doc_paradise: (honest)

Title: When Good Men Behave Badly: Change Your Behaviour, Change Your Relationships

Author: David B. Wexler, Ph.D.

ISBN: ISBN-13 978-1-57224-346-0

Type: Fixer



“When Good Men Behave Badly” focuses on men’s feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, and perceived threats to identity that can lead to acting badly in otherwise good men with good values, who want to make good choices instead of being emotionally hijacked by their limbic system. It offers these men acknowledgement and an understanding of their emotional life with the goal of equipping them with new behavioural options.

CONTENT WARNING: This book contains examples of domestic violence and examples of derogatory language


Presentation Style

This is a self-help book for middle-aged, white, cis-men written by a middle-aged, white, cis-man. On the one hand, this framing is useful because this to create a tone of (white) men talking to (white) men about shared experiences which may be difficult for women (and others) to have sympathy for when they are on the receiving end of the described bad behaviour. On the other hand, the advice is very binary oriented (men and women only), heteronormative (heterosexual and monogamous assumptions), and doesn’t discern between different groups of men (one size fits all *sigh*). It doesn’t specifically state that it is about white men, but with a white man on the cover… it doesn’t do anything to move away from white men as the default. I’m agender, I don’t exist in this book.

Speaking of the cover… I hate it. My edition has a white man in a dress shirt holding flowers behind his back. My mind jumps to the assumption that the man is in the “doghouse”. A focus group somewhere may have determined that this is brilliant marketing, but it makes me cringe. The irony of the cover is that the book warns of the importance of perception by telling the story of one of the author’s clients, who had a great session with him, but never returned to therapy after the author recommended a book that had the phrase “verbal abuse” in the title.[1]

“When Good Men Behave Badly” is a relatively short book (199 pages + references) that overviews and introduces a selection of ideas, explanations, exercises, and suggestions. It uses examples heavily (see content warning) and fiction examples which may be dated (I don’t recognize most of them, but that didn’t make much of a difference to understanding). This is introductory material. If you want to go into the topics in depth you will have to follow up with other material [2] or seek out a therapist familiar with men’s issues.


Chapter Breakdown:

1. Good Men and Broken Mirrors — Introduces mirroring, broken mirrors, and twinning through the concept of selfobjects (someone or something that helps us feel cohesive). How the broken mirror experience can trigger acting out. 

2. The Power of Women — What men are taught [by toxic masculinity] to expect from women and how emotional dependancy on women for missing needs can lead to resentment or withdrawal, and a perception that they have power over men.

3. Fathers and Sons: Curses and Blessings — How fathers may expect sons to be positive mirrors, react to them as broken mirrors when they don’t measure up, and what this does to boys. 

4. Midlife, Affairs, and Projections —What people do when there is a gap between what is and what they expected in their life. This talks about self-awareness, distress tolerance, taking responsibility and how these can help when it feels like something is missing.

5.  Men’s Brains —What it is like to be hijacked by your limbic system and the effects of anger. Some strategies for dealing with these.

6. Odysseus, Relational Heroism, and Imaginary Crimes — How to be a Relational Hero through self-awareness, preparation, and doing things differently. How to let go of Imaginary Crimes.

7. Guy Talk —How men talk to themselves and other men, and how that sets the frame for behaviour.

8. What Women Can Do —For those women who read the book, a short chapter on dealing with men (and raising boys) within the context of the author’s “good men” hypothesis with some concrete “try these” ideas. It also recognizes that there are men who are dangerous and not just behaving badly.


My Opinion:

This is a book about how toxic masculinity fucks over men.


“When Good Men Behave Badly” presents itself mainly as a relationship repair guide, but it is more about how men can have better relationships with themselves through self-awareness, emotional regulation, and understanding the influences of masculinity in themselves… improved romantic and family relationships is a (very positive) side-effect of being able to navigate one’s internal landscape without being capsized or swamped. I think it is important to healing and growth that men have acknowledgement of their feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, and missing needs, and I like that this book acknowledges this as something that women do for men while at the same time pointing out that disowning responsibility for those needs ultimately undermines the ability to get them met. I like that the author manages to navigate recognizing the subjective reality of these feelings while disassembling the idea that it is women’s job (and men are helpless) to emotionally regulate men. The author strongly believes in men’s positive ability to learn how to regulate and manage their emotional needs well. 


That said, as an agender person who is regularly misgendered as a woman, I’m struggling to find a way to get this book into the hands of the men I think who would benefit from it (possibly even enjoy it), without giving the impression that I think they are broken and harmful people. The book goes in a much different direction than that, but that doesn’t matter if first impressions means they don’t get past the cover.[3] Even beyond the usual problems with giving self-help books to people[4], I think it may be especially difficult, due to the topic, for a woman to give this book to a man without it being potentially perceived (accurately or inaccurately) as shaming. That is unfortunate.   


I think, therefore, that this is a book for men to read and then share with other men in an act of twinship mirroring. 




[1] One of Wexler’s areas of specialty is domestic abuse. He has a number of other books on the topic as well as a book about men in therapy, which (according to the blurb I read) apparently does deal with groups of men other than white cis-men. 


[2] Such as the work of Terrence Real (author of “I Don’t Want To Talk About It” a book on male depression) which is quoted and referenced in this book. 


[3] Being known as someone who reads a staggering number of self-help/psychology books does help diffuse this “I’m giving this to you because you’re broken” vibe, but still… “Hey! I found this fabulous book on [insert taboo topic here] that I think you will love and get lots out of!” isn’t a great party topic for most people. My friends have figured out how to run with it, but they are also used to seeing books on conflict or trauma (for example) on my coffee table.


[4] Self-help books don’t make good gifts folks. They are specifically aimed at fixing people and giving them will *always* have an underlying message that needs to be managed. I love self-help books but there are books on my shelf that just sit there unread specifically because of the framing of their gifting. 


Disclaimer: I am not a therapist, a doctor, or a professional reviewer. I do, however, own and enjoy reading a staggering number of self-help books and I have opinions. Lots of opinions. One of these opinions is that the underlying assumptions in “self-improvement” and “self-help” books should be unpacked. These reviews may or may not do that, but I will try to acknowledge both some of the potentially useful and potentially problematic aspects of the books I review. 

doc_paradise: (Arch)

CONTENT WARNING: The main linked websites contain descriptions, both examples and fiction, of toxic relationships and abuse. The news link leads to an article on L.M. Montgomery’s death.

Title: Sick Systems (websites) and Down The Rabbit Hole (website)

Author: Issendai

Website: Sick Systems: How to Keep Someone With You Forever

Website: Sick Systems: Tag (LJ)

Website: Down The Rabbit Hole: The world of estranged parents’ forums

Title: The Blue Castle (novel)

Author: L.M. Montgomery

ISBN: 0-7704-2315-9

Website: The Blue Castle [full text]


The Sick Systems links are a set of writings and satire on toxic/abusive environments and relationships, and how they work. Down The Rabbit Hole is a set of analytical writings on estranged parent and grandparent forums from the point of view that these forums provide insight into abusive behaviour through the lens of the people doing it and talking about it online. Both of these are amateur and insightful analyses of the topics.

The Blue Castle is a novel set in the early 1900’s Ontario (Canada). Valency Stirling is a depressed and chronically ill woman trapped by her society, circumstances, and toxic family, in a life that she hates. Then she gets news that she only has one year to live and decides that she shall live it (“I may not be able to do much that I want to do but I won't do another thing that I don't want to do.”) This, unsurprisingly, pisses off her family and improves her life.

Writing Styles:

Issendai’s writings are a mix of satire and analysis. How to Keep Someone With You Forever might as well be the Evil Overlord Assessment for this review. They make use of examples and links to threads external to them and following these links can lead to both insights both informative and ugly.

Lucy Maud Montgomery is a Canadian writer better known for the Anne of Green Gables series. This is one of her few books that is entirely about an adult protagonist and set outside of PEI. Despite being known as a children’s author[1], L.M. Montgomery knew quite a bit about sick systems and mental illness (News link). It shows.

My Opinion:

Read it in this order:

1) How to Keep Someone With You Forever

2) The Blue Castle - Chapters 1-8

3) The Tenacity of a Sick System

4) Ginnie Post: Breaking a Sick System by Walking Away

5) The Blue Castle - Chapters 9-45

Extra: Keep Down The Rabbit Hole: The world of estranged parents’ forums open (for comparisons) while reading The Blue Castle.

I realize that The Blue Castle is a work of fiction, however I can’t help but notice how well it illustrates Issendai’s observations and I think the novel benefits from a combined reading… otherwise the first eight chapters are unrelentingly dismal. I love both The Blue Castle and Issendai’s satire (obviously given my spin here), and the brief love fest that is to be this review gives me a chance to point out that there is a place for both Credentialed self-help and Amateur self-help. I will be writing about both, so it is useful to note some of the potential differences I’ve noticed.

In self-help works where the author’s name come with a list of credentials, the back material often contains a substantial list of references [2]. This can be useful if you want to follow up on something or check research. They are also more likely to draw on  studies, professional experience, and research in their area of expertise, rather than anecdotes and personal experience. This isn’t guaranteed. “More likely” doesn’t mean “certain” and what we think we know and the values that drive that understanding can vary and change quite a bit. Also, outright fraud tends to be more convincing and harder to debunk if it is perceived as authoritative [3]. Readability of professional self-help can suffer from jargon, ego, textbook-itus, and the desperate belief that publishing one’s Ph.D. thesis is a way to fame or fortune.

Amateur self-help (like Issendai’s), can be more readable and relatable. It tends to rely more on personal anecdotes [4] and experience, storytelling, opinions, and interpretation of other people’s work. This can be very useful, especially if the author is skilled at making complex ideas accessible to a general audience. We tend to connect more with the personal and it has a greater ability to move us. How to Keep Someone With You Forever is a presentation of widely accepted views on how abuse works. Its humour and presentation make sense of something that is rather horrific. In addition, biases and spins may be more blatant. In this case, the Evil Overlord slant hits you over the head with the idea that only someone “Evil” would think this is a good idea. Amateur self-help is “buyer beware” (even more than credentialed self-help). Truthiness and common sense can be very convincing if they line up with our own biases or narrow experience. [5]

I like Issendai's observations. They amuse me, connect with me, and have truthiness for me. That said, it is opinions and observations on the Internet without much referencing. Do your own checking.

Evil Overlord Assessment:

How to Keep Someone With You Forever is a “How-To” manual of the highest order. This shit works. It works deliberately. It works accidentally. Watch the accidental stuff… it might trap you as well as your target.


[1] Why are there so many orphans on PEI in her books? It’s not necessarily because their parents are dead. Unwed women could “go away” (to Halifax, N.S. or other locations) to have their babies, who were then either put up for adoption or “adopted” into the family of one of the parents.

[2] Do you read footnotes? I rarely do. I wonder what we are missing.

[3] Dear Andrew Wakefield, Go. Fuck. Yourself.

[4] The plural of anecdote is NOT data.

[5] I know someone who tracked a fake university back to an office containing multiple such universities. I’m told it was near to the FBI building in Hawaii. This assertion doesn’t have any references to check, so you will have to do your own work to find out if it is true. That said, you are totally going to tell someone this without checking aren’ t you?


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