12 step program for sex addicts pornography codependency
12-Step: What You Should Know If You’re A Victim of Emotional Abuse

Here's why 12-step support programs might be detrimental for women who are emotionally abused by a so-called addict.

12-step programs like S-Anon or COSA aim to convince victims of emotional abuse that they are just as sick as their abuser. Here’s why 12-step support programs might be detrimental for women who are emotionally abused by a so-called addict.

Inappropriate Focus on Accountability

12-step programs often emphasize personal accountability and self-blame, a framework that can be harmful to victims of emotional abuse. Victims already struggle with an excessive sense of guilt and responsibility, making it counterproductive to push for further self-blame.

Victim-Blaming Mentality

The structure of 12-step programs can inadvertently enforce a victim-blaming mentality. The program’s steps are designed to promote self-examination, but for a woman experiencing emotional abuse, this can reinforce the abuser’s message that they are somehow at fault.

Lack of Specialized Support

12-step programs are generally led by peers and certainly aren’t led by abuse experts who are trauma-informed. One woman was further abused by her sponsor telling her she was part of the problem when she absolutely wasn’t.

Ineffective Coping Strategies

12-step programs often rely on coping mechanisms designed for addiction, such as avoiding triggers. Victims of emotional abuse need to listen to their gut (triggers) to help them know if they’re safe.

Risks of Re-Traumatization

Participating in a 12-step program can sometimes be re-traumatizing for emotional abuse victims, especially when the entire group is trying to get her to own her “character weaknesses” and admit what part she played in the situation, which amounts to victim blaming.

12-step programs are not well-suited for victims of emotional abuse. Instead, women need support from qualified abuse specialists.

If you need support because you’re experiencing emotional abuse from your husband, we’d love to see you in a session today. Click here to see the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group Session Schedule.


  1. Lisa Parker

    I sent a question to SA Lifeline this week regarding whether they use a co-dependency model or a trauma model. Here is what they (Becky) sent me in reply.

    “I appreciate the questions you posed on your inquiry. You obviously have done your due diligence to understand betrayal trauma, and we have found this type of education to be a critical element of healing. We definitely view recovery for a spouse through a trauma model, rather than a co-dependent model. We do currently use S-Anon literature in our meetings, but are in the process of writing our own manual to eradicate some of the co-dependent language in the readings. This manual should be completed before the year-end.”

    My only thought about this response was to inquire why they are in the process of only eradicating SOME of the co-dependent language. However, this is encouraging to me because I feel their organization is really trying to be helpful in this difficult fight.

    • Anne Blythe

      Yes, hopefully they can understand that the trauma is coming from ABUSE . . . that’s the hardest thing for people to understand.

      • Lisa Parker

        I agree! People don’t often understand it is really the abuse, in the form of deception, manipulation, blame, gaslighting, neglect, etc., which causes the most harm. It not only injures the partner, but the entire family as well.

        • Anne Blythe

          Totally. Pornography is an ABUSE issue. Any woman in a relationship with a porn users is in an abusive relationship.

  2. Michelle

    I would love to hear you do a deep dive into the 12-Step founder, Bill W., and his unrepentant decades of infidelity and betrayal of his wife, Lois, and how he would not permit Lois — the founder of Ala-Non—to write. Instead, he wrote his infamous, self-serving “Letter to the Wives,” while impersonating a woman. He had to have handlers protect female newcomers from being approached by Bill W under the age-old 12 Step tradition called “Thirteenth Stepping” — approaching vulnerable newcomers under the guise of “helping” but with self-serving, predatorial intentions. This history is routinely sanitized from Bill W.’s official mythology but historians/writers have lots of interviews and evidence proving this. Exhibit A: Bill W. gave 10% of his estate royalties to one of his long term mistresses. Recovering sex addict and alcoholic, Susan Cheever (daughter of writer, John Cheever) wrote the latest biography touching on Bill W’s sex addiction. Yet the 12 Step Program continues to have us read Letter to The Wives nearly 90 years later and still embraces the codependency model (yet another misogynistic, victim-blaming pop psychology notion that, 40 years and 250 books later, is still not supported by clinical studies nor recognized by the DSM-5).

    When my husband entered SA in 2000, the wives were given a recommended book on sexual anorexia. I felt the book pointed the finger at betrayed partners for “causing” their spouses’ behavior, not considering that some of us never stopped having sexual relations with our spouses and others, correctly intuiting something affected their safety, withdrew from sex relations for good reason.

    Thanks for your good work!


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