Melody Beattie begins Codependent No More with an emphasis on the clinical origins of the term. Originally, "codependent" referred exclusively to a person in an unhealthy relationship with an alcoholic or drug addict—specifically a spouse, boy/girlfriend, etc. who remains attached and destroys themselves in the process under the mistaken belief that they can control or change the chemically dependent person. Hence the term codependent for one who was dependent on a dependent person.
The term has expanded over the years, and now a codependent is someone who relies on another for affirmation, approval, or love at the expense of their own health and sanity. Christian counselors call this "people-pleasing" and cast the responsibility on the codependent and their sin, but Beattie characterizes the situation as one of victimization and even as a disease. It's an interesting reversal for those approaching the problem from a biblical perspective, but one that reveals much about secular attitudes in regard to this and many other issues.
Beattie has done time as both a chemically dependent and a codependent person, so she has interesting insights into the behavior and motivations of codependent people. But because she sees codependents as victims rather than perpetrators, her guidance and advice for breaking free are fundamentally at odds with the truth of human nature: that we sin because we are sinners, that our sin is always idolatry and always an attempt to save ourselves apart from God, and that codependency has more to do with our personal pride than our desire to help others.
The ultimate solution presented in Codependent No More is essentially "stop caring for that other person and start caring for yourself." The language in the book isn't quite so callous or forthright, but it's close. Beattie thinks that the great tragedy of codependency is that codependents eventually stop loving themselves and taking care of their own lives, and so here solution is simply to start doing things for yourself, loving yourself, thinking about yourself, and making your own life more manageable.
While the biblical model doesn't require us to neglect ourselves (in fact, this is just another kind of sin), it certainly doesn't call us to love ourselves more. The whole problem with sin is that we already love ourselves too much and think too highly of our own desires, thoughts, attitudes, and personal freedom. Codependency isn't bondage to another; it's bondage to ourselves through bondage to sin and pride. And that kind of bondage isn't reversed by 12-step programs (which Beattie promotes), it's reversed by a new heart given by Jesus to those who believe.
Probably the most shocking aspect of this book for a Christian is not the absence of God, but the ways Beattie misrepresents him. There are references to God, and even to "our Christian beliefs," but it's always a subjective concept of God divorced from his self-revelation in the Bible. For Beattie, Christian beliefs are just ways to be happy, and belief in God is something you have to figure out for yourself, including which attributes you'll allow him to have (Is he loving? just? all-knowing? You choose!). At times Beattie uses Christian language ("Don't Be Blown About By Every Wind" is a chapter title), but she distorts the actual meaning of these phrases and terms so much that it becomes offensive rather than helpful.
Don't give this book to a codependent person if you want them to break free. One of the first books to use the term "codependent," Codependent No More can't help anyone escape codependency; at best, it'll help them shift their sinful dependency from another to themselves. With chapters like "Live Your Own Life" and "Have a Love Affair with Yourself," the idolatry that is codependency is perpetuated by Beattie, not alleviated. For good, biblical discussions of this topic, check out Lou Priolo's Pleasing People or Ed Welch's When People Are Big and God Is Small.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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