Saturday, January 30, 2016

Book Review - F*ck Feelings

Despite its provocative title, F*ck Feelings is a common sense, if somewhat contrarian self-help book written by Dr. Michael Bennett and his daughter Sarah (pseudonyms, we are told, and about which more later).

F*ck Feelings’s central conceit is that life is hard and a struggle to be managed, not a problem to be solved. The authors cast a skeptical eye that therapy can provide complete answers, but rather, should offer its patients coping skills and techniques to address their underlying issues – be those dicey familial relationships, difficulties at work, broken hearts, or just plain old capital “A” assholes we all have to deal with in our everyday lives. The book moves at a steady clip through a variety of topics while illustrating challenges through scenarios described by patients. I found some of these too pat – the women dating guys who deal drugs or the parents whose children refuse to leave the roost; however, they were useful in acting as a jumping off point for the authors to, as they put it, hope for but cannot have, what we can legitimately expect, and how to use move forward knowing this information.

If most self-help gurus pitch people on a better tomorrow if they simply change their habits or meditate or convince themselves of their own badassery, learn how to love themselves, or unclutter their homes, Dr. Bennett and Ms. Bennett encourage you to trim your sails and accept that life will deal you many harsh blows, often for no good reason and that self-improvement is certainly a goal one should aspire to, even if the benefits are temporary while the underlying problems are permanent. This is sound advice and whether it requires tip toeing around a toxic co-worker or objectively analyzing the behavior of a friend when you are in need, sweeping aside the magical unicorn thinking in favor of making emotion-free decisions about your course of action is refreshing (in the former, avoid engaging if at all possible, in the latter, cutting bait if it is clear the person is not capable of being there for you).

And if this sounds limiting to some, I found it realistic. The authors honor the fact that some people simply struggle more than others and encourage readers to reward (and applaud) themselves for getting through days or weeks of depressive fog even it means simply showing up to life and doing the bare minimum to get through the day. For others who cannot reconcile with difficult parents, get spouses to take co-ownership of their marriages, or seem to get through to a jerky boss, the authors encourage realism – people will not change simply because you want them to and pointing out a boss’s failings is likely to lead to defensiveness, not support. In other words, instead of tilting at these windmills, F*ck Feelings encourages the tactical retreat and the power of keeping your mouth shut.

My one complaint has to do with authors’ use of pseudonyms. While I understand the interest in confidentiality, the inability to verify is troubling. Of course, one assumes Simon & Schuster vetted the authors Bennett before signing them to a contract, but still, the reader’s inability to make their own judgment is a small black mark on an otherwise enjoyable read.

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