Codependence and the three A's: Awareness, Acceptance, and Action

Published on April 16, 2014

How do we use the 3 As to cope with issues brought about by Codependence?


I first learned of the three A's, awareness, acceptance, and action from Alanon which is a wonderful self-help group for the family and friends of the alcoholic.  Alanon suggests its members utilize the "Three A's" in dealing with the problems specifically caused by alcoholism in the family (e.g. page 97, Hope for Today).  However, I have found the three A's immensely useful for coping with a wide variety of problems both personally and also in helping others in my professional practice as a clinical psychologist.  The purpose of this post is to explain what the three A's are and how they can be helpful to solve in a wide variety of problems in living.

Let me briefly describe the three A's and how they are used.  When confronted with a problem in life, we may be tempted to try to immediately solve it. However such solutions rarely work because we are trying to force an immediate solution.  The three A's concept suggests that a better approach is to take time to work on the first two A's, awareness and acceptance, before moving into the action phase of problem solving.  Hence the initial phase of problem solving is to increase one's awareness of how the problem arose, its nature, and become conscious of the consequences that the problem has had on us such as losses or restrictions in our life. 

After an appropriate amount of awareness work, we are then ready to move to the acceptance stage which involves emotionally working through these losses.  Only when we have worked through these initial two stages, can we be effective in the action phase of problem solving.

Mother and Child attachmentThe three A's can be an immensely useful guide as to how to recover from codependence.  As I have described in a previous post (Introduction to Codependence), codependence refers to the condition in which we did not receive the nurturing we needed as a child in order to mature into a healthy functioning adult.  Abuse, neglect or traumatization, are the usual causes of codependence.  Problems in valuing the self, poor boundaries, weak identity, poor negotiation skills and extremes of behaviour and thinking are the consequences (For details see Pia Mellody’s "Facing Codependence"). 

The first step in our recovery is often to move out of denial and become aware of what was missing in our nurturing process, independent of whether it was intentional or not.  At this point some people mistakenly believe that they will recover from their codependence by immediately jumping to the action phase and confronting whoever was responsible for the less than optimal nurturing.  However, this is usually not advisable because we may be acting out of anger and those confronted may react negatively to this anger, and the result is more hurt and anger all around.  This is where the second A of acceptance saves the day.

Emotionally working through childhood abuse, neglect, or traumatization to achieve acceptance is difficult work and most of us need a support group and/or the assistance of a mental health worker to do so successfully.  Often it involves grieving the associated losses not only in our childhood but also in adulthood. 

Acceptance leads us to emotional balance and peace of mind which frees us and allows us to move on to the third A, action, in our recovery process from codependence.  This phase of personal change is again best done in group or individual psychotherapy, or attendance at workshops. 

Confrontation of the perpetrator(s) is not necessary or even possible in most cases.  What is necessary is to become actively involved in your own recovery program usually using a variety of approaches from traditional codependence recovery techniques such as inner child work to more recent techniques such Christina Baldwin describes in her recent book "Storycatcher".  This action phase of recovery can be a very rewarding process setting us free for life-long personal growth and development.

Category(s):Codependency / Dependency

Written by:

Brian Scott

Dr. Scott is a clinical psychologist based in Singapore with three decades of counseling and psychotherapy experience in helping adults with many kinds of psychological difficulties. These include anxiety, depression, addictions (cybersex, love), and Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (Adult ADHD).

Brian Scott belongs to Scott Psychological Centre in Singapore