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Welcome to my island of sanity and serenity. I'm Sandra Pawula - writer, mindfulness teacher and advocate of ease. I help deep thinking, heart-centered people find greater ease — emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Curious? Read On!

12 Top Books That Will Help You Change Painful Patterns

12 Top Books That Will Help You Change Painful Patterns

I’ve gathered together 12 of the best self-help and personal growth books that focus on how to change unhappy, unhealthy, and self-defeating personal patterns.

I recommend these books heartily because they have made a big difference in my own life. I think they can help you too.

Many of them contain questions for reflection and exercises to help you apply and embody the practical skills and wisdom they contain. They’re more like workbooks or training programs. But don’t worry, you can take them step-by-step.

In fact, it’s better not to race through.

Pick one book and spend time with each chapter, each page even. Let the knowledge and inspiration sink in deeply. Feel the hope and possibility. Do the exercises, chart your progress.

Know that positive change is within your reach.

I’ve gathered 12 of the best self-help and personal growth books that will help you change unhappy, unhealthy, and self-defeating personal patterns.  They have made a big difference in my own life. These books show you why it’s difficult to make changes, so you can stop blaming yourself. They offer powerful + practical steps that will help you heal old wounds and get unstuck from unhelpful patterns. Check them out! #emotionalhealing #lifechangingselfhelpbooks #selfhelpbooks #personalgrowthbooks

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Let’s begin.

1.The 5 Personality Patterns, Your Guide to Understanding Yourself and Others and Developing Emotional Maturity by Steven Kessler

I mention this book often on Always Well Within — it’s been that impactful in my life. You’ll find descriptions for each pattern and protocols that will help you respond in healthier and happy ways. Plus, it’s written for the lay person so the language is super user-friendly.

Publisher’s Description
”Much of our human suffering is not necessary. It is created by old safety strategies that helped us survive our childhood traumas, but then got stuck in our bodies. Reinforced by the power of habit, they continue to shape our actions and personality even today. They have become an invisible prison. We live our lives trapped in that prison, repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

As we attempt to understand the psychology of success and become successful ourselves, studying the habits of successful people is not enough. To create real self transformation, we must dissolve the obstacles to success buried within us. To reclaim our power and regain control of our lives, we must uncover the old safety strategies and patterns that still run our lives so that we can heal and transform them.

Often, these patterns have shaped us so deeply that we think that's who we are. But in fact, they cover up our true self and prevent it from shining out into the world. Finally, we have a map of these patterns, a map that will help you: 

  • Discover how you got stuck and how to get free

  • Heal your core wounds

  • Learn the skills you missed

  • Communicate effectively with others

  • Develop emotional maturity

Many readers seeking self improvement have discovered that this map of personality is even more helpful to them than the Enneagram and Myers-Briggs personality types, because those maps focus on the surface of the body, on your behaviors, while this map starts with the core of the body and how the flow of your life energy got distorted. And that distortion of the flow of life energy through the body is at the root of much of the suffering and conflict we experience in interpersonal relationships. Understanding those differences will dramatically increase your empathy, compassion, and people skills. Understanding how to bridge those differences will dramatically increase your interpersonal communication skills.”

If you like this book, you might also likes Healing Developmental Trauma, How Early Trauma Effects Self-Regulation, Self-Image and the Capacity for Relationship by Laurence Heller. Healing Developmental Trauma presents its own take on and names for these same 5 patterns. It’s a bit more scholastic, but also highly informative.


2. Facing Codependence: What It Is, Where It Comes From, and How It Sabotages Your Life by Pia Mellody

For a long time, I assumed that co-dependency referred to relationships with addicts, but we now understand codependency as a set of behaviors that revolve around preoccupation with and dependence upon another person. Which means that a huge percentage of the population struggles with codependent behaviors.

If you constantly worry about another person, try to solve his or her problems, and in the process, neglect to take care of yourself, you may have c0-dependent tendencies. People with codependent styles tend to get involved with troubled or needy individuals. But you can change this.

I resonated with the 5-symptom framework created by Melloday. It made it simple to grasp and consider the ideas in the context of my own life.  

Facing Codependence will help you understand codpedency and its challenges, but it doesn’t say much about recovery. For that, I recommend her companion workbook, Breaking Free A Recovery Workbook for Facing Codependence.

Publishers Description
”Pia Mellody creates a framework for identifying codependent thinking, emotions and behaviour and provides an effective approach to recovery. Mellody sets forth five primary adult symptoms of this crippling condition, then traces their origin to emotional, spiritual, intellectual, physical and sexual abuses that occur in childhood. Central to Mellody's approach is the concept that the codependent adult's injured inner child needs healing. Recovery from codependence, therefore, involves clearing up the toxic emotions left over from these painful childhood experiences.”


3. Codependent No More:  How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie

This is the first book I read on codependence, and was it an eye-opener. It’s been hailed as “the” classic world on codependence. When you read the detailed list of signs and symptoms (like over caretaking, lack of boundaries) it will be clear very quickly whether codependence might be an issue for you.

The first half of this book will help you understand codependency.  The second half focuses on steps to recovery.

Beattie describes codependence in a similar, yet different way than Pia Mellody. I found it useful to read both books.

Publishers Description

“The healing touchstone of millions, this modern classic by one of America's best-loved and most inspirational authors holds the key to understanding codependency and to unlocking its stultifying hold on your life.

Is someone else's problem your problem? If, like so many others, you've lost sight of your own life in the drama of tending to someone else's, you may be codependent--and you may find yourself in this book--Codependent No More. The healing touchstone of millions, this modern classic by one of America's best-loved and most inspirational authors holds the key to understanding codependency and to unlocking its stultifying hold on your life.

With instructive life stories, personal reflections, exercises, and self-tests, Codependent No More is a simple, straightforward, readable map of the perplexing world of codependency--charting the path to freedom and a lifetime of healing, hope, and happiness.”


4. Warrior Goddess Training:  Becoming the Woman You Were Meant to Be by HeatherAsh Amara

I love this book because it mixes personal growth with a spiritual perspective. I read a new chapter and do the work it contains every month or two.

I especially come to this book when I need to be uplifted, feel empowered, or tune into a larger perspective. It will get you right out of self-pity mode. This is a book I could work through again and again.

Publishers Description

“It’s no secret that women today are juggling a lot. We now make up more than half the workforce in the United States and are busier than ever with partners, children, family and friends, often putting the needs of others ahead of our own.

And if we feel overwhelmed by it all or fall short of perfection, many of us have learned to be our own worst critic rather than our own best friend.

In Warrior Goddess Training, bestselling author HeatherAsh Amara provides the antidote to the flawed idea that you are not enough.

Direct, honest, and unapologetic, Amara will show you how to release the layers of expectations to finally see yourself for the authentic, perceptive, perfect woman you really are.

If you don’t love and honor yourself with every fiber of your being, if you struggle with owning your power and passion, if you could use more joyful play and simple presence in your life, then it is time for an inner revolution.

It is time to claim your Warrior Goddess energy.

Drawing on the wisdom from Buddhism, Toltec wisdom, and ancient Earth-based goddess spirituality, the Warrior Goddess path includes personal stories, rituals, and exercises that will encourage and inspire you to become the true warrior goddess you are meant to be.”


5. Brain Training For The Highly Sensitive Person: Techniques To Reduce Anxiety and Overwhelming Emotions: An 8-Week Program by Julie Bjelland

If you are a highly-sensitive person, this book will help you so much. High sensitivity isn’t an emotional disorder, it’s just a brain that operates differently. I enjoyed working through the exercises in this book. The program isn’t difficult, but as with all change programs, consistency is required.

Publishers Description

“15-20% of the population is highly sensitive, also called sensory processing sensitivity. The Highly Sensitive Person (HSPs) often experience high levels of stress and anxiety and usually feel quite overwhelmed and depleted. 

This trait also offers some unique super strengths and once we receive the right tools we can access these beautiful gifts.

There are real differences in the HSP brain and Julie Bjelland, a Psychotherapist that specializes in the highly sensitive has developed innovative tools specifically for HSPs in this 8-Week training program:

  • Feel true self-acceptance, improve your self-esteem and learn to access your HSP gifts and super strengths.

  • Build skills to reduce overstimulation and overwhelming feelings.

  • Learn how to get out of your intense emotional reactions and how to respond, instead of react, to emotions.

  • Improve your health, strengthen your immune system and increase your energy levels.

  • Discover new neuroscience and research about the real differences in your HSP brain.”


6. Emotional Rescue, How to Work with Your Emotions to Transform Hurt and Confusion into Energy That Empowers You by Dzogchen Ponlop

This is a spiritual approach to emotions, which takes you beyond analyzing your emotions to directly experiencing their core energy.

I’ve been on a roller coaster of emotions since I lost my home to the lava last summer. I’m glad I picked up this book in the middle of it all. It’s so easy to get stuck in a downward cycle when emotions are especially intense. This book will give you a bigger perspective.

But it’s not for you if you want to solidify your emotions and blame others. Of course, we all want to do that sometimes, especially when we feel hurt. But if you want to free yourself from these kinds of unhelpful patterns, you’ll find this 3-step process helpful.

Publishers Description

“Emotions bring color and meaning to our lives, but they can also put us on an exhausting rollercoaster ride that takes us to blissful peak states, the depths of delusion and despair, and everything in between. It is only by learning to relate to our emotions skillfully that we benefit from their richness and glean wisdom, rather than letting them control us. Emotions get their power from a simple but deep-seated source: our lack of self-knowledge. When we bring awareness to our experience of emotions, something truly amazing happens—they lose their power to make us miserable.

In this book, Rinpoche leads us through the three steps of his Emotional Rescue Plan. Mindful Gap is the practice of creating a safe distance between you and your emotions, which gives you the psychological space to work with their energy. Clear Seeing involves recognizing the bigger picture. Last, Letting Go is the practice of releasing stressful physical and emotional energy through exercise, relaxation, and awareness. With each step, we become increasingly familiar with the inner workings of our emotions, seeing straight to the heart of anger, fear, passion, jealousy, and pride. With time and practice, instead of leading us astray, our emotions become our guide towards living a more compassionate, creative, and fulfilling life.”


7. Wired for Love: How Understanding Your Partner's Brain and Attachment Style Can Help You Defuse Conflict and Build a Secure Relationship by Stan Tatkin

This is a must-read book for anyone in a love relationship. It’s easy to expect your partner should think, feel, and behave just like you. I have often fallen into that trap. But, in fact, we are all wired differently.

Wired-for-Love.jpg

"What the heck is my partner thinking?" is a common refrain in romantic relationships, and with good reason. Every person is wired for love differently, with different habits, needs, and reactions to conflict. The good news is that most people's minds work in predictable ways and respond well to security, attachment, and rituals, making it possible to actually neurologically prime the brain for greater love and fewer conflicts.

Wired for Love is a complete insider’s guide to understanding your partner’s brain and enjoying a romantic relationship built on love and trust. Synthesizing research findings on how and why love lasts drawn from neuroscience, attachment theory, and emotion regulation, this book presents ten guiding principles that can improve any relationship.

Strengthen your relationship by:

  • Creating and maintaining a safe “couple bubble”

  • Using morning and evening rituals to stay connected

  • Learning to fight so that nobody loses

  • Becoming the expert on what makes your partner feel loved

By learning to use simple gestures and words, readers can learn to put out emotional fires and help their partners feel more safe and secure. The no-fault view of conflict in this book encourages readers to move past a "warring brain" mentality and toward a more cooperative "loving brain" understanding of the relationship. This book is essential reading for couples and others interested in understanding the complex dynamics at work behind love and trust in intimate relationships.

While there’s no doubt that love is an inexact science, if you can discover how you and your partner are wired differently, you can overcome your differences to create a lasting intimate connection.


8. The Empath’s Toolkit, A Guide to Recovery for the Overwhelmed Empath by Anna Sayce

Most of the advice you read online for empaths, exquisitely sensitive people who pick up on the energy of others, is not that helpful and in fact can even be harmful. Anna Sayce’s book is revolutionary in that it traces the cause of high empathy, in most people, to developmental trauma.

So much clicked for me when I read this book. I honestly don’t know if I’m an empath, but overwhelm has been a big issue in my life, and so I found this book extremely helpful.

Publisher’s Description

“If you’re reading this, you may be a highly sensitive empath, who is able to pick up - and even absorb - other peoples’ energies.  

However, many empathic people are ‘overwhelmed empaths’ (meaning that their high empathy has gone into a state of overdrive.)

Here are some signs you are an overwhelmed empath:

  • You feel other peoples’ emotions vividly and profoundly, and have trouble shaking off the energies afterwards, even after the other person has moved on

  • You often have a hard time working out whether you’re feeling your own energies and emotions, or someone else’s

  • You have become a hermit and withdrawn socially in order to avoid other people’s energies

  • You cannot visit crowded places such as shopping centres, stadiums, train stations, or nightclubs because the energies are so overwhelming

  • You feel physical aches and pains, or manifest physical signs of nervousness or sickness, around certain people

  • When it comes to movies, TV and books, you do not like watching or reading anything that features sad or difficult experiences for the characters

  • You often find yourself playing the role of counsellor and caretaker in your relationships and friendships, but you find it a draining role to take on

  • You often wish that other people would follow your advice and get their lives back on track

  • Your relationships are a source of obligation and stress, either because you self-sacrifice, have a hard time saying ‘no’ to people, or take it upon yourself to help others with their problems

  • You feel like your empath gifts are a curse, and you wish you could be less sensitive.

If you resonated with the above statements, the usual advice for empaths that you will find in many books and online articles (such as boundaries, lifestyle adjustments, and shielding visualisations) are NOT effective for you as an overwhelmed empath.  

They avoid the root causes of the problem - a bit like putting a sticking plaster on an infected wound. 

Anna is a professional intuitive with a decade of experience working with empathic clients. And in this book, she gives NEW insights to explain the following:

  • The reasons you became an empath in the first place (hint: it usually happens in childhood) and how this is the key to bringing your empath gifts back into balance - and staying there

  • Why our amazing empath gifts are a key part of our soul’s purpose - and how we can integrate them into our lives in a healthy way

  • What is the ‘emotional projection’ trap and how it affects you as an empath

  • The fascinating link between overwhelming empathy and your past lives

  • Effective & fast techniques for cleansing your auric field of 5 different types of energy debris that most empaths pick up on a regular basis.

  • Powerful methods for healers, intuitives, counsellors and bodyworkers to keep their aura and work spaces clear of client energies

  • A quiz to find out which empath gifts you have (out of 8 different types)

Overwhelmed empaths: this book will show you how to come back into balance with your amazing empath gifts and integrate them into your life, so that you can be more centered, happy and healthy. AND if you wish, share them with a world where they are sorely needed!


9. Willpower:  Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney

It’s easy to think you’re weak when you can’t lose that extra weight or find it hard get going with a new positive habit. But there’s so much more to willpower than rigid self-control.

When you know the science behind willpower, it will be so much easier to live a healthier, more purposeful life. This book has so many great stories too, which makes it easy and enjoyable reading.

Publisher’s Description

“One of the world's most esteemed and influential psychologists, Roy F. Baumeister, teams with New York Times science writer John Tierney to reveal the secrets of self-control and how to master it.

Pioneering research psychologist Roy F. Baumeister collaborates with New York Times science writer John Tierney to revolutionize our understanding of the most coveted human virtue: self-control. Drawing on cutting-edge research and the wisdom of real-life experts, Willpower shares lessons on how to focus our strength, resist temptation, and redirect our lives. It shows readers how to be realistic when setting goals, monitor their progress, and how to keep faith when they falter. By blending practical wisdom with the best of recent research science, Willpower makes it clear that whatever we seek—from happiness to good health to financial security—we won’t reach our goals without first learning to harness self-control.”


10. You Are Not Your Brain:  The 4-Step Solution to Changing Bad Habits, Ending Unhealthy Thinking, and Taking Control of Your Life by  Jeffrey Schwartz, M. D. and Rebecca Gladding, M. D

By now, you can probably tell I’m a geek when it comes to understanding how we’re wired. I think it’s need-to-know information if you want to make positive changes in your life.

This book tells you why it’s difficult to make changes. That means you can stop blaming yourself. Instead, try out this 4-step program based on what really works when it comes to change.

Publisher’s Description

“Two neuroscience experts explain how their 4-Step Method can help break destructive thoughts and actions and change bad habits for good. 

A leading neuroplasticity researcher and the coauthor of the groundbreaking books Brain Lock and The Mind and the Brain, Jeffrey M. Schwartz has spent his career studying the structure and neuronal firing patterns of the human brain. He pioneered the first mindfulness-based treatment program for people suffering from OCD, teaching patients how to achieve long-term relief from their compulsions. 

For the past six years, Schwartz has worked with psychiatrist Rebecca Gladding to refine a program that successfully explains how the brain works and why we often feel besieged by bad brain wiring. Just like with the compulsions of OCD patients, they discovered that bad habits, social anxieties, self-deprecating thoughts, and compulsive overindulgence are all rooted in overactive brain circuits. The key to making life changes that you want-to make your brain work for you-is to consciously choose to "starve" these circuits of focused attention, thereby decreasing their influence and strength. 

As evidenced by the huge success of Schwartz's previous books, as well as Daniel Amen's Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, and Norman Doidge's The Brain That Changes Itself, there is a large audience interested in harnessing the brain's untapped potential, yearning for a step-by-step, scientifically grounded and clinically proven approach. In fact, readers of Brain Lock wrote to the authors in record numbers asking for such a book. In You Are Not Your Brain, Schwartz and Gladding carefully outline their program, showing readers how to identify negative brain impulses, channel them through the power of focused attention, and ultimately lead more fulfilling and empowered lives.”


11. The Emotionally Absent Mother, How to Recognize and Heal the Invisible Effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect by Jasmin Lee Cori

I love Jasmin Lee Cori’s writing style, which is warm and personal. A psychotherapist and survivor herself, she knows how to translate theory into bite-size, practical steps. I always feel understood and held when I read her books.

Publisher’s Description

Was your mother preoccupied, distant, or even demeaning? Have you struggled with relationships—or with your own self-worth? Often, the grown children of emotionally absent mothers can’t quite put a finger on what’s missing from their lives. The children of abusive mothers, by contrast, may recognize the abuse—but overlook its lasting, harmful effects.

Psychotherapist Jasmin Lee Cori has helped thousands of men and women heal the hidden wounds left by every kind of undermothering. In this second edition of her pioneering book, with compassion for mother and child alike, she explains:

  • Possible reasons your mother was distracted or hurtful—and what she was unable to give

  • The lasting impact of childhood emotional neglect and abuse

  • How to find the child inside you and fill the “mother gap” through reflections and exercises

How to secure a happier future for yourself (and perhaps for your children)


12. Bouncing Back, Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being by Linda Graham

We all experience trauma in life, both major life traumas and the smaller ones that added up each day. So how do we bounce back? This books shares so many different skillful means for changing your brain and building resiliency. I want to read this book again, I found it so helpful the first time.

Bouncing Back, Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being by Linda Graham

Publisher’s Description

“Resilience is the ability to face and handle life’s challenges, whether everyday disappointments or extraordinary disasters. While resilience is innate in the brain, over time we learn unhelpful patterns, which then become fixed in our neural circuitry. But science is now revealing that what previously seemed hardwired can be rewired, and Bouncing Back shows us how. With powerful, time-tested exercises, Linda Graham guides us in rebuilding our core well-being and disaster-proofing our brains.”

You Can Change Your Life

I hope you find something in this collection of personal growth and self-help books that resonates for you. Each one of these books has helped me at an important point on my journey of self-healing and self-discovery.

The unhelpful patterns we carry as adults emerged when we were innocent children trying to protect ourselves emotionally. These repetitive patterns get burned into the brain, making it difficult to change them. But when you know the science behind change and have a step-by-step program to follow, your chances of succeed increase exponentially.

Your Turn

Which book resonates for you? I would love to hear in the comments.


Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious!  Don’t forget to  sign up for Wild Arisings, my twice monthly letters from the heart filled with insights, inspiration, and ideas to help you connect with and live from your truest self. Subscribers receive access to the Always Well Within Library of free self-development resources.

And if you would like to support Always Well Within, buy my Living with Ease course or visit my Self-Care Shop. May you be happy, well, and safe – always.  With love, Sandra

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