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Title: I’m OK - You’re OK

Author: Thomas A. Harris, M.D.

ISBN: 978-0-06-072427-6

Summary:

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].

Footnotes:

[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 Changingminds.org : 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] Changingminds.org : 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

Summary:

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.

Footnotes:

[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: (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

Summary:

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.


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[ 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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