Book: Conquering Shame and Codependency
Author: Darlene Lancer
Genres: non-fiction, self-help, psychology, codependency
Synopsis (from Amazon book page):
A nationally recognized author, speaker and codependency expert examines the roots of shame and its connection with codependent relationships. Learn how to heal from their destructive hold by implementing eight steps that will empower the real you and lead to healthier relationships.
Shame: the torment you feel when you’re exposed, humiliated, or rejected; the feeling of not being good enough. It’s a deeply painful and universal emotion, yet is not frequently discussed. For some, shame lurks in the unconscious, undermining self-esteem, destroying confidence, and leading to codependency. These codependent relationships–where we overlook our own needs and desires as we try to care for, protect, or please another–often cover up abuse, addiction, or other harmful behaviors. Shame and codependency feed off one another, making us feel stuck, never able to let go, move on, and become the true self we were meant to be.In Conquering Shame and Codependency, Darlene Lancer sheds new light on shame: how codependents’ feelings and beliefs about shame affect their identity, their behavior, and how shame can corrode relationships, destroying trust and love. She then provides eight steps to heal from shame, learn to love yourself, and develop healthy relationships.
Notes of Interest:
I usually start my reviews by talking about how or why I read a book. This time, my reasons are personal and so varied I wouldn’t know where to begin explaining them, even if I wanted to. Suffice to say, I’d heard the term “codependency” thrown around a few times, and assumed it meant two people who were dependent on each other to a harmful extent. But I never really paid attention to it beyond that, until I watched a TV show that brought up the topic. Out of curiosity, I Googled it. And to my surprise, I had the description and definition all wrong. In one sense codependency is like being addicted to an addict, but it is so much more. It was no surprise, however, to discover I had 16 out of 20 traits for codependency … according to a little quiz I found. I was so blown away by how much influence this previously unknown term had over my life, from childhood all through adulthood. So, I had to find out more.
I downloaded two e-books on the subject, and this was the first. This book is so relevant to my life that every page has at least one highlight or note. Before I do reviews, I always look back over my notes and highlights to see if there’s anything I could insert into the review as a quote or example of whatever topic I’m discussing. But as I scrolled through my notes and highlights this time, I laughed. There’s literally something from every page! So, there is no way I can condense everything I want to say about this book into one little blog review, but I will try to hit the major take-aways.
What could have made it better for me:
This book uses very clear language and has well-researched content presented with maximum relativity. It’s well-organized and easy to follow. No technical errors pulled my attention away. And I love that each chapter ends with questions to work on as a follow-up activity in a journal.
I have no suggestions for improvements. It was educational, useful, and met my expectations perfectly. And as always, I love it when I can find nothing to say under this heading.
What I liked about it:
Besides what I’ve already said, this book starts out discussing shame and the differences between shame and guilt. The reason for the focus on shame is because the author saw so many codependency connections to shame that she felt it deserved a book all to itself. She discusses the sources of shame in our lives and how they can lead to codependent behaviors traits. As she puts it, “Shame and disconnection from our authentic self lie at the core of codependency and addiction.” And of course, she explains what codependency is and what the traits are, and a little bit of background on how the term has evolved in modern therapy.
This book taught me that the list of symptoms for codependency is long and often seems contradictory. Low self-esteem, self-sacrifice, and inability to express feelings are all major traits of codependency — in other words, being a doormat. But an inflated sense of self-esteem, assertiveness, perfectionism, and manipulation of others are also codependency traits because there are different kinds of codependents and different circumstances that breed codependency.
One of the main traits of codependency is the presence of a loved one who has an addiction or some other form of compulsive behavior which, intentionally or unintentionally, controls the lives of those around him. It could be an alcoholic or drug addict. Or the compulsive behavior could take the form of shopping, sex, gambling, gaming or other addictions. The compulsive behavior could be an eating disorder. It could even be behavior compelled by religious or social customs. For the codependent, the type of addiction is secondary. In fact the addict is usually another codependent, since codependency often leads to compulsive behaviors. But the compulsive and codependent behaviors are always self-destructive and destructive to those around them. It takes only one person with a compulsive behavior disorder to affect as many as 10-20 people around them, producing codependents among spouses, children, parents, friends, and co-workers.
I learned there are three kinds of codependents. She could be an accommodater who builds her world around the addict, trying to keep him happy, trying to be the glue that holds things together, trying to love and rescue, trying to be loyal, sacrificing herself and her life to keep things as calm and smooth as possible. Or codependents can be masters of manipulation, needing to control everyone else around them in order for them to be happy and comfortable and okay. There is an in-between type of codependent, too — the bystander who distances herself and emotionally detaches leaving a void in the relationship. But most codependents are a combination of these traits depending on the circumstances. The codependent can become depressed and distraught, or enraged, when her efforts to control the situation or rescue the person fail. The codependent is someone whose reason for being lies outside of herself, who is so invested in someone else’s life that she loses touch with herself and her own identity. The codependent abandons her own life to serve and manage someone else’s, and in doing so, she feels loved or needed, and is always trying to control the situation, or is always being controlled by the situation.
This book puts most of its effort into education about the topic: breaking down the sources of codependency, the traits of codependency, and the types of codependency. The author points out that codependency is a learned pattern of behavior that is usually passed on generation to generation. So, learning how to identify it can unravel past abuses, uproot illogical thinking or harmful decisions as a result, and make us aware, so that we can not only recover from current bad relationships, but hopefully break the cycle before it takes root in good or new relationships.
The book ends with discussion and steps on how to do that, and I can summarize it in two words: self care. Once you discover and confront the roots of codependency, you can learn how to put your life back together by building your self-esteem, learning how to take care of yourself, and letting go of being victimized by other people’s problems. Detach and focus on yourself. It’s not selfish. It’s necessary because it returns responsibility for each person’s life to him or her self.
“By caring for your precious, vulnerable self, you become empowered. You stop relying on your defenses or others for your contentment. By loving yourself, you can begin to love and relate deeply and authentically to others.” (Diane Lancer, Conquering Shame and Codependency) The takeaway here is the act of learning how to be content from within yourself, rather than needing something or someone outside of yourself to provide contentment or fulfillment for you.
Learning and reading about codependency has been a huge eye-opener for me. It has already changed my life in small, subtle ways. But as the book says, recovery is about aiming for progress, not perfection. “Recovery is a journey of self-discovery rather than a destination.” (Darlene Lancer, Conquering Shame and Codependency) Rediscovering 20-year-old me, the one who got buried underneath the abuse, the people pleasing expectations, the shame, and the extremist culture of my upbringing (and all of its long-reaching consequences), has led to the most authentic sense of self and joy I’ve felt in a long time. I feel like ME again.
This book complemented my readings on mindfulness and effectiveness because they all reiterate the principles of being aware, being present, and focusing on changing oneself, rather than obsessing over and trying to change other people or circumstances beyond our control. If you’re into mindfulness, cognitive behavior training, or improving personality and leadership skills, reading about codependency makes sense and could shine a light on the shadows that these other topics cannot. This book is an excellent starting point for learning what codependency is and how to retrain the behavior patterns because of how thoroughly it identifies the problems and characteristics, and gives comprehensive exercises to chew on while working through the food for thought. I will be purchasing more copies to give as gifts for a few loved ones whom I think will benefit from learning about this sooner rather than later, and I already know of one other family member who found it astonishingly relative and helpful.