Breaking Free: A Recovery Workbook for Facing Codependence

Breaking Free: A Recovery Workbook for Facing Codependence

by Pia Mellody

ISBN: 9780062505903

Publisher HarperOne

Published in Health, Mind & Body/Psychology & Counseling, Parenting & Relationships

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Sample Chapter

Your History of Abuse

The experience of abuse in childhood is the root of the illness of codependence I believe the recovery process begins by looking at the beginning Of the disease--which is in childhood. A dysfunctional, less-than-nurturing, abusive system could not help you mature. Instead, that environment caused you to adapt so that your parents could be comfortable. You adapted yourself into the habits that make up codependence.

I believe that examining the specific events that make up your history as a codependent serves three important purposes:

  1. Writing about your history shows you how your parents' attitude toward and treatment of you affected each specific characteristic you had as a child: your sense of value, your vulnerability, your imperfection, your dependency, and your sense of how to act your age. As you bring up these incidents and remember them, you can begin to see exactly the moment when the abuse was creating your disease.
  2. Writing about specific events enables you to connect your feelings to your history. When you were a child, 'you felt pain, fear, anger, or shame about what was being done to you that was abusive, even though you did not know it was abusive. Children in an abusive family system rarely get to talk about the feelings they're having, because often if they express their feelings, their parents 90 out of control and react abusively to them. So they have to hold the feelings in, and the feelings collect and increase in intensity throughout the childhood years.Some children go through childhood constantly overloaded with intense emotions. Other children defend themselves from overwhelming emotions by freezing their feeling reality. By this I mean they deaden their conscious awareness of the feelings in the body.However, strong emotions do not go away but remain within you looking for some form of expression. As I've often heard in recovery groups, you can either act them out, stuff them, or deal with them appropriately. As a codependent You experience unhealthy expressions of these old feelings in the form of surprising explosive feeling attacks such as rage, panic, debilitating shame, or depression. You may also experience unnecessary illnesses due to the stress of keeping the feelings locked away inside you.To recover, you must release from your body the childhood feelings you had about being abused. To deal with all these powerful old feelings, you must bring the feelings to your consciousness, feel them in your body, acknowledge the feelings mentally by connecting them to what happened to you, verbalize them, and let yourself stay in the feelings while someone supports you by listening. You must allow the child you were to talk through the adult part of yourself about what happened and how you felt about it.The only way you can connect the feelings to what happened is to know what happened. The purpose of writing your history down is to reconnect those lost feelings with what happened.All that is necessary for this process is to describe what happened in as much detail as you can remember, and then connect the feelings to the memory by naming the emotions you felt then and feel now. "This is what happened to me and I am angry and hurt about that now" (or whatever your feelings were at the time and are now).If you just say generally, "My childhood was awful. I have a lot of pain about that and I'm not going to talk about it again because I don't want to get back into it:' you can't go through this healing process of resolving the feelings connected directly to specific memories.Many people fear that opening themselves up to these feelings will either overwhelm them or leave them in a permanent state of feeling intense anger, pain, fear, and shame. But this isn't true. I've worked with people who go through this process repeatedly. Each time they do, I see that their feelings are a little less intense, until they can tell the story of what happened without having intense feelings. Reexperiencing those feelings (or perhaps experiencing them for the first time) for the purpose of resolving them by this process will bring relief. It is by this process of letting yourself experience these childhood feelings that you release them.
  3. Writing about your childhood experiences enables you to look at how you recreate the same emotional atmosphere today. A well documented characteristic of people who were raised in dysfunctional families is that they often choose to relate to people who create the same emotional atmosphere they knew in their family of origin. They recreate many of the dynamics of their childhood dysfunctional family system in their lives today. Recovery becomes much more difficult because as the things that happened in childhood are recreated in their adult lives, they start reacting to the people they are living with now the way they reacted back then.You must identify how your family of origin operated so you can change the way you handle relationships in your life today. If you don't go back and look at the dysfunctional dynamics of your family of origin, it is virtually impossible to look at the dysfunctional conduct going on in your family today.My guess is that most of us recreate childhood dynamics in our adult relationships in an effort to resolve those old painful and often denied feelings. The problem is that the feelings cannot be resolved in this way. Instead, the intensity of our feelings increases.Eventually, if you're in touch with your feelings, you sense you're in the same old problems, so you leave the relationship, thinking you just need a different relationship to avoid this problem. Instead of resolving feelings, you wind up blaming other people in your life for what's going on with you. You've recreated the same family dynamics and have surrounded yourself with people who produce the same emotional atmosphere, so you do not have healthy, functional relationships.
Excerpted from "Breaking Free: A Recovery Workbook for Facing Codependence" by Pia Mellody. Copyright © 1989 by Pia Mellody. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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