The Dummies series universally is considered a standout in the overcrowded self-help catalogue, and for good reason: It works. Each book is written by an expert and constructed in a practical, well-conceived way, typically without exception. This certainly is true of Darlene Lancer, MFT and Codependency for Dummies.
Lancer is an advanced degree-holding, licensed marriage and family therapist with 25 years’ experience. She writes from a place of authority and knowledge, confident in her abilities to educate people in the realities of this controversial subject.
Codependency is divided into 20 chapters. In the first, Lancer gives an overview of her subject, which many consider a disease, as well as some background information and details on why there are so many competing schools of thought.
She then goes on in subsequent chapters to describe the characteristics of a codependent, how to know if you are one, how to learn new ways to diminish your need to be one, and ultimately how to understand, value and empower yourself so as to not be one.
The most important part of the book is its first section, in which Lancer lays the groundwork for self-improvement. By using plain and engaging language to explain this unwanted behavior, Lancer makes her subject understandable, relatable and sympathetic. In Chapter 2, she writes: “Clinicians like labels in order to talk about and study an illness. It helps them identify symptoms, utilize tested treatments, and understand the origin of a disorder… I don’t like labels because they ignore each person’s uniqueness and make people feel badly about themselves.” (She does go on to address the undeniable benefits of labels, as well.)
While to some this may sound shortsighted and even overly superficial, I do not think this to be the case. Lancer not only understands her subject on an academic level, but she truly comprehends the “human” aspect of the disorder. Because of this, she is able to write from a place of warmth and sincerity often missing from self-help books.
Often,self-help books are filled with recycled ideas of authors’ previous books, as well as laden with platitudes and, in some cases, subtle condescension. Yet nothing of this sense is in Codependency. Instead, Lancer, not the full-time book producer that many are, writes in a highly personal way that makes her words stick with you.
Yes, it is true that Lancer is writing about a particular subject, making it harder to be trivial. But she still has to at least adequately discuss her subject with some level of novelty; she must still bring something to the table, so to speak. And she does.
I like the Dummies series for its comprehensiveness. The books are billed as one-stop guides to understanding and conquering a particular subject. In this case, Lancer not only provides information about codependency and ways to discover if you do in fact fit the mold, but she also provides tips, strategies and ways to move forward—ways to alleviate your codependency and live a better, healthier life.
Codependency is filled with this type of help. In Chapter 9, for example, Lancer spells out the benefits of meditation, “time-outs,” journaling, visualizing and what she calls “doing the opposite.” She writes:
Try new behavior. If you often argue, be silent instead. If you’re usually silent, speak up. If you’re always serious, tell a joke. It may surprise people close to you and even yourself… Doing the opposite can also mean using a different part of your brain. Instead of obsessing, take a positive action toward solving the solution, which may be as simple as getting more information. When you’re obsessing about a person, shift to your emotions to release pent-up feelings… If you feel compelled to act, wait. Ask yourself what would be the consequence of waiting another day.
This idea of trying to restructure your behavior is one of the key components to combating any disorder, especially codependency. The first part is understanding it. With Codependency for Dummies, you will surely be able to do both.
Codependency for Dummies
By Darlene Lancer, MFT
For Dummies: May 1, 2012
Paperback, 336 pages