Co-Dependents Anonymous

Written by Trey Dyer

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Co-Dependents Anonymous is a program for people recovering from codependency. Members of the program come together to share experiences, strength, and hope in efforts to promote self-reliability and better relationship dynamics.

Codependence is a compulsive behavior that promotes dysfunctional relationship dynamics. It is characterized by using others as a source of identity, value and well-being. Codependence is often a response to emotional trauma or losses in a person’s past. The reliance on another person diminishes the codependent person’s sense of self and creates toxic behaviors intended to serve their own perceived best interest.

Co-Dependents Anonymous is a program that offers a fellowship of men and women in recovery from codependence who want to end their codependence and develop healthy relationships.

Co-Dependents Anonymous follows a 12-step model similar to those used by support programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. It gives members a set of guidelines and goals to work toward while going through the recovery process.

The program also offers meetings throughout the country where members gather to offer support to one another. These meetings promote accountability and assist individuals striving to create healthy relationship dynamics, building self-esteem and realizing their own self-worth.

The Twelve Promises of Co-Dependents Anonymous

Co-Dependents Anonymous promotes personal growth and serves as motivation to members. The Twelve Promises of Co-Dependents Anonymous states that:

I can expect a miraculous change in my life by working the program of Co-Dependents Anonymous. As I make an honest effort to work the Twelve Steps and follow the Twelve Traditions.– The Twelve Promises of Co-Dependents Anonymous

Promises and What they Mean

  1. I know a new sense of belonging. The feeling of emptiness and loneliness will disappear.
  2. I am no longer controlled by my fears. I overcome my fears and act with courage, integrity and dignity.
  3. I know a new freedom.
  4. I release myself from worry, guilt, and regret about my past and present. I am aware enough not to repeat it.
  5. I know a new love and acceptance of myself and others. I feel genuinely lovable, loving and loved.
  6. I learn to see myself as equal to others. My new and renewed relationships are all with equal partners.
  7. I am capable of developing and maintaining healthy and loving relationships. The need to control and manipulate others will disappear as I learn to trust those who are trustworthy.
  8. I learn that it is possible to mend — to become more loving, intimate and supportive. I have the choice of communicating with my family in a way which is safe for me and respectful of them.
  9. I acknowledge that I am a unique and precious creation.
  10. I no longer need to rely solely on others to provide my sense of worth.
  11. I trust the guidance I receive from my higher power and come to believe in my own capabilities.
  12. I gradually experience serenity, strength, and spiritual growth in my daily life.

The Twelve Promises encourages members to embrace a new mindset that promotes positive change, including finding a new sense of belonging, overcoming fears, letting go of regrets and worries, and becoming self-reliant.

Different Patterns of Codependence

Co-Dependents Anonymous offers information on recognizing signs of codependence. Broken down into patterns, these behaviors could indicate codependence.

Denial Patterns

Denial patterns of codependent behavior are characterized by denying one’s own feelings or experiences.

Some symptoms of denial patterns include:

  • Having difficulty identifying what you are feeling
  • Lacking empathy for the feelings and needs of others
  • Masking pain in various ways, such as through anger, humor or isolation
  • Expressing negativity or aggression in indirect and passive ways

People exhibiting denial patterns may have unrealistic views of themselves or others and avoid confronting situations that create negative emotions.

Low Self-Esteem Patterns

Individuals who exhibit these types of behaviors are often overly critical of their own actions and thoughts, hindering their ability to act in a direct manner. Instead, they rely on the praise and input of others to make decisions about their actions.

Symptoms of low self-esteem patterns include:

  • Having difficulty making decisions
  • Judging what they think, say, or do harshly, as never good enough
  • Valuing others’ opinions and decisions over their own
  • Believing they are unworthy of love or friendship

Low self-esteem patterns often cause people to turn to others for their own self-worth or safety and make it difficult for them to set personal priorities on their own.

Compliance Patterns

Those who exhibit compliance patterns of codependence tend to put others’ needs in front of their own in hopes of gaining approval. They may withstand situations that are not in their best interest to prove their value to others.

These types of behaviors may include:

  • Compromising their own values and integrity to avoid rejection or anger
  • Being extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long
  • Accepting sexual attention when they want love
  • Being hypervigilant regarding the feelings of others and taking on those feelings

By putting other individuals’ needs and feelings in front of their own, those who experience compliance patterns get themselves into situations that are not in their own self-interest and may be detrimental to their own well-being.

Control Patterns

Individuals who exhibit control patterns of codependence may impose their will on others. They intend to influence others for their own benefit and are often stubborn and unwilling to recognize others’ needs or value their opinions.

Control pattern behaviors include:

  • Becoming resentful when others decline their help or reject their advice
  • Giving lavish gifts and favors to those they want to influence
  • Adopting an attitude of indifference, helplessness, authority or rage to manipulate outcomes
  • Demanding that their needs be met by others

Individuals exhibiting control patterns of codependence may use sexual attention or affection as a tool to gain another’s approval or acceptance.

Avoidance Patterns

Those who engage in avoidance patterns of behavior often have difficulty cultivating meaningful relationships and exhibit behaviors that allow them to keep others at a distance and avoid conflict.

These behaviors include:

  • Diminishing their capacity to have healthy relationships by declining to use the tools of recovery
  • Suppressing their feelings or needs to avoid feeling vulnerable
  • Withholding expressions of appreciation
  • Believing displays of emotion are a sign of weakness

Avoiding accountability, intimacy and emotions allows codependent people to remain in cycles of self-destructive behaviors in their relationships.

Co-Dependents Anonymous helps individuals recognize their detrimental patterns of behavior and teaches them to adjust these behaviors to ensure they build healthy relationships in recovery.

The Twelve Steps of Co-Dependents Anonymous

Based on the 12-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, the Twelve Steps of Co-Dependents Anonymous encourages members to examine how they handle relationships in effort of moving toward positive improvement.

Steps and What they Mean

  1. We admitted we were powerless over others — that our lives had become unmanageable. Step one requires that we admit our codependence and get into the mindset that we must take action.
  2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Step two asks us to look to a higher power to guide us through recovery from codependence.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God as we understood God. Step three asks us to turn to our higher power during this time of transformation. It is important to note that God in this sense does not refer to any particular religion or deity; it simply refers to a personal higher power.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Step four has us focus on self-reflection and look at the aspects of our lives that have led to this point.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs. In step five, after introspection, we must be forthcoming about our past mistakes to others in hopes of learning from them to become better people in the future.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. This step asks us to prepare for the change we are seeking. It prepares us to move on from the behaviors that have caused codependency.
  7. Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings. During this step, we ask our higher power to remove our shortcomings in order to leave those personal flaws behind. It is during this time that we must strive to move away from the behaviors that created our codependence and work on ways to maintain long-term recovery.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. During this crucial step, we admit that we have harmed people and make a list of those individuals. This begins the process of rebuilding relationships and making amends for the harm we’ve caused.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. During this step, we take action to make amends for the past grievances. This could be anything from face-to-face interaction with people we have wronged to an apology over the phone.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it. This step encourages continued personal growth and accountability in order to maintain long-term sobriety and reinforces lessons learned from earlier steps.
  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. This step centers on our maintaining a relationship with our higher power to allow us to refocus on our recovery.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other codependents, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. In step 12, after going through the first 11 steps and having created a strong recovery foundation, we share our experience and message with others seeking recovery from codependence while maintaining the skills and lessons learned from the previous steps.

Completing these steps fosters recovery and self-growth. Once an individual has reached recovery, it is up to them to maintain it and to share their message with others.

Codependence and Substance Abuse

Codependency is common in families affected by substance use disorders. Often, one person’s damaging substance abuse erodes the stability of the family unit.

Family members of those with substance use disorders may respond to this behavior by blaming themselves or trying to “fix” the problematic substance use themselves. Those with substance use disorders learn how to manipulate others through their self-blame.

This creates a pattern of enabling behavior where the codependent person takes on the consequences of the addicted person’s substance abuse. The relationship is built on a one-sided dynamic where one individual inflicts pain while the other shoulders the responsibility for it to maintain the relationship.

Both parties perpetuate the patterns of destructive behavior and create a cycle of codependency that leads to further damaging behavior and prevents the addicted party from receiving the treatment they need to heal themselves and their relationships.

Treatment for codependency, as well as for addiction and co-occurring disorders, includes family counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy and stress management and can address the symptoms of each of the patterns of codependence.



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