Last updated: March 03, 2021

Codependency, and Frozen II

About a month ago I started working with a therapist (via the ingenuity of BetterHelp’s service) and he recommended this book to me during our last session: Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie (1986). Halfway in and I already started to think I found my new favorite work of nonfiction of all time (it’d been Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think since 2005).

Having finally finished the book (on March 3), I can say with full confidence that codependency is not just about alcoholism. Being codependent means not loving ourselves enough; it means losing ourselves in something, or someone. The ultimate goal for the book is to enable its reader to learn to love themselves, so they can live happily and peacefully, and also learn to maintain a healthy balance, come what may. I like Beattie’s book for a number of reasons:

She’s been there, so she knows what we need. When I encountered this paragraph, I knew this book was it:

This book will search for those understandings and encourage those changes. I’m happy to say Jessica’s story had a happy ending or a new beginning. She got better. She started living her own life. I hope you do too. (p. 20)

She is a brilliant storyteller. One of my first reactions to the book was, I felt seen, and I could see myself being seen, and then I see a way to transcend my current situation. This describes my enthusiasm toward literature more generally: I still constantly talk with my friends about my trouble and everyday irritations, but there’s only so much healing that the process can do. When you are engaged in a conversation, you can hardly distant yourself from, well, yourself. There’s too much of you in the process; you cannot see what really is happening clearly, and (as I have learned from the book) you may not actually be engaged in the conversation when you are obsessed with something or someone. In the end, you talk not with your friend, but to them, and you end up “rehashing […] the same useless thoughts” (60). I find reading stories a useful way out when a simple conversation with a friend no longer helps. The first part of Beattie’s book is comprised of stories that have brought numerous revelatory, if not altogether cathartic, moments to me.

She carries you along to her conclusions. I am used to definitions, say, being thrown at me, ideally with indentation and definition in bold face. But in the third chapter, where the reader would expect a clear definition of codependency, Beattie doesn’t do until almost the end of the chapter. She starts with stories, a historical overview, and definitions from others. This is very counter-intuitive for me as an academic (of sort), for it buries your original idea. I find Beattie’s approach refreshing. It reminds me of when I was teaching; it makes little sense to just stuff your students with information. That is the same as reading a textbook aloud to them. Teachers should have in their mind a clear skill or set of knowledge points that their students should acquire by the end of their class, and they will let students get there, through peer discussions, drills, what have you. Beattie seems like a good teacher to me. Or, indeed, she is an awakener (epigraph from Robert Frost, 236).

The chapters are short, and the book feels short. Echoing the previous point, I think a nonfiction book’s value lies in what it can lead you to say on your own, rather than what’s said in those pages. Effective argumentative writing doesn’t require a lot of words or elaboration. This is why I appreciated Krug’s book so much back then. Thin books feel more useful. Nonfictions (excluding perhaps historical accounts of any kind) should be useful. Beattie’s little volume is immensely useful, filled with activities and concrete advice.


While reading, I constantly think of Elsa’s number, “Show Yourself,” from the second installment of Frozen. Frozen II has taught me many things: la volonté de savior is driven by both amor fati and Anerkennung, modernity oscillates between the destruction and restoration of Romantic solipsism, and life’s aesthetics reaches its telos via askesis. And of course, best comedies transcend—or, as per Olaf, transform—through serious, judicious caricatures, thereby regaining the gravitas and magnitude not typically associated with the genre. But beyond my excessive intellectualizing, Frozen II is ultimately a movie about one’s self-love and how its magnificent force (Kraft) can generate the incredible energy to carry people around them to the other side, a happy ending. And that is also the message of the book: you don’t have to stay attached to anyone else, and can instead just be there for yourself. You don’t have to rescue, and you are not the victim, either. You may have lingering problems, as do we all, and should that be the case, you need, above all else, serenity, to tackle them. You need to first set yourself free, which you can do on your own and are in total control of.

Frozen II is, in a sense, necessary because the first movie has left significant issues unresolved. The climatic scene in the first movie goes,

elsa. You sacrificed yourself for me?
anna. I love you.

In Beattie’s framing, here Elsa and Anna are competing for the caregiver role, and that’s not healthy. It is symptomatic of their pattern of relating: Anna gives, Elsa pushes, which we still see in the second movie. Anna’s neediness and tendency to care too much, as foregrounded in “Do You Want to Build a Snowman,” haven’t been taken care of. Elsa’s suffocating anxiety—materialized in form of snowstorms or a palace made of ice—is yet to be mitigated, and she would still get all sucked into her anxiety. The irony of her iconic number, “Let It Go,” is that nothing really is let go, at least not at the end of the first movie. Storms rage on, and the denouement almost seems abrupt. Indeed, one cannot expect others to come to rescue, especially when they haven’t figured out how to recue themselves yet. Figuring that out involves learning about themselves, the truth of their past. Figuring that out entails a long journey that they must embark on all alone. None of that happens in the first movie.

So, in the second, Elsa visits Ahtohallan, and Anna has to “do this next part on [her] own.” The beautiful parallel comes after Elsa has “gone too far” (she even has the same posture as Anna does when she gets frozen). What lacks a parallel from the previous movie is this: Elsa calls Anna’s name and sends the truth about Arendelle’s past her way. That one second is a testimony: Elsa no longer sticks to her role as a caregiver; she now knows she truly needs help, and she trusts Anna will see what has happened and “do the next right thing.” Anna no longer thinks of herself as someone who must sacrifice; she regains her autonomy as a person and can reason how to best get out of the situation she is in. Neither tries to purely imagine each other’s needs and desires; no one is purely sacrificing for the other. When they have reached the point where they make their first symbolic leap respectively (Elsa jumping further into Ahtohallan, Anna out of the cave) they are someone new. They are no longer codependent. They have stepped “into the power” and grown themselves “into something new.”

That, of course, doesn’t mean they become independent superheroes all of a sudden, and they still pretty much need others (Elsa later needs Anna to save her, and Anna, Kristoff and General Matthias). But each of them has genuinely realized, “You are the one you’ve been waiting for / All of your life.” That’s what matters. That’s how they bring everyone to the happy ending—one that Olaf is so fond of. At time of crisis, one may have to, alas, disassemble themselves, and ask, “What do I need to do to take care of myself?” (116) Others’ problems aren’t yours to solve, not yet at least. Taking care of yourself—through detachment, letting unimportant things slide, devictimize yourself, gain undependence, and ultimately, truly love yourself—comes before anything else.

Perhaps my favorite quote from the book so far:

Sometimes, we can’t even do our best; that’s okay, too. We may have feelings, thoughts, fears, and vulnerabilities as we go through life, but we all do. We need to stop telling ourselves we’re different for doing and feeling what everyone else does. We can be gentle, loving, listening, attentive, and kind to ourselves, our feelings, thoughts, needs, wants, desires, and everything we’re made of. We can accept ourselves—all of us. Start where we’re at, and we will become more. Develop our gifts and talents. Trust ourselves. Assert ourselves. We can be trusted. Respect ourselves. Be true to ourselves. Honor ourselves, for that is where our magic lies. That is our key to the world. (124–25)


Beattie thus concludes her book, “Through my experience with codependency, I found my self. Everything from our pasts has prepared and propelled us to this moment; today prepares us for tomorrow. And it all works out for the good. Nothing’s wasted” (236). In Frozen II, the sisters, too, have found themselves. That’s perhaps why they—or any hero, for that matter—bother to venture all into the unknown. The concluding dialogue between Elsa and Anna in the second movie is no longer about sacrifice, or in my interpretation, about their own codependency.

elsa. We did this together. And we will continue to do this together.

anna. Together.

Roughly a year ago, I visited UC Berkeley for the first time. On my bus to PIT to catch my plane, I was listening to “Show Yourself.” In the last party I threw in Pittsburgh before covid-19 hit, I watched Frozen II with friends. I feel like an uncanny connection exists between the movie and myself. I think I’m beginning to understand the lessons of it, and how it has led me to where I am.

Actionable advice

  1. Take care of yourself.

    • “Worry and obsession constitute mental abuse. Stop doing those things.” (166)

    • “It’s just as easy to say good things about ourselves as it is to say negative things. And, we’ll probably start believing the positive things and find out they’re true. Isn’t that exciting?” (166–167)

    • “Don’t forget to forgive ourselves.” (215)

    • “Use our time alone as a breather. Let go. Learn the lessons we are to be learning. Grow. Develop. Work on ourselves.” (222)

    • “Love from our strengths, not from our weaknesses, and ask others to do the same. Make good decisions each day about what we need to do to take care of ourselves. [B]e patient and gentle with ourselves. Just keep doing the things we know we need to do. It will get better. Don’t stop taking care of us no matter what happens. Getting our balance and keeping it once we have found it is what recovery is all about.” (233)

  2. Have fun.

    • “We can schedule fun into our routine. We can learn to recognize when we need to play and what kinds of things we enjoy doing. If we don’t do this, we can make ‘learning to have fun’ an immediate goal. Start doing things just for ourselves, just because we want to. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but after a while it’ll feel better. It’ll become fun.” (216)

    • “Suffering can become habitual, but so can enjoying life and being good to ourselves. Try it.” (216)

  3. Have boundaries.

    • “Codependents are indirect. We don’t say what we mean, we don’t mean what we say. We don’t do it on purpose. We do it because we’ve learned to communicate this way. At some point, either in our childhood or adult family, we learned it was wrong to talk about problems, express feelings, and express opinions. We’ve learned it was wrong to directly state what we want and need. It was certainly wrong to say no, and stand up for ourselves.” (181)

    • “We need to set limits on what we will allow people to do to and for us. Set boundaries, but make sure they’re our boundaries.” (217)

    • “[B]oundaries are worth every bit of time, energy, and thought required to set and enforce them. Ultimately, they will provide us with more time and energy.” (218)

  4. Be kind and caring, but don’t assume the role of rescuer immediately.

    • This program will enable us to love ourselves and other people, instead of rescuing and being rescued. (192)

    • “Real love says, ‘You’re having problems. I care, and I’ll listen, but I won’t and can’t do it for you.’ Real friendship says, ‘I think so highly of you that I’ll let you figure out how to do it for yourself. I know you can.’” (222)

  5. Don’t spend all the time being afraid, though it is fine to be scared.

    • “Some people believe we never have to become angry; if we control our thinking and are appropriately detached, we will never react with or wallow around in anger. That’s probably true; however, I prefer to relax and see what happens, rather than guard myself rigidly. And like my friend, I’m leery of people who smile and tell me they never get mad. Don’t misunderstand—I’m not advising us to hang onto anger or resentments. I don’t believe anger should become our focus in life, nor should we look for reasons to become angry to test ourselves. ‘It’s not good to be angry all the time,’ says counselor Esther Olson. It’s not healthy to act hostile. There is much more to life than anger. But it’s okay to feel anger when we need to.” (161)

    • “Learn the art of acceptance. It’s a lot of grief.” (139)

    • “Love brings joy and warmth, but it also requires us to be willing to occasionally feel hurt and rejection.” (211)

    • “We can find people who are safe to trust. We can open up, become honest, and be who we are. We can even handle feeling hurt or rejected from time to time. We can love without losing ourselves or giving up our boundaries. We can love and think at the same time.” (212)

  6. Still have expectations, but be reasonable and responsible.

    • “To avoid a letdown, it’s important to have a long list of goals and avoid magical thinking. I’ve never yet reached a goal or solved a problem that has enabled me to live happily ever after. Life goes on, and I try to live happily and peacefully.” (174)

    • “Get them out into the light. Examine them. Talk about them. If they involve other people, talk to the people involved. We can make sure our expectations are realistic and appropriate and not let them interfere with reality or let them spoil the good things that are happening.” (209)

  7. Practice “HOW” (honest, open-minded, willing to try).

    • “‘Get in!’ they holler. ‘We can’t see any boat to get into!’ we holler back. ‘Get in anyway,’ they say. So we get in, and pretty soon they say, ‘Pick up an oar and start rowing (working the Steps).’ ‘Can’t see any oars,’ we holler back. ‘Pick ‘em up and start rowing, anyway!’ they say. So we pick up invisible oars and start rowing, and pretty soon we see the boat. Before we know it, we see the oars too. Next thing we know, we’re so happy rowing the boat with the goofy people we don’t care if we ever get to the other side.” (195)

    • “Get honest, keep an open mind, and become willing to try to do things differently, and we will change. Choose one behavior to work on and when that becomes comfortable go on to another item.” (230)


I’m taking notes of pages I may want to revisit later:

  • codependent definition: 34

  • caretaking: 94

  • steps toward undependence: 106–108

  • love vs. addiction: 110–11

  • dealing with anger: 158–59

  • communication skills: 183

(First posted February 24, 2021)