it to patients. Thousands of people give it to family and friends. It's read in treatment centers, recovery groups, and by people around the world searching for how to make the pain from self-neglect stop. The subject of codependency and how to recover from it struck a universal nerve.
Naming that pain was like discovering fire -- a fire that people still discover each month as thousands begin the journey we started back then.
"We're part of a groundswell movement that's come into its own time," I wrote in Beyond Codependency. "Media and public attention may subside. But recovery from codependency is more than a fad. We started the journey of self-care and self-love. We're not stopping now."
Those words were prophetic. Concepts such as letting go, detachment, setting boundaries, and self-care mainstreamed. They worked their way into the culture. Ideas previously unknown or talked about only by small groups of recovering people are now discussed almost anywhere, from coffee shops to TV. Ideas that originated with the codependency recovery movement are now how millions of people -- whether or not they're in recovery -- live.
Four of the fourteen books I've written are devoted to codependency I didn't think I'd ever say this, but those four aren't enough. I'm writing this book to clarify confusion, discuss new information, write about how codependency has mutated, address new support options, and remind us about what we learned.
Although I've changed significantly since writing Codependent No More, I still step in codependent puddles. I might get hooked into someone's stuff, let their problems control me, over-engage, or start reacting instead of taking right action. I'll let family conditioning affect me, neglect to set boundaries, or shut down emotionally. There are times I have to slam on the brakes, STOP, and remember to take care of myself. I don't sink in quicksand like I used to, but sometimes I revert to survival mode. That's yesterday's news.
I don't call that relapsing. Caring about people we love, feeling victimized when we're betrayed, giving our all to people we love, or wanting to control people because we're watching them destroy themselves and hurt us doesn't mean we're sick. These are natural reactions. Codependency is about normal behaviors taken too far. It's about crossing lines.
This book is written for beginners and those further down the taking-care-of-themselves road. It offers practical help for people recovering from chemical dependency when they bottom out from codependency, usually after being sober anywhere from seven to ten years. The seven-year mark for recovering alcoholics and addicts is a widely accepted but unofficial recovery rule of thumb. After people stop drinking, they discover there are many things other than alcohol and drugs that they can't control, a rite of passage that could be dubbed "the Second Great Surrender." We let go of all illusions of control.
I also wrote this book for people who want to learn more about behaviors such as setting boundaries or dealing with feelings, but who don't want or need to go to treatment, therapy, or attend recovery groups. You don't have to label yourself codependent and embark on a grand transformation to benefit from this book. Instead you can learn about specific behaviors that will help you take better care of yourself. This book complements my other writing, but the material in here is fresh. This is an upgrade, building on and enhancing the work I did before, like when Windows evolved from DOS. This book can be used with my other books or by itself.
The material is divided into sections, the sections into chunks. It's structured like a shopping mall directory. Locate the spot that says YOU ARE HERE and you'll see how to get where you're going next. Section Two -- Breaking Free from the Control Trap and Getting Some Grace -- offers alternatives to codependent behaviors. Section Three -- Making a Conscious Connection with Yourself -- will help you create an emotional profile. Section Four, Catch and Release -- It's Only a Feeling, is about maintaining emotional health. Section Five is a trouble-shooting guide, offering suggestions about what to do when specific aggravating situations occur. At the end of the book, you'll find an easy way to locate almost any kind of assistance available. But by the time you finish this book, I hope you'll know that Life will bring you what you need.
You won't find a long list of dos and don'ts. It's not my job to tell you what to do. Self-love means trusting ourselves, not following someone else's rules. Although this is categorized as a self-help book, the "how-to" is in you.
Beginners can use the information and activities to go deeper into problem areas. It may help speed the learning curve, but growth has its own timetable. For others, sometimes a reminder is all we need, but there's still not always a quick fix. Gray areas and being between a rock and a hard place are more than clichés. They're real situations in people's lives. "My life hasn't been as seamless as it looks," a woman who is strong and admired by many said. Most of us find ourselves in tricky situations -- those where the only way out is through. These situations can be confusing. We can't identify what's going on, so we don't know what to do. Sometimes the answer isn't doing something; it's letting ourselves.
Section Three consists of quizzes. This is a new addition to my previous work. It does more than break codependency down into behaviors and isolate what's causing the problem; it helps us look closely at the emotions underneath what we do. As a bonus, most of the quiz statements double as affirmations. A light will come on; you may get the answer you need just by taking a test. The book becomes part of the change process itself. Sometimes one moment of awareness does more than months of hard work. Identifying resistance or releasing a feeling can be all we need to set the healing process in motion. That's what happened to me. After years of denial, I finally felt safe enough to feel one feeling. In an instant, I immediately came into balance and started taking care of myself. Take the quizzes often -- regularly and when you're stuck. You'll get different messages at different times, depending on what you need.
Once we relax and surrender, taking care of ourselves can become fun. But self-care is a full-time job. Sometimes it's hard work. Healing can dredge up painful memories, like cleaning an old wound. We may get turned upside down while our lives rearrange. Or we may need to start over again. Change can be uncomfortable, but so is staying the same. Sometimes we lose the people we love most. Life has its moments, and some of them hurt. But self-care still feels better than neglecting ourselves. Instead of calling this a workbook, how about thinking of it as an owner's manual for you and Life.
3 • What Codependency Is and Isn't
An acquaintance explained how much he enjoys being a husband and father. "I suppose that makes me codependent," he said, apologetically.
"No," I said. "It means you like being married."
When it comes to codependency, some people are confused.
They may associate codependency with rabbit-boiling Fatal Attraction behavior. Or they confuse codependency with psychosis, borderline personality, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some people think codependency doesn't have anything to do with them because nobody in their family drinks or they're not being abused. Or they think recovering from codependency or adult children of alcoholic issues means they get to blame their parents for everything they (the children) do.
Recovery isn't about pointing fingers; it's about taking responsibility for ourselves.
Some people call codependency a sign of the Me generation, another excuse for selfish people to continue putting themselves first. Some people believe (incorrectly) that recovering from codependency means they have to get a divorce. Or they're afraid that codependency recovery behaviors will conflict with their religious beliefs. Others think detachment means becoming cold and uncaring. Those are misconceptions that don't come close to what being healthy and functional means. Or, like my friend, people mistakenly believe codependency means enjoying marriage, which couldn't be further from the truth.
I understand the confusion. I devoted an entire chapter to defining codependency in Codependent No More and classifying it is still challenging. People often define it by the behaviors they engage in. "Codependency is being a caretaker." "It means being married to an alcoholic." "I cling to people, glob onto them." "I walk into a room and am immediately attracted to the sickest person in it." While these can signal codependency, they are only part of what codependency is. It's not so much what we do as why we're doing it.
In Codependent No More, I defined a codependent person as "one who has let another person's behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person's behavior." But codependency is still about more than that (although controlling and obsessing are good places to start).
Years after writing Codependent No More, I was haunted by the fear that loving myself would make me lazy and self-indulgent. It took a long time to know that appreciating myself is motivating.
"It's not what we don't know that hurts us," people say. "It's what we believe is true that isn't that does the damage."
There's a difference between loving someone and being trapped in a miserable marriage. There's a difference between giving to get someone to like us, which leaves us resentful, and giving from heartfelt generosity. There's a difference between enabling someone to drink and nurturing people we love, between narcissism and self-love, and between self-centeredness and staying centered in ourselves.
While alcoholism in the family can help create codependency, it isn't essential. Some people call codependency a disease. But how do we know whether it's a disease or a problem? Does it help to call ourselves sick when we already suffer from low self worth? The behaviors associated with codependency make perfect sense if we look closely enough. It's understandable that we would confuse control with love when control is all we've known. It makes sense that we think controlling will keep us safe because it did -- for a while. All codependent behaviors make sense if traced to their origins.
The behaviors associated with codependency -- from controlling to caretaking -- are behaviors that saved our lives when we didn't know what else to do. In most situations, whether alcoholism was involved or not, codependent behaviors are what anyone might do if he or she had walked for five or ten years in our shoes.
It's natural to hurt when we lose our marriage or to go crazy when we discover our daughter smokes crack. Many codependent behaviors -- such as worrying or controlling -- are what ordinary people do from time to time. But we get into trouble when these become behaviors we can't stop.
Codependency is normal behavior, plus. There are times we do too much, care too much, feel too little, or overly engage. We forget where the other person's responsibilities begin and our responsibilities stop. Or we get busy and have so much to do that we neglect ourselves.
Codependents may be smothering, clinging, and needy (they kill us with kindness and try to please us until we can't stand them). But on the brighter side, once they work through these issues, they can become outstanding people. Many use their experiences to become successful entrepreneurs. Studies show that people who grow up in troubled families handle stress significantly better than others; they keep going when people around them who had it easier fold.
Some professionals call people with codependency issues "overachievers," but that's demeaning. "They're super-achievers," one therapist said. That's kinder and more appropriate. Solving problems and possessing endurance (two positive codependency traits) are second nature to people who have already been through so much.
When we start taking care of ourselves, the deficits from our pasts transform into assets. Many people with codependency issues are loyal and dedicated. They get the job done. They obsess, but they also persevere. They want to help, and once they learn to help themselves, they usually do. Many become leaders, people who change our world.
Codependency is about crossing lines. How can we tell if what we're doing is codependent? When we cross the line into the Codependent Zone, we've usually got an ulterior motive for what we do, and what we're doing hurts. It doesn't work. This handbook will help us get back into our lives. Then we can choose behaviors that work for us.
It's easier to see what other people are doing than it is to see ourselves. That's a human trait and codependent behavior. Because codependent behaviors protected us, letting go of them can feel frightening at first. Are you willing to feel uncomfortable for a while?
4 • The New Codependency
"I was able to go to ninety meetings in ninety days when I began recovery. Now that's impossible," a woman wrote to me. "Many meetings have disbanded. Is codependency recovery disappearing?"
"Just the opposite," I replied. "In the beginning, we had AlÂ€‘Anon groups [for people affected by a loved one's drinking]; ACOA [Adult Children of Alcoholics], and CoÂ€‘DA [Codependents Anonymous meetings]. Now we can find support groups for caregivers of people with almost every problem -- not just for the person who has the problem and not only when the other person's problem is a compulsive or addictive disorder. There are groups for people who love someone with cancer, Alzheimer's, spinal cord injuries, brain trauma. There are support groups for people with almost every problem we can name and the people who love and take care of them."
We even have Double Winner groups now, where people can work on addiction and codependency issues at the same meeting -- something unheard of when Twelve-Step Groups began. We still have ACOA, AlÂ€‘Anon, and CoÂ€‘DA. We have Twelve-Step groups for people affected by many addictions from gambling to Debtors Anonymous to love and sex addiction.
People don't need to go through any situation alone, no matter what they face. Neither do the people who love them. People can even go on the Internet and attend a support group without leaving their homes. If we love someone with a problem, it's culturally accepted that we have a problem, too.
Codependency hasn't disappeared. It's wearing new faces and using different names.
Codependency has mutated in other ways. The first generation of recovering codependents had parents who endured the Great Depression, fought in World War I or II, or suffered horribly from the Holocaust. Many situations affected the parents of this first generation. Information about the problem wasn't in the consciousness yet; we didn't have a name for the problem or a solution. These first-generation codependents had martyrdom and deprivation embedded in their DNA. Their parents had been through a lot. But many second-generation codependents, born in the seventies or eighties, have parents who wanted to make sure their children had everything they (the parents) didn't get. Many second generation codependents are taking it a step further, attempting to protect their children from every problem and emotion. This creates codependents with the opposite of deprivation -- a sense of over-entitlement, over-protection, and inflated self-esteem that often crosses the line into narcissism. They expect life to be easier than it is; they want everything done for them no matter how they behave. Then they become depressed and confused when they don't get what they believe they deserve. Although first, second, and third generation codependents have many traits in common, and not all new codependents have been coddled (many are still horribly abused), the new codependents are a different breed from the classic ones.
The New Codependency has changed, too.
Since codependent behaviors mainstreamed into the culture, many people have learned to be codependent under the radar. They understand that certain behaviors aren't appropriate or therapeutically correct so they hide what they're doing. It's easy to disguise obsessing now. People don't have to sit at home staring at the phone, waiting for him or her to call like codependents used to do. Instead of detaching, the new codependents leave the house, bringing their cell phones and obsessions with them. It's also easier now to mask the anxiety, grief, and depression that accompany codependency by taking medications that weren't around when codependency recovery began. While using medication is a personal choice, it's important not to take prescriptions to endure miserable situations or lose touch with who we are and what we need.
Codependency survival behaviors and the need to change them haven't disappeared. Ideas recycle every twenty, thirty, or hundred years. Codependency recovery is coming around again stronger than before. Young people are flooding Al-Anon meetings, and older people are attending groups to understand healthy caregiving. They're learning to take care of themselves, not just other people.
Culturally, scientifically, and spiritually we accept that we're not isolated beings or individuals functioning independently in the world. What affects one person also affects that person's loved ones, family members, coworkers, and friends. The Butterfly effect, a contemporary theory related to the work of Edward Lorenz and more recently popularized by the writer Ray Bradbury, illustrates this idea. It's a romantic theory about cause and effect that poses the question: If enough butterflies flapped their wings in one part of the world, could that flapping influence (along with other conditions) a tornado -- or at least a draft -- on the other side of the planet? It's similar to the domino theory -- place the dominos in a row, push the first one, and watch the whole row topple.
What we do matters. Our behaviors, beliefs, and actions affect the people around us, just as our behavior and beliefs have been influenced by others -- including ancestors we haven't met.
Choosing our actions instead of reacting can change the course of history or at least the course of our lives. Most professionals agree that detaching in love from an alcoholic creates an environment more conducive to that person becoming sober than nagging, screaming, and beating our chest in martyrdom.
James Redfield (The Celestine Prophecy) and Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now) describe codependency recovery as one small but essential part of a paradigm shift. Initially when I heard people talk about a paradigm shift, I'd nod my head and agree. But I didn't have a clue what a paradigm was or what it meant when it moved. All I knew is that I had finally learned what it meant to take care of me. Years later, I learned a paradigm shift is a different way of seeing ourselves and the world.
Since I wrote Codependent No More, the way we see ourselves and the world has evolved. Teenagers know about boundaries and limits; five-year-old children talk about feelings. Not being abused is talked about by seventy-year-old women and men and by children in elementary school. That doesn't mean we're all taking care of ourselves. Far from it. That's an ideal. But we're learning more about loving ourselves.
We've gone through a paradigm shift about what it means to love other people, too. Just as we're instructed in an airplane (in the event of low cabin pressure) to put on our oxygen mask first before helping others, we know that taking care of ourselves helps us love people better. Taking care of ourselves isn't selfish -- unless we cross the line and don't care about others at all. That's as unhealthy as helping too much.
Whether we're first-, second-, third-, r fourth-generation codependents, codependency isn't "one size fits all." Each of us needs to discover how codependency has affected us and what behaviors we're doing that hurt.
5 • Letting Go of Stigma from the Label
At first the word codependency was a godsend. Hallelujah! We weren't crazy; we were codependent. The word and all it meant brought a sigh of relief to millions. "Now there's a stigma attached to identifying ourselves as codependent," a social worker said. I agree. There's more stigma attached to identifying as a codependent than to saying we're an addict. We don't need to be embarrassed or ashamed of any problem we have. But being clingy and needy just isn't attractive.
"Can I help you, ma'am?"
"Why, yes. I'm looking for something to make me stop controlling, obsessing about, and stalking my exÂ€‘boyfriend. I drive by his house almost every evening. I call him when I get home. If he answers, I hang up. It's been years since our relationship ended. But you can't snap your fingers and make how you feel about someone disappear.
"It's not only that. People walk over me so much I have footprints on my face. I'm tired of being a victim, but I don't know how to stop. Besides I heard those codependency groups sit around blaming their parents. My childhood wasn't that bad. I don't even know any alcoholics, and I'd never let anyone hit me. I'm independent and have a good job, but I can't function unless I'm in love. The problem is, I don't have a life. Unless I'm taking care of someone, I don't know who I am. I get angry when people tell me to take care of myself. I take care of everyone. Isn't that enough? Would you happen to have a book for someone like that in stock?"
Codependency isn't a romantic problem. But the denial, obsession with what we lost, guilt, bargaining, controlling, anger, and sadness -- if we look closely enough we'll see how similar codependency is to grief. Most people with codependency issues have lost a lot. We may not be aware of how much we have lost if we lost something we never had -- like feeling safe, protected, and loved. All we know is that we feel incomplete. We cling to anyone we can, hoping we'll find our missing pieces in them.
"How do you feel about identifying yourself as a codependent?" I asked someone new to Al-Anon.
"It's repulsive and I hate it," she said, referring to the word codependent.
Be gentle with yourself. You're not psychotic. You're on the path to healing. I don't know your story, but if you look at yourself with eyes of love, you'll see that what you do makes perfect sense. If you've crossed the line into the Codependent Zone, the good news is you don't have to take on the stigma. You don't have to call yourself a codependent to stop doing behaviors that don't work.
Whether you like the word codependent or not, stopping the pain from it feels good.
I heard a powerful businesswoman describe her busy life. "Each week I take half an hour to do something to take care of myself," she proudly said.
Half an hour? I thought. That's barely enough time to get started before it's time to stop. Self-care runs deeper than that. Loving and taking care of ourselves are undercurrents in our lives.
It's safe to surrender control. We don't have to make anything happen, no matter what we're taught or believe. We're not alone, separate from people and God. We're one with Life and everyone and everything in it, but not in the clingy codependent way. Take a deep breath. Look around. When you let go of fear and the need to control, you'll experience how mysterious, sacred, and interesting Life can be.
If I had to reduce this book to five pages, I'd write about awareness, caretaking, control, letting go, gratitude, acceptance, surrender, boundaries, feelings, dropping the victim role forever, and how to love ourselves. If I had to reduce this book to four words, I'd write: Be who you are. If I had to shrink it even further, I'd use two words penned by the ancient sages: Know yourself. Copyright © 2009 by Melody and Company, Inc.
Meet the Author
Melody Beattie, one of the seminal figures in the recovery movement, is the author of the international bestseller Codependent No More, which has sold over eight million copies and been translated into more than a dozen languages. An expert on codependency, Beattie has written fifteen books, including include Beyond Codependency, The Language of Letting Go, and The Grief Club, and lectures worldwide. She lives in Southern California. For more information visit her website at www.melodybeattie.com.
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