Book Review: Conquering Shame and Codependency

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Book: Conquering Shame and Codependency
Series:
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.

Recommendation:

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.

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Book Review: The Eye of God


Book: The Eye of God
Series: The Fall of Erelith
Author: R.J. Blain
Genres: fiction, fantasy, intrigue

Synopsis (from Amazon book page):

Blaise tries to act like a good human, but someone always manages to ruin things for him. When the Emperor’s most powerful weapon is stolen and its human vessel is kidnapped from the Arena, Blaise must choose between meddling in the affairs of mortals or remaining true to his duty. To make matters worse, the Archbishop has betrayed the church and God by giving the Emperor the second piece of the Triad, the Heart of God. Should Blaise stand idle and leave the mortals to their own devices, the people of Erelith won’t just lose their lives: Their souls will be destroyed by a power that was never meant to fall into mortal hands. If Blaise can find the Eye of God, he might be able to save the humans from themselves. Unfortunately, his only hope for success lies in the hands of a slave who wants nothing more than to die. If Blaise can’t save Terin and enlist his help, the Erelith Empire will fall.

Notes of Interest:

I got this book several years ago. I honestly don’t remember the details of how or why. It has been in my “To Be Read” list far too long (I’m ashamed to say.), so I recently decided it was time to dust it off. However, when I started reading, I soon had to put it down to finish some other books on loan by deadline. When I picked it up again, I was lost. Normally, I can remember the major details with the plot and characters by simply continuing where I left off, as long as the break isn’t more than a couple of months.

As I drafted this review, I looked up a few other reviews in hopes of clarifying a few questions. Like what, exactly, is Blaise supposed to be? Other reviewers apparently had trouble with this question, too, because while some referred to him as an angel, his true form is red, and he used to have a tail (not your usual angelic description). I thought he was a demon or fallen angel, until I was confronted with a reference to his beak. Did that mean he was a dragon? A griffin? Some beast unique to this fictional world? Other reviewers resorted to calling him an “otherworldly creature”, so perhaps that is the best label, but it frustrated me that I couldn’t get a grip on his species by name.

So, I have come to the conclusion that my break from reading is not what made this story hard to follow at some points. But I am noting the break in case I did miss something obvious as a result of my own inconsistency.

What could have made it better for me:

I’ve already mentioned the main thing that frustrated me: lack of clarity. It’s not just with Blaise’s true form. It’s in the world building of the religion and empire, as well as with the artifacts being sought. It’s not bad. I just felt it could have been better because the story left me with more questions than answers — questions about foundation elements more than what happens next.

Who is God? Is this the Judeo-Christian God, but in an alternate reality? Or are we talking about a different divine immortal? We are told what the artifacts are and a story about the spirits possessing them, but I’m still left wondering how they came to be what they are. They’re important, obviously, so I felt a little more precision on describing them and where they came from and what they can do was in order. Who is Blaise’s woman friend in the shop? She and her old language are notably different from everyone else, but with no solid explanation why. Is God’s garden a literal garden in this world, like how ancient Greek’s imagined Mount Olympus? Or is it a metaphysical place were roses are souls, unlike the roses of this world? Tarin was able to enter and steal an artifact, but he’s mortal and alive. The world’s physics feel undefined. Questions like this made me wish the author had spent a little more time on world building and descriptions.

Aside from clarity issues, there were a number of technical errors that pulled me out of the story. And with the exception of Blaise, the characters felt flat. Tarin is supposed to be the “chosen one” of the series, but Blaise’s complexity as a reluctant immortal pretending to be mortal is more interesting. We follow Tarin’s escape and mistreatment among his captors until he escapes again; but he is suicidal, and his agency is diminished by the more dominant characters around him.

What I liked about it:

In spite of the lack of clarity, the ideas in this story have potential. I like stories that involve conspiracies against religions and governments, and that is the core of what’s brewing here. If the conspiracy becomes the center focus, there is potential for intrigue and some good plot twists because that is the nature of conspiracies.

Quest stories are usually adventurous, so the search for the artifact thief makes up the bulk of the action in this book, and there is potential for the protagonist to have more agency in the follow-up books as the artifacts become more important to solving the problem of the conspiracy.

But perhaps my favourite device in this story is the use of the Scripture as a tool for magic. Because the plot encompasses an organized religion, adherents of the faith can literally recite a passage of Scripture to produce magic in the same manner one would vocalize casting a spell. The power that a mortal has to Speak the Word of God would obviously depend on how well they know the Scriptures by heart, and perhaps the strength of their faith. Immortals, like Blaise, have more power. This may seem like nothing new if you’re familiar with any of the literal-based branches of Judeo-Christian faiths, but on a fictional level this is unique because of how these sacred scriptures are literally grimoires full of very powerful, tangible magic. I love how this concept seems so obvious in the real world, and yet we hardly ever see it handled quite like this in secular fiction. I thought it was well done throughout.

Recommendation:

This is a tough book for me to reach a conclusion about. I view it the same way I view abstract art. I can appreciate it as something unique, based on colors and mood alone. But if I stare at it long enough, I see things that may or may not exist, because my brain defaults to needing a more solid picture in order to make sense of it. I see the potential in the world, the characters, and what’s going on with the artifacts, but I don’t enjoy rereading passages when I feel like I missed something important. The reader who prefers to know exactly what the author envisioned might have a more difficult time following this book than the reader who prefers to fill in some of the details himself.

Book Review: Of Snow and Whiskers

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Of Snow and Whiskers by Andrea Brokaw

Book: Of Snow and Whiskers
Series: Werestory, Book 2
Author: Andrea Brokaw
Genres: YA, supernatural, adventure, romance

 

Synopsis (from Amazon book page):

“When the moon is full, Rina Andreyushkina is a snow leopard. In feline form, she is full of grace and power. But when the moon sets, things are harder. Now shy and awkward in her human skin, Rina faces a series of new challenges. Her best friend has been suspended for bullying, leaving Rina by herself for the first time in her life. She must learn who she is on her own and whether she likes this person. Complicating things further, the best friend’s would-be betrothed comes to Rina for help preparing to fight his way out of his arranged marriage. No stranger to being a political pawn, Rina agrees to train him even though it puts her most important relationship in serious jeopardy. And as though this were not stress enough, Rina befriends the notorious and widely disliked new boy, something the entire school notices.

With all this going on, when will Rina find time to watch her favorite anime?!”

Notes of Interest:

This is the second book in the Werestory series by Andrea Brokaw. The first is Of Fur and Ice, which I reviewed here: https://badcatink.wordpress.com/2015/09/04/book-review-of-fur-and-ice/.

I recommend that you read the first book in the series, as it gives some background for the second. However, the first book has a different set of protagonists than the second, so the second could possibly be read as a stand-alone. This second book takes a few of the supporting characters from the last book and puts them under the spotlight for a plot of their own. But you will see familiar faces from the first story, too.

What could have made it better for me:

There were a few technical errors that pulled me out of the story, but those were minor.

What I liked about it:

The story this time focuses on Rina, friend to Simone and Troy, two antagonistic characters from the previous book. I really like this choice of character because Rina was the silent, submissive BFF for the Queen Bee of the snow leopard clique in their high school, but over the course of this story, she develops courage and sort of comes into her own personality to make her own choices, regardless of peer pressure. When the words “toxic relationship” get thrown around, it usually has to do with girl/boy love interests. But this story highlights a case where it is a girl’s best friend that dominates and acts abusively toward her. Because my personal history involved a few toxic relationships, it was a really interesting, and sadly rather accurate, portrayal of how submissive behavior so often makes excuses for the domineering behavior of friends, partners, or family members in order to not cause trouble, or in order to not lose that relationship by raising a complaint. Because it’s hard to draw the line between actually loving someone so much that you would put up with bad treatment, and being dependent on someone so much that you would put up with bad treatment. This friend-to-friend angle for that kind of relationship isn’t normally something focused on in books. So, I found that to be rather unique.

This book explores diversity in that Rina is also bi-sexual. And as she reflects on her past and present interests in terms of love interests, her dual orientation has the brief potential to complicate matters with others who don’t have a full understanding. The fact that this is a main character attribute and conversation topic is a plus for the book, in my opinion.

Another thing I loved about this story was the unique spin it gave to Native American skin-walker legends and therianthropy (which is a shape-shifting identity, for those to whom the term is new). I can’t really say much more than that about these topics without spoiling the plot, but I want to raise the fact that it’s not something commonly found in supernatural books, even among books about the most common shape-shifters, like werewolves and such. Brokaw’s take on fairies is also different and refreshing. I always love to see new interpretations of old mythologies.

The story picks up soon after first one finishes, so most of the action takes place on the were-school campus, but the focus this time is on the snow leopard clowder, rather than the wolf pack. Seth has challenged his arranged engagement to Simone. Troy the all-were is still present. And kind-hearted Rina is attempting to find her place in the new order of the upheaval because she’s not the type to make enemies or hold grudges. She befriends Troy, and starts training Seth for the Challenge, but has to deal with a very unforgiving Simone. Clowder politics complicate matters further, and another all-were is discovered near campus grounds. The safety of the students in the school, the future of two snow leopard clans, and Rina’s circle of friendships are at risk.

The style of writing is a down-to-earth, first-person, present-tense narrative with lots of tactile “feels” to it. So, the reader progresses through the events with Rina in a way that I think most people could immerse in or relate to on some level.

Recommendation:

Fans of shape-shifting stories will probably find the snow leopard angle on this theme interesting and fun. This story would be entertaining for readers of all ages, in my opinion. 🙂