The Codependent Self Construct:
An Ethnopsychological Perspective

Susan Krygsveld
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Simon Fraser University


  1. Introduction
  2. Theory and Method
  3. Literature review
  4. The nature of the self in codependency theory
  5. The relationship between psychology and reality
  6. Conclusion
  7. References
  8. Appendix 1: Checklist of characteristics of codependency (Beattie 1987:42-52)
  9. Appendix 2: The Twelve Steps, adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous (Beattie 1990)


Peoples everywhere have developed symbolic structures in terms of which persons are perceived not baldly as such, as mere unadorned members of the human race, but as representatives of certain distinct categories of persons, specific sorts of individuals. (Geertz 1973:363)


This paper examines the social construction of the self, concurring with the notion put forth by Lock and others that selfhood as self-awareness and concept of the person is a socio- cultural product (Geertz 1973, Lock 1981, Lutz 1988). That the self is conceptualized is, of necessity, a universal phenomena- in order for a culture to maintain itself its members must have some awareness of their objective selves separate from the others. But the ways in which this conceptualization varies in degrees and manifestation is a cultural phenomena. Furthermore, the cultural variability in self-awareness and person concept is found in symbol systems which are not "given in the nature of things", that is, inherent or universal or "natural", but which are "historically constructed, socially maintained, and individually applied" (Geertz 1973:364). Thus, how individuals conceptualize, monitor and discuss their own mental processes and behavior as beings separate from others ( in other words, their objective selves ), is both informed and maintained by social practices.

Given then that selfhood can be seen as a cultural construction rather than a "natural fact", it is appropriate to elucidate cultural variability of selfhood by looking at social practices which contribute to the construction of particular selves, and at the ideologies and assumptions which inform these practices. It is important here to also recognize the interdependent relationship between concepts of the self and the culture which mediates these concepts. Lock suggests "... selves are constituted within culture, and culture is maintained by the community of selves (1981:19)". This means that as well as through internalization of social practices (culture), concepts of self become salient through externalization of their own characteristics back out into the culture (Berger and Luckman 1966).

Because of this dialectical process and ongoing negotiation between self and culture, it is particularly revealing to look at psychologies, which do more than offer explicit and formalized "symbol systems" about the nature of the self which of course they also do. Psychologies are also situated social practices. Their particular situations are reflected back in the psychologized image of the self, which for the most part is a legitimized one. Because of their professional status, at least in western society, psychologies produce a reality which serves as a basis for their verification (Berger 1966). Hence, in attempting to explicate this dialectic, my paper focuses on a particular stream of psychology as a means of understanding how the self as a "distinct category of person", a "specific sort of individual" (Geertz 1973) is both socially constructed and self- perpetuating.

The purpose of my paper is twofold: primarily to elucidate the nature of the particular self constructed by a particular psychological theory about the self; and secondarily to explicate the dialectic relationship between psychology (as a conception of the self) and reality (the experiential self). By examining the self-help codependency stream of popular psychological literature, I will attempt to achieve these aims in the following way. First, I will draw out the nature of the self constructed by this ethnotheory by eliciting both the explicitly stated knowledge about the self, and the implicit underlying assumptions about the self that these statements make. Then, I will outline the ecology of this knowledge, that is, the context in which the theory was produced and the purposes for which it is used, in order to show the capacity of the codependency literature, as both an ethnotheory about the self and an ethnotherapy (which will be shown to be inherently reality- legitimating), to perpetuate this self.

Theory and Method

This paper presents a largely ethnopsychological perspective, drawing heavily from Lutz (1988), from whom it in turn draws interpretative, deconstructionist, feminist and critical theory ideas; as it also does from Gergen's (1985) social constructionist framework. The fundamental premise underpinning an ethnopsychology perspective is that the self is understood to be socially constructed- structured by particular cultural systems and particular social and material environments (Lutz 1988:5).

Beyond this, the premises important to this analysis are: First, because psychological phenomena should be viewed as ideological practices rather than as "things" to be discovered and because knowledge is seen as historically and culturally situated, I am concerned with the taken-for-granted assumptions about the self in theories about the self (Gergen 1985). In this case, the ideation of self portrayed in codependency theory is revealed rather than assumed. Second, that coming to understand the nature of the culturally constructed self is a problem of translation (Lutz 1988:8). Thus, because I want to understand the nature of the codependent self located within the same western society that I am part of (in other words because I am an "insider"), it will be difficult to question notions so embedded in this familiar cultural milieu. On the other hand, the jargon of the codependency literature evokes a certain amount of "strangeness" which aids the challenge of presenting a "sensible" yet culturally illuminating portrayal (Lutz 1988:11). Finally, psychological theory is seen as affecting reality by sustaining and legitimating certain cultural patterns (Berger and Luckman 1966).

The ethnopsychological method I used also follows that of Lutz, in that I took to task the examination of the codependency literature as "indicators of a cultural knowledge system for interpreting the self and other (1988)". Given that, I analyzed three of the most popular titles in this genre, Codependency No More (1987) and Codependency Guide to the Twelve Steps (1990) by Melody Beattie, and Co-dependency: Misunderstood-Mistreated (1986) by Anne Wilson Schaef. I paid attention to the lexicon of the self and others, and inner states; metaphors abut human functioning; labeling, evaluations, and causal explanations of behavior; as well as references to the life course or normative development (of self-awareness), as symbols of this knowledge. For example, I took a statement that reads " detached from ourselves, we lose touch with ourselves" (Beattie 1987) indicative of a selfhood which is dualistic ( "it" can, after all, "detach"), and whose behavior is preferentially "in touch" (or at least "in touch" at some point before it "loses touch"). It is in this way that both explicit and implicit knowledge was derived. In order to contextualize the codependency literature, additional sources were used which are briefly discussed in the following literature review.

Literature Review

The scope of the body of literature on codependency is wide, ranging from lay press to academic material. The literature reviewed for this analysis can be divided into two groups- the self-help codependency books; and the books, and journal and popular press articles which discuss the codependency books.

The codependency books fall within the broader genre of self- help literature. Self-help books, based on early American Puritan values of Christian goodness and success, are definitionally prescriptive, and focus on the relationship between moral behavior and material success (Simonds 1992). The first self-help books specializing in "codependency" emerged in the 1980s when the term was being used in chemically dependent and compulsive disorder treatment centers in the midwest. One of the first was Codependency, An Emerging Issue (1984) in which J. Subby, J. Woititz and C. Whitfied defined codependency as disease which inflicts "... anyone who has been affected by a person who has been afflicted by the disease of chemical dependency (Schaef 1986:22)". By 1987 when M. Beattie's (the guru of codependency) best seller Codependent No More (1987) came out, the definition broadened to included anyone affected by someone else's behavior and obsessed with controlling it.

What is striking is the sameness of many of these books. They differ somewhat in levels of literacy and prescriptiveness but they describe the same syndromes in the same language and prescribe the same cure- enlistment in a Twelve Step program borrowed from Alcoholics Anonymous and based on submission to a higher power (Kaminer 1990). There are over two hundred codependency titles available today, written largely by lay persons who have personal experience with codependency and want to share their recovery success with other codependents. Beattie writes in the introduction to Codependents Guides to the Twelve Steps, " this is my gift to those of you also recovering... (1990:3)".

The second category consists of books and articles which mostly criticize the codependency material, although the reasons for this vary. The "professionals" in the mental health field contend that it is "bad psychology". An article in Psychology Today claims that psychologists are concerned with the "rampant abuse of the addiction concept" and the way it "pathologizes all behavior "(1992:8). Journalists condemn it for its evangelical overtones and cultist appeal to the masses; as indicative of the way that reading has become a perverse way out of thinking ; and as representative of the "drivel" designed to pacify readers (Rieff 1991; Simonds 1992). Feminists such as Collins (1993) are critical of its negligence to recognize factors external to the individual which affect dynamics of interpersonal relationships.

The Nature of the Self in Codependency Theory

The primary purpose of this paper is to elucidate the nature of the particular self constructed by the codependency theory. It is necessary to first outline what I mean by "codependency theory".

Codependency Theory: The Main Tenets

Codependency theory, for the purposes of this paper, refers to a set of ideas put forth by Beattie (1987, 1990) and Schaef(1986) centered around the pathological condition of being a codependent kind of person- a person who is dependent on someone who is dependent; "a partner in dependency" (Beattie 1987:31), in which the consequence is a "loss of self". The main tenets of this theory hold that the condition is disease-like; that it is constituted of particular behaviors; that it is a self- diagnosed but widespread condition; and that its cure hinges on the "recovery process". Each of these will be discussed in turn.

First, the theorists conceptualize codependency as a pathological condition although they differ in their views of its ontology. Beattie refuses to label codependency a disease with the caveat "I don't know if codependency is or isn't an illness. I'm not an expert" (1987:35) before metaphorically describing it as something "similar to catching pneumonia... once you've got it, you've got it. If you want to get rid of it, you have to do something to make it go away (1987:28)". On the other hand, Schaef, more blatant about conceptualizing it as a disease, states, "codependency (as a set of behaviors) fits a disease model in that it has an onset (a point at which the person's life is just not working), a definable course (the person continues to deteriorate mentally, physically, psychologically and spiritually) and left untreated, has a predictable outcome (death) (1986:10)". Despite disagreement on its ontological basis-whether or not it is a disease, both agree that it is a painful and ultimately self-destructive "physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual condition " (Beattie 1987:33).

Second, the condition of codependency is conceptualized as constituent of particular behaviors and attitudes which indicate that a person has "let another person's behavior affect him or her" to the degree that the person is destroying his- or herself (Beattie 1987:36).Beattie describes codependents as "barely surviving" (1987:42) while Schaef delineates them as "spiritually deteriorated" (1986:66). At any rate, it is clearly behavior which somehow causes the codependent to "lose touch with" or abandon one's self through interaction with another person which is theorized as problematic (and pathological). The key behavior symptomatic of this pathology is a reaction to others. As Beattie explains, "however you define it, and from whatever frame of reference you use to diagnose and treat it, codependency is primarily a reactionary process. Codependents are reactionaries. They overreact. They under-react... They react to the problems, pains, lives and behaviors of others (1987:38, italics mine)". It is the ways in which individuals react- the thoughts, feelings and actions, which broadly characterizes codependency.

These specific characteristic traits (thoughts, feelings and actions) are roughly divided into four main behavior groups by the theorists (but is not limited to; Beattie lists 237 characteristics) and act as self-diagnostic checklists (see appendix 1 for the complete checklists). One group are caretaking behaviors when individuals, for example, "think and feel responsible for other people"; "anticipate other people's needs"; and/or "try to please others instead of themselves". Another group are external referenting behaviors- when individuals have "no concept of themselves"; "lack boundaries"; and "look for happiness outside themselves". Another group are the controlling behaviors- when individuals "become afraid to let other people be who they are and allow events to happen naturally"; don't see or deal with their fear of loss of control"; and "feel controlled by events and people". The last group are the repression behaviors- when individuals "deny their own experience"; "distort feelings"; "push their thoughts and feelings out of their awareness because of fear and guilt; and "become afraid to let themselves be who they are "(Schaef 1986, Beattie 1987). Essentially, these behaviors constitute the condition- if a person has any of these characteristics he or she is codependent.

Third, while codependency is conceptualized as a self- diagnosed condition, the theory also holds that nearly everyone, or at least 80 million people, are codependent (Beattie 1987:33). Presumably Beattie is referring to "nearly everyone" in a North American context but this is not made explicit. Similarly, Schaef states that "96% of the population" is codependent, and that it is a commonplace and taken for granted condition in and of "our" society, although "the" society remains un-named. Despite this ambiguity it is nevertheless clear that, according to the theory, many people are inflicted with codependency. This suggests that, although it is up the individual to decide for him- or herself if he or she is codependent, it is really not a matter of whether they are codependent (because, after all, nearly everyone is) but whether codependency is a problem for them (Beattie 1987:53, italics mine).In this sense then codependency is conceptualized as simultaneously pathological and normative. Everyone has it, but it is not a problem for everyone.

Finally, although diagnosis of codependency is conceptualized as a personal and relatively vague matter- "each person must decide for him- or herself what needs to be changed and when that should happen" (Beattie 1987:53)- its cure is definitively cast. According to both theorists, the only way to get over this condition is through the "recovery process" which liberates the codependent to become who he or she "really is" (Beattie 1987:54, Schaef 1986:99). The recovery process is a self- directed "healing process" which assumes that the only person any individual can control and change is themselves. Additionally, because of the paradoxical nature of codependency- codependents appear to be depended upon but are actually dependent on others- codependents look strong "on the outside" but do not know how to "take care of themselves". Therefore, the curative recovery process hinges on the administration of "self-care" in which the codependents must learn to "detach", to "stop reacting and start controlling oneself", to "stop rescuing to others" and to become self- rather than other-centered. Recovery depends on two basic prescriptive tools- being with other codependents (which translates to taking part in a Twelve Step program (the Twelve Steps are described in more detail in Appendix 2) with other codependents) and "letting go" (which means detaching from the object of obsession, trusting a power higher than themselves, and having faith in the natural order and destiny of things in this world)- and on the premise that individuals are responsible for themselves and for taking care of themselves.

The Self Constructed in Codependency Theory

As a psychology, then, the codependency literature makes a set of evaluative statements about a condition-as a way of thinking, feeling and acting towards oneself and others, which is (deemed) pathological but curable as long as prescriptive action is taken to change those ways of thinking, feeling, and acting. While these statements may be either accepted or rejected by the general readership of the codependency psychology, the task of this paper is to reveal the assumptions that underpin the theory itself. Whether codependency is a condition of not being able to "take care of yourself", for example, is not the concern from an ethnopsychological perspective. Instead, the statement is seen as a theory which reveals cultural understanding about the nature of the self. According to Gergen, from this perspective, then, "... all psychological theorizing ...become[s] problematic as potential reflectors of an internal reality and become themselves matters of analytic interest;... normalized beliefs become targets of demystification (1985:271)". In this case, what is problematized is the theoretical assumption about an "internal reality" ( or concept of self-awareness and personhood) wherein an individual is not only perceived as capable of "taking care of his- or herself" but wherein this independent self is constructed as preferential to a dependent self. That the condition of codependency is deemed pathological and curative is very much a matter of analytic concern.

In this sense, as an ethno psychology, codependency theory is saying as much about the notion of the potentiality of self than about the actuality of self. Codependency theory, through explicitly prescribing a particular pathological set of thoughts, feelings, and actions- in other words, evaluating a "specific sort of individual" (Geertz 1973:363), is prescribing the antithesis of that self. By describing the characteristics of a specific sort of self that is pathological because it is an "abandoned" or "destroyed" or "deteriorated" self, the codependent theorists are constructing the characteristics of the polar "healthy" albeit ideal self. Beattie (1987, 1990) and Schaef (1986) construct an image of an ideal self possible only if codependents "let go" and separate from others, and change their "enmeshed" behaviors in order to become, or to "get back in touch with their, " autonomous, individuated, and separate selves. The individual who derives a sense of self through relationships with others is cast as actual but diseased while someone who "gains" a "true" self through self-control, "knowing" his- or herself, and by clearly delimiting his or her own responsibility from and to others, is deemed ideal and healthy.

Assumptions About the Nature of the Self

The nature of the self in codependency theory is elucidated, therefore, as an idealized image of an autonomous, individuated and separate self. In this sense, the theory serves as a folk model of a self- as a culturally prescribed degree of self- awareness and boundary between subjective-objective, self and other, which in turn elicits cultural values (which extend beyond those of the theorists no doubt). It is through the representation of an actual, experiential but deficient self that this model emerges. Before describing in more detail the characteristics of the autonomous, individuated and separate self which make up this model, the premises that such a self construct is based on need to be made explicit.

First, this construct is based on the acceptance of the actual/ideal self dualism already mentioned. To accept this dualism is to accept, among other things, that a "better" self is both possible and desirable. This view of self-attainment is analogous to the humanist Maslow-Rogerian self-actualization psychotherapy in the 1960s , oriented towards individual liberation from a state of painful in authenticity, and the search for one's true self (Rice 1992:351). Predating that view is James' term "potential self" emphasizing the dynamic quality of the multifaceted phenomenon of the self in which different selves are in conflict (James 1890:396).

This dualism also accepts that there is a "better" or in fact, a "true" self inside people which can only come out or be revealed through some kind of exorcism of the "false" self which is oppressive and destructive to this "true, inner self". Like the classical notion of Latin persona, the false self of codependency can be seen as a tragic mask which belies the self behind the mask (Mauss 1938/85). An autonomous, individuated self becomes synonymous with the "true nature of the individual" (Mauss 1938/85:17).

Second, this construct of self is based on the assumption of a moral right to have a particular kind of self. The central premise of the codependency theory is that codependents are individuals suffering the consequences of not having a "true" self which, it is tacitly implied, is the individual's right to have and furthermore, to express. In that codependents are seen as victims "robbed of their right to be on this planet" (Schaef 1986:53), the codependency theory is about ownership of selfhood. Beattie says that beyond the "liberating goal of recovery... [in that] it lets us be who we are,.. it also helps us own our God- given power to think, feel and act (1987:56, italics mine)". Clearly underpinning this overt statement about rights of ownership is the historical Roman notion, explained by Mauss, that along with the right to a name, individuals from the second century B.C. on were conceptualized as having a right to a personality (Mauss 1938/85:17). It was only slaves who were deprived of both name and personality, and hence, of their ownership of persona, of body and soul. In this sense, codependency theorists give privilege to one kind of self over another, based on a fundamental but implicit right to "true" selfhood. Because codependents have "lost their selves" (and their lives) (Beattie 1987), it is their "right" to regain them. Furthermore, without this true self they are conceptualized as "enslaved" to others.

Finally, this duality of actual/ideal self is based on a moral evaluation of behavior and the consequences of not being a certain kind of person. By privileging the ideal self over the actual self the codependent theorists are making the presumption that the behaviors characteristic of an autonomous, individuated self are more desirable according to normative, cultural values. Even though the theorists make the point themselves that "nearly everyone" is codependent which makes it the cultural norm, Schaef contends that " this [codependency] is not the normal state for the human organism (1986:71)". In an inverted way then, codependency is assumed to be the abnormal condition because it "produces unnatural early death and unhappy, destructive, and destroyed persons (Schaef 1986:17)" and thus, is not as "normal" a condition as independency in which people "assert their consciousness: the choice to think and to be aware... to be your self at the most basic level (Beattie 1987:125)". This premise evokes the Christian notion of the human person as essentially a moral and "rational" being, as well as the modern notion of the person as a psychological being identified with self-knowledge and consciousness (Mauss 1938/85:21). In this sense, the ideal model constructed in codependency theory epitomizes the western cultural value system which views independence as a form of morality.

The Model of the Self in Codependency Theory: As a Particular Kind of Person

With these assumptions made explicit, a more contextualized understanding of the codependent self construct emerges. Returning to the idea that the model of the self constructed in codependency theory is the antithesis of the actual codependent person, and keeping in mind that it is based on an ideal/actual self dualism, on the moral right to personhood, and a moral evaluation of kinds of persons, a very peculiar self materializes- even when seen from a western perspective. It is an objective self to an extreme; one whose degree of self-awareness is colossal, and whose boundaries between self and other are extremely delimited. What the codependency theory prescribes is an autonomous, individual and separate kind of person who is "in control of oneself", who "knows" oneself, and who is "responsible for oneself but not for others". Each of these fundamental characteristics of the ideal non-codependent self is described in more detail.

According to codependency theory a "healthier" ( and more "true") self is found in a person who is "in control" of his- or herself. An "in control" person does not try to control others, is not affected by others' feelings and behaviors, is not afraid to be "who he or she really is", and remains in control his or her feelings, thoughts and actions at all times (Beattie 1987, 1990; Schaef 1986). This prescribed behavior derives from the way codependency behavior is pathologically framed. For instance, while codependents are "supreme controllers" (Schaef 1986:60) that they try to control others rather than themselves is rendered problematic. Schaef says, "They believe they can control others perceptions (through impression management); control how others see their families; and control what their children perceive and feel and how they will turn out (1986:61)". But, this "supreme controlling" leads to depression and a sense of failure because the "only person we can control is ourselves" (Beattie 1987:29). When codependents try to control people and things they "have no business controlling" they are controlled, rather than in control, and their self-preservation is endangered. "They lose control of their selves- and their lives (Beattie 1987:80)". Essentially, codependents are instructed to "let go" of this other-oriented locus of control in order to gain a self-oriented locus of control. Hence, "letting go" transforms the actual into the idealized self- a person who is, among other things, in control of his- or herself.

Also integral to the ideal self construct is the capability of a person to "know his- or herself". This characteristic accepts that individuals are distinct beings; that in relation to others their thoughts, feelings and actions constitute an unique repertoire; that they are an unique person. According to a fundamental premise of codependency theory, codependent behavior is that which causes a "loss of self", or "losing touch with oneself" (Beattie 1987). By problematizing the behaviors such as "weak boundaries", not being in "touch with one's feelings", and "not knowing one's own mind", the theory implicates self- knowledge with individuation. In other words, codependents are conceptualized as being at risk of not being individuals if they do not possess a clear understanding about those parts of themselves which contain or at least manifest their individuality- their own thoughts and feelings, primarily.

The language which suggests this reads like this: "Codependents literally do not know where they end and others begin" (Schaef 1986:49) or "[codependents] 'take on' depression, anger, happiness, whatever comes along, without being clear that it was coming from within" (Schaef 1986:49) or "our feelings can provide us with clues to ourselves: our desires, wants, and ambitions. They help us discover ourselves, what we are really thinking. Our emotions also tap into that deep part of us that seeks and knows the truth, and desires self-preservation, self- enhancement..." (Beattie 1987:144). Each of these statements refer to the self as something which is knowable, and alludes to the desirability of this knowledge in terms of attaining an ideal self.

Finally, but most fundamental to the model of the self constructed in codependency theory, is the notion that a person should be responsible for oneself while abstaining from "taking on" responsibility for others. The antithesis of the codependent self, the independent self, underpins the entire theory, and, of course, reflects a dominant western cultural value. But the independent person that is promoted in codependency theory is a peculiar sort. Definitionally codependency is the condition of being dependent on someone else who is dependent (on anything from alcohol and chemicals to food, gambling, sex or relationships). This translates to a conceptualization of behaviors such as "caretaking", "enabling" and "rescuing" which pathologizes taking responsibility for others as well as being in a relationship that is not completely and mutually equitable. It also reflects the "need" for codependents to relinquish responsibility for others because otherwise codependents "give until it hurts", "abandon themselves", and "forfeit their lives" for relationships. In this sense, independency can be seen as much as a "coping mechanism" as a cultural norm (perhaps the two are inseparable).

Nevertheless, the model hinges on acceptance of autonomy as an ideal state of personhood. For instance, Schaef points out that "when we do things for others that they need to do for themselves, we are making ourselves indispensable and we are not helping them. We are 'taking care of' and in doing so we facilitate another's dependency on us (1986:57)". Similarly Beattie says that codependents "rescue people from their own is a destructive form of helping (1987:84)". Hence, the kind of person who does not "caretake", and does not "rescue", is acting in the best interest of the other person as well as his- or herself since it is undesirable to "facilitate dependency" or to make "ourselves indispensable". The meaning of independency in the codependency model, therefore, stems from both the "need" to avoid being "swallowed up" by someone else, and the need to comply with the cultural value of autonomy. After all, according to Beattie, "needing people too much can cause problems" (1987:99).

The kind of person promoted, therefore, strives for what Beattie calls "undependence" by becoming financially and emotionally independent, giving themselves "what they need" ( including a "trip to the Bahamas"), and taking responsibility for their own feelings, problems, lives and recovery (1987).

The Nature of the Self in Copendency Theory: The Inner Self

As an ethnotheory about the self, codependency theory elucidates a model of a "particular kind of person"; it tells us something about a cultural concept of the person and the specific behaviors which constitute this person concept (Lutz 1988). But the theory also elicits a cultural understanding about the nature of another aspect of the self- the self as an inner state. By this I mean, like Needham, the inner states that are inferred from social expressions, that are social rather than physiological facts (1981:76). I am looking at the "ideological inventions" (Needham 1981:76) about the mind and consciousness, as the hypothesized origins of behavior (Lutz 1988:105). In this sense, how codependent theorists seemingly perceive the mind to work and how they understand the notion of consciousness, is revealed through their references to these metaphysical inner states as the cause of codependency. Two particularly prominent aspects of the codependent self as an inner state are: an inner "child" state which reveals cultural assumptions about western psychology's developmentalism; and a religious or theistic inner state which reveals an assumption of dualism of body /soul.

Codependency theory refers to an "inner child" dimension of the self. The causality of the "disease" and constituent behaviors is attributed to both external and internal sources which affect a child or child-like condition which "resides in all of us " (Beattie 1987). First of all, parents' ineffectiveness is seen as the external source of codependency. As children, codependents were not loved or nurtured enough by their parents. According to Beattie, codependents learned to become codependent because of this deprivation- "... because when we were children, someone very important to us was unable to give us the love, approval, and emotional security we needed (1987:103)", and because "... people were not there for us... they did not see, hear or respond to our needs (1987:98)". Consequently, as the theory goes, codependents suffer as adults because of this unfulfilled eminent need for an appropriate amount of parental love at a critical period in their lives. Codependents live as best they can, says Beattie, but are "still looking vaguely or desperately for something we never got . Some of us are still beating our heads against the cement trying to get this love from people who, like Mother or Father, are unable to give what we need. The cycle repeats itself until it is interrupted and stopped (1987:103)".

This notion of some kind of critical treatment in childhood affecting the quality of adulthood indexes developmental beliefs. It reflects a western developmentalist perspective concerned with the qualitative and hierarchial changes in human behaviors and mental activities from one growth state to the next in which "normal development" relies on specific kinds of stimulus experiences during critical periods in a child's life. In this perspective it makes sense then that the codependents are somehow "stuck" in one developmental stage unable to move on because they "need" people, and are controlled and driven by this need (Beattie 1987:99). Furthermore, their "learned" behaviors do not allow them to "take care of themselves" or "love themselves" or to be in a mutually nurturant relationship. Instead, in relationships with others they are the "givers" while they have "nothing to give themselves". At any rate, their failure to obtain an independent and self-nurturant healthy self is synonymous with arrested self-development attributed to parental mismanagement of affection. Thus, parents are seen as partially responsible for codependents not proceeding to the next "stage" of emotional development, which in this case means self- rather than other-attachment.

Second of all, as well as (or perhaps because of) an "arrested" or undeveloped aspect of the self caused by another person (an external cause), the theory also assumes an intrinsic source of codependency- a child-self actually residing in codependent persons. It is not merely because something happened (or did not happen) to codependents when they were children that they are codependent in adulthood. More importantly, it is because they have a child in them who needs responding to (Beattie 1987:98). Seemingly, it is this child aspect explicitly who is in need of nurturance and love, rather than the adult aspect of the codependent self, and who will not "go away" despite attempts to appease him or her.

Beattie describes this "inner child" concept:

Nurture and cherish that frightened, vulnerable, needy child inside us. The child may never completely disappear, no matter how self-sufficient we become (note the implicit goal underpinning this statement: to become self-sufficient). Stress may cause the child to cry out. Unprovoked, the child may come out and demand attention when we least expect it (1987:106).

This aspect of the codependent self has a life of his or her own and along with that, a fair amount of control. It is as though this "inner child" is both a motivation and a deterrent for idealized independent behavior. On the one hand, he or she begs for self-nurturance; for the codependent to "take care of" his- or herself. But on the other, he or she "cries out" for attention, which implicates other-focused reactive behavior deemed pathological to the codependency theorists. In this sense, the "inner child" can be seen to serve some sort of justifiable purpose, wherein the codependent person has an "inner" self who calls for responsive behavior and thus, can be "blamed" for socially inappropriate behavior such as reactivity.

This "inner child", in another sense can be seen to represent wisdom and intuition unattainable or inaccessible to a more adult and seemingly unaware or at least non-introspective aspect of the self. The inner child is clearly an important source of knowledge about the needs of the "true" self. Beattie imparts this attunement in her advice:

Don't pound on that vulnerable child when he or she doesn't want to stay in the dark all alone, when he or she becomes frightened. We don't have to let the child make our choices for us, but don't ignore the child either. Listen to the child. Let the child cry if he or she needs to. Comfort the child. Figure out what he or she needs (1987:106).

To me, this beckoning for sensitivity to and awareness of this "inner (wise) child" implicates an inner state which can only be found beyond the everyday kind of self-awareness that the codependent has and, as such, is the key to his or her recuperation. In this sense, the "inner child" represents, simply, self-knowledge. Following the developmentalist view, attainment of selfhood is acquired through introspective self- knowledge (Brems 1991). Accordingly, codependents "lose their selves" when they "don't listen to their child" and "find" them when they do listen.

But ultimately, the theory is saying something even more fundamental about the nature of the "outer " (adult) self, by virtue of speaking in ideal terms about the "inner child" self. Accepting the codependency theory hinges on a willingness to attribute dependency as a pathology to a source other than a mature, adult person while at the same time insisting the responsibility for change rests on the mature, adult person. As Haaken points out, the family-transmitted disease model in codependency literature depersonalizes the responsibility for pathologic behaviors while providing a framework that legitimates the status quo (independency) (1993:341). Essentially, that another part of his or herself- the "inner child", is in need of nurturance and attention allows the codependent adult part of the self to uphold the cultural ideal of emotional independency.

As well as an "inner child", codependency theory makes ostensible reference to a religious consciousness or dualistic inner self in which some kind of "Higher Power" or God is conceptualized as a thing or person both part of and separate from oneself, and as elemental to the actualization of the idealized autonomous, individuated, and separate self. Although this theistic self is not ascribed an overt role in the origin of codependency behavior, the theory unequivocally links recovery with "getting in touch with" this God-like self. Like the wisdom of the "inner child" this self, too, has the extraordinary capacity to access to the "true" self. In this way, as well as in its redemptive powers, it is a fundamental aspect of the codependent self. Recovery, in fact, relies on the belief in this kind of inner self.

The nature of this inner self assumes, firstly, dualism. By this I mean that it is conceptualized as a "classic" Cartesian mind/body split deeply rooted in the Christian sense of the person which, according to Mauss, is the predominant western notion of the "one" person- the divine person who is "at the same time the human person, substance and mode, body and soul, consciousness and act" (1938/85:20). In a similar way, codependency theory presumes a Cartesian kind of "intrinsic relatedness of body /person and mind/soul" which recognizes a concurrent division between "matter" and "mind" (Hermans and Kempen 1993:2).

The inner self, representing God or a generic "Higher Power" is so closely connected to one's own power in codependency theory that is impossible to tease one away from the other, yet it is symbolized as the "other". For instance, Beattie explains in one sentence that "we each have our own key, our own magic, we have the ability to tap into our own healing process (1990:2, italics mine). But in a subsequent sentence this self-power translates to "tapping into a power and source greater than ourselves...(1990:30)". It is in "turning yourself over to God" that codependents are able to tap this divine wisdom which enables them to "finally, find, value, love, and trust themselves" (1990:57). His or her mind is powerful so long as the codependent acquiesces to "some kind" of divine self.

Exactly where this divine self is located is far from clear, other than it is somehow connected to the person/substance/body. It is in surrendering to the divine self (to consciousness, perhaps?), that "we become free to take care of ourselves" (act); we "take care of ourselves, furthermore, with assistance from our Higher Power"- such is the conceptualization of the "actual" self of the codependent person and his or her inner "divine" self. It is this way, "odd that it may seem", according to Simonds, "that a belief in supreme powers outside the self has developed strong ties with a genre that offers guidance toward gaining supreme faith in the self (1992:50, italics mine)".

The description of the "recovery process" is steeped in the language of "letting go", of "surrendering", and "turning oneself over to God" and so on. It is also thick with the language of redemption and confession. One of the Twelve Steps (of the mandatory recovery program) is " Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs" (Beattie 1990:85). Recovery, then, is a process, like sin, confession and redemption, by which codependents can get rid of that which is "bad about themselves" by "simply telling the truth about ourselves" (Beattie 1990:86). This "step" accepts the notion of the moral Christian self who "should" seek moral goodness as avoidance of Hell, but who can nevertheless be "saved" from his or her sins through disclosure and by virtue of his or her "divine" and essentially innocent self.

The disease model of codependency is based on a seemingly moral interpretation of consciousness, of self-awareness in terms of good and evil. While the codependent person is not morally responsible for having the disease, according to Haaken, "like Original Sin", getting rid of the disease requires spiritual redemption and divine intervention (1990:403). In this way, the inner "divine" self and "child" self are somehow enmeshed- codependents are "saved" because their inner children are always good and innocent. The "divine self" evaluates the "bad" behaviors of the codependent (and diseased) person and must overcome them, because, as the theory goes, it is through acceptance of the moral responsibility to change themselves and to take care of themselves that codependents "recover" their "true" (good) selves.

The important point made here is that, by examining the codependency literature as an ethno theory, the nature of the codependent construct can be elucidated more and more as a particular kind of person. We can see now that, more than an autonomous, individuated, and separate self, the ideal self is a self which accepts and is capable of "letting go to a Higher Power" and of "finishing up business in childhood". From an ethnopsychological perspective, this concept illuminates, rather than accepts as a matter of fact, inherent cultural beliefs and values.

The Relationship Between Psychology and Reality

The secondary purpose of this paper is to explicate the dialectic relationship between psychology (as a conception of the self) and reality (as the experiential self). While the previous discussion on the nature of the codependency self revealed its conceptualization, and the ideological assumptions which underpin it, the following discussion attempts to explain the construction of the codependent self. By this I mean, the ecology of the conceptual model- the cultural context in which it is produced and the purposes for which it is used (Lutz 1988). While codependency literature is a psychological theory about an idealized self, it is also a therapy and a form of literature which, as cultural practices, are both informed by and contribute to the "community of selves" (Lock 1981:19). By outlining its cultural context, I will ultimately examine this relationship- the capacity of codependency, as a psychology and a cultural practice, to perpetuate the self it constructed.

The Context of Codependency Theory: Its Production and Purposes

Codependency theory derives from book form. It is produced as self-help mass-marketed popular literature (Simonds 1992). The implications of this in regard to the construction of the self are: First, as a book, it is produced for a specific purpose which affects the implicit relationship between the reader and the author. Second, as a therapy, it has a specific agenda and subsequent relationship between reader-client and author- therapist, and is part of a broader professional (and politicized) discourse.

Self-help literature is tied to the book publishing business. Beattie and Schaef, as self-help authors must, therefore, "profit or perish" (Simonds 1992:98). Their codependency books are written and produced in order to sell.. Although it seems obvious, this aspect of the genre remains tacit or even repugnant to both its readers and writers. Simonds claims that self-help "ultra-altruistic" authors "never confess to writing for money"; similarly, readers, who want self-help authors to be genuine friendly experts, see "money grubbing" as antithetical to offering valid advice (1992:222). No matter how tainted it may seem as a commercial transaction, codependency theory is produced in this context.

It is a money-maker and a marketing device. According to Christianity Today, "as publishing goes, recovery books are good business... recovery is the latest rage" (LeBlanc 1991). For example, sales of Beattie's book Codependency No More (1987) are beyond 1.5 million copies, after being on the New York Times paperback bestseller list for over 70 weeks; combined sales of her three books published by Harper & Row are at around 5 million (Kaminer 1990; Simonds 1992; LeBlanc 1991). The implication of this kind of popularity is that, while the publishing industry did not "exactly invent codependency", it is making sure that "millions of Americans discover it" (Kaminer 1990). In other words, it is seen by the publishing industry as a successful marketing scheme in which it appeals to the broadest possible market (Simonds 1992). A New York Times Book Review article makes this point:

Almost everyone- 96 percent of all Americans- suffers from codependency, these self-proclaimed experts assert, and given their broad definitions of this disease, we probably do. Beattie... defines codependency as being affected by someone elses' behavior and obsessed with controlling it. Who isn't? ... [this] means that codependency is bad and anyone can have it, which makes this condition seem more like a marketing device. Codependency offers a diagnosis, and support group, for virtually anyone with a problem who can read (Kaminer 1990, italics mine).

As "cultural objects" or artifacts, codependency books should be seen as the creation of interaction between those who make them- and those who use them (Simonds 1992:98). "Those who use them" translates to a predominantly female readership (Kaminer 1990, Simonds 1992). The codependency books are produced with a wide audience in mind while at the same time prescribing an ideal self presumably for female readers. It is important to ask at this point, considering that many codependent and thereby pathologically deemed behaviors are those which are aspects of the traditional female gender role (Collins 1993): whose version of "proper womanhood" is being produced? In other words, the readership-as female- is seemingly not taken into account, given that neither Beattie nor Schaef nor few of the other authors challenge the sexist stereotypes which inform their images of "ideal" female selves (Collins 1993, Simonds 1992).

The relationship between the author-as-female and the reader- as-female is affected yet another way. While there are men codependency authors, most of the leading authors are women who write from experiential rather than professional credentials (Haaken 1993). Beattie, the guru of codependency literature, proclaims at the beginning of Codependency No More , " I'm not an expert, and this is not a technical book... It is a personal and, in some places, prejudiced opinion (1987:10)". She writes the book, she says, because, like the reader, she is codependent; she can relate to the (female) codependent (pathological) readers. The readers read, in fact, hoping to read themselves, and their books become "their friends" (Simonds 1992:47). So, it seems that, the author-reader relationship is largely mediated by this common experience and reciprocal understanding. But, Simonds cautions, authority tends not to be questioned when "seen on paper" in book form rather than in person (1992:49).

So, despite the informal "confessional" voice of the codependency authors, there is an authoritarian tone which, after all, gives advice and evaluates and prescribes certain behaviors. Kaminer makes the point that, while authors are "always unique (their tritest pronouncements are packaged as news), the readers are fungible, suffering the same syndromes and needful of the same cures (1990:27)". They tend to "mystify the obvious with jargon" and in doing so become the experts. Thus, this relationship sets up a paradox: while the readers are urged to "listen to your own self" and become independent, they are buying a book about dependency and "listening" to the voice of another, of an "expert".

Self-help literature is also therapy. By definition, the books give advice, and prescribe behavior to improve the self- the ultimate concern, of course, of self-help (Reiff 1966). Self- help therapy is based on the premise that individuals are responsible for whatever happens to them while at the same time being unaware of their "potential" power to become something better, to alter the course of their own lives. As Simonds points out, "this belief in people's ability to gain complete control over the conditions of their lives has remained the cornerstone of the self-help genre (1992:144)". Although the readers may belief they can and should gain control over their lives, however, the effectiveness of the "therapy" in facilitating this objective is questionable. It may be that the self-help therapy provides an illusion of "unlimited choice", but then makes its readers "so inarticulate (when mired in its jargon) that they can't conceive of what their 'true choices' are" (Simonds 1992:55). Furthermore, while the readers are taught that it is within their power to make the necessary changes in their own lives, they must accept that such conformity is desirable. In this sense, the authors of the therapy are evaluating the reader's behavior, at the expense of the reader, while the reader views this self-denigration as positive, even self-nurturant.

The relationship between the reader-as-client and author-as- therapist is oppressive for the reader in another way as well. The way therapy "works", according to McNamee and Gergen, is that the client is persuaded she has some dark, deep, secret to hide, but if confessed to a proper authority she can receive absolution, and "work through" the damage (1992:14). Like this, codependency readers are urged to do the same. Schaef goes so far as to claim that "lying is antithetical to us as moral beings... lying to ourselves is destructive to the self" (1986:66). In the Twelve Step program codependents are urged to make moral inventories of themselves and their lives; to go back to their childhood's in search of ills; and to disclose to God and another human being the nature of these wrongs (Beattie 1990). But, this secret potentially exerts a power of subjugation (McNamee and Gergen 1992:14). The codependent-as-client is always in the passive role, surrendering to a "Higher Power" on the advice of her therapist-as-author. In this context, the author-reader relationship is inherently one of domination and submission.

Finally, as a therapy, the codependency literature is part of a broader professional discourse. I am referring to the politics of ownership concerning the codependency theory, the self-help lay persons genre of therapy, and "professional" psychology. While on the one hand, it is seen by "psychologists" (compared to the non-professional psychologists such as Beattie and Schaef) as a "new lay religion" which abuses the addiction concept, pathologizes all behavior, denies female modes of caring, and "keeps people from learning and building character" (Psychology Today 1992); on the other, its' recognition is being proposed as a "new" personality disorder by the American Psychiatric Association (Collins 1993:472).

This politicization posits the "folk" theory of a self against the "professional" theory of the same self. While Beattie and Schaef merely list the codependent characteristics and leave it up to the reader to diagnose herself, "Psychology" assigns the diagnosis to the "professionals". There are at least twenty tests psychologists can use to diagnose their clients with "the dependent personality disorder", with a far more complex etiology, diagnostic criteria, and treatment scheme than Beattie and Schaef's(Bornstein 1992). The political tension between the lay persons and the professionals is salient to the potency of the codependent self construct to perpetuate itself. Therapy is inherently self-perpetuating, in that it can go on endlessly as the client searches for the elusive "perfect" self (Simonds 1992:69). In the hands of lay people, this particular self may prove to be no more detrimental than any other "folk story" about the self. In the hands of "professionals" however, the implications of this self may prove more extreme (as explained below).

The Capacity of the Codependency Literature to Perpetuate the Self

The codependency theory as both a form of literature and therapy has the capacity to perpetuate the self it conceptualizes and constructs, in the following way. By virtue of what it is- a cultural commodity, it is "consumed" and subsequently interpreted and given meaning by its readers. In this way the readers' ideas about themselves and the "kind of person" they may or may not attempt to become are shaped by the ideological underpinnings of the codependency construct which describes and promotes a newer, purer, healthier, independent, individuated and separate kind of person. But in keeping with Lock's (1981) interdependent relationship between culture and self, this "actualization" is mediated by, among other social factors, the readers' effect on the theory. In other words, the codependent theory about the nature of an idealized self did not "pop out of thin air". It is informed by the collectivized notions of the self already in existence.

In this sense, the kind of perpetuation that occurs, therefore, as a "folk" theory about a self is merely reflexivity- the "kind of self" will change with the times as the conception absorbs or internalizes culture, in a recursive sort of loop. Simonds summarizes this reflexivity perfectly, "our buying takes us in circles, because part of what sells us on buying [the codependency books] is the fragility of the self that the media advertise: it constantly needs to be bolstered, even remade (1992:223)". But, by virtue of being an "expert" psychology, in terms of a professionalized categorical "disorder", the perpetuating capacity takes on a different meaning; psychology mediates this interdependent relationship, perhaps, in a more potent (or at least dominating) way. Returning to Berger and Luckman, they make the point that while self-concepts (culture) and reality (experiential self) are inseparable- one feeds the other in a dialectic process, psychology, and especially an authoritative psychology, has a reality-producing potency which cannot be ignored:

Insofar as psychological theories are elements of the social definition of reality, their reality-generating capacity is a characteristic they share with other legitimating theories: however, their realizing potency is particularly great because it is actualized by emotionally-charged processes of identity-formation. If a psychology becomes socially established (that is, becomes generally recognized as an adequate interpretation of objective reality) it tends to realize itself forcefully in the phenomena it purports to interpret... it produces a reality, which serves as the basis for [its] verification.... the more socially established it becomes, the more abundant will be the phenomena it serves to interpret (Berger and Luckman 1966:178-9).

Clearly, this is the case with codependency theory. Readers, in fact, approach codependency books hoping to discover how to achieve a balance of self and other, and to develop a self- identity they feel they lack (Simond 1992:6). Given the emotive potency of psychology as an identity-formation process; given that codependency theory has already become "socially established" in that it has become an "official" APA personality "disorder"; and given that it has already, just in being constructed as a "problem" with a name, become a social phenomenon, it is important to reveal rather than accept this potency. As a professionally constructed category of a particular kind of person, the impact of its creation at the lived experience remains, at large as well as in this paper, a further issue.


In this paper I have attempted to elucidate the nature of the self as conceptualized and constructed by the ethnotheory of codependency. In doing so, I have elicited a cultural variability of a selfhood as found in a "symbol system" (codependency literature) which is "historical constructed, socially maintained, and individually applied" (Geertz 1973:364). Hence, the ideal self conceptualized as antithetical to the pathological codependent self reflects the western context in which it was constructed. In this way it is consistent with the "action- oriented conception of the American pragmatists,... with the tendency to conceive of the self as a highly dynamic process, and to emphasize its possibilities [as an] ideal self (Hermans and Kempen 193:33)". It is also consistent with Geertz's notion of the western conception of person, as a culturally distinctive conception/person:

The Western conception of the person as a bounded, unique, more or less integrated motivational and cognitive universe, a dynamic center of awareness, emotion, judgment, and action organized into a distinctive whole and set contrastively both against other such wholes and against a social and natural background is, however incorrigible it may seem to us, a rather peculiar idea within the context of the world's cultures (Geertz 1984:126 found in Hollan 1992:284).

The question this paper was not able to explore in any satisfactory depth was the consistency that may or may not exist between this "cultural model" of the self, and the experiential self. In other words, I am left wondering, like Hollan, are the concepts of self that differ cross-culturally merely different ways of conceptualizing and talking about the self or are they reflective of differing subjective experiences of self (1992:284)?

Another limitation to this paper is the very critique that feminists scholars such as Collins (1993) posit against codependency theory. That is, that it leaves out, for the most part, any comment on the social. A more comprehensive analysis of codependency would need to look at it as a movement which keeps privatizes a seemingly problematic but morally evaluative "condition". Although codependency is widespread, according to the theorists, is remains a "problem" for women. Yet, even accepting it as such, "we cannot expect women to 'recover' privately without addressing the oppressive forces that contribute to both victimization and the serious relational disjunctions they experience in their lives. Neither [therapist] nor [readers] can create healthy lives or healthy families without changing the underlying sexist, racist, and heterosexist culture (Collins 1993:474)".

Finally, while this paper has attempted to mystify some of the "normalized beliefs" (Gergen 1985) about the codependency theory, two points are worthy of much closer examination: first, the irony of the theory which "normalizes" a disease of "reacting to others", itself demands a reaction; and second, the unfeasibility of the definitional basis of the codependency disease- "letting others affect you".


Beattie, M. 1987. Codependent No More. Center City, MN: Hazelden Educational Materials.

Beattie, M. 1990. Codependents' Guide to the Twelve Steps. NY: Prentice Hall.

Berger, P., and T. Luckman. 1966. The Social Construction of Reality.

Bornstein, R.F. 1992. The Dependent Personality: Developmental, Social and Clinic Perspectives. Psychological Bulletin 112(1):3-23.

Brems, C. 1991. Self-Psychology and Feminism. The American Journal of Psychoanalysis. 51(2):145-160.

Geertz, C. 1973. Person, Time, and Conduct in Bali. In Interpretation of Cultures.

Gergen, K.J. 1985. The Social Constructionist Movement in Modern Psychology. American Psychologis 40(3): 266-275.

Haaken, J. 1993. From Al-Anon to ACOA: Codependence and the Reconstruction of Caregiving. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 18(2):321-345.

Haaken, J. 1990. A Critical Analysis of the Codependence Construct. Psychiatry 53:396-406.

Hermans, H., and H. Kempen. 1993. The Dialogical Self. NY: The Academic Press, Inc.

Hollen, D. 1992. Cross-Cultural Differences in the Self. Journal of Anthropological Research 48(4):283-300.

James, W. 1890. The Principles of Psychology. New York: Dover

Kaminer, W. 1990. Chances are You're Codependent Too. New York Times Book Review. Feb.11.pp.26-27.

LeBlanc, D. 1991. Christian Publishing: Recovery Books Turn Problems into Best Seller. Christianity Today. Sept.16. 35(10):70-71.

Lock, A. 1981. Universals in Human Conception. In P.Heelas and A. Lock, (Eds.) Indigenous Psychologies: The Anthropology of the Self. New York: Academic Press.

Lutz, C.A. 1988. Unnatural Emotions. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Mauss, M. (1938/1985). A Category of the Human Mind: The Notion of Person; The Notion of Self. In M. Carrithers, S. Collins & S. Lukes (Eds.) The category of the person: Anthropology, philosophy, history. New York :Cambridge Univeristy Press.

Needham, R. 1981. Inner States as Universals: Sceptical Reflections on Human Nature. In P.Heelas and A. Lock, (Eds.) Indigenous Psychologies: The Anthropology of the Self. New York: Academic Press.

Rieff, D. 1991. Victims All? Recovery, Codependency, and the Art of Blaming Somebody Else. Harper's Magazine. October. pp.49- 56.

Rice, J.S. 1992. Discursive Formation, Life Stories, and the Emergence of Co-Dependency: "Power/Knowledge" and the Search for Identity. The Sociological Quarterly 33(3):337-364.

Schaef, A.W. 1986. Co-Dependence: Misunderstood-Mistreated. San Francisco,CA: Harper Collins.

Simonds, W. 1992. Women and Self-Help Culture: Reading Between the Lines. New Brunswick,NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Appendix 1:
Checklist of Characteristics of Codependency (Beattie, 1987, pp. 42-52)


Codependents may:
* think and feel responsible for other people- for other people's feelings, thoughts, actions, choices, wants, needs, well-being, lack of well-being, and ultimate destiny.
* feel anxiety, pity, and guilt when other people have a problem.
* feel compelled- almost forced-to help that person solve the problem.
* feel angry when their help isn't effective
* wonder why others don't do the same for you.
* find themselves saying yes when they mean no.
* not know what they want and need or, if they do, tell themselves what they want and need is not important.
* try to please others instead of themselves.
* find it easier to feel and express anger about injustices done to others, rather than injustices done to themselves.
* feel safest when guilty.
* feel insecure and guilty when somebody gives to them
* find themselves attracted to needy people.
* feel bored, empty, and worthless if they don't have a crisis in their lives, a problem to solve, or someone to help.
* abandon their routine to respond to or do something for somebody else.
* overcommit themselves.
* feel harried and pressured.
* believe deep inside other people are somehow responsible for them.
* blame others for spot codependents are in.
* say other people make the codependents feel the way they do.
* believe other people are making them crazy.

* feel angry, victimized, unappreciated, and used.
* find other people become impatient or angry with them for all the preceding characteristics.

Low Self-worth

* come from troubled, repressed, or dysfunctional families.
* deny their family was troubled, repressed, or dysfunctional.
* blame themselves for everything.
* pick on themselves for everything.
* reject compliments or praise.
* get depressed from lack of compliments and praise.
* feel different from the rest of the world.

* think they're not quite good enough.
* feel guilty about spending money on themselves or doing unnecessary or fun things for themselves.
* fear rejection.
* take things personally.
* feel like victims.
* have been victims of abuse, abandonment, neglect.
* tell themselves they can't do anything right.
* be afraid of making mistakes.
* wonder why they have a rough time making decisions.
* expect themselves to do everything perfectly.
* wonder why they can't get anything done to their satisfaction.
* have a lot of "shoulds".
* feel a lot of guilt.
* feel ashamed of who they are.
* think their lives aren't worth living.
* try to help other people live their lives instead.
* get artificial feelings of self-worth from helping others.
* get strong feelings of low self-worth from other people's failures and problems.
* wish good things would happen to them.
* believe good things never will happen to them.
* wish other people would like and love them.
* try to prove they're good enough for other people.
* settle for being needed.


* push their thoughts and feelings out of their awareness because of fear and guilt.
* become afraid to let themselves be who they are.
* appear rigid and controlled.


* feel terribly anxious about problems and people.
* worry about the silliest things.
* think and talk a lot about other people.
* lose sleep over problems or other people's behavior.
* worry.
* never find answers.
* check on people.
* try to catch people in acts of misbehavior.
* feel unable to quit talking, thinking, and worrying about other people or problems.
* abandon their routine because they are so upset about somebody or something.
* focus all their energy on other people and problems.
* wonder why they never have any energy.


* become afraid to let other people be who they are and allow events to happen naturally.
* don't see or deal with their fear of loss of control.
* think they know best how things should turn out and how people should behave.
* get frustrated and angry.
* feel controlled by events and people.


* ignore problems or pretend they aren't happening.
* pretend circumstances aren't as bad as they are.
* tell themselves things will be better tomorrow.
* stay busy so they don't have to think about things.
* get confused.
* get depressed or sick.
* go to doctors and get tranquilizers.
* become workaholics.
* spend money compulsively.
* overeat.
* believe lies.
* lie to themselves


* don't feel happy, content, or peaceful with themselves.
* look for happiness outside themselves.
* latch onto whoever they think can provide happiness.
* didn't feel love and approval from their parents.
* don't love themselves.
* believe other people can't or don't love them.
* desperately seek love and approval.
* often seek love from people incapable of loving.
* believe other people are never there for them.
* center their lives around other people.
* look to relationships to provide all their good feelings.
* worry other people will leave them.
* stay in relationships that don't work.
* tolerate abuse to keep people loving them.
* leave bad relationships and form new ones that don't work either.

Poor Communication

* blame.
* threaten.
* coerce.
* bribe.
* advise.
* don't say what they mean.
* don't mean what they say.
* don't know what they mean.
* don't take themselves seriously.
* take themselves too seriously.
* ask for what they want and need indirectly.
* gauge their words carefully to achieve a desired effect.
* talk too much.
* avoid talking about themselves, their problems, feelings, and thoughts.

Weak Boundaries

* say they won't tolerate certain behaviors from other people.
* gradually increase their tolerance until they can and do tolerate things they said they never would.
* let others hurt them.
* keep letting people hurt them.
* become totally intolerant.
* finally get angry.

Lack of Trust

* don't trust themselves.
* don't trust their feelings.
* don't trust their decisions.
* don't trust other people.
* try to trust untrustworthy people.
* lose faith and trust in God.

Appendix 2:
The twelve Steps, adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous (Beattie, 1990)

  1. We admitted we were powerless over others- that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. We're entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God's will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to our codependents, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.