You Don’t Have To Take It Anymore, by Steven Stosny, PhD

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You Don’t Have to Take It Anymore  

Turn Your Resentful, Angry, or Emotionally Abusive Relationship into a Compassionate, Loving One

by Steven Stosny, PhD

Reviewed March 5, 2006.
Free Press, New York, 2006. 364 pages.
Starred Review.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2007: #1, Personal Growth

I’m starting to be amazed at how the exactly right book keeps coming into my life at exactly the right time. It makes sense. God of course knows me, and knows that the easiest way to get a message to me that I need to hear is to send it my way in a book. So I’m calling them my “current book from God.” As soon as I finish one, another comes my way. With this book, as soon as I’d gotten about a third of the way through, I liked it so much, I decided to order myself a copy, so I could go through it slowly, doing all the exercises.

This book is not at all as combative as the title sounds. As Dr. Stosny says,

“My emphasis on healing, growth, and empowerment means that you will not see in these pages lengthy checklists of behaviors that qualify you as a victim or lengthy descriptions of resentful, angry, or abusive men or explorations of how bad they are. You know better than anyone else that your relationship has put thorns in your heart. You don’t need a description of how much they hurt or how bad it is for you to keep them. You need to learn how to take them out and how to heal the wounds in ways that prevent scarring.  

Checklists and bullets about the behaviors or attitudes that qualify as resentful, angry, or abusive would distract you from your most important task. The true issue at stake is your core value—the most important things about you as a person—not his behavior or your reactions to it. As you reinforce and reconnect with your core value, you are far less likely to be a victim. As you experience the enormous depth of your core value, the last thing you will want to do is identify with being a victim, or with the damage or bad things that have happened to you. In your core value, you will identify with your inherent strengths, talents, skills, and power as a unique ever growing, competent, and compassionate person. You want to outgrow walking on eggshells, not simply survive it, and you do that only by realizing your fullest value as a person.

The renewed compassion for yourself that you learn in these pages will lead directly to a deeper compassion for your resentful, angry, or abusive partner. . . . You may be able to stop walking on eggshells and walk into a deeper, more connected relationship with a more compassionate, loving partner. It might not seem so now judging from his attitudes and behavior, but your husband wants that as much as you do. If you were to ask, he would probably tell you that deep in his heart he wants to be a compassionate, loving husband, even if he’d blame you for why he isn’t.

These are huge promises. But reading his methods for transforming your own resentment into compassion, I am convinced that they can work. This is truly about overcoming evil with good.

Now, his solution for a resentful husband is for him to read the “Boot Camp” section of this book. Though that might not be feasible, you can still use the techniques yourself to not react to blame and resentment with your own anger and resentment. As Steven Stosny says, “Compassion directly activates your core value—the most important things about you. In your deepest values, you act with conviction and strength. Compassion is power.” If you give up resentment and choose instead to be compassionate, there is no question that you are going to feel better and more powerful than if you vow to make him pay for whatever he’s done.

What’s more, Dr. Stosny has specific techniques, with the acronym HEALS, to teach you to react to a core hurt with compassion rather than with anger. I’m only beginning to practice it, but I’m already very impressed with it. This is so much better than getting angry and storing up retorts or ways to get even. Compassion and forgiveness are better for your body and soul than resentment and blame.

He isn’t talking about being a doormat.

Love him enough to recognize that his hurting you is killing what little sense of adequacy as a husband he has left. Love him enough to demand that he find it in his heart to value and respect you, according to his deepest values. He seriously violates his deepest values when he fails to value and respect you…. Every time he says a harsh word to you or gives you the cold shoulder, or simply fails to value and respect you, he hates himself a little more.

 

This book doesn’t promise it will get your spouse to change. It advises you, “Focus on what you can control—your ability to improve, appreciate, connect, or protect—rather than what you cannot control, such as the opinions and behavior of your husband.”

If you’re having trouble feeling worthy of love, Dr. Stosny tells the secret: “Here’s the hot and hard truth: Only your own loving behavior can make you feel worthy of love. It’s not rocket science. The only way to feel lovable is to be loving and compassionate.” And he helps you learn to do that.

This is a wonderful book. I highly recommend it to anyone who’s ever felt any resentment toward anyone! I also ordered from Amazon two other books by Steven Stosny that teach the HEALS technique, Manual of the Core Value Workshop, and The Powerful Self. I want to learn these techniques, because I believe that they will make me a more compassionate and forgiving person, as well as a much happier person.

As Dr. Stosny says, “Whether or not he changes, you must connect with your enormous inner value, resources, and personal power to stop walking on eggshells and to emerge as the richly creative, beautiful whole person you truly are.”

You can learn more about Steven Stosny’s work at the website http://www.compassionpower.com/.

This review is posted on the main site at www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/donthavetotakeit.html

 

Review of Poems for Life

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Poems for Life
Famous People Select Their Favorite Poem and Say Why It Inspires Them
compiled by the Grade V Classes of the Nightingale-Bamford School
introduction by Anna Quindlen

Reviewed September 18, 2007.
Arcade Publishing, New York, 1995. 107 pages.

This book was compiled by a group of students. A teacher explains at the beginning,

We wanted the students not only to be awakened to a world of poetry through other people’s choices, but to become aware of a world of need outside their immediate communities, one to which they could in some way contribute.

The proceeds from the project went to charity. 

For two years, the students wrote to well-known people in all fields. Every day, they awaited the mail with eager anticipation. When a reply arrived it was greeted with curiosity and excitement. Each letter and accompanying poem was read in class and the poem and poet discussed. We greatly enjoyed finding out why people had selected a particular work, and we learned from what they had to say about it. What most struck all of us was how important poetry had been in the lives of the contributors, who had turned and returned to poems for amusement, solace, wisdom, and perhaps most importantly, to find some part of themselves.

All of the poems in this book are someone’s favorite, which means it makes good reading. The students included the letters sent by the celebrities, in most cases explaining why they chose that particular poem. Then the poem itself is included.

Contributors include people like Mario Cuomo, E. L. Doctorow, David Halberstam, Angela Lansbury, Yo-Yo Ma, Joyce Carol Oates, Diane Sawyer, Beverly Sills, Stephen Sondheim, and Kurt Vonnegut. This collection provides pleasant, fun, and many times inspiring reading.

This review is on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/poems_for_life.html

Review of The New Yorker Book of Kids’ Cartoons

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The New Yorker Book of Kids* Cartoons

*and the people who live with them

edited by Robert Mankoff
introduction by Roz Chast

Reviewed September 17, 2007.
Bloomberg Press, Princeton, 2001. 126 pages.

My son checked out several collections of New Yorker Cartoons and this one was my favorite. These cartoons rang true in my life much more than the ones about dogs or cats or money or lawyers. With several of the cartoons, I wanted to call up friends and read it to them.—I decided to review it instead.

The cartoons by Roz Chast were some of my favorites. From the introduction, I learned that she’s a mother, too—and she has an eye for the hilarious moments of motherhood.

For example, there’s one that shows the Berlitz Guide to Parent-Teacher Conferences. We see that when you hear the phrase “She’s a riot!” in teacherese it means, “I can’t stand her.” When you hear “He’s doing just fine,” that means “What’s your kid’s name again?” Okay, maybe it’s not what the teacher is really thinking, but it’s certainly what the parents fear she is thinking.

But the Roz Chast cartoon that got me laughing uproariously was the one of “Bad Mom Cards.” (“Collect the Whole Set.”) the cards show pictures of bad moms like Suzie M. who “Let kid play two hours of Nintendo—just to get him out of her hair.” Or the awful Deborah Z., who “has never even tried to make Play-Doh from scratch.” And those are only two of the horrible things these bad moms have done to their kids. I love the way this cartoon plays off the guilt we feel about the silliest things.

Roz Chast must have had sons like mine. She pictures one saying to his mom, “Over all, I think a happy childhood is more important than the table’s being set, wouldn’t you agree.”

But the most convicting and sad cartoon in the bunch was drawn by Lee Lorenz, portraying a hen looking at her newly hatched chick and the broken eggshells around him. She frowns at him and says, “Now look what you’ve done!”

The best antidote I can think of to being that kind of a Mom is to learn to laugh at yourself. Laughing at the people in this collection is a good start.

This review is on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/kids_cartoons.html

Review of Between Two Worlds, by Elizabeth Marquardt

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Between Two Worlds

The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce

by Elizabeth Marquardt

Reviewed September 11, 2007.
Crown Publishers, New York, 2005. 249 pages.
Starred Review.Between Two Worlds is a book written by a researcher whose parents were divorced when she was a child. She attempts here to give the story of divorce from the perspective of the children involved, for a change.

She didn’t rely on her own experience, but conducted an extensive study of well-functioning children of divorce. Previous studies have tended to focus on children who don’t cope well. What about the resilient children? What about “good divorces”? Are those children, in fact, just fine with the divorce?

Early on, the author explains that she is not saying that no one should ever get divorced. She says,

One major national study has turned up an important finding that helps clarify the question of when divorce is necessary. The researchers found that one-third of divorces end high-conflict marriages, in which the parents report physical abuse or serious and frequent quarreling. Not surprisingly, the children do better after these high-conflict marriages end. However, two-thirds of divorces end low-conflict marriages, in which the parents divorce because they are unhappy or unfulfilled, or have other problems that are not seriously threatening. The children of low-conflict couples fare worse after divorce because the divorce marks their first exposure to a serious problem. One day, without much warning, their world just falls apart.

 

Only recently have we had a large percentage of adults who have grown up in divorced homes. Elizabeth Marquardt feels that it’s time to talk about divorce from the children’s perspective—not guessing what the children feel, but asking them.

The individual stories of children of divorce point to the lingering loss and pain that result from divorce even when the children look “fine.” The long-term studies point to some of the obvious and troubling differences we possess as a group. But no one has stepped back and explained how divorce changes childhood itself. The new study reported in this book explains how divorce reshuffles many core features of middle-class childhood that our society takes for granted and, in the process, shapes children’s identities well into young adulthood. 

This larger story must be told because, as a society, we still have not grasped just how radical divorce really is. Too many people imagine that modern divorce has become just a variation of ordinary family life, like growing up in a large family, perhaps, or in a military family that moves a lot. Sure, there may be some discomfort, and some of the kids may end up with big problems, but doesn’t childhood as we know it stay basically the same? Most people assume the answer is yes.

They are wrong. In reality, divorce powerfully changes the structure of childhood itself.

She doesn’t like the popular notion of a “good divorce.” She says,

The idea of the “good divorce” is attractive to many. Some divorced parents are reassured because it suggests steps they can take to try to protect their children if they must end a very bad marriage. Other parents like the idea of a “good divorce” because it suggests they can end a marriage that may be okay but not completely satisfying and still do right by their children. Family court judges welcome it because they want to make arrangements that, whenever possible, keep both parents in the child’s life, and they want to minimize conflict between those parents. Some therapists like the idea because they want to help these families and a “good divorce” gives them a role in teaching parents how to divorce. In addition, many social observers, including journalists, academics, and opinion leaders, like the idea of a “good divorce” because it promises to alleviate much of the anxiety our society has about divorce. What really matters, the experts assure us, is how the parents get along after the divorce, not the divorce itself.

 

The premise of the “good divorce” sounds logical. Surely, if divorce does happen, it is better for children not to lose significant relationships entirely, nor to be drawn into bitter, unending fights. However, when you talk to the children themselves you find that the popular idea behind the “good divorce”—that the quality of the divorce matters more than the divorce itself—is actually an adult-centered vision that does not reflect their true experiences. 

While a “good divorce” is better than a bad divorce, it is still not good. For no matter how amicable divorced parents might be and how much they each love and care for the child, their willingness to do these things does absolutely nothing to diminish the radical restructuring of the child’s universe.

As the author goes on to point out specific difficulties, she explains why the very structure of divorce pulls children between two worlds.

A primary challenge of marriage is for two separate people to become one couple, to reconcile their needs and experiences in ways that allow them to care for each other and to avoid unnecessary strife. Couples wish to meet this challenge even if they do not have children because they know they will both be happier if they can live together in relative harmony. But the stakes are higher when they have children, because now they are raising a new person who will be strongly shaped by the environment they create. 

When married parents are successful in their attempts at bringing together their two worlds the results are apparent as they resolve differences, back each other up in front of the child, or try to understand and adapt to each other’s quirks. When they are less successful their attempts at making sense of their different ways of living may be expressed by fighting, criticizing the other parent in front of the child, or trying to change each other’s irritating habits. Yet however well or poorly they handle the challenge of negotiating their differences, an important but often ignored feature of married life is this: The work of making sense of their two worlds is the parents’ job, not the child’s.

Everyone agrees that only bad parents would tell a young child “I think you should do this, but you father thinks you should do that. So you decide.” When parents disagree they are expected to confront each other about it. Whether they confront each other behind the scenes or in front of the child, with hostility or with dignity, is very important, but it is not the only important issue. What is equally important is that it is the parents’ job to bridge their differences; even if they do their work badly no one would say that their child should attempt the job instead. Our society pins the success or failure of family conflict resolution squarely on the parents.

Making sense of two ways of life is an active experience for married couples. They have to work at it and some couples do it better than others. But even when couples are angry and avoiding each other—not actively bridging their differences or openly conflicting—the simple fact of the marriage holds them together and remains larger than the differences that divide them.

The unifying quality of being married is difficult to see, but it is a constant undercurrent in the life of a married couple. It is the background music between the fight scenes, the subtle strains that we don’t hear until someone points them out to us…. Even when they are angry and avoiding each other, they still live in the same home and continue to share an identity as a married couple. Even when they don’t particularly feel “married,” they’re still married. Despite their differences they are still a unit in the child’s eyes—“parents”—and dealing with the conflicts between their worlds, however well or poorly they do it, is still their job.

Moreover, to focus on conflict and unhappiness to this extent is really to overstate the problem. Every married couple has conflicts but only some of them have very serious, ongoing conflicts that threaten their or their children’s well-being. Divorce is an important option for these couples. For most married couples, however, the real need is to learn how to handle conflict better. In most marriages, the overriding achievement is the ever-unfolding, never-perfect, but nevertheless critical knitting together of two worlds into one marriage and one family life.

Much of this process, while subtle, appears in intact families to be natural and therefore unremarkable. Of course married parents attempt to give their child one family and way of life. Of course most children, especially when they are young, see their parents as a unit with largely similar beliefs and expectations. This is the most basic stuff of family life, after all.

Except, for many children today, these basic features of family life cannot be taken for granted.

Even when parents have a so-called “good divorce,” “they are no longer trying to make sense of the differences between their two different worlds.

It is at this point that the experts fall silent. There is a widespread assumption in our society that if parents manage to minimize conflict after the divorce, they will create something like an intact family for their children, because the children will still have a mom and a dad in their lives. This assumption is wrong. In fact, the postdivorce family, no matter what the level of conflict, is an entirely new kind of family that lacks many features of intact family life that might seem natural and unremarkable. 

At times these parents may conflict, but if they are seeking to minimize disputes they do so largely by staying out of each other’s way. Observers may see an admirable absence of conflict, but from the child’s point of view what these divorced parents have achieved is the creation of two separate worlds for their child to grow up in. It is certainly better for the child if there is little open conflict between the parents rather than a lot. A high degree of conflict reinforces the division between the two worlds and creates additional pain. But a mere absence of conflict between divorced parents can never begin to knit their worlds together in the way that being married does.

This was the overarching concept that gives the book its name, and it came up again and again in the surveys and interviews of the study.

Divorced parents stay out of each other’s worlds, retreating to their own worlds. Where does the child stand? As children, we became travelers between their worlds. Sometimes we stood in one world, sometimes in the other, but in our own minds most often we were suspended uncomfortably somewhere in between. We were like the football I imagined myself to be as a child, hurtling between my two parents. When they divorced, our parents successfully separated their two identities. But we remained the bridge between them, seeking to make sense of two increasingly different ways of living as we forged identities of our own. In other words, after a divorce the task that once belonged to the parents—to make sense of their different worlds—becomes the child’s.

You don’t necessarily see the conflict in the heart of a child of divorce.

To outside observers, the children of divorced parents may look no different than the children of intact parents. We ran on the playground, went to school, argued with our siblings, played with blocks, drew pictures in our bedrooms. But we were also vigilant. When Mom came home we gauged her mood. When we stayed at Dad’s we were often quiet and on good behavior. We paid close attention to the different rules at each parent’s home and the conflicts in their expectations of us. We wondered if we looked or acted too much like our father and if that made our mother mad at us. We struggled to remember what we were not supposed to say, what secrets or information about one parent we should not share with the other. We adjusted ourselves to each of our parents, shaping our habits and beliefs to mimic theirs when we were around them. We often felt like a different person with each of our parents. 

Our parents may no longer have been in conflict, but the conflict between their worlds was still alive. Yet instead of being in the open, visible to outsiders, the conflict between their worlds migrated and took root within us. When we sought our own identities—when we asked “Who am I?”—we were confronted with two wholly separate ways of living. Any answer we gleaned from one world could be undermined by looking at the other. Being too much like Dad could threaten the Mom-self inside us, and vice versa. These conflicts were not raised in conversation with or between our parents, or with anybody else, but internally. We were one in our bodies but we did not feel one inside. Even the “good divorce” left us struggling with divided selves.

She points out that people don’t want to hear what children of divorce really go through.

You will find only a few books on divorced families, at least in proportion to the number of divorced families in this country, and most of them are upbeat guides on how to divorce rather than in-depth looks at the lives of children of divorce. Strangely, our culture seems only too happy to talk about dysfunctional intact families—to point fingers at all the ways married parents can mess up with their children—but it falls silent about divorce because no one wants to make divorced parents feel bad. Some people might even get the erroneous impression that the average divorced family is better for children than the average intact family, whose problems are so often bared to the world.

She summarizes the way the life in two worlds affects kids:

Our study showed that children of divorce, even those who appear to be fine and successful later in life, are much more likely than their peers from intact families to share profound and moving stories of confusion, isolation, and suffering. Most people do not expect children to be deeply absorbed by their parents’ needs and vulnerabilities, but children of divorce often say we were. Most people do not expect children to confront complex moral questions early in life, but as children of divorce we routinely did. Most do not expect children to feel like outsiders in their homes, but we often felt that way. Most do not expect children to keep secrets from their parents, but we often did. Likewise, most do not expect that children will approach God from a place of suffering and isolation, but that is how we often explain our spiritual journeys. Most do not expect children to feel like a different person with each of their parents, yet children of divorce are likely to say we did. 

When our parents divorced we did not just suffer a bump, leaving us with a few bruises that quickly faded. Our childhoods were turned inside out in ways that have been largely secret and silent—until now.

The rest of the book goes into details about these issues, tells stories from people who were interviewed, and explores the repercussions in kids of being pulled between two worlds.

Her next-to-last chapter is titled, “Getting Honest About Children of Divorce.” Here, she gets personal. She says,

I’ll admit that at the beginning of this journey I was angry. I was tired of all the wrongheaded assumptions about my life. Too many people thought that because my parents loved me and didn’t fight, or because their divorce took place before I could remember it, or because I had managed to grow up and become a reasonably functional person, then the divorce must not have been a big deal. I felt that my parents and the culture at large had very little understanding of my real experience. 

I still sometimes get frustrated with my parents, as anyone does, but I don’t feel angry with them anymore. The decision they made was a very long time ago, when they were only twenty-one years old. When they split up, leading experts assured parents that as long as they found happiness their children would be happy too. Some experts even insisted that parents in unhappy marriages had a duty to divorce or they would irrevocably damage their children. More nuanced ideas about happiness—that there are degrees of unhappiness in marriages, that marital happiness can go in cycles, that divorce doesn’t necessarily make adults happy, that children’s natural inclination is not to worry about their parents’ happiness so much as their own—did not have much influence in the early seventies….

But I am still angry at the culture. It’s five years and counting into the new millennium. We’ve seen the effects of widespread divorce unfold for over three decades. Some big studies have been done and the first generation of children of divorce has grown up and started to speak out. Yet in the debate about divorce, our culture is still turning its back on children. For the generation who raised us and for divorced parents today, the story told in this book is a new one.

She says,

Upbeat language about divorce—call it “divorce happy talk”—is all around us. Such talk can be well-intended. Divorced parents are vulnerable and worried about their kids. Experts want to offer them reassurance and helpful advice. But when divorce happy talk minimizes, distorts, or ignores the pain felt by children of divorce, it crosses over into the realm of harm. 

These glib, overly optimistic assumptions about divorce hurt my generation as we grew up and they are harming a new generation growing up now. My question is this: Can our culture get honest about children of divorce?

In the end, divorce happy talk indicts itself. In the breathless portrayals of the upside of divorce, it is all too easy to spot a defensive awareness of the huge downsides. If they’re honest, everyone knows that divorce hurts a lot. Even people who want to end their marriages find divorce wrenching and disorienting. Divorce routinely makes it to the top of the list of life’s most stressful events that are likely to send a person spiraling into depression.

Yet few other events on the list inspire the endless books, magazine articles, websites, and talk shows devoted to looking at their upside. Why? Because unlike losing your job, or having your spouse die, or facing serious health problems, divorce is a choice that at least one adult in the marriage makes. Divorce happy talk is our culture’s attempt to reconcile two competing desires: the desire to accept widespread divorce and the desire to raise happy, healthy children. These two desires are in direct conflict. To date, the culture’s main way of confronting this conflict has been denial in the form of happy talk.

Happy talk misleads adults about the true nature of divorce. It portrays divorce as an orderly, perhaps even plannable event rather than a major upset that opens new, unexpected, and unwelcome doors. It minimizes the pain and chaos that often follow divorce and, in doing so, encourages parents who may be in troubled by salvageable marriages to split up.

The most serious problem with divorce happy talk is that it lies to children. Children of divorce typically experience painful losses, moral confusion, spiritual suffering, strained or broken relationships, and higher rates of all kinds of social problems. But divorce happy talk insists that children’s experience is just the opposite. It declares that postdivorce family life is a fun challenge. It chirps about the new people who become part of one’s family, the fresh unity of remarriages, the adventure of traveling between two worlds. When divorce happy talk does realistically confront the stresses of divorce, it pretends that just saying them out loud will make the pain go away. Either way, the misnaming of our actual experience makes it even more difficult to recognize and share our true feelings and eventually to heal.

She points out that the standards for children of divorced parents and married parents are very different.

How often do married parents send their child away from home for days, weeks, months, or years at a time? How often do married parents spend routine, non-work-related nights apart from their kids? How often do married parents put their children on an airplane by themselves? How often do married parents divide their financial responsibilities for their children down to the penny? How often do married parents take each other to court? How often do married parents sleep with someone besides the child’s parent in the house when the child is present? How often do married parents read their children books that portray painful losses that the children might have experienced as fun adventures? 

Certainly, married parents do not avoid doing all of these things, and divorced parents do not do all of them. But these actions are common among divorced parents, so common that no one thinks twice about them. It is almost unheard of for married parents to do any of them.

Yet the needs of children of married parents and children of divorced parents are the same. They are the same species. So why are children of divorce considered so resilient? Because the adults need them to be that way.

In her concluding chapter, Elizabeth Marquardt gives us what she believes is the truth about children of divorce:

Some of us, many more than those from intact families, struggle with serious problems…. Yet those who are visibly suffering are not the entire story. They’re the tip of the iceberg. The others, the ones without seriously disabling problems, are everywhere—at your workplace, at school, at church. We don’t look much different from anyone else. We might seem a bit more guarded, a bit slower to make new friends, a bit more anxious about life in general. But we do manage to make friends, fall in love, accomplish goals, succeed at work; some of us do quite well. 

If you ask about our lives, though, you’ll discover that our parents’ divorce is central to the story of our childhoods and to who we are today. We grew up too soon. We were not sure where we belonged. We often missed our parents terribly when we were not with them. Some of us longed to be like our parents and yet agonized if we resembled one of them too closely. We had to figure out things for ourselves—what is right and wrong, what to believe, whether there is a God. We never knew we could ask for help if we needed it. When we faced struggles, we thought it was up to us alone to make sense of I, because the silence about our childhoods seemed to leave us little other choice.

Those of us who successful have more in common with the visibly suffering children of divorce than you might think. The fact that we managed to come through it, get jobs, maybe go to college and build careers—these accomplishments do not necessarily imply that our parents handled the divorce better than others. Some children survive devastating experiences and ultimately become stronger for it. Others are broken by the same crises and remain tormented. To look at any of us who survived childhood divorce and conclude that our childhood and the divorce itself must have been “fine” shows little understanding of the enormous losses in our lives or of the capacity of the human spirit to survive and flourish despite adversity.

Those of us who are children of divorce are not all falling apart, but neither are we willing to be held up as proof—convenient proof—that kids don’t really need both parents. We needed our mothers and fathers, living together, married to each other, preferably getting along well.

If our parents could not stay together, we needed and deserved to grow up in a society that faced up squarely to our loss, that refused to engage in happy talk, that resisted the temptation to call children resilient in order to defend adult decisions.

We now know what divorce does to children. Let’s give the children what they need.

If you have kids and are considering divorce or are being divorce or are divorced, I highly recommend this book. Even if you can’t avoid it, at least you can have a better idea of what your kids are going through. It will help you keep from minimizing their experience by engaging in happy talk. And if it makes someone rethink the decision to get divorced, all the better.

It certainly inspires me—however much I start feeling I should give up on my marriage—to continue to pray for restoration and a forgiving heart. Maybe I could find a better husband. But my kids could never ever find a better Dad.

Here is the link to the review on the main site:

http://www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/between_two_worlds.html

Review of Peace, Love, and Healing, by Bernie S. Siegel

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Peace, Love, and Healing

Bodymind Communication and the Path to Self-Healing

An Exploration

by Bernie S. Siegel, M.D.

Reviewed September 6, 2007.
HarperPerennial (HarperCollins), New York, 1998 (first published in 1989). 295 pages.
Starred Review.In this book, Bernie Siegel looks at healing, and the way our attitude and spirit can aid in our own healing. In the foreword to the new edition, he talks about living a full life.

Don’t follow my advice to avoid death. Follow it to celebrate life. Let there be no need for therapy in heaven to work out resentments of all the things you did to not die, and all the fun you missed out on while exercising, meditating, and preparing your vegetables.

 

He begins the text of the book looking at how love, joy, optimism can actually change your physiology.

What we get back to again and again is that, although there’s no question that environment and genes play a significant role in our vulnerability to cancer and other diseases, the emotional environment we create within our bodies can activate mechanisms of destruction or repair. That’s why two people who grow up in the same environment, even when they have the same genes, as identical twins do, don’t necessarily have the same disease at the same time. A man showed up in my office at age fifty-nine with cancer. Some thirty years before, his identical twin had died of cancer. He told me that until recently he had always been happy and busy, but he had just been through a year of total despair and depression and had wanted to die. His brother, however, had always been unhappy. Sometimes it’s not so much a matter of disease grasping us as of our being susceptible to the disease.

 

He asks his patients five questions, the answers to which can help them get in touch with what is happening at deep levels of consciousness and help direct them toward healing:

1. Do you want to live to be a hundred? 2. What happened in the year or two before your illness? 3. Why do you need your illness and what benefits do you derive from it? 4. What does the illness mean to you? 5. Describe your illness and what you are experiencing.

He gives fascinating descriptions patients gave of their illness which helped them get to the root of what was happening and heal themselves.

By calling your attention to feelings and problems you may not have been aware of, the disease may be the first step in overcoming them. That’s one of the reasons why I think the five questions are so important and why I hope more doctors will use them in addition to the traditional review of systems.

He talks about how coincidences are “God’s way of remaining anonymous.” He says, “Once you start to become receptive to these messages, you get more and more of them.” This, coincidentally, fits in perfectly with another book I’ve been reading, Guidance 24/7, by Christel Nani.

He points out that illnesses can be “spiritual flat tires.”

When you are open and aware, you will have them in your life. They help you get in touch with the schedule of the universe, as opposed to your own personal schedule, which relates only to questions like, “Am I late? How do I look? What do other people think?” They get you to look at the real questions: “How can I live and understand the moment?” Diseases can be our spiritual flat tires—disruptions in our lives that seem to be disasters at the time but end by redirecting our lives in a meaningful way. These will occur more often when you are in touch with your intuitive, unconscious awareness.

 

After talking about what your body can tell you, he talks about what you can tell your body. He has had good results with music or affirmations played in the operating room. He even says, “I keep talking to patients throughout the operation, telling them how things are progressing and enlisting their cooperation if I need it. For example, I may suggest that they stop bleeding, or lower their blood pressure or pulse. People who have worked with me in the operating room know how effective these suggestions can be.”

Then he talks about the doctor-patient relationship, and how his patients help him.

I have always made a distinction between healing and curing. To me “healed” represents a condition of one’s life; “cured” relates strictly to one’s physical condition. In other words, there may be healed quadriplegics and AIDS patients, and cured cancer patients who are living unhealthy lives. What this means to me is that neither my patients nor I need ever face the inevitability of failure, for no matter how life-threatening their disease or how unlikely a cure, healing is always possible.

 

There’s much profundity in his message.

The doctor I would want for myself or for anyone else I cared about would be one who understands that disease is more than just a clinical entity; it is an experience and a metaphor, with a message that must be listened to. Often the message will speak to us of our path and how we have strayed from it, so that our life is no longer a true expression of the inner self, or, as Larry LeShan would say, we are no longer singing our own song. Only by listening to that message can we mobilize all the healing powers that lie within, and that is what the doctor must help each patient to do. 

Accept your mortality and live your life, reach out for the help you need and accept it. To do so is a gift to those around you. You become their teacher and healer.

While explaining how important it is the way you think about your illness, he tells about a study done with dogs that focused on “learned” helplessness.

Similarly, people may learn helplessness if they have had repeated experiences of being unable to change external circumstances through their own efforts, especially if this sense of helplessness was learned early on from parents who gave them very little autonomy and had no personal sense of autonomy in their own lives. 

One example of a cognitive change you can make is to interpret the side effects from your medications not as just another of your afflictions, but as evidence of something positive happening.

What is suggested by the Harvard study and a growing body of similar work is that our mental attitudes affect first our susceptibility to disease, then our ability to overcome it. Does this mean that sick people must bear the burden not only of their illness but of responsibility for having gotten sick in the first place?

He answers his question,

Viewing disease as a sign of personal inadequacy or culpability is both cruel and false….I hope all therapists, doctors, family members, and friends never make people feel like failures, or make them feel that they are still ill because they have not changed enough, achieved enough or made significant enough existential shifts. That is why I focus on teaching people how to live, not how to not die, for that is something that is always within their ability.

 

He talks about how much damage is done because people don’t love themselves.

We’re so self-destructive there have to be laws—what I call please-love-yourself laws—even to get us to wear seatbelts or helmets. We poison and numb ourselves with cigarettes, tranquilizers, drugs, alcohol and unhealthy diets, and we seek out relationships that can never work in a desperate attempt to convince ourselves of our own value. No relationship in the world can make us feel worthy if we don’t know that we are. 

Without self-love it’s hard to fight for one’s life. When we give advice to someone about how to live, it’s fine if it falls on the ears of an individual who wants to live. But if it falls on the ears of someone who does not love life, there’s no point to it. Why live longer if one does not enjoy living? I think the message needs to be “I love you and I hope someday you will love yourself.” Criticizing doesn’t help; it will only destroy a relationship and cause feelings of failure

Yes, I do think there may be things happening in a child’s family life that can contribute to illness. I say that not to assign blame but to empower people, to give them insight into positive ways of dealing with illness if there are family problems they can do something about. I want them to respond with love, not guilt; I want to turn on the repair mechanisms, not create further breakdown.

We’re used to the idea of disease as a punishment or a failure—but a gift?

He talks about lessons he’s learned from people who accept their diseases with grace.

We too have to learn to step back and start saying, “We’ll see.” Instead of judging the events in our lives as good, bad, right or wrong, we must recognize that of itself nothing is good or bad, and everything has the potential to help us get back on the universe’s schedule. This does not mean that we have to like what happens, simply that we must remain open to the uses even of adversity. A disease may serve as a redirection—or, as I often describe it, a reset button (which starts you up again the same way the reset button works on a jammed garbage disposal). 

When you learn to live your life with a “we’ll see” attitude, you will understand how it is that disease can be considered a gift. You will know why it is that people asked to describe their illness have called it a beauty mark, a wake-up call, a challenge and a new beginning.

I want to add that this can apply to any trial in your life. I’m beginning to think of my own marital separation and the illness I had along with it as God’s Accelerated Program for Personal Growth. (The illness is what got me reading books like this.) Now I’m paying attention to things God wants to teach me. Perhaps He had been trying to teach me those things for years before—but now that I’m in the middle of trials, I’m actually learning.

Does it take courage to be open to this kind of healing? Sure. Do I have the right to tell you your disease is a gift? No, I do not. The gift is yours only if you choose to create it—as I’ve seen thousands of others do. Listen to the people who have lived the experience, and realize you are the source of your healing. 

Cancer, death or loss are not the issue but love and healing are, and we finally see that in the pain lies the opportunity to love and care even more. As Mother Teresa has said, the greatest disease of mankind is the absence of love. There is only one treatment for that, to let in the loving light and to heal your life.

He talks about taking control of your own treatment, as well as asking for help when you need it.

One characteristic of people who have achieved peace of mind is their independence. They trust their instincts. Nobody can tell them what to think if their inner voices say otherwise.

He is quick to point out that everyone dies, eventually.

If you choose to be exceptional and confront life’s challenges, after you are gone your loved ones will go on living with a fullness, not an emptiness. Yes, there will be grief, but not emptiness. I have spoken around the country at memorial services held by family members of those who have died. And these people are living memorials to their loved ones, because they bring something back to the community, a way of sharing what they have learned about life from the individual who died. It is wonderful to see this happen because it means that life and the message of that person’s life have continued. 

What we’re talking about is taking on the challenges of life, not living forever.

In his final chapter, he tells the following story. It’s a bit long, but I like it very much:

I think that every spring when the leaves come out, if you look closely you’ll see that each one is slightly different. Some are reddish, some bright green, some pale, and they have different shapes and sizes too. But picture yourself as a maple leaf coming out. You think of how you can express yourself by manifesting your uniqueness, but the other leaves on the tree say, “Hey, this is a maple tree, fit in. You’ll be green and this shape. Do you want people to look at us and point and say, ‘What a funny tree’?” You want to be liked, so during the spring and the summer, when the sun is shining and you have plenty of food, you turn the same green as everybody else, take the same shape and fit in. 

Then the fall comes and it gets cold, and some of the guys who were telling you how to behave start dropping. You’re still hanging on, but you realize that you’re not going to be able to hang on forever, and if you’re not, then you’d like to let everyone know who you really are before you let go of the Tree of Life. So the green, which is a cover-up, goes, and you become your unique individual beautiful self.

Then you hang on as long as you want. There are still some dried-up scrawny leaves hanging on even in January, just as there are some dried-up scrawny specimens walking the streets. But this is an individual choice—how long you want to hold on to the Tree of Life, how long before you can feel that you’ve shown your true colors and lived your life. If you have lived and had your moment, then it will be much easier to let go. You will know and your loved ones will know your unique beauty, and it will be something they remember and live with.

Truly this is a wise, beautiful, and loving book.

Forgive for Good, by Fred Luskin

forgive_for_good.jpg 
Forgive for Good
A PROVEN Prescription for Health and Happiness
by Dr. Fred Luskin

Reviewed August 11, 2007.
HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco, 2002. 240 pages.
Starred Review.

I’ve checked out or bought several books on forgiveness since my husband left. This one, so far, has seemed the most practical and do-able.

I don’t care who you are or what your spouse did.—In any divorce, you will both have major things to forgive. For that matter, in any marriage, you will both have major things to forgive. Didn’t Harold Kushner say that forgiveness is the main quality of a mature marriage?

It seems fairly obvious that if we hold onto resentment over what our spouse did, we will never be able to be happy. Even our health is in jeopardy. There’s one little problem: How can you forgive someone who’s hurt you so deeply?

This book doesn’t only cover forgiveness between partners, but also forgiving for people whose family are victims of war or terrorism, forgiving for victims of child abuse, forgiving great evil as well as small inconsiderate acts.

He uses a practical approach. Why should you let the offender harm you further by taking up so much space in your mind? Why should the offender have the power to destroy your health and happiness?

Right at the beginning, he talks about some myths about forgiveness. Forgiveness is for you, and not for the offender. Forgiving does not mean condoning evil or turning into a doormat. Forgiveness is not about denying or minimizing your hurt. It doesn’t even necessarily mean reconciling with the offender.

Forgiveness is a choice, and a skill that people can learn to do, as this author has shown with the studies he has done (even with Irish mothers whose children were killed). Forgiveness is taking back your power, and taking responsibility for how you feel. Forgiveness is about your healing and not about the people who hurt you.

Dr. Luskin says, “I define forgiveness as the experience of peace and understanding that can be felt in the present moment. You forgive by challenging the rigid rules you have for other people’s behavior and by focusing your attention on the good things in your life as opposed to the bad. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting or denying that painful things occurred. Forgiveness is the powerful assertion that bad things will not ruin your today even though they may have spoiled your past.”

First, he talks about how a long-standing grievance is formed. He says there are only three components:

–The exaggerated taking of personal offense.
–The blaming of the offender for how you feel.
–The creation of a grievance story.

The author never promises that people will stop hurting you. He says,

Learning to handle hurts, wounds, and disappointments more skillfully will not stop things from going wrong in life. People may still be unkind, and random events can still hurt you. The world is filled with suffering and difficulty, and just because you have learned to adapt better does not mean these problems go away. What will change, however, is the space you rent them in your mind and the amount of anger, hopelessness, and despair you feel. I cannot emphasize this point too strongly. Life may not be perfect, but you can learn to suffer less. You can learn to forgive, and you can learn to heal.

The first component, taking things too personally, can be solved by learning to look at the impersonal aspects of a hurt. This sounds callous or as if you are excusing the offender, but that’s not it. You are, in effect, acknowledging that being hurt is common, and reminding yourself that you will be able to deal with it, just as so many others have done.

The author says,

The easiest way is to realize how common each painful experience is. It is a fact of life that nothing that has happened to you is unique. If you remind yourself that you are just one of two hundred people burglarized in your community, it is hard to take it as personally. By looking carefully, we can always find at least ten people hurt in the same way…. Remembering how common our suffering is can make it seem like the hurt is being trivialized, but it is worth taking that risk to suffer so much less pain.

The second way to uncover the impersonal dimension of hurt is to understand that most offenses are committed without the intention of hurting anyone personally…. Many of the offenses we ache over were not intended to hurt us personally…. To suggest there is an impersonal dimension to many of our offenses is not to deny the pain of loss and neglect.

Please note that Dr. Luskin is not advocating denying all your hurt feelings and sucking it up because you’re human like everyone else. He is talking about avoiding forming a long-term grievance. There’s a personal aspect as well as the impersonal one.

People deal best with offenses when they can find both perspectives. When you see the impersonal dimension after focusing only on your personal pain, you discover that your specific hurt does not have to cripple you…. When we react to things that happened to us or to others we want to be able to acknowledge the pain but not remain stuck in it…. I believe we heal best from our offenses when we are able to acknowledge the damage done. At the same time, I want each of us to be able to say that what happened is not a unique catastrophe but the beginning of a new story of forgiveness and healing.

The second component in forming a grievance is blaming the offender for how you feel.

When we become upset and ask ourselves “Whose fault is this?” and then insist that the reason for our suffering lies with someone else, we have entered the second step in the grievance process. We are playing the blame game, blaming someone else for our troubles. This is a problem because when the cause of the hurt lies outside us, we will look outside ourselves as well for the solution.

When we are in pain in the present, we often blame our bad feelings on the hurts done in the past. One of the ways we do this is to assume that people meant to hurt us. Another way is to link the cruelty in the past with our current feelings. Both of these hypotheses make it harder for us to heal….. When we blame someone for our troubles, we remain stuck in the past and extend the pain. Unfortunately, we are unaware of how much we limit our chances of healing when we blame someone else…. Blame hypotheses are usually guaranteed to make us hurt and hurt and hurt until we change them.

The beguiling thing about the blame game is that at first you may feel better. You may feel short-term relief because the hurt you feel is someone else’s responsibility. Over the long run, however, the good feelings fade and you are left feeling helpless and vulnerable. Only you can take the steps that will allow you to ultimately feel better.

I like the author’s practical tone. When someone has clearly (to our way of thinking, anyway) wronged us, we feel we have a right to be angry. But he doesn’t make right or wrong the issue. He points out that blaming isn’t good for us.

When we blame another person for how we feel, we grant them the power to regulate our emotions. In all likelihood, this power will not be used wisely, and we will continue to suffer. The number of people who give power over to those who did not care about them is shockingly high.

Feeling bad every time we think of the person who has hurt us becomes a habit and leads us to feel like the victim of someone more powerful. We feel helpless because we are constantly reminded both in mind and body of how bad we feel. When we blame this normal protective response on the offender, we make a mistake. This mistake takes the keys to our release out of our hands and puts them in someone else’s hands.

Holding people accountable for their actions is not the same as blaming them for how you feel. It is justified to hold wayward spouses to their commitment to pay child support. It is justified to expect a hit-and-run driver to spend time in jail. What leads to unnecessary suffering is making your spouse responsible for your continued suffering or your inability to enter into another relationship. What does not help you is holding that hit-and-run driver responsible for your ongoing depression or the unwillingness you might feel to take risks ever again.

The third step that crystallizes a grievance is creating a grievance story.

Mistreatment often ends up as a story of victimization, a story told over and over. Whether we tell it to ourselves or to others, the constant retelling offers scant relief or hope.

Grievance stories describe the painful things you have endured but not healed from. You will know these stories because telling them makes you mad or hurt all over again. You know it’s a grievance story when you feel a flutter in your stomach, a tightening in your chest, or sweat forming in your palms. Grievance stories are the stories you tell when you explain to a friend why your life has not worked out the way you hoped. They are the ones you tell to make sense of why you are unhappy or angry.

Unfortunately, a grievance story is counterproductive.

We suffer if we tell the grievance story repeatedly to others or ourselves. Even though it is the third and final step of the grievance process, the grievance story often signals the onset of future difficulties. The grievance story is our tale of helplessness and frustration based on taking something too personally and blaming someone else for how we feel. The grievance story seems true every time we tell it because familiar stress chemicals course through our body. However, telling a grievance story too often is dangerous to both confidence and mood. It is also a health risk since high blood pressure can become a factor when thinking about a grievance story too often.

I love his solution—create a new story where you are the hero, rather than the victim.

We begin the process of creating a new story by taking care every time we talk about the unresolved painful things that have happened to us. When you hear yourself talking about a past hurt, stop for a moment to see if you are telling a grievance story. If so, pause and take a deep breath. Your grievance story, which seems so comforting and familiar, is your enemy. That grievance story, more than what hurt you, has imprisoned you. It keeps you in the past. It alienates your friends and family and reminds you and others that you are a victim. Once we change our grievance story, we are on the road to healing.

What a refreshing outlook this book provides. Dr. Luskin promises,

I will teach you how to forgive. I will teach through the experience of forgiveness to tell a different story. You will see that you have the choice to amend your story so you no longer highlight the wrong done or the hurt you have suffered. You will learn to tell your story so your problems become challenges to overcome, not simply grievances on which to dwell. By the end of this book, your story will show you as the conquering hero capable of overcoming difficult obstacles. Your story will be that of a hero who succeeded on a journey of forgiveness.

Before getting to the process of forgiveness, Dr. Luskin talks about why we create grievances in some situations, but not in others. He states that the underpinning of the grievance process is found in “unenforceable rules.” Unenforceable rules are rules we have for other people’s behavior that we can’t possibly enforce. He uses the metaphor of a police officer whose car doesn’t work sitting and fuming in his car, writing tickets.

Often when trying to enforce unenforceable rules we write mental tickets to “punish” the one who has acted wrongly. Unfortunately, if our rule is unenforceable, the only person we end up hurting with our ticket is ourselves. We clog up our minds with these tickets. We become frustrated because things do not go the way we want. We become angry because something wrong is happening. We feel helpless because we cannot make things right.

I am convinced that when you try to enforce something over which you have no control, you create a problem for yourself. That problem gets in your way as you try to figure out what is the best thing to do. It is much harder to know what to do when you are angry, frustrated, and helpless. Making a good decision is tough when you are constantly writing tickets and there is no one to give them to.

We know we are trying to enforce an unenforceable rule if anything, except a very recent grievous loss or illness, causes us a good deal of emotional distress. When facing the recent death of someone we love or the loss of one’s home or the news of a major illness, it is natural to feel overwhelmed and not be able to think clearly. However, after a short period of time we must confront the problem of enforcing a rule we cannot enforce.

An unenforceable rule is one where you do not have control over whether your rule is enforced or not. An unenforceable rule is one where you do not have the power to make things come out the way you want. When you try to enforce one of your unenforceable rules, you become angry, bitter, despondent, and helpless. Trying to force something you cannot control is an exercise in frustration. Trying to force a spouse to love you or a business partner to be fair or a parent to treat each sibling fairly is unenforceable.

The second half of the book shows how we can transform a grievance and learn to forgive. Dr. Luskin says,

Forgiveness is the feeling of peace that emerges as you take your hurt less personally, take responsibility for how you feel, and become a hero instead of a victim in the story you tell. Forgiveness is the experience of peacefulness in the present moment. Forgiveness does not change the past, but it changes the present. Forgiveness means that even though you are wounded you choose to hurt and suffer less. Forgiveness is for you and no one else. You can forgive and rejoin a relationship or forgive and never speak to the person again.

He has some practical steps to help you:
–take a hurt less personally
–take responsibility for how you feel
–become a hero instead of a victim in thee story you tell.

His techniques about taking a hurt less personally resonate well with the things I learned in Steven Stosny’s You Don’t Have To Take It Anymore.

Many of us are renting more space to rehashing our grievances than focusing on gratitude, love, or appreciation of nature. My central message here is when you bring more positive experiences into your life, your hurts will diminish in importance. In fact, this is the first step to taking responsibility for how you feel and beginning to forgive. If I rent out more and more space in my mind to appreciating my children or the loveliness of a rainy day, there is as a result less space and time for dwelling on the hurts.

Doesn’t this sound beautiful?

Forgiveness is the practice of extending your moments of peacefulness. Forgiveness is deciding what plays on your TV screen. Forgiveness is the power that comes from knowing a past injustice does not have to hurt today. When we have good experiences, such as moments of beauty or love, then for those moments we have forgiven those who have hurt us. Forgiveness is the choice to extend those moments to the rest of our life. Forgiveness is available anytime. It is completely under your control. It does not rely on the actions of others; it is a choice you alone can make.

He gives us some valuable techniques for refocusing our attention. He also explains some ways to challenge our own unenforceable rules. After all, “It is easier to change your thinking than to get unenforceable rules to be obeyed.”

When you find an unenforceable rule, the goal is to return to the desire and get rid of the demand. I urge each of you to fervently hope things go the way you want. At the same time, remind yourself that it is foolish to demand things go a certain way when you do not have the power to make it happen.

To heal, forgiveness is important. I am convinced that the frustration you feel enforcing unenforceable rules is the biggest threat to your motivation to succeed. Most of us give up more readily when we demand something we cannot have than when we make plans to optimize our chances to get what we want. When we hope for a caring parent, we leave room for having to make other plans. When we demand a caring parent, there is little room to maneuver.

I love his idea of changing your story from the story of a victim to the story of a hero. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer. What story would be at all interesting without the hero facing some difficulties? So now the hurts are actually obstacles that make you shine!

A victim is one who often feels helpless to respond to painful circumstances or to control thoughts and feelings. A hero has worked hard to overcome adversity and refuses to be beaten by difficult life events. Forgiveness is the journey of moving from telling the story as a victim to telling the story as a hero. Forgiveness means that your story changes so that you and not the grievance are in control.

The biggest drawback to telling grievance stories is they keep us connected in a powerless way with people who have hurt us. When we mull over our past wounds and hurts, we remind ourselves of a part of our life that did not work. Reconnecting with our positive intention reminds us of our goals and enables us to move forward.

In any grievance story, someone does not get what he or she wants. Unacknowledged is that behind each painful situation is a positive intention. Once found and reclaimed, the positive intention alters the grievance story. The story is no longer just about the person and or situation that caused pain but about the goal that was not quite reached. Suddenly, instead of just recycling pain, the grievance story becomes a vehicle for learning how to change to attain that goal. The grievance story becomes a part of the positive intention story.

You will discover as you tell your positive intention story that you feel better. One reason is that you are closer to telling a balanced story. This is because each of us has many experiences. Negative ones are not more important than positive ones. A grievance freezes a hurtful experience into an unchangeable solid. Then it rents too much space in our mind and leads to feelings of helplessness. The truth is that wounds hurt, but they do not have to be crippling.

Each of us can forgive those who have hurt us. When we put our grievances into the perspective of challenges to our goals, we are giving an accurate account. Everything that hurts us is a challenge to our happiness. It is a challenge to be happy in this world. Wounds can cripple the happiness only of those who do not know how to cope and forgive. Finding our positive intention helps us connect with the big picture. Telling a positive intention story reminds everyone who hears us that we are a hero and not a victim. We deserve the best, and forgiveness helps us find it.

The author says, “From the first to the last page, my goal is to make forgiveness practical.” He achieves that goal beautifully. This book has brought me much farther along in my journey to recovering peace and joy. Thank you so much, Dr. Luskin.

Review of Raising Demons, by Shirley Jackson

Raising Demons

by Shirley Jackson


Reviewed July 16, 2007.
Academy Chicago Publishers, Chicago, 1985. Originally written in 1956. 310 pages.
Starred Review.

Few true stories are as hilarious as those told by Shirley Jackson about bringing up her four children. This book continues the fun begun in Life Among the Savages. I guarantee that any parent or anyone who knows some kids will get some good laughs and hearty chuckles out of this book.

Part of her brilliance is how she reproduces the voices of her children, each one distinct. Sally is probably the most entertaining, with her habit of repeating words and the outrageous stories she tells, like telling the milkman, “Mommy has gone away to Fornicalia. Where my grandma lives, grandma. Would you please like some breakfast?”

I love the following scene, which beautifully conveys a mother’s feelings of irritation and desperation when a neighbor girl, Amy, comes over:

If Sally’s refrain conversation is difficult to bear, Amy’s repetitive conversation is worse; where Sally repeats the vital word, Amy repeats the whole sentence; Sally is the only one in our family who can talk to Amy at all. “May I please play with Sally?” Amy was saying through the back door screen, “is Sally here so she can play with me?” 

Sally slid off her chair and made for the cookie jar. “Amy,” she shouted, “Daddy is going to take us swimming, swimming, and ask your mommy if you can come, your mommy.”

“My mommy,” said Amy solemnly, opening the screen door and joining Sally at the cookie jar, “doesn’t let me go swimming right now, because I have a cold. I have a cold, so my mommy doesn’t want me to go swimming, because I have a cold. I have a cold,” she told me, “so my mommy won’t let me go swimming.”

“Because she has a cold,” Laurie said helpfully. “See, she has a cold and so—”

“Laurie,” I said feverishly. “Sally and Amy, please take those cookies outdoors.

Their little “Beekman” is another great character. Here’s how he got his name:

Nothing is stable in this world. As soon as Barry was old enough to be regarded as a recognizable human being, with ideas and opinions, it became necessary for the other children to change him around. Since he was now too big to fit into a doll carriage, Jannie amused herself by dressing him in costume jewelry and ribbons. Sally sat on the floor next to the playpen and sang to him because, she said, it made him dance. Barry was clearly too formal a name, and we took to calling him B. B was too short, however, and he became Mr. B, then Mr. Beetle, and finally Mr. Beekman. he stayed Mr. Beekman until he was almost ready for nursery school, and then came around full circle, moving back to Mr. B, then B, and, at last, to Barry again. At one point he developed a disconcerting habit of answering no matter who was being called. Thus, dancing, and decked in ribbons, Beekman walked instead of creeping, and learned to drink from a cup.

Shirley Jackson has a beautiful ability to find the ludicrous in everyday family life. When they got a new car,

I went out and bought a new car-chair for Beekman, one that had a small steering wheel and gear-shift lever attached; when I put Beekman into his new car-chair he turned the steering wheel and said “Beep beep?” experimentally, and we all laughedd and told him he was a brave smart boy. by the end of a week I was no longer fumbling wildly for the brake pedal on the new car, and Beekman was manipulating his steering wheel and gearshift with such wild abandon and skillful maneuvering as to earn himself the title of Mad-Dog Beekman; I could not, at any time of the day or night, attempt to sneak the car out of the driveway without attracting Beekman’s attention, and he would hurl himself wildly at the doors and windows, calling out to wait a minute, he would be right there, and subsiding at last into hysterical terrors at my trying to drive without him.  

For my part, I found it extremely difficult to drive with dual controls, trying to ease around a tight corner with Beekman beside me shifting rapidly from high to reverse to second, swinging his wheel around sharply and yelling “Beep beep.” I used to try letting the car roll backward out of the driveway without starting the motor, but Beekman’s room was in the front and as soon as I got as far as the gateposts he would apparently catch some reflection of light and I would see his small infuriated face pressed against the window and hear the crash as Dikidiki hit the wall, and after a minute my husband or Laurie or Jannie or Sally would open the front door and call that I was to wait, they were just putting on Beekman’s jacket.

Usually, whenever Beekman drove, Sally wanted to come too. And whenever Sally came, Jannie thought she had better come along. And when Beekman and Sally and Jannie came, Laurie figured that we might just stop in at a movie or some such, and if we did he wanted to be along. As a result, whenever I went shopping in the new car, everyone came except my husband, who could not, for a long time, look at the new car without telling me how we were going bankrupt in style. One Saturday morning I almost got off without Beekman, who was learning from Sally how to cut out paper dolls, but before I was out of the driveway they were calling to me to wait a minute, and by the time I finally turned the car and headed off toward the big supermarkets I had all four of them with me, Sally accompanied by her dolls Susan and David and Patpuss, all dressed entirely in cleansing tissue, and carrying—although I did not know it when she got into the car—a pocketbook containing four pennies and a shilling stolen from her father’s coin collection.

I suppose I should have known that all was not going to go well when I found a parking space on main Street on Saturday at noon, with seventeen minutes paid for on the parking meter. Finding a parking space at all was so exceptional an occurrence that I wisely determined to disregard the fact that the car on my left—an out-of-state car, by the way, from some state where land is not so jealously parceled out as here in Vermont—was straddling the line. I eased my car in with only the faintest grazing sound, although it was immediately plain that if we were going to get out of the car at all, we were going to have to do it by sliding out the doors on the right-hand side.

“Jeepers,” Laurie remarked, gazing from his window at the car next to us, “cut it a little close, didn’t you?”

“It was Beekman,” I said nervously. “He kept pulling to the left.”

“Jeepers,” Laurie said to Beekman, “you want to watch where you’re going, kid.”

“Dewey, dewey,” said Beekman, this being a combination word he used for a series of connected ideas, roughly translatable as: Observe my latest achievement, far surpassing all my previous works in this line, a great and personal triumph representing perhaps the most intelligent progress ever accomplished by a child of my years. “Dewey,” said Beekman pleasurably.

Later, when Barry was a bit older and Sally had learned to read,

With three reading children in the house, competition over Barry, who could be read to, was very heavy. I still retained my post as bedtime reader—I began again with The Wizard of Oz—but Laurie and Jannie and Sally found themselves sometimes all reading aloud from different enticing works, each hoping to lure Barry who moved, basking, from one to another. For a little while, Jannie forged ahead through a brilliant imaginative stroke; she refused to read aloud, and offered, instead, to tell stories made up out of her own head. This began the Jefry stories, which were about a little boy named Jefry who had an elephant who was called Peanuts becaue he ate so many . . . “What?” said Barry. “Cabbages,” said Jannie firmly. Jefry had a bear named Dikidiki, just like Barry, and Jefry irked Sally so considerably that she brought out her boy doll Patpuss, renamed him Jefry, announced that he was her little brother, and commenced telling him stories about a little imaginary boy named Barry, who had a bear named Dikidiki just like Jefry. This became the competing Barry series. One evening Laurie came staggering in from the Story Hour in the kitchen, and announced to his father that he had just made up a story about a little boy named Dikidiki who had two imaginary bears, Barry and Jefry, and we had to make a rule that stories must be told one at a time, and last no more than two minutes by the kitchen clock.

I like to read this book when I need to lighten up and laugh. Even though it was written when you could put a penny in a parking meter, life with kids is still pretty much the same. But Shirley Jackson makes you laugh about it, which is a lot more fun than screaming in frustration.

Review of Sink Reflections, by Marla Cilley

Go to this review at www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/sink_reflections.html 

Sink Reflections Overwhelmed? Disorganized? Living in CHAOS? The FlyLady’s Simple FLYing Lessons Will Show You How to Get Your Home and Your Life in Order—and It All Starts With Shining Your Sink! by Marla Cilley—the FlyLady

Reviewed June 12, 2007.

Bantam Books, New York, 2002. 223 pages. Starred Review.

By giving FlyLady’s book a Starred Review, I’m not claiming this is great literature. However, I AM saying that this book—and the FlyLady system—have transformed my life. Her whole system is one of the most positive things I’ve ever done.

FlyLady offers her system—methods, routines, and encouragement—completely for free on the Internet. I am a subscriber and do love those e-mails, but I am a book person (obviously), and wanted to have the whole system described all in one place.

I’d heard about FlyLady before, but didn’t think I needed her. After all, I had a decent system in place for cleaning my house and I always put on lace-up shoes in the morning. How little did I realize how much she had to offer me.

Then I had surgery last February, and my house got hopelessly messy, and I felt hopelessly behind. I needed to work on getting ready to move, too. My husband was actually filing for divorce, and my spirits weren’t good. So I decided to give FlyLady a try.

I’m so glad I did!

FlyLady is hard to describe. She offers a mentoring service for getting organized, for cleaning your house and running your life—but she offers so much more.

Perhaps the acronym FLY is the most revealing part of the system. It stands for Finally Loving Yourself. And I find when I follow her methods, I really do feel more loved and more loving. And I feel better about myself. These are wonderful things for a woman whose husband left her.

What’s more, her way of thinking is transforming my life. One of the biggest areas of conflict in my marriage—and a major way I brought resentment into our relationship was my constant fussing about housework. I never seemed to be happy. I always seemed to think my husband or sons should be doing more, but then if they did something, I’d often criticize how it was done. I’d nag them and hound them. Was grumbling about housework or making the burden “fair” worth my marriage? Absolutely NOT!

Even living as a single mom, I don’t want to feel like housework is an ever-present burden, a noxious chore. I don’t want to have “Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome” (Living in CHAOS). I’m still astonished by how FlyLady has changed my whole attitude toward housework.

Please don’t think that I have everything together. I moved this summer, and we got our household goods in October, and I was taking graduate classes, so we still have towers of boxes in every room of our apartment. But FlyLady helps me not to get discouraged about the mess, but to get in there and take baby steps and deal with it all a little bit at a time.

I love her slogan for 2007—Progress, Not Perfection in 2007. She is the enemy of Perfectionism, which is a huge obstacle blocking us from loving ourselves. So often, I wouldn’t clean because I didn’t have time to do it “right.” She counters that with the slogan, “Housework done incorrectly still blesses your family.”

She has lovely names for tasks. Her weekly cleaning is called Home Blessing. She has you do seven different tasks for ten minutes each—you are not allowed to keep working after the timer beeps. I didn’t think it would do any good at all to vacuum or mop for only ten minutes, so I was amazed at the difference it made and how good it made me feel about my home. Pretty soon I found myself singing, “Make Me a Blessing,” while Blessing my Home—believe me, this was NOT my normal attitude toward cleaning!

Her system is not a burden. In fact, her reminder e-mails conclude with “You are not behind! You do not need to catch up!” She urges you to jump in where you are and begin with baby steps.

She helps you release clutter—to let go of the things you don’t love and let them bless someone else. Because you simply can’t organize clutter.

She does send out lots of e-mails—reminders about your routines, to go to bed at a decent time, and things like that. There are also testimonials of what other Flybabies have learned. I was getting overwhelmed by it all, because my perfectionism was insisting that I read all of them. When I gave myself the freedom to delete the ones I hadn’t gotten to, I began enjoying them greatly when I did have time to read them.

If you’re wondering if your baby steps will ever get you anywhere, it’s nice to read the testimonials of people whose houses truly are now “15 minutes from clean.” No more mad scrambles when company’s coming!

FlyLady radiates love and comfort to all of her Flybabies. Even though I’m not perfect, I know that FlyLady is so proud of me! And that feels so very good.

Here are some quotations from Sink Reflections that will help give the flavor of Flylady’s love and encouragement:

We are imperfect beings and praise God for our imperfection.

Some of us won’t even start a job unless we have enough time to do the job correctly. So we do nothing! Or we are trying to do too many things at once and nothing ever gets finished so we just give up and say, ‘What’s the use?’…This is where I can help you. Having learned to be organized, I can teach you techniques to get you started and keep you from giving up. That is what we do when we are overwhelmed with the system. I will not give you too much and you can work at your own pace. The best part is that when you are ready to take the next step, you will recognize your accomplishment and give yourself a much-needed pat on the back and proceed. We are not looking for perfection any longer; this is a process. One BabyStep at a time will set you on a flight path toward the home and life you have been yearning for.

Don’t expect changes in a few days. This is not a book on how to control your messy children or your spouse; this is all about you, your attitude toward your family and yourself.

Clutter is things that do not bring you joy, you do not love, or you don’t need. Things that you use, love, and enjoy are necessary and important to have. Things that you have in your home that you don’t need or don’t like will have the opposite effect on you: they will make you feel negative and dragged down.

Clutter also sends an subconscious message. Clutter tells the world that you are not worthy. We have all heard it. If you can’t take care of this, you can’t have anything else. We have been brainwashed by this clutter to believe that we do not deserve to have nice things, since we can’t keep our home looking presentable.

You may have picked up this book in your never-ending struggle to find the magic formula to fix your family and your home. But, sweetie, the problem with your home has nothing to do with idleness on your part. I hear what you hear over and over again—the reason your home is trashed is because of your laziness. Wrong! I know for a fact that I have never been lazy and I will wager the same about you. Your problem is that you don’t know what to do first and when you decide on a course of action, you are continually spinning your wheels and unable to finish anything. By the end of the day you are exhausted, the house is still trashed, and you have accomplished nothing. I just wish I could give you a great big hug.

The truth is that you are so busy taking care of everyone else’s needs that you forget that you have them, too. You are running on empty. There is nothing left for you.

You will get rid of this stress as you learn from the FlyLady system to work smarter and not make it so hard on yourself. I want you to learn HOW to be nice to yourself.

I get e-mails every day asking, ‘How do I get my family to help?’ My response to them is to set an example and quit being a martyr.

In the previous chapters you have learned about taking care of yourself. I believe that if you bless your family with taking care of yourself and your home you will see a difference in their attitude as well.

This is a major reason why this book is about so much more than simply removing clutter from your home and your life. If we do nothing else, I hope we impress upon you that if you don’t take care of yourself, you will have nothing left to nurture your family. You will be filling their cups with an empty pitcher. Everyone will be left unfulfilled. You have found this book because you were searching for something, anything, to help you get your home in order.

Your home did not get dirty in a day and it is not going to get clean overnight.

So many women have never felt peace. This is my main wish for you, to find the peace I have. I don’t want to hear that you have this disease or that, and that your clutter didn’t cause your illness. Stress is the main cause for illness in our country and the world. If we relieve the stress we will all be better off. We are not our diseases. We can learn to live with and find peace in any situation. It is a mind-set.

Your attitude has to change from ‘Why do I have to do this?!’ to ‘This is my home and I deserve to have a wonderful place to live. This blesses my home and my family and, most of all, me!’ Do you feel the difference that these two statements make in your heart? Giving up this martyred attitude and taking on the persona of doing good for yourself and your family relieves you of stress! If you understand this small reality and embrace it, I have done my job.

You also have another attitude that is going to be the death of you: ‘I have no time for myself!’ So after everyone has gone to bed you stay up later and later, until you are barely getting enough sleep to function the next day. Then, in the morning, you hit the snooze button four or five times and by the time you finally drag yourself out of bed, you are already running late. This makes for a stressed out, nasty attitude, yelling at your babies and running around like your head is cut off, not knowing where to turn or what to do next. The solution is so simple! GO TO BED AT A DECENT HOUR!

From the beginning of our little cyber-family, I have always insisted on our main rule: No Whining Allowed!! We have all caught ourselves in a whining mode.

It is only when we give ourselves the attention we need and are not searching for outside attention that our requests for help will be answered.

This is easy. Now that you can see and hear your effects on your family, you can stop yourself from doing this. Now, here is the fun part. You can blow them right out of the water by setting an example and doing what needs to be done with a cheerful attitude and out of love for your family. Even if you are not feeling very cheerful at the time, bite your lip and put a smile on your lovely face just for the fun of it. The results will reinforce this happy attitude and you will start to feel the inner change in yourself.

When you start FLYing, housework no longer is a chore, something to be dreaded. It becomes a way to bless your family, yourself, and your home. I want you to have the peace that I have. This came from my change in attitude toward everyday tasks.

Right now all I care about is how your attitude is affecting you. If you allow stress, anger, and self-pity to build up, you are not taking care of yourself. Please do this for you. When you accomplish this, you will be blessing yourself and your home.

This lack of self-love pushes everything away from us, our family and friends, and we even push God away. Still, he always loves us.

We too frequently act as a martyr. We may think that selfless acts bring us closer to God when, in fact, many times it is our egos that created these ‘selfless acts’! You shame others by saying: ‘Just look at what I do for you!’ You carry out these acts with anger: ‘No one else will do this; looks like it’s left up to me!’ And with pride: ‘No one can do it as well as I can!’ Oh, and let’s not forget greed: ‘I am going to do this because I will get points and everyone will notice what I do.’ This attitude steals from others the ability to contribute.

When you finally start to love yourself, your cup of love will be overflowing all the time. Love will be all around you. Love of self allows you to love others more fully.

The opposite of Love is not Hate; it is Fear. This is our perfectionism again. Fear we cannot do things right. Fear of what others will think of us. Fear that we are not good enough. When you love yourself, this fear goes away.

Finally Loving Yourself is the answer to being all that you can be in God’s eyes. When you can put yourself first, without guilt, you will be more able to love unconditionally. Your love will be in everything you do. You will be the reflection of the love God has for you.

I am one of you. I know your heart and I have felt your sadness at not living up to your unrealistic expectations. When I finally quit beating myself up for what I didn’t do and started doing what I could, acceptance of myself was the spark that kept me alive. If I teach you nothing else from this book, the website, and our e-mail messages. It is that Finally Loving Yourself is your ticket to FLY!

There is no ending except to say that I see this book as a beginning to a life of peace of joy.

My own ending to this review is to say, Thank you, thank you, thank you, FlyLady, for bringing peace and joy into my life at a time when I desperately needed it. I am by no means perfect, but I am progressing, and that brings me so much joy. Thank you!

Review of I’m Proud of You, by Tim Madigan

I’m Proud of You 

My Friendship with Fred Rogers

by Tim Madigan

Reviewed June 18, 2007.
Gotham Books, New York, 2006. 196 pages.
Starred Review.

What an amazing man Mr. Rogers was! This book tells how a newspaper interview led Tim Madigan to one of the deepest friendships of his life.

Mr. Rogers, famous to children for generations, is every bit as kind and loving a person as he appears on TV.  Tim Madigan says of him:

In my opinion, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood revealed only a fraction of his human greatness. Knowing him from television alone, it was tempting to see him as a man who might actually live in Neighborhood of Make-Believe. . . a person of epic goodness, no doubt, but also a man of innocence and naïveté, who, as a result, might be little acquainted with the grittier realities of life (though his program dealt unflinchingly with issues like divorce, death, and violence). . . . 

There was innocence about Fred in person, to be sure.  He could be quaint, such as when he referred to me as “my dear.” He was a vegetarian who would never eat “anything that had a mother.”  He wore a goofy-looking swimming cap and goggles for his daily morning swims.  He forever carried a camera, pulling it out with great delight to photograph people he had met for the first time.

But he was also a man fully of this world, deeply aware of and engaged in its difficulties, speaking often of death, disease, divorce, addiction, and cruelty and the agonies those things wrought on people he loved.  He worked very hard, a lifelong student of children and child development. . . .  An ordained Presbyterian minister, he devoured books by the great spiritual writers and was constantly preoccupied with spiritual questions himself.  He rose before six each morning to pray for dozens of people by name.  He was perhaps the most intelligent person I’ve ever known.

But in my mind, something else was at the heart of his greatness.  It was his unique capacity for relationship, what Esquire magazine writer Tom Junod once called “a fearlessness, an unashamed insistence on intimacy.”  That was true with almost every person he met, be it television’s Katie Couric or a New York City cabdriver; the Dalai Lama or the fellow handing out towels at the health club where Fred went to swim.  Fred wanted to know the truth of your life, the nature of your insides, and had room enough in his own spirit to embrace without judgment whatever that truth might be.

By the end of the book, the reader is also convinced.  Tim Madigan tells about some of the hardest years of his life, and how his friendship with Fred Rogers sustained him and his family through them.  His life was changed by being so freely and unconditionally loved, and reading this book has touched my life as well.

If you want to learn about a human example of unconditional love in action, I strongly recommend this book.