Review of The Forgiving Self, by Robert Karen, PhD

forgiving_selfThe Forgiving Self

The Road from Resentment to Connection

by Robert Karen, PhD

Doubleday, New York, 2001. 288 pages.

Even quite a few years into the divorce process myself, I still feel that anyone going through a divorce can benefit from thinking about forgiveness, if only for your own sanity!

I’ve read quite a few books on forgiveness. This one by Robert Karen took a more academic approach, a psychological approach, to the subject. I especially liked the way he explored many different aspects of forgiveness, including our natural tendency not to forgive.

I read the book slowly, and it gave me plenty of food for thought. I maintain that thinking about forgiveness can’t help but be a good thing.

Robert Karen says,

“When I first turned my attention to forgiveness, it seemed a worthwhile, if unexciting, topic. But as I immersed myself, I realized that forgiveness is as fundamental and important as any topic in psychology. There are few places it can’t take you. It embraces the meaning of love and hate, the nature of dependency, the torments of envy, the problems of narcissism and paranoia, as well as the tension between self-hatred and self-acceptance, between striving for maturity and refusing to grow up. . . .

“In our capacity or failure to forgive we reveal our ability to recognize the humanity in someone who has hurt or disappointed us, as well as to see our own limitations and complicity. It represents an ability to imagine what life is like on the other side of the fence, where another human being is engaged in his own struggle, to let go of the expectation that people exist to be just what we need them to be. And this sensibility applies to our view of ourselves, too: for forgiving others is nothing but the mirror image of forgiving oneself. Significant acts of forgiveness also entail letting go of a precious story we tell about ourselves, risking the awareness of a larger, less self-justifying truth.

“What we do in the realm of forgiveness . . . speaks to the magnitude of our self-centeredness and the extent to which we organize the world into a simple pattern of good versus bad, as opposed to a more mature ability to tolerate ambiguity and ambivalence. In the capacity to forgive we see our largeness of heart. And, in struggling to forgive what is most difficult for us to forgive, we reveal our courage, imagination, and potential for growth. The development of forgiveness is, I now think, as clear a marker of general psychological development as there is.”

I found myself posting several quotations from this book on Sonderquotes. I recommend this book for some deep thinking about all that forgiveness means in our lives.

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Review of The New Codependency, by Melody Beattie

new_codependencyThe New Codependency

Help and Guidance for Today’s Generation,

by Melody Beattie

Simon & Schuster, New York, 2009. 270 pages.
Starred review.

Those who have been blessed by Melody Beattie’s earlier books, particularly Codependent No More and Beyond Codependency, will be excited to hear that she has written a new book about codependency, called The New Codependency.

Her first book, Codependent No More, is the one that made the term “codependent” a standard part of recovery vocabulary, but she wrote that more than twenty years ago.

She says,

“I’m writing this book to clarify confusion, discuss new information, write about how codependency has mutated, address new support options, and remind us about what we’ve learned.

“Although I’ve changed significantly since writing Codependent No More, I still step in codependent puddles. I might get hooked into someone’s stuff, let their problems control me, over-engage, or start reacting instead of taking right action. I’ll let family conditioning affect me, neglect to set boundaries, or shut down emotionally. There are times I have to slam on the brakes, STOP, and remember to take care of myself. I don’t sink in the quicksand of life like I used to, but sometimes I revert to survival mode. That’s yesterday’s news.

“I don’t call that relapsing. Caring about people we love, feeling victimized when we’re betrayed, giving our all to people we love, or wanting to control people because we’re watching them destroy themselves and hurt us doesn’t mean we’re sick. These are natural reactions. Codependency is about normal behaviors taken too far. It’s about crossing lines.”

All in all, you can think of this as a book about healthy relationships, about setting boundaries, and about remembering to care for ourselves and let other people live their own lives. There are quizzes to help you examine your own issues and emotions, and there are many suggested activities to help you put these ideas into practice.

As with all of Melody Beattie’s books, this one is uplifting and encouraging. She concludes,

“Learn to love and take care of yourself. You’ll learn to love others better. Being healthy doesn’t mean being so tough we don’t care, or so hard-hearted nobody can hurt us again. The path we’re on might start with not giving so much or so compulsively but living and loving with an open heart — even when that means paying the price of saying goodbye too soon — is where this journey leads. Don’t stop until you’re there.”

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Review of Steering by Starlight, by Martha Beck

Steering by Starlight

Find Your Right Life No Matter What

by Martha Beck

Rodale, 2008. 232 pages.
Starred review.

I do love Martha Beck’s books. Something about them speaks directly to my soul. Steering by Starlight is no exception, even though it is not autobiographical like Expecting Adam and Leaving the Saints.

Martha Beck is a Life Coach, and Steering by Starlight is full of techniques she has used to successfully help her clients find their right lives.

Honestly, I wasn’t feeling a need for direction when I read the book. I picked it up because it was by Martha Beck. My husband leaving me threw me into a new life, and I have learned from that experience to listen to God’s guidance, and to pursue the passions God has given me.

So instead of turning me in a whole new direction, this book resonated with the things God was already doing in my life.

I don’t think I’ll try to intellectually summarize the book. In this book, Martha Beck speaks to the Stargazer inside of you. She says,

“In one of my previous books, I used the phrase ‘your own North Star’ as a metaphor for your right life, in order to avoid using the word destiny and its mystical nuances. But since writing that book, I’ve worked with well over a thousand clients, and I’ve seen that once they commit to following their own North Stars, the word mystical is a tame description of what actually unfolds. I’m skeptical of religion and superstition, and I believe there’s a scientific explanation for everything. But I also know from much experience that current science can’t begin to explain the things that will happen to you if you begin steering your life by starlight.”

Her book covers a wide array of concepts. Here are just a couple that rang true for me.

Several books I’ve read recently have said that you need to question your underlying assumptions — the beliefs you’ve grown up with that you simply assume are true. (Like, “Good people don’t get divorced.” or “Things can’t go so well much longer.” or “There will never be enough.”) I like the way Martha Beck describes these beliefs as coming from your “inner lizard.”

“The entire purpose of your reptilian brain is to continuously broadcast survival fears — alarm reactions that keep animals alive in the wild. These fears fall into two categories: lack and attack. On one hand, our reptilian brains are convinced that we lack everything we need: We don’t have enough love, time, money, everything. On the other hand, something terrible is about to happen. A predator — human or animal — is poised to snatch us! That makes sense if we’re hiding in a cave somewhere, but when we’re home in bed, our imaginations can fixate on catastrophes that are so vague and hard to ward off that they fill us with anxiety that has no clear action implication…. Every person’s fears are unique, but the themes of lack and attack are drearily repetitive.”

She has quite a few tips for dealing with your inner lizard, and I especially liked the one about finding the ridiculous side to the lizard’s fears:

“To the part of my mind that isn’t a terrified reptile, fear in the absence of an actual physical threat (such as, say, a grizzly bear) is always ridiculous because it’s not actionable — there’s nothing I can do about an imagined danger except develop ulcers and high blood pressure. Dealing with present dangers from a fearless place and letting go of all fears that can’t be addressed because they exist only in your fantasies is the only way to thrive.”

I also loved the section where she talks about how we grow from the painful experiences in our lives:

“Adopting the perspective of the Stargazer not only leads us toward our future best destinies but actually transmutes past unhappiness into treasure. This is because, in emotional terms, everything is made from its opposite. The raw material for joy is sorrow; the raw material for compassion is anger; the raw material for fearlessness is fear. This means that the very people who hurt you worst may turn out to have enriched you most. “Forgiveness” isn’t even an issue from the position of the Stargazer. Why would anyone bother to “forgive” someone who’d made them rich?”

I found this book packed with good concepts like that. I highly recommend it.

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Review of I Need Your Love — Is That True? by Byron Katie

I Need Your Love — Is That True?
How to Stop Seeking Love, Approval, and Appreciation and Start Finding Them Instead,

by Byron Katie
written with Michael Katz

Harmony Books, New York, 2005. 254 pages.
Starred Review
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #5 Other Nonfiction

“Everyone agrees that love is wonderful, except when it’s terrible. People spend their whole lives tantalized by love — seeking it, trying to hold on to it, or trying to get over it. Not far behind love, as major preoccupations, come approval and appreciation. From childhood on, most people spend much of their energy in a relentless pursuit of these things, trying out different methods to be noticed, to please, to impress, and to win other people’s love, thinking that’s just the way life is. This effort can become so constant and unquestioned that we barely notice it anymore.

“This book takes a close look at what works and what doesn’t in the quest for love and approval. It will help you find a way to be happier in love and more effective in all your relationships without being manipulative or deceptive in any way. What you learn here will bring fulfillment to all kinds of relationships, including romantic love, dating, marriage, raising children, work, and friendship.”

One thing I like about Byron Katie’s books is that she does not tell you what to think. Instead, she has you examine your own thoughts and ask yourself:

Is it true?

Can you absolutely know that it’s true?

How do you react when you believe that thought?

Who would you be without that thought?

When it comes to needing people, she says,

“How do you know when you don’t need people? When they’re not in your life. How do you know when you do need them? When they are in your life. You can’t control the comings and goings of the people you care for. What you can do is have a good life whether they come or go. You can invite them, and they come or not, and whatever the result is, that’s what you need. Reality is the proof of it.”

Katie believes that whatever happens is good. As a Christian, I believe that God works all things together for good in my life. So maybe I’m coming from a different reason, but the result is the same: If something has happened, I know that God can bring good into my life through that.

Stressful thoughts so often involve believing that something that happened to me should not have happened, for example: “My husband should not have left me.” “My son should be more respectful.” “He is not treating me fairly.” “She is interfering in my life.”

Katie talks about “noticing and counting the beautiful reasons unexpected things happen for us.” If you look for the ways life events benefit you, you will be a much happier person. (“Who will I be without that stressful thought?”)

“Many people’s lives are constantly punctuated with little fits or tantrums in which they express their rejection of what’s happening….

“The more you stick to the belief that you’re in control, the more of these moments there are in your life. Some people reach a point where they’re fighting reality at every step along the way. That’s how they react to the thought ‘I’m calling the shots’ when no one seems to be listening. It’s a war zone in their minds.

“The alternative is to expect reality not to follow your plan. You realize that you have no ideas what’s going to happen next. That way, you’re pleasantly surprised when things seem to be going your way, and you’re pleasantly surprised when they don’t. In the second case, you may not have seen what the new possibilities are yet, but life quickly reveals them, and the old plans don’t stop you from moving ahead, from flowing efficiently into the life beyond your schemes and expectations.”

This book focuses on love, approval, and relationships. Katie asks some excellent questions over the course of the book:

“How do you react when you believe the thought that you can find love and approval by making yourself more likable?”

“When you say ‘Thank you,’ are you handing someone a token, or are you expressing real gratitude?”

“What would it be like to live your truth without excusing, defending, explaining, or justifying your thoughts or actions to others?”

“Who would you be without the thought that you need to seek approval?”

“Who would you be without the thought that your happiness depends on someone else?”

“If you love me, you’ll do what I want — Is it true?”

I like her commentary on that last question:

“Horses grazing in a field unthinkingly stand head to tail, flicking the flies from each other’s faces. At night, they sleep standing up, resting their heads on each other’s shoulders. This is what peaceful reciprocation looks like. But ‘civilized’ people have learned how to use reciprocation to torture each other. All it takes is the belief that if I do something for you, you owe me something in return. If I give you my love, you’d better give me yours, or something of equal value.

“What happens if you don’t reciprocate? I take back my love and approval, and I give you resentment instead. The rules of each relationship dictate all the things you have to do or not do to avoid resentment. These rules aren’t written down or even spoken. You find out what they are by breaking them. When you see that I’m angry, you know that you’ve broken a rule. You did something you shouldn’t have, you came home too late or too early, you forgot to do or say something. Perhaps you should ask what you did wrong, but watch out: One of the rules may be that you’re supposed to know without asking.

“And of course, you find out about your rules for my behavior using the same method. How do you know when I broke a rule? When you get angry at me.

In any case, if you do your best to figure out all the rules and obey them, do you get my love? No. You get to tiptoe around me, so that you can minimize my anger and continue the relationship. Love seems to have disappeared. Where did it go? You can find out by questioning the thought, ‘If you love me, you’ll do what I want.'”

Reading Byron Katie’s books help me to grow in contentment, gratitude, peace and joy. They help me let go of thoughts that keep me from those things. It’s very easy to see the good in that!

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Review of Walking with God, by John Eldredge


Walking with God

by John Eldredge

Thomas Nelson, 2008.  218 pages.

Starred review.

The caption on the front of this book reads, “Talk to Him.  Hear from Him.  Really.”

When I was a young college student at Biola University, a popular book was Decision Making and the Will of God.  What I got out of this book was the idea that God didn’t care about the minute details of our lives.  You shouldn’t ask God what color shirt you should wear today or whether you should go to lunch early or late.  The book taught that God gives us moral guidelines in the Bible, and within those guidelines we can do what we want.  That God would be happy with either wonderful choice of a marriage partner, for example.

John Eldredge takes a different view.  He believes that we can share our daily lives with God, ask His counsel for large and small decisions, and accept His guidance.  Honestly, in the past few years as I’ve gone through the fire of being abandoned by my husband, God has been near to me like never before, and I’m finding He is indeed willing to come alongside and help and guide, as John Eldredge describes.  It was inspiring to read this account of someone who is trying to live his life, walking with God.

And the book takes more the form of a journal than of a manual.  John Eldredge takes the approach of describing his own walk with God so that we can see how it might look.

In the Introduction, he says:

“It is our deepest need, as human beings, to learn to live intimately with God.  It is what we were made for. . . .

“Really now, if you knew you had the opportunity to develop a conversational intimacy with the wisest, kindest, most generous and seasoned person in the world, wouldn’t it make sense to spend your time with that person, as opposed to, say, slogging your way through on your own?

“Whatever our situation in life — butcher, baker, candlestick maker — our deepest and most pressing need is to learn to walk with God.  To hear his voice.  To follow him intimately.  It is the most essential turn of events that could ever take place in the life of any human being, for it brings us back to the source of life.  Everything else we long for can then flow forth from this union.”

As the book begins, he describes why he believes intimacy with God is possible even today:

“Now, I know, I know — the prevailing belief is that God speaks to his people only through the Bible.  And let me make this clear: he does speak to us first and foremost through the Bible.  That is the basis for our relationship.  The Bible is the eternal and unchanging Word of God to us.  It is such a gift, to have right there in black and white God’s thoughts toward us.  We know right off the bat that any other supposed revelation from God that contradicts the Bible is not to be trusted.  So I am not minimizing in any way the authority of the Scripture or the fact that God speaks to us through the Bible.

“However, many Christians believe that God only speaks to us through the Bible.

“The irony of that belief is that’s not what the Bible says.

“The Bible is filled with stories of God talking to his people.  Abraham, who is called the friend of God, said, ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father’s household and my native land and who spoke to me . . .’ (Genesis 24:7).  God spoke to Moses ‘as a man speaks with his friend’ (Exodus 33:11).  He spoke to Aaron too: ‘Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron about the Israelites’ (Exodus 6:13).  And David: ‘In the course of time, David inquired of the Lord.  “Shall I go up to one of the towns of Judah?” he asked.  The Lord said, “Go up.”  David asked, “Where shall I go?”  “To Hebron,” the Lord answered’ (2 Samuel 2:1).  The Lord spoke to Noah.  The Lord spoke to Gideon.  The Lord spoke to Samuel.  The list goes on and on.

“I can hear the objections even now:  ‘But that was different.  Those were special people called to special tasks.’  And we are not special people called to special tasks?  I refuse to believe that.  And I doubt that you want to believe it either, in your heart of hearts.

“But for the sake of argument, notice that God also speaks to ‘less important’ characters in the Bible.  God spoke to Hagar, the servant girl of Sarah, as she was running away. . . .  In the New Testament, God speaks to a man named Ananias who plays a small role in seven verses in Acts 9. . . .

“Now, if God doesn’t also speak to us, why would he have given us all these stories of him speaking to others?  ‘Look — here are hundreds of inspiring and hopeful stories about how God spoke to his people in this and that situation.  Isn’t it amazing?  But you can’t have that.  He doesn’t speak like that anymore.’  That makes no sense at all.  Why would God give you a book of exceptions?  This is how I used to relate to my people, but I don’t do that anymore.  What good would a book of exceptions do you?  That’s like giving you the owner’s manual for a Dodge even though you drive a Mitsubishi.  No, the Bible is a book of examples of what it looks like to walk with God.”

Here is another book of examples, exploring the question of what it looks like to walk with God in today’s world.  There’s food for thought, and there’s inspiration and encouragement.

God, what is the life you want me to live?

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Review of The Power Is Within You, by Louise L. Hay


The Power Is Within You

by Louise L. Hay

Hay House, Carlsbad, California, 1991.  239 pages.

Recently I’ve discovered Louise Hay’s books, and I’m finding them uplifting and tremendously encouraging.  I have to admit that I’m not sure I’m convinced that it’s really so simple.  I’m not sure you can really heal your body’s illnesses, aches and pains with affirmations and changing your thoughts.

However, it certainly doesn’t do any harm!  And I do think that paying attention to my beliefs and speaking life-affirming, loving statements to myself has actually helped me be healthier.  It certainly puts me in a better mood, and that’s worth so much all by itself.

Here’s what Louise says in the introduction:

“I am not a healer.  I do not heal anyone.  I think of myself as a stepping stone on a pathway of self-discovery.  I create a space where people can learn how incredibly wonderful they are by teaching them to love themselves.  That’s all I do.  I’m a person who supports people.  I help people take charge of their lives.  I help them discover their own power and inner wisdom and strengths.  I help them get the blocks and the barriers out of the way, so they can love themselves no matter what circumstances they happen to be going through.  This doesn’t mean that we will never have problems, but it is how we react to the problem that makes a tremendous difference.

“After years of individual counseling with clients and conducting hundreds of workshops and intensive training programs across the country and around the world, I found that there is only one thing that heals every problem, and that is: to love yourself.  When people start to love themselves more each day, it’s amazing how their lives get better.  They feel better.  They get the jobs they want.  They have the money they need.  Their relationships either improve, or the negative ones dissolve and new ones begin.  It’s a very simple premise — loving yourself.  I’ve been criticized for being too simplistic, and I have found that the simple things are usually the most profound.”

Now, as a Christian, I was taught to be leery of anything that sounds so New Age as this.  However, Louise’s message is about changing to positive self-talk.  And almost all of her affirmations fit with what I believe about God.  (She may call Him “the Universe,” but I do believe that He is watching over me and loves me.)  If you don’t like using her affirmations, you can actually substitute similar Scripture verses or Christian songs — The idea is to work on your underlying beliefs, believing that good things are going to happen and that I am loved and valuable.

Again, maybe it seems simplistic, but even if it doesn’t improve your health as she claims, filling your mind with positive truths about the world certainly will improve your outlook.

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Review of Shattered Dreams, by Larry Crabb


Shattered Dreams

God’s Unexpected Pathway to Joy

by Larry Crabb

Waterbrook Press, 2001.  218 pages.

Using the Biblical story of Naomi, in Shattered Dreams, Larry Crabb talks about how sometimes God’s best for us comes through the destruction of all our hopes.  Sometimes our deepest, truest dream can only happen when our superficial dreams are shattered.

He explains it this way:

“The highest dream we could ever dream, the wish that if granted would make us happier than any other blessing, is to know God, to actually experience Him.  The problem is that we don’t believe this idea is true.  We assent to it in our heads.  But we don’t feel it in our hearts.

“We can’t stop wanting to be happy.  And that urge should prompt no apology.  We were created for happiness.  Our souls therefore long for whatever we think will provide the greatest possible pleasure.  We just aren’t yet aware that an intimate relationship with God is that greatest pleasure.”

Sometimes, when our dreams shatter, and we feel pain, and God doesn’t make the pain go away:

“It’s there that we discover our desire for God.  We begin to feel a desire to know Him that not only survives all our pain, but actually thrives in it until that desire becomes more intense than our desire for all the good things we still want.  Through the pain of shattered lower dreams, we wake up to the realization that we want an encounter with God more than we want the blessings of life.  And that begins a revolution in our lives.”

I thought of this book as an excellent reminder.  I didn’t feel like the author was saying anything brand new, but it was good to hear someone giving voice to the truth that God can work through our pain.  Through difficult times, we can learn to desire God — and find Him — as at no other time in our lives.

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Review of The Verbally Abusive Relationship, by Patricia Evans


The Verbally Abusive Relationship

How to Recognize It and How to Respond

by Patricia Evans

Adams Media Corporation, Second Edition, 1996.  218 pages.

This book is the Patricia Evans book originally recommended to me by a friend.  This was the first one she wrote, shedding light on the problem of verbal abuse.  The other books expand on the ideas presented here.  I highly recommend all of the books.

Verbal abuse is a crazy-making situation.  The author explains how the verbally abusive person and his partner are coming from two completely different realities.

“Because of his need for dominance and his unwillingness to accept his partner as an equal, the verbal abuser is compelled to negate the perceptions, experiences, values, accomplishments and plans of his partner.  Consequently, the partner may not even know what it is like to feel supported and validated in her relationship.  She may take his negation as a lack of common interest or as a misunderstanding.  In truth, a verbally abusive relationship is a more or less constant invalidation of the partner’s reality.”

The author elaborates:

“The fact that she can’t come to an understanding with her mate simply because he is abusive and will defeat her through abusive power plays is almost incomprehensible to the partner.  Not coming to this realization, however, leaves the partner living in an incomprehensible reality where she is blamed for the battering of her own spirit.”

Being blamed for the battering of her own spirit is the line that resonated with me.  As if it’s not bad enough to be told that one is a terrible person, reality is twisted so that if she protests, now she’s told she’s someone who’s always fighting, a terrible, argumentative person.

Patricia Evans also explains why it’s so difficult to break out of such a situation:

“Extraordinary self-esteem is precisely what is required to recognize that her mate is in another reality — that he sees the world through the model of Power Over.

“Unfortunately, living with a verbal abuser increasingly undermines the partner’s self-esteem making recognition that much more difficult.  It takes tremendous self-esteem to validate one’s own reality when no one else seems to have done so.  Sometimes, just a book that describes it, or knowing that one person “out there” understands can make all the difference.”

Perhaps this is why I found this book so affirming, so life-changing.  She gives a name to the words that were making me feel terrible.  They are verbal abuse.  No wonder I feel bad.

“Verbal abuse:  Words that attack or injure, that cause one to believe the false, or that speak falsely of one.”

Often this takes the form of rewriting history, such as picking lots of fights and then saying that the partner is so argumentative, no one could live with her.

Patricia Evans also discusses at length how to respond to verbal abuse.  She compassionately warns you that it is difficult and encourages you that you have taken a big step in simply being able to recognize abuse.  She affirms that abuse is irrational, and it is not your fault.

I like this encouragement:

“Don’t ever delude yourself into thinking that you should have the ability to stay serene no matter how you are treated.  Your serenity comes from the knowledge that you have a fundamental right to a nurturing environment and a fundamental right to affirm your boundaries.”

In a divorce, the primary form verbal abuse takes is accusing and blaming.  The author has some good words to say about responding to accusing and blaming:

“Don’t spend a second trying to explain that you weren’t doing what you were accused of doing or guilty of what you were blamed for.  Just say, ‘Stop it.’  Abusive statements are lies about you which are told to you.  They violate your boundaries.  The abuser in effect invades your mind, makes up a ‘story’ about your motives, and then tells it to you.  No human being has the right to do that to another.

“Generally, accusing and blaming involve lies about the partner’s intentions, attitudes, and motives.  They leave her feeling frustrated and misunderstood and, therefore, especially desirous of explaining herself.  If she does try to explain herself, the abuse is perpetuated.

“One more word about ‘explaining.’  If you are encountering abuse and feel that if you could explain things he’d understand, remember this:  If someone started throwing rocks through your windows, you would be more inclined to tell him to stop than you would be to explain to him why he shouldn’t throw rocks.  Verbal abuse is like a rock thrown through your window.”

She also talks about recovery.

“Recovery from verbal abuse is the opportunity to accept all your feelings and to recognize their validity.  You may be the first person to recognize and accept them and to know that they are not wrong.  They are, as we have said earlier, indicators that something is or was wrong in your environment, and it isn’t you.”

She includes a list of affirmations that support victims of verbal abuse, adapted from a list by Jennifer Baker Fleming.  I like the list so much, I’m going to include them all here:

I can trust my own feelings and perceptions.

I am not to blame for being verbally abused.

I am not the cause of another’s irritation, anger, or rage.

I deserve freedom from mental anguish.

I can say no to what I do not like or want.

I do not have to take it.

I am an important human being.

I am a worthwhile person.

I deserve to be treated with respect.

I have power over my own life.

I can use my power to take good care of myself.

I can decide for myself what is best for me.

I can make changes in my life if I want to.

I am not alone; I can ask others to help me.

I am worth working for and changing for.

I deserve to make my own life safe and happy.

I can count on my creativity and resourcefulness.

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Review of Playing It By Heart, by Melody Beattie


Playing It by Heart

Taking Care of Yourself No Matter What

by Melody Beattie

Hazelden, Center City, Minnesota, 1999.  262 pages.

Starred Review.

Melody Beattie is the author of the wonderful books Codependent No More, Beyond Codependency, and The Language of Letting Go.  In Playing It by Heart, she gets even more personal and tells her life story.

Her story is incredible — especially incredible that she survived it.  She has lived through addiction, time in prison, desperate poverty, hospitalization, failed marriages, the death of a son.  And throughout the telling of her story, she draws beautiful, life-affirming insights.

I especially love the way she sums things up toward the end of the book:

“Now there’s at least two ways I can look at all of this.  I can say look at everything I’ve had to go through.  Or I can stand back and say wow.  Look at everything I got to experience, feel, and see.  And as much as I’ve resisted and struggled each step of the way, maybe that’s why I am here: to go through all of this and see from my point of view exactly how all these things feel.”

After reading this book, I find myself praying blessings upon Melody Beattie — because of how powerfully she has blessed me.  If you want a reminder of how powerfully God can redeem desperate situations, I highly recommend this book.

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Review of Controlling People, by Patricia Evans


Controlling People

How to Recognize, Understand, and Deal with People Who Try to Control You

by Patricia Evans

Adams Media Corporation, Avon, Massachusetts, 2002.  300 pages.

Starred Review.

A friend recommended Patricia Evans’ first book, The Verbally Abusive Relationship, to me.  I found what I began so helpful, I checked out all of her books.  I seem to be finishing them in the opposite order in which they were written.  However, I am finding each book tremendously helpful.

Controlling People helps make sense of behavior that seems inexplicable.  I read most of this book at a time when my mind kept spinning, trying to understand how someone I loved could say some things that seemed completely outrageous.  The scenario described in this book enabled me to understand more clearly how this could be, and strengthened me to keep from the conclusion that I was somehow the crazy one to think this behavior unacceptable.

In the introduction, Patricia Evans says, “You are not alone in your desire to understand the problem of control.  Thousands of people have asked me, “Why would anyone act ‘like that’?”  They describe the way they’ve been treated, and they wonder what compels one to try to control others.  “Why don’t most people who try to control others see that they’re being oppressive?  Are they under a spell or what?” they ask.

“Many people have also asked why they can’t seem to stop attempting to control others, even when these destructive behaviors are driving their loved ones away.  They often say that something seems to “come over” them and things “go wrong.”  At times, they are so unaware of their behavior and its impact that they don’t realize that anything has gone wrong until it’s too late — a loved one has left or violence has erupted….

“This book is a quest to find answers to these questions.  It will take us on a journey of exploration through a maze of senseless behaviors woven into our world.  By the end of our journey we’ll be in a new place with a new perspective on the problem of control.  And the journey itself may very well be spell-breaking.”

She talks about how and why verbal abuse is based on pretending:

“If someone defines you, even in subtle ways, they are pretending to know the unknowable.  There is a quality of fantasy to their words and sometimes to their actions.  Even so, they are usually unaware of the fact that they are playing “let’s pretend.”  They fool themselves and sometimes others into thinking that what they are saying is true or that what they are doing is right.

“When people “make up” your reality — as if they were you — they are trying to control you, even when they don’t realize it.

“When people attempt to control you they begin by pretending.  When they define you they are acting in a senseless way.  They are pretending.  When people act as if you do not exist or are not a real person with a reality of your own … they are pretending.  In this subtle and often unconscious way, they are attempting to exert control over you — your space, time, resources, or even your life.

“We know that they are pretending because in actual fact, no one can tell you what you want, believe, should do, or why you have done what you have done.  No one can know your inner reality, your intentions, your motives, what you think, believe, feel, like, dislike, what you know, how you do what you do, or who you are.  If someone does pretend to know your inner reality:  “You’re trying to start a fight,” they have it backwards.  People can only know themselves.  It doesn’t work the other way around.

“Since you can only define yourself, your self-definition is yours.  It isn’t necessary that you prove it or explain it.  It is, after all, your own.  Self-definition is inherent in being a person.

“Despite the evidence, it is difficult for many people to realize that the person who defines them is not being rational.  They feel inclined to defend themselves as if the person defining them were rational.  But by trying to defend themselves against someone’s definitions, they are acknowledging those definitions as valid, that they make sense, when they are, in fact, complete nonsense.”

Patricia Evans goes on to explain how someone can fall into this trap of building up a Pretend Person whom they anchor in the body of their loved one.  When the real person acts differently than the way the Pretend Person is supposed to act, including not knowing or not agreeing with their own thoughts and feelings, then they naturally get very angry.

The sad thing is that these Controllers are trying to connect with someone, but end up with severe disconnection.

The author doesn’t leave it at that.  She does offer suggestions for how to become a Spellbreaker and break the spell that Controllers seem to be operating under.  Even if the Controller in your life does not change, she shows you ways to break out of the influence of the spell yourself.  At the very least, the understanding of the dynamics involved helps break the crazy-making aspects of being exposed to these irrational behaviors.

This is a valuable and helpful book.  If any of this sounds the slightest bit familiar, I highly recommend reading further.  Patricia Evans goes into great depth and great detail about this pervasive problem, even covering groups connected by hate.  Ultimately, her message is one of great hope.

“Instead of acting to keep Pretend Person “alive” by means of fear, intimidation, and dominance, former Controllers find that they can accept and give love freely.  Their strength flows from spirit full enough to nurture another, alive enough to act toward good, clear enough to understand, faithful enough to wait and see, fearless enough to reveal the truth, free enough to choose to learn, courageous enough to stand alone, connected enough to love the other.”

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