doc_paradise: (honest)

DISCLOSURE: I am not a medical doctor or medically trained. 


Title: In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction

Author: Gabor Maté, M.D.

ISBN: 978-0-676-97741-7



Writing Style

Gabor Maté is a gifted writer. He combines medical research, case histories, his personal life story, and political commentary in a storytelling style that makes the difficult material both readable and compassionate. 

It’s pretty common for books on trauma to use descriptions of the terrible things that happen to people as illustrative examples. This is useful and appropriate, however some writers sprinkle their books with the equivalent of live grenades. I get it, they are trying to make a point. This is real. This is bad. This is serious. This is horrific. 

This book does something different. Maté’s writing shows unconditional positive regard for people while still talking about a long list (see content warning below) of terrible, heartbreaking, and horrific experiences. I like that. It encourages empathy, rather than othering. It also makes the book’s topic more approachable and (perhaps) less emotionally overwhelming. [1]



CONTENT WARNING: This book contains descriptions of human suffering, drug use, physical and mental illness, pain, self harm, death, violence, addiction, abuse, murder, assault, genocide, racism, slurs.


In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts explicitly connects addiction to pain and experiences in childhood development.


Part I - Hellbound Train — Tells the human stories of some of the author’s patients in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, their lives and their struggles with addiction, illness, and suffering. It also introduces the author, his ideals, and his successes and failures in being a compassionate physician. This section both sets the stage and humanizes the people and situations. 

Part II - Physician, Heal Thyself — Talks about the experience of behavioural addiction through the lens of the author’s own behavioural addictions and personal experiences. It also ties his addictions to his experiences with ADHD, as an infant in the Budapest ghetto, and the deaths of his grandparents in Auschwitz. 

Part III - A Different State of the Brain — Defines addiction as “any repeated behaviour, substance-related or not, in which a person feels compelled to persist, regardless of its negative impact on his life and the lives of others” [pg. 128]. It disconnects the addictive process from substance-abuse and breaks down the brain’s response to neurotransmitters and how they tie into addiction. 

Part IV - How The Addicted Brain Develops — Ties addiction to trauma, stress, and the early environment’s effect on brain development. Argues against addiction as a product of a simple genetic cause. 

Part V - The Addiction Process and the Addictive Personality — Approaches addiction as a response mechanism for managing the results of adverse childhood events, both what happened that shouldn’t have, and what didn’t happen but should have happened.  

Part VI - Imagining a Humane Reality: Beyond the War on Drugs — Examines and condemns present social roots of addiction and drug policy. While this section talks about U.S. drug policy, it focuses on Canada, particularly the treatment of First Nations peoples. It points out what isn’t working in social policies and attitudes, and introduces compassionate approaches and harm reduction. 

Part VII - The Ecology of Healing — Returns to the author’s struggles with behavioural addiction and self-healing. It examines some approaches to self-healing and management of addiction. It also touches on the difficulties the family, friends, and partners face. It does not offer a cure for addiction, but rather approaches to sobriety (including one based on OCD management).  


There is an epilogue that concludes some of the stories of the people described in the book, several appendices, endnotes with references, and an index.


My Opinion:

My copy of this book has many multicoloured tabs sticking out of it. I have every intention of re-reading sections. It’s an introduction to addiction and the issues related to addiction. It doesn’t plumb the depths to any great degree. Instead, it gives a broad overview and an emotional connection to suffering and addiction in Canada. (Yes, Canada we have a problem.) I found it engrossing. Broadening the definition of addiction to include far more than just illegal substance-abuse was eye-opening. In this context, behavioural addictions are more clearly addictions than in a disease model. I particularly liked his approach to behavioural addictions and how Part III broke down effects based on types of neurotransmitters (endorphins vs dopamine) rather than by drug type. 

I was already in agreement with harm reduction methods of treating addiction (such as methadone clinics and safe injection sites), but I didn’t know much about them other than they worked better than punishing the shit out of people. This book explains some of the reasons why. Unfortunately, the storytelling style will make it difficult to quote in Facebook arguments.


Evil Overlord Assessment:

I’m not a doctor, medical or otherwise. I can’t effectively evaluate the medical information in this book. Given that it is both emotionally appealing and convincing… if the medical information is incorrect or problematic… the presentation would make any toxic bits very easy to swallow. This book downgrades genetic factors and the disease model of addiction, both of which are more commonly accepted by the public. Again, I don’t have the expertise to evaluate the validity of either the commonly presented opinion or the medical information in Maté’s book. It appeals to me, for a variety of reasons, and therefore it is convincing. 



[1] Book excerpts area available at:




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. The “Evil Overlord Assessment” section specifically looks at some ways that a fictional “Evil Overlord” might use this book to harm or control others for the purpose of World Domination. 

doc_paradise: (password2)

Title: Conflict is for the Birds : Understanding Your Conflict Management Style

Author: Gayle Wiebe Oudeh & Nabil Oudeh

ISBN: 0-9731646-2-X


Conflict is for the Birds uses bird metaphors to explain the five conflict management styles (competitive, collaborative, compromising, accommodation, avoiding), how they are used, and how they relate to each other.

Writing Style:

The authors rely heavily on metaphor and, while examples cover both home and work, the assumed audience is in the workplace. Metaphors are really useful, as long as the reader understands them. Metaphors can simplify abstract or complex concepts, and allow touchy or complex concepts to be approached with less emotional baggage. The problem with metaphors is when they are understood differently than intended and when there are unacknowledged preferences, biases, experiences, likes/dislikes, prejudices, etc attached to them. Your milage may vary with regards to any particular metaphor. This book uses anthropomorphized (cartoon) bird behaviour.  Birders may cringe.

There are quizzes in this book and the results are used through out the text so they are worth doing when they are presented. I would suggest NOT writing your answers in pen on the book itself like the previous owner of my second-hand copy did. I suggest using a separate piece of paper or a pencil when doing the quizzes.

My Opinion:

The theory of five conflict management styles presented in the book is a standard theory that is one of the first things that gets brought up in conflict management classes.[1] The metaphor uses birds as stand-ins for conflict styles and places them on an axis of a “Focus on Self” vs “Focus on Others”[2] grid. Woodpeckers are competitive, Owls are collaborative, Parakeets are accommodating, Hummingbirds are compromising, and Ostriches are avoiding. The bird descriptive sections give a conflict scenario for each bird, main conflict characteristics, common tactics used, some motivations behind the characteristics and tactics, how conflict is experienced as that type, and some advice on when that style is useful, not useful, and how to deal with that style. There is also a section on what happens (and what to do about it) when styles collide.

One thing I particularly liked about this book is that it presents styles as preferences that are moved through. They call this a “flight pattern”. This isn’t a set personality type (i.e. “Bob is a woodpecker and will never behave like anything other than a woodpecker”) but rather as a preference for certain types of default patterns (i.e. “Bob tends to default to Woodpecker at the start then then moves through Hummingbird, Owl, Ostrich, then Parakeet. Bob knows this, as do the people he works with, so the keep it in mind that Bob’s first answer will always be hard even if he may later bend and this is particularly hard on his employees that also start in woodpecker”). It presents people as having defaults, but being able to move from them and giving advice on that.

The five conflict styles is pretty standard in conflict management and communications. It shows up everywhere. What this book is bringing to the table is presentation and focus.  If bird metaphors don’t work for you… there is definitely another book or website or explanation out there that uses something different and focuses on it in a different way. The theory can be either useful (if taken as descriptive and flexible) or restrictive (if taken as set personality types that can’t be changed).

Evil Overlord Assessment:

Pigeonholing people is a wonderful tool for evil. If you make it about WHO-THEY-ARE (unchanging) or WHO-YOU-ARE rather than behaviour then you can justify anything. (“I HAVE to get my way BECAUSE I’m a woodpecker.” Or “There is NO USE getting their opinion BECAUSE they are an ostrich.”) It doesn’t matter if they are or aren’t (or you are or aren’t) because the answer is pre-ordained to be whatever you’ve decided. This tactic can turn any categorization system into a rigid hierarchy from which there is no escape. As an added bonus, assign GOOD or BAD judgements to categories. (“Hummingbirds are all Flighty Assholes who can’t make a decision.” Or “I’m an Owl so I manage conflict well.”) This combination will allow you to dismiss or highlight whatever you want without changing yourself.


[1] Thomas - Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument

[2] Other ways the chart can be presented include: “Assertiveness” vs “Cooperativeness”; or “Concern for Own Agenda” vs “Concern for Others Agenda”; or “Desire to Satisfy Own Concerns” vs “Desire to Satisfy Others’ Concerns”; etc. The way it is presented may affect how people perceive the value of each access. We tend to apply “good” to things we value positively and “bad” to things we value negatively. These options are meant to be descriptive and value neutral in this case.

doc_paradise: (password2)

Title: Difficult Conversations: How To Discuss What Matters Most (Updated with Answers to the 10 Most Frequently Asked Questions About Difficult Conversations) 10th - Anniversary Edition

Author: Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen

ISBN: 978-0-14-311844-2


A general purpose handbook for understanding and managing Difficult Conversations from the Harvard Negotiation Project[1].

Writing Style:

This book is aimed at a general audience and its examples are pulled from work, home, and daily experiences. The language is simple and straight forward. It has a somewhat impersonal presentation style, snappy titles, and short sections. This book came out of a business/law school and is used in workplace conflict and communications training. The presentation of the book reflects that.[2]

It does not have a keyword index. Instead, the back of the book contains a “A Roadmap to Difficult Conversations” section which outlines the main ideas of every section in a few words. That is useful, but some people may find the lack of an index irritating. (I tried to look up “empathy”. I was annoyed that I had to dig through the Roadmap, then the text, so that I could reference it in an example.)

My Opinion:

This is an excellent book on its own or as a compliment to other communications and conflict books. I recommend it.

Its definition of a Difficult Conversation is simple: a difficult conversation is a conversation about anything you find it hard to talk about. These conversations may be awkward, uncomfortable, dreaded, uncertain, important, annoying, avoided, or about things we care deeply about. These are the conversations we wish we could wave a magic wand at or simply nuke from space. The book’s process is intended to make these conversations less painful and more successful.

The first part of the book breaks down Difficult Conversations into three concurrent conversations: the “What happened…?” conversation, the Feelings conversation, and the Identity conversation. It explores what each of these are, how to approach them successfully, and ways to make them blow up in your face. The middle section breaks down Difficult Conversations into a step-by-step walk through of what-comes-when and the skills to use in each part. The final section (in this edition) is a FAQ that addresses a variety  of (antagonistic) questions about the process (i.e. “It sounds like you are saying everything is relative. Aren’t some things just true, and can’t someone be just wrong?”). The entire book focuses on implementing a LEARNING STANCE and the CONTRIBUTION APPROACH in Difficult Conversations.[3] This stuff works. The book contains knowledge and skills that conflict professionals actually use and which doesn’t require both parties in the conversation to be on-board for them to work.

I wouldn’t call this a “self-help” book, so much as a “how-to” book. It is the kind of book which you could pick up 15 minutes before a Difficult Conversation and you would quickly get a few tactics that might be immediately applicable in said conversation. It answers the question “What do I do?” (i.e. Problem + Solution = Action) in every section, no matter how short the section.

It is a process and applications type book. It will appeal to a problem-solving mindset as it focuses on behaviour changes (via changes in goals and thinking) and treads very lightly on issues of self-awareness and other complicating issues. It acknowledges that these are important in a similar manner to a house-building manual acknowledging that a “good location” is important. It acknowledges that “good location” is something you should consider when “building a house”, but it doesn’t go into these in depth. This will be especially appealing to the “I just want to build a FUCKING HOUSE, DAMNIT! I don’t want to waste my time with useless SHIT!” crowd. Which is fine. This book is well targeted for that attitude[4].

However, even the best built house will have problems if it is built without regard to its surroundings[5] and this process isn’t a MAGIC BULLET that will be the SOLUTION TO ALL THINGS allowing you to bypass everything that makes you UNCOMFORTABLE. If you come at this book with that attitude, I invite you to imagine me demonstrating my EVIL LAUGH in your general direction. Good tactics and strategies are built on a backbone of good intel. This book assumes you have some skills in “Know Thy Landmines” and that shit. Or that you will work at learning those skills.

Evil Overlord Assessment:

In the Mirror Universe, this book would be about “How to Pick Fights” and would map out how to be positional, confrontational, avoidant, and competitive instead of using a better option. We would be able to ensure that we shoot ourselves in the foot with the greatest of ease! (All the things outlined under “normal behaviours that people do” in this book. All the “before” parts in the examples.) In the Mirror Universe, guaranteed-to-blow-up things would be preferred methods of creating conflict in difficult situations. The Right way of doing things… Are you sure you aren’t living in the Mirror Universe?[6]


[1]  Harvard Negotiation Project

[2] If you can’t find it in the self-help or psychology section of your local bookstore, then check the business section.

[3] I have a very strong bias in favour of the learning stance (curiosity) approach to conflict. That’s what Insight mediation is all about (my training).

[4] Chapter 9 is filled with tools that are useful for performing empathy, but only the last two paragraphs of the chapter directly use the word “empathy”.

[5] When I was a teenager, I read Pierre Berton’s series on the building of the Canadian transcontinental railway. He told a story about locomotives disappearing into a swamp and the company building more tracks over top of them. Applying “fixes” to conflict and relationships may not work as expected… not because the processes (locomotives) aren’t well built, but because it was in a swamp. Sometimes you have to build in swamps. That happens.

[6] Quick, check for unnecessary goatees!

doc_paradise: (password2)

Title: I’m OK - You’re OK

Author: Thomas A. Harris, M.D.

ISBN: 978-0-06-072427-6


I’m OK - You’re OK [1] is a self-help book that helped popularize Transactional Analysis in the late 1960’s. Transactional analysis is a method of analyzing interpersonal relationship systems from the point of view of social interactions and Parent-Adult-Child (P-A-C) ego states. The goal of the method is to move the reader into a “I’m OK - You’re OK” life position wherein dysfunctional “games”[5] are eliminated.

Writing Style:

One of this book’s stated goals is to explain the jargon of transactional analysis into everyday language that is easily understood. With regards to the jargon, it managed to mostly do that (although its definitions didn’t become the default standard as it predicted). However, the social context (in which the concepts are embedded) did not age well. The assumed audience appears to be white, heterosexual, professional men with masculine gender roles (1950’s style). Women are often othered in the text, and examples use “housewife”, “girl”, and “mother” roles [2]. Social attitudes range from still applicable to no longer in fashion to outright wrong[3]. Consider that a CONTENT WARNING.

My Opinion:

I’m OK — You’re OK compares transactional analysis glowingly to New Math. This might not be a bad analogy, although it is not the one the author expected.

According to the book, social interactions are made up of “transactions”[4] in which people give or receive “strokes”[4]. Dysfunctional transactions are known as “games”[5]. Games can be dismantled (and a basis for a healthy life created) by analyzing the transactions from the point of view of different ego states:

Parent - Taught concept of life (Recording of early childhood external events)

Adult - Thought concept of life (Recording of data acquired and computed through exploration and testing.)

Child - Felt concept of life (Recording of early childhood internal events)

If things are working well, then Parent and Child states give historical information about how one default reactions work and the Adult state works to analyze reactions and reality to come up with the best thing to do. There are four life positions[4]:

I’m not OK - You’re OK

I’m not OK - You’re not OK

I’m OK - You’re not OK

I’m OK - You’re OK

“I’m OK — You’re OK” is presented as the desired life state to achieve and this is the main focus of the book. Hence, the title.

Some of the concepts in this book (and in Games People Play [5]) are interesting and possibly useful ways of looking at social interactions, one’s response to them, and how to change them. However, I am hesitant to recommend the book due to the context it is embedded in. While I could just write the context off as “a product of its times” (as is sometimes recommended for previous generations of science fiction and fantasy novels[7]), self-help books are intended to teach. The question then becomes, what is it actually teaching? [8] This is a question worth asking before recommending any book. This book teaches both its method and its assumptions of social behaviours.

Evil Overlord Assessment:

Games[6] are fun. Everybody loves games. Everybody plays games. The trick is to WIN! Who cares if they cause an uproar[6], as long as you get the strokes you are looking for. Yes, intimacy is important, but[6] it’s highly over-rated and risky. Better to reliably manipulate others with their need for strokes (of course you’d never fall for this stuff, you are clever[6]). Honestly[6], this will work… I promise. I’m only trying to help[6].


[1] This book has one of the oddest endorsements (back cover) I’ve encountered: “I’m OK - You’re OK may make it up there right next to the Holy Bible or maybe even The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.” — Life. That certainly says something. I’m not sure what.

[2] Pages 96-97 give an example of a man ass-grabbing a woman and lines up her possible P-A-C responses. Making a joke of it with an embedded message is favoured. That is out-of-line with today’s ideas on consent culture and rape culture. I don’t want to go back to the “good old days”.

[3] Before it was popular to be wrong about vaccines causing autism, it was common to wrongly blame “refrigerator mothers” for it.

[4] Brief summaries of transactional analysis concepts are available at : Transactional Analysis, The OK-Not OK Matrix, Common Games, and others (search "transactional analysis").

[5] Title: Games People Play: The Basic Handbook of Transactional Analysis. Author: Eric Berne, M.D. (ISBN: 0-345-41003-3) I tried to write a review of this book (which contains transactional analysis theory and a selection of game descriptions), but the contextual sexism and other issues made writing the review feel like I was poking my eyes with a fish fork. There are useful ideas in there (i.e. transactions, strokes, games, etc), but the context would have resulted in a review made up mostly of content warnings.

[6] : Common Games.

[7] 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea celebrates finding endangered species and eating them BECAUSE they are endangered and we might not get another chance to eat them. This is obviously ridiculous right? It’s not like we still do this, right?

[8] Siderea: De Facto Sexism discusses an example of how unintentional discrimination can occur.

doc_paradise: (password2)

Title: Understanding and Treating Chronic Shame: A Relational/Neurobiological Approach

Author: Patricia A. DeYoung

ISBN: 978-1-138-83120-9


Understanding and Treating Chronic Shame is a manual for therapists on a variety of methods and theories for connecting with clients suffering from chronic shame. It focuses on interpersonal approaches (relationship between therapist and client mostly) and shame as an relational experience. The book covers understanding shame (“what is”, theories, relational and biological components, regulation/dysregulation, narratives, assessment) and treating shame (prerequisites, right-brain connection and integration, dissociation, transference/countertransference, relationship between client and therapist, long term care/maintenance).

Writing Style:

This book is intended for use by therapists working with chronic shame in their clients. It is not aimed at the general public. That said, the writing is very accessible, even if the content punches you in the face multiple times. This technically isn’t a self-help book. It is more of a help-others book or a I-wish-others-would-do-this-for-me book. It teaches jargon, technique, and theory. It is surprisingly thin, but it is dense with information. No matter who reads it, it is likely to be a slow and hard read. It assumes a background of training in psychotherapy.

The author, Patricia DeYoung, is a practicing relational psychotherapist and teacher/professor of Relational Psychotherapy in Toronto. She has a second book on relational psychotherapy (Relational Psychotherapy: A Primer, 2nd ed.) that I haven’t read yet.

My Opinion:

The opening paragraph of the Introduction sums up the book nicely:

“Shame hurts. If our shame is exposed, the pain can be unbearable. To save ourselves, we push shame away as fast as we can, covering for it with more tolerable states of being. These states of being are what we come to know of shame, both in ourselves and others. But they are compensations and collapse, masks and sleights of mind; they are not shame itself. What is shame itself? This book proposes that, despite its many disguises, shame can be understood as a unique, specific kind of interpersonal experience. This understanding of shame helps us see what’s behind the camouflage. It also helps us as therapists, making interpersonal contact with our chronically shamed clients in a way that can ease their suffering.” (-Page xii)

WARNING: The contents of this book, if they apply to you, are something that would be best faced with the help of a competent and trusted mental health professional. [1]

Just because a book is in the psychology/self-help section of a book store doesn’t mean that it is a SELF-help book. A premise of self-help marketing is that YOU CAN FIX YOURSELF (which also assumes that you are broken). If the reader can’t do that, then they may be left feeling like they failed or that there is something wrong with them. Thing is, we CAN’T always just “fix ourselves” and there are lots of legitimate reasons why that may be so. These can range from “we aren’t broken” to “the problem isn’t us” to “we don’t have the expertise” to “this triggers our issues”, and so on. This book is very clear that it is presenting a therapy that is performed as part of a relationship between a person experiencing shame and a regulating other[2].

What this book can offer the self-help reader is: a clearly written description of the experience of shame and disintegration of self; some understanding of why it is so hard to talk about shame; some exposure to the language and treatments used in therapy; and some idea of what to look for and avoid in therapy. It may also give a sense of recognition (and the emotions that go with that) of what one is going through and what the regulating/dysregulating others in their life are doing that helps or harms. [1, 2]

Which brings me to the other pervasive premise in self-help marketing: the idea that the reader should be able to fix others and make everything okay for them. If the reader can’t, then SOMEBODY IS TO BLAME (preferably not the reader). This idea can be dangerous. This book has some excellent information on being an effective regulating other. It also points out that there are prerequisite skills (chapter 6) that are necessary if a therapist is to work with shame without causing further damage (to the client or the therapist). This is heavy shit. While being a regulating other (and avoiding being a dysregulating one) is a normal part of human relationships (ex: Parent-child, partners, friends, etc [2]) and this book does have advice for that… it won’t change the reader from a clueless newb into a competent therapist. It isn’t meant to.

That said, Understanding and Treating Chronic Shame is amazing at explaining what chronic shame is and treatments for it, and it has an accessible writing style that I rarely see in textbooks/teaching books (especially when the topic is this difficult). Reading it may hurt.

Evil Overlord Assessment:

Keeping your victims off balance is one of the essential elements of Keeping Someone With You Forever and it can be a fine line to manage successfully. Finding the right target makes the whole thing simpler. For a target with chronic shame, dysregulation is like a BIG RED BUTTON of DOOM. Convince them that you are someone they want to trust or need to trust, then HIT THAT BUTTON any time you want them to fall apart. They won’t be of any use to you while they are in pieces, but they also won’t be of any use to themselves either.


[1] Here are two (American) blog posts on finding a therapist that may be useful in your search (YMMV): How to Shop for a Therapist and How to Get the Most Out of Therapy. There are more posts and articles on this topic out there. It is worth thinking about what makes a therapist a good fit for you and your needs. Not every therapist is a good fit or even competent. Firing one, or deciding to use someone else (for any reason), is something that happens.

[2] “Regulating other” and “dysregulating other” are terms related to attachment theory. As used in this book, they mean “a person on whom I rely to resound to my emotions in ways that help me not to be overwhelmed by them, but rather to contain, accept, and integrate them into an emotional “me” I can feel comfortable being” [definition of “regulating other” from page 21] and “a person I want to trust — and should be able to trust — to help me manage my affect or emotion. But this person’s response to me, or lack of response to me, does exactly the opposite: it does not help me contain, accept, or integrate” [definition of “dysregulating other” from page 21] respectively.

doc_paradise: (password2)
Title: A Technique for Producing Ideas
Author: James Webb Young
ISBN: 0-07-141094-5

How to produce ideas using a simple process.

Writing Style:
This book could be used as a bookmark in other books. If it were formatted differently, it would be a pamphlet. The author, a celebrated advertising executive, writes in utter bemusement about being asked to answer the question: “How do you get ideas?” The version I own (with two forwards and a prefatory note) is copyrighted 2003. However, the main text was written in 1939. There are a few tells for this (i.e. Cue cards), but it holds up remarkably well to aging.

My Opinion:
I intended to write a review of Understanding and Treating Chronic Shame, but I couldn’t find my copy of the book and so I decided to make tea instead. Since writing something is more important than writing exactly the thing I want to write, I decided to write about this book. Mostly because I could read it (again) in the time it took to make my tea.

The five steps in Young’s process are— 1) fill your brain with “food”, 2) masticate it well, 3) rest and digest, 4) Eureka!, and 5) expose it to the cold grey dawn of the morning after to see if can survive reality. Repeat this process in every waking and sleeping moment of your life. Ideas will then come “naturally”.

Summaries of Young’s process are found everywhere on the Internet and they all strip the process of its life and amusement. The original text is worth tracking down since much of the benefit and understanding comes from the author’s telling (not the bullet points).

Evil Overlord Assessment:
Amazon (Canada) is selling used copies of this book for $169CDN. That is evil.

I have finished drinking my tea.
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?

doc_paradise: (Arch)

Title: The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You

Author: Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D.

ISBN: 978-0-553-06218-2


This book is a love letter to highly sensitive people (HSPs) who find the world overwhelming and are harshly judged for it. It focuses on reframing high sensitivity (having a nervous system that is sensitive to stimulation, subtlety, and arousal) as a positive trait that deserves respect and appreciation rather than something that makes one a failure if they can’t “just get over it”. It draws on ideas in attachment theory, Jung, biology, temperament, child development, boundaries, and non-denominational spirituality to make its case that being highly sensitive to subtleties and stimulation (even if it’s uncomfortable) is a benefit to both the individual and the world. It describes what it is like (and how it could be better) to be a HSP growing up, loving, working, healing, and dealing with the medical establishment.

Writing Style:

The intended audience is people who self-identify as HSPs (“you”) and it is aimed at helping them (“you”) using validation and reframing. While it does have advice for people dealing with HSPs it mostly frames it as ways the HSP can help others understand the HSP’s boundaries and needs without the HSP feeling bad about it. This is made clear in the Preface where the author reassures the Sensitive-But-Less-So and Not-Sensitive-At-All readers that they are special too and have their own special strengths. That careful gentleness (both when explaining theory and waxing poetic) characterizes much of the writing. That gentleness is probably necessary, because, if you are its intended audience, this book may hit with the power of Mjölnir.

My Opinion:

I’ve known about this book for at least a decade (it was first published in 1996) and avoided reading it until it was recently recommended to me by someone who’s judgement I respect. I should have read it a decade ago. It would have made a difference. Instead, my long-ago introduction to this book was vastly unpleasant so I avoided reading it until now.

The best thing this book does for the HSP reader is give loads and loads of validation for being sensitive to physical, emotional, and psychological experiences. It also encourages boundaries, while recognizing that enforcing them can be difficult and require energy. As with all good self-help books, this one provides an easily sharable set of terminology. “I’m overwhelmed” (when shared with someone else who has read the book and therefore knows what you mean and need) is convenient short-hand when compared to “Everything is making noise, everything has to be done yesterday, my head is running in circles, I need to eat, I know you need emotional labour right this instant but… would EVERYONE JUST FUCKING DIE SO I CAN BE ALONE AND DO NOTHING FOR FIVE FUCKING MINUTES WITHOUT OFFENDING ANYONE…” Maybe you know what I mean. Shared language is really useful.

The “Medics, Medications, and HSPs” section is a bit dated (Prozac is heavily name-dropped) but it has some excellent points about how arousal and sensitivity can affect medicine evaluation and receiving medical care. There are optional exercises which mostly consist of self-awareness questions, quizzes, and body awareness activities. They are mostly straight forward to do, but the “pretend you are a baby” one didn’t make much sense to me personally. I’m also not a spiritual person, but I was amused that the spiritual section seemed to be Jung all the way down.

Evil Overlord Assessment:

If you have an investment in keeping your highly sensitive loved ones, employees, or friends (can you really call them that?) isolated and certain that THEY are the broken ones… then don’t let them read this book. If they don’t know that their sensitivity is valid and acceptable then they won’t expect to have their HSP needs accommodated. Instead, interpret it for them. Convince them that they are Not-Sensitive-At-All (overwriting other people’s identities is always useful tool for manipulating them and possible with most types of categorizing systems) and make sure that they understand that YOU are the most highly sensitive of highly sensitive people and that is why THEY are shouldn’t have boundaries with YOU. If they are HSPs with some degree of empathy, then they may accept it when you equate how you feel when your children/employees/victims resist with how they feel when they ARE your victim. The book explicitly teaches against this. Don’t let them read the book.


[ Disclaimer: I am neither a therapist, nor 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. The “Evil Overlord Assessment” section specifically looks at some ways that a fictional “Evil Overlord” might use this book to harm or control others for the purpose of World Domination. ]

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