Review of The Sweet Potato Queens’ Field Guide to Men


The Sweet Potato Queens’ Field Guide to Men:  Every Man I Love Is Either Married, Gay, or Dead, by Jill Conner Browne

Well, this book is very irreverent and, how shall I say this?  Not very respectful toward men.  But oh my goodness, it is funny! 

As the author says herownself:  “The reader should not infer any degree of fairness intended by these descriptions; they are used purely for the sake of conversation and, we hope, for laughs.  It is not in my job description to be fair to men or to even seem fair to them.  It’s a little late in the history of the entire world to introduce an element of fairness, and beyond even my considerable powers to bring it to bear, anyway.”

She goes on to describe, with great hilarity, many types of men you’ll find out there:  The Bud Spud, the Dud Spud, the Crud Spud, the Fuddy-Dud Spud, the Pud Spud, the Blood Spud (also known as the Man Who May Need Killing), the Scud Spud, and finally every woman’s dream, the Spud Stud.

And so it goes.  I should mention that Jill Conner Browne does not confine herself to mocking men, but also gives plenty of hearty laughter toward those of us who love them — and the things we’ll go through to try to attract them.

I’m afraid, in my present Being-Divorced state, the chapter I found most utterly hilarious was “Surviving the Wang Wars” about all the delightful ways women have gotten revenge on men who didn’t treat them as well as they deserved.

“Alas and alack, love does occasionally derail, and when it does, it usually wipes out entire neighborhoods, releases a massive cloud of terminally toxic gas, and the cleanup can take years.  And while it may be true that it is not always their fault when things go awry, it is no less true that we certainly believe that it’s always their fault and we want 100 percent of all the blame to be laid not so much at their feet but rather on top of their bodies, making it impossible for them to breathe and continue living in any real sense of the word.  What would really make us just oh so happy is to be allowed to murder them ten different times in ten different ways and then finally feed the remains to the wood chipper.  But hardly anybody ever really gets to do that.  And so, barring that ultimate satisfaction, a number of Queens have demonstrated characteristic Queenly Resourcefulness in their dealings with errant mates in ways that are not likely to land the perpetrator in the slammer, and that’s a Good Thing.  I share them with you as food for thought — fodder for your consideration as alternative strategies should you find yourself currently in possession of a man who is just beggin’ to be killed.”

Now, I should mention that the Sweet Potato Queens do not advocate criminal activity.   Jill Conner Browne says, “Even in Louisiana they will sometimes put you in jail if you kill one.  We’ve stated repeatedly that we are unequivocally against killin’ ’em, even when they practically beg for it by their every word and deed.  If you do, you will miss quite a few St. Paddy’s parades in Jackson while running from the law, and you’ll be a Yam on the Lam.”

if you’re feeling tempted to commit violence, The Sweet Potato Queens will get you laughing so hard about it, you won’t need to any longer.

With lots of silly but all too true insights, I think the uplifting message of the book is summarized in this paragraph:

“Throughout this book, I’ve been carrying on about men and finding them and getting them and keeping them and deciding whether or not to kill them, and if so, how, and so on.  And that’s all funny and mostly true and all that, but the real truth is you are enough — just the way you are, just who you are.  You are a complete entity, a whole person, right there in the skin you’re in.  You don’t need to have a guy to be happy.  Admit it:  You have more fun with a gang of girlfriends than you’ve had on the absolute best date of your entire life.  If somebody comes along who treats you right and makes you happy and you can do the same for him, well, that’s just dandy.  But I’m telling you, the only way that I know to get and keep a happy, healthy relationship is first to create a happy and healthy life for yourself without one.  This is your life to live.”

Preach it, Sister!

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Review of Overcoming Passive-Aggression


Overcoming Passive-Aggression

How to Stop Hidden Anger from Spoiling Your Relationships, Career and Happiness

by Tim Murphy, PhD, and Loriann Hoff Oberlin

Although this book wasn’t quite as helpful as the book Living with the Passive-Aggressive Man, by Scott Wetzler, by seeming a little more glib in the solutions offered, it still shed valuable light on the problem.

The authors describe passive-aggression as rooted in hidden anger.  So taking a closer look at the behaviors resulting from passive-aggression help to blow away the cover.

Here is what they say about hidden anger:

“Hidden anger is:

— Indirect, incongruent, and unproductive behavior

— Subtle, manipulative actions or inactivity

— Consciously planned, intentional, or slyly vindictive; or it can be unconscious

— Part of a dysfunctional pattern of dealing with others

— Allowing the perpetrator to deny responsibility for it and often appear as the victim

— Stalling because it doesn’t move toward resolution; it blocks resolution

— Motivated by the intent to hurt, annoy, or destroy

— Triggered by needs that haven’t been met or based upon irrational fears/beliefs

— Never positive because of its manipulative and indirect nature

— Toxic to relationships and groups of people, especially over time

— Self-perpetuating, powerful, and rarely, if ever, appropriate

Rest assured, if hidden anger is unleashed upon you, you will likely end up feeling like the bad character.  You know there is a problem.  You can sense it.  Only, it nags at you because you’re not sure who is responsible, why it’s happening, and what to do about it.”

This book is helpful because it will help open your eyes to underlying anger, whether in yourself or others, so it can no longer be hidden. 

The authors help you understand why hidden anger is harmful, and gives you ideas for changing.  They also discuss “enablers,” people caught in a cycle of behavior that encourages someone else to continue their passive-aggressive behavior.  They give strategies for breaking out of the cycle, in many different situations.

The authors do point out that hidden anger is a huge and pervasive problem in separation and divorce.

“Though plenty of people having separated or divorced may claim, ‘I’m not angry,’ neither of us has really encountered anyone unscathed by this process.  Unless the union and all you’d done with your life in the company of this person meant absolutely nothing to you, the anger is there all right, only it may remain hidden.

“In my practice, I met parents telling me that their son or daughter was fine with their getting a divorce.  In 99.9 percent of the cases, I’m afraid that just wasn’t so.  The child may not show any visible signs, but rest assured there is some deep emotion there.  It was either very visible or extremely well-hidden anger.

“But as we’ve said so often, if you’ve contributed somehow to your anger or to your children’s anger, then you have a greater capacity to be part of the solution as well.  It’s probably nowhere more important than in divorced families.  When you don’t do this important growth work — encouraging your children to do the same — learning to openly communicate and move beyond silenced anger, that’s when we see children caught in the middle of a silent, or subtly antagonistic war between their parents.”

All in all, this is an eye-opening and helpful book.  Because passive-aggression is about hiding anger, reading a book to understand it better is definitely a step in the right direction.

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Review of Living with the Passive-Aggressive Man, by Scott Wetzler


Living With the Passive-Aggressive Man:  Coping with this frustrating miscommunication between women and men, by Scott Wetzler, Ph.D.

Simon & Schuster, New York, 1992.  207 pages.

ISBN:  0-671-76791-7

My husband used to freely admit to being passive-aggressive.  In fact, I wasn’t very familiar with the term until he used it more than once to describe himself.

Reading this book has been tremendously helpful in helping me understand how his wanting a divorce could have so completely blind-sided me.  With hindsight, I can see the anger sitting below the surface.  At the time, I believed the coverups.

It also helps me keep from feeling jealous about any new relationships he might form:  They will still have to deal with passive-aggression.  A new woman won’t make it go away.

And, best of all, it helps me know what to expect in my dealings with my husband as the divorce happens, and gives me the strength to opt out of any passive-aggressive games.  This book is empowering.

The author tells why he has written a book about passive aggression:

“The answer is simple:  passive-aggressive behavior fractures relationships that would otherwise thrive….

“This book is for women like you, who deal with, live with, have been hurt by and have hope for this unique character: the passive-aggressive man.  If you love such a man, then you know him as someone who never seems to love you back fully; he promises but rarely delivers.  He sees himself as a casualty of recurrent misunderstandings, a bundle of intricately overlapping layers of behaviors no one can penetrate.  What makes his personality confusing is that he’s passive, coaxing, elusive, but also aggressively resistant to you, to intimacy, to responsibility and reason.

“Right now, confused by his behavior, you may be doubting yourself, not him….  But passive-aggression is an understandable psychological pattern — anger its driving force, and fear its hidden secret.  As you read this book and recognize the pattern, you will be less confused by the passive-aggressive men in your life and the games they play.  The ultimate success or failure of your relationship will be how the two of you willingly deal with his — and your — problems.

“As you gain some perspective on the passive-aggressive personality, you can laugh about his games and loop-the-loop logic.  You can take him or leave him, and decide what’s best for yourself.”

Dr. Wetzler helps you understand what’s going on and helps you have the ability to opt out of the games. 

He also talks about what kind of women fall for passive-aggressive men, particularly Victims, Managers, and Rescuers.  His explanation of our behavior is convicting and eye-opening, and he has ideas for stopping the cycle of behavior that feeds passive-aggression in the one we love.  Not that we are responsible for this behavior — but he helps us see how we inadvertently feed it.

I do like the author’s summary of what you most need to understand:

“– A passive-aggressive man is responsible for how he feels, no matter how persuasively he denies those feelings rather than accepting them.

“– A passive-aggressive man is in charge of the choices he makes, good and bad.  The same is true for you.

“– You must be clear about your expectations in a relationship with a passive-aggressive man, communicate them, enforce whatever limits you set and get out, if necessary.”

Dr. Wetzler also reminds us:  “Throughout, I’ve spoken in great detail about the feelings and attitudes that comprise passive-aggression.  I wanted to help you understand, too, that even though you care about him, you’re not responsible for a passive-aggressive man’s problems or how he reacts to you.  Most of all, I wanted to confirm that you are not responsible for getting him to change.  While your emotional support is important, getting him to understand his behavior and make changes are the jobs of a therapist.”

A helpful, enlightening, and empowering book.

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Review of The Gaslight Effect, by Dr. Robin Stern

The Gaslight Effect 

How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life

by Dr. Robin Stern

Reviewed February 19, 2008.
Morgan Road Books, New York, 2007. 269 pages.
Starred Review.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2008: #2, Relationships

One thing I learned from reading The Script and from talking with many women whose husbands left them: In such a situation, the relationship is going to get overcome by lies. The whole “Script” is based on asserting that it is all the wife’s fault that the husband is cheating.

Many people in broken relationships find that even worse than the betrayal itself is the knowledge that the one you love lied to you over and over and over again. If you are accustomed to believing this person (and you certainly should be), then the lies, which become more and more outrageous, are crazy-making.

When her husband finally admitted his adultery, one friend found that all she could say was, “I thought I was crazy!” Trying to believe lies coming from the one you love–lies designed to shift the blame off of him to you–is demoralizing and devastating.

The Gaslight Effect is a powerful and moving book, showing how emotional manipulation can grow from subtle beginnings–and how to break free.

The book gets its name from the classic movie starring Ingrid Bergman:

This classic 1944 film is the story of Paula, a young, vulnerable singer who marries Gregory, a charismatic, mysterious older man. Unbeknownst to Paula, her beloved husband is trying to drive her insane in order to take over her inheritance. He continually tells her she is ill and fragile, rearranges household items and then accuses her of doing so, and most deviously of all, manipulates the gas so that she sees the lights dim for no apparent reason. Under the spell of her husband’s diabolical scheme, Paula starts to believe that she is going mad. Confused and scared, she begins to act hysterical, actually becoming the fragile, disoriented person that he keeps telling her she is. In a vicious downward spiral, the more she doubts herself, the more confused and hysterical she becomes. She is desperate for her husband to approve of her and to tell her he loves her, but he keeps refusing to do so, insisting she is insane. Her return to sanity and self-assertion comes only when a police inspector reassures her that he, too, sees the dimming of the light.

Dr. Stern shows us examples of gaslighters in many different situations: lovers, spouses, parents, and bosses can all be gaslighters.

The Gaslight Effect results from a relationship between two people: a gaslighter, who needs to be right in order to preserve his own sense of self and his sense of having power in the world; and a gaslightee, who allows the gaslighter to define her sense of reality because she idealizes him and seeks his approval.

Dr. Stern assures us that even capable, confident women and men fall into the role of gaslightee, much to their own astonishment–if they even realize why they are so demoralized.

The problem is, gaslighting is insidious. It plays on our worst fears, our most anxious thoughts, our deepest wishes to be understood, appreciated, and loved. When someone we trust, respect, or love speaks with great certainty–especially if there’s a grain of truth in his words, or if he’s hit on one of our pet anxieties–it can be very difficult not to believe him. And when we idealize the gaslighter–when we want to see him as the love of our life, an admirable boss, or a wonderful parent–then we have even more difficulty sticking to our own sense of reality. our gaslighter needs to be right, we need to win his approval, and so the gaslighting goes on. 

Of course, neither of you may be aware of what’s really happening. The gaslighter may genuinely believe every word he tells you or sincerely feel that he’s only saving you from yourself. Remember: He’s being driven by his own needs. Your gaslighter might seem like a strong, powerful man, or he may appear to be an insecure, tantrum-throwing little boy; either way, he feels weak and powerless. To feel powerful and safe, he has to prove that he is right, and he has to get you to agree with him.

It does take two for the Gaslight Effect to happen.

If there’s even a little piece of you that thinks you’re not good enough by yourself–if even a small part of you feels you need your gaslighter’s love or approval to be whole–then you are susceptible to gaslighting.

This book is eye-opening. She shows how the gaslighting goes in stages. You begin with disbelief, thinking you’ve misunderstood, or that the gaslighter didn’t really mean it. In the second stage, you start defending yourself.

You search for evidence to prove your gaslighter wrong and argue with him obsessively, often in your head, desperately trying to win his approval.

The third, exhausting, overwhelming stage is depression. “At this point, you are actively trying to prove that your gaslighter is right, because then maybe you could do things his way and finally win his approval.

The third stage is epitomized by the woman apologizing profusely, repeatedly and obsessively to her husband for what he claims is years of bad behavior as she desperately begs him to forgive her–but nothing she can possibly say or do will ever win his forgiveness. However, he honestly comes to believe–and does everything he can to convince her–that she simply did not measure up, and he could not stay married to someone like her. That’s a much more comfortable story than the idea that he betrayed her.

Dr. Stern illuminates the whole process. She lets you understand how it can happen, even between two good people.

But the real power in this book is that she teaches you how to stop the gaslighting.

Fortunately, there is a solution to the problem of gaslighting. The key to freeing yourself from this crippling syndrome isn’t easy, but it is simple. All you have to do is understand that you are already a good, capable, and lovable person who doesn’t need an idealized partner to provide approval. Of course, this is easier said than done. But when you realize that you alone can define your sense of self–that you are a worthy person who deserves to be loved, regardless of what your gaslighter thinks–you’ve taken the first step toward freedom.

I like it that Dr. Stern doesn’t simply tell you to leave such a relationship. She helps you figure out if you can end the gaslighting but keep the relationship, or not. Especially crucial is that she shows you that you have the power to stop the gaslighting even if the one doing the gaslighting doesn’t cooperate.

Although from the outside gaslighting can look like the work of a single, abusive gaslighter, a gaslighting relationship always involves the active participation of two people. That is, in fact, the good news. If you’re caught in a gaslighting relationship, you may not be able to change the gaslighter’s behavior, but you can certainly change your own. Again, it’s not easy, but it is simple: You can end the gaslighting as soon as you stop trying to win the argument or convince your gaslighter to be reasonable. Instead, you can simply opt out.

There are some good tips for opting out of gaslighting on small levels as well as on big levels.

If you know what happened, you don’t need to argue about it. In fact, arguing about it will only make you feel crazy. Debating something basic–“I was not gone for twenty minutes”; “I am not threatened by this job”; “I never agreed to make a cake at the last minute”–suggests that reality is in fact open to debate, and that you’d change your position if you heard a good argument. It’s an inviation to your gaslighter to batter you with facts or emotional statements until you finally give in. Would you argue with a four-year-old about whether the moon can fall onto the earth, or whether candy is a good substitue for vegetables, or whether he can stay up all night and never get tired? No, because you know you’re right, and nothing the four-year-old can say will change your mind. More important, you want him to get the message that you’re not open to argument about these topics; you know what’s true, and that’s the end of it. Even though your gaslighter is not a child, it’s important to give him the same message: Some things are not open to debate.

I love that illustration, because once my three-year-old son threw a temper tantrum for a full hour in the middle of the night because he wanted to “stay up all night and all day”! That actually caused me much less turmoil than when he had protested against naptime. I felt very ambivalent about the naps–He seemed to be outgrowing the need for them. However, when he told his plan about staying up all night and all day, I didn’t question my grasp of the facts for a moment. Although I wanted him to stop crying so I could go to sleep, I definitely didn’t try to argue with him, and there was no self-doubt whatsoever.

If your husband tells you that you threatened to leave him when you know full well that you never intended any such thing–why debate? Though maybe he misunderstood your words, there is no reason to argue about your motives. You know what they were, and it’s time to simply tell him that you disagree and refuse to engage in debate. Perhaps that would be a good time to picture a raging toddler in your mind. It’s not a time for reasoning.

Don’t get caught in worrying about who’s right and who’s wrong. The important thing is not who can win the argument but how you want to be treated.

Dr. Stern gives many strategies and ideas to try to empower you to be able to opt out of arguments which only mire you in gaslighting.

If your friends tell you that you are sticking up for your gaslighter too much, you may have moved into stage 2 of gaslighting, where “instead of starting with your own perspective, you start with his.”

If you’re busy thinking how your jealousy or maybe your lack of understanding helped your husband slip into a “friendship” with someone at work, you’re not in a healthy place. “It may even feel normal to be constantly on the defensive. When your gaslighter overreacts, you no longer wonder, ‘What’s wrong with him?’ Instead, you jump either to placate him or defend yourself.”

Gaslighting isn’t always as serious as cheating. Dr. Stern tells us about many different types of gaslighters, like the “Glamour Gaslighter” who is all charm and sweetness on the surface. But if he gives a gift that you don’t like, or maybe is in the mood for romance when you’re not, suddenly you’re inadequate, you’re the bad person.

If you’re involved with a Glamour Gaslighter, you may be nodding in recognition– yet still feeling confused. You can see the behavior, but you’re still not quite sure why it’s such a problem. 

Well, I can tell you why: At least some–and maybe all–of the time, your gaslighter is completely involved in proving to himself what a romantic guy he is. That’s his version of the gaslighter’s need to be right. he looks like he’s relating to you, but he’s really only involved with himself. The actions he chooses to fulfill his needs may seem loving, attentive, and satisfying, but his lack of genuine connection with you leaves you feeling lonely.

Another surprising type is the “Good Guy Gaslighter.” “It looks like he’s being cooperative, pleasant, and helpful, but you still end up feeling confused and frustrated.” This type is going through the motions on the outside, but “when he gives in, you feel that it’s not so much because he cares about your feelings as because he wants to prove what a good guy he is. You end up thinking you must be crazy, ungrateful, or incapable of being satisfied, because, after all, he’s such a great guy.”

He’ll do his share–and more–of the household and relationship work. Yet you never quite feel as though he’s fully participating. And when you ask for emotional reassurance or try to connect with him more deeply, he’ll look at you blankly. Why, you wonder, are you so selfish and demanding?

This category also includes spouses who “give in” and do something they clearly don’t want to do, then hold it over your head.

Of course, the gaslighter in this situation is entitled to refuse to spend yet another day with your family. But he’s not refusing, he’s engaging in gaslighting, trying to make himself look like a good guy instead of being clear about what he wants. If you’re involved with a guy like this, you can easily become confused.

Again, Dr. Stern offers a solution, and helps you work out how you can do it in your own situation. “Let’s see what happens when you stop worrying about his approval, refuse to idealize your guy, and hold on to your own reality, even in the face of his need always to be right.”

Dr. Stern describes Stage 3 as “When defeat feels normal.”

One of the greatest dangers of Stage 3 is your increased loss of perspective. Feeling defeated, hopeless, and joyless may now come to seem so normal that you can’t remember your life ever was any other way…. 

To me, the worst aspect of Stage 3 is the hopelessness. Like all gaslightees, you have idealized the gaslighter and wish desperately for his approval. But by Stage 3, you’ve pretty much given up on believing that you’ll ever get it. As a result, you think the worst of yourself.

As she describes Stage 3 gaslighting, I still found the Glamour Gaslighter and the Good-Guy Gaslighter the most eye-opening. They sound so nice. Even reading the description it’s hard to see what’s wrong with that approach–yet clearly that’s what makes this behavior so crazy-making.

A Glamour Gaslighter is putting on a big show for his own benefit while trying to convince his gaslighter that it’s all for her benefit. He tells his partner she should enjoy his romantic gestures, but he’s not really checking in with her to see if she does. He’s just putting on a show and insisting that she enjoy it. 

A Good-Guy Gaslighter is getting his own way while trying to convince his wife that she’s getting her way. Or he’s withholding a part of himself while trying to convince his wife that he’s giving his all and encouraging her to think she’s crazy for wanting more.

As a result, the gaslighted woman feels lonel, confused, and frustrated, but she can’t say why.

Why do we stay? “As long as any part of you believes you need your gaslighter to feel better about yourself, to boost your confidence, or to bolster your sense of who you are in the world, you leave yourself open for gaslighting.”

Another convicting insight:

Those of us who stay in gaslighting relationships have decided–usually unconsciously–that we need to be able to tolerate anything, and that we have the power to fix anything. Melanie, for example, needed to belive that she was a kind, nurturing person whose all-encompassing love would create–single-handedly if necessary–a happy marriage. No matter how badly Jordan behaved, she should, she could, and she would be loving enough to make things work. Facing how unhappy she was with Jordan meant giving up this idealized version of herself and accepting that she couldn’t overcome her husband’s difficult ways solely through the power of her love.

I was convicted when I read that, because I cling to the idea that I made a vow, and that vow was for better or worse.

But when I read this book, I had to realize that no, I’m not supposed to tolerate anything. Am I trying to get to the place where unfaithfulness and abandonment don’t bother me? No, that’s not a healthy relationship.

My goal should definitely not be to get to a place where lies don’t bother me, or to get to a place where I let my husband tell me what I should be feeling.

This is not about pretending that everything’s fine when it clearly isn’t.

Here’s what we seem to be wishing for, when we stay with a man who is lying and cheating:

No matter how badly he behaves, it doesn’t matter, because we are strong enough (or forgiving enough, or nurturing enough) to transcend it. If we are not larger than life in our capacity to change him, then we are larger than life in our capacity to put up with him. 

The good news is that if we have the courage to leave these gaslighting relationships and look honestly at what they’ve cost us, we can begin to see an end to the terrible fear that’s been haunting us our entire lives–the fear of being unloved and alone…. We can see how full of love the world is–how many loving friends and supportive colleagues and potential life partners might enter our lives to replace that single “soul mate” on whom we’ve depended so heavily.

If we can see that our true selves don’t really depend on another person’s maintenance, that we are no longer the helpless infants or young children who needed so desperately to turn our parents into heroes, then we can finally begin to enjoy the people in our lives for who they are, rather than needing them to be the good parents we never had. We can become our own parents, caring for ourselves, so that our romantic partnerships and work relationships and friendships are based on love and desire, not on need and desperation.

Of course, the important part of the book is where Dr. Stern helps us learn how to turn off the gas.

You can change a gaslighting relationship only when you are willing to leave it, even if you never actually have to leave. But you need to become comfortable with the idea that you and your gaslighter are each allowed to have your own thoughts, so that you neither have to give in to his negative view of you nor have to convince him to validate you as good.

She doesn’t pretend that this process is easy or quick. However, she does encourage us:

I also want you to remember that changing your own behavior is an extraordinary achievement and one that will repay you handsomely for the rest of your life. Whether you’re able to save this relationship or not, the changes you make in yourself will stand you in good stead for a healthy, happy, and satisfying relationship in the future, either with your current gaslighter or with someone else. You may also be amazed at how all sorts of things in your life begin changing–how your relationships to work, friends, partner, family, and the world at large are all improved by your efforts to turn off the gas in any other part of your life. So even while you’re mourning the loss of what you may be giving up, remember to celebrate or at least appreciate the things you’re gaining.

Dr. Stern’s insights help a gaslightee understand how they contributed to the gaslighting. However, she warns us:

One of the most soul-destroying aspects of being treated badly is the message we give ourselves that we deserve it. And as we seek to become more responsible and understand how we, too, participate in the destructive dynamics we’re trying to escape, we can come to feel that we really do deserve to be treated badly. After all, we participated. We argued with our gaslighter, or submitted to him, or gave him the message that we didn’t mind. We tried to control the situation or sought to make ourselves feel secure. Therefore, we’re just as guilty as he is, and we deserve whatever happens to us, right? 

Wrong. The goal of this process is not berate yourself, burden yourself with guilt, or apportion blame. Your only goal is to change your situation for the better. In order to do that, you need to know how you, too, are contributing to the problem and what you might do to alter it. But that’s very different from deciding that you “deserve” what’s happening or that you are somehow “to blame” for it.

One of the final steps in shutting off the gas is one that a dear mentor has been trying to drum into me from the beginning of my problems with my husband. “Remember that you can’t control anyone’s opinion–even if you’re right!”

Dr. Stern speaks from personal experience in this section:

I know one of my own biggest hooks in the gaslighting process was my desperate wish to get my ex-husband to agree that I was right. I simply couldn’t stand that he thought it was okay to be three hours late, and that the problem was my oversensitivity, so I’d argue with him endlessly, trying to get him to change his mind. I now see that I was just as committed to controlling his thoughts as he was to controlling mine. For example, when he’d come home three hours late and I’d object, he’d go all-out to convince me I was being unreasonable, unspontaneous, overly controlling. But I was equally committed to convincing him that my frustration was justified. 

Twenty years later, I still think I was right and he was wrong–of course my frustration was justified! But that’s beside the point. What kept me locked into the Gaslight Tango was my inability to accept that my husband was going to see things his own way, regardless of what I did. If he wanted to think I was unreasonable, he would, no matter how hard I argued or how upset I got. As soon as I understood that he–and he alone–had power over his own thoughts, no matter how right I might be, and that he wasn’t going to change, no matter what I said or did, I took a significant step toward freedom.

I found this book inspiring, thought-provoking, eye-opening, and tremendously helpful.

It helped me understand some of the things that went wrong in my marriage.

And it gave me hope that I can break out of some of those old patterns.

Maybe best of all, it reminded me that I am a valuable, worthwhile person totally apart from my romantic relationship. That breaking up a relationship does not diminish me as a person–and may even build me up. That it’s not about me being forgiving enough or loving enough to not be bothered by a bad situation.

This book helps me face life with hope and joy.

Like The Script, it casts the light of truth on a bad situation, motivating change.

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

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

This review is posted on the main site at


Forgive for Good, by Fred Luskin

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.