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Related Topics
Overcoming Your Difficult FamilyReview - Overcoming Your Difficult Family
8 Skills for Thriving in Any Family Situation
by Eric Maisel
New World Library, 2017
Review by Christian Perring
Jan 23rd 2018 (Volume 22, Issue 4)

Eric Maisel is a prolific author with over 50 books to his name. He is a psychotherapist whose work focuses a lot on creativity and avoid medical approaches to mental disorders. This book is about coping with "difficult families" and in Part II of the book he sets out 10 different varieties

·         Sad and anxious

·         Loveless and distant

·         Warring and divided

·         Bullying, aggressive and abusive

·         Demanding, critical and argumentative

·         Compulsive and addictive

·         Rule-bound, intrusive, and authoritarian

·         Dramatic and chaotic

·         Acquisitive and materialistic

·         Frustrated, hopeless and defeated

One may wonder whether this is a useful categorization of families since the labels seem to apply more to people than to families, and within a single family, there can be all kinds of difficulties. Maisel's recommendations are based on a list of 8 "survival tools" which look like character traits: being smart, strong, calm, clear, aware, brave, present, and resilient. One wonders what basis his advice has, and whether it goes beyond his personal opinions or hunches. There are 3 pages of notes at the end of the book with a few references to other literature in them, but there's nothing very systematic. On the front cover of the book is a quote from a Dr. Lee Jampolksy, a founder of Inspirational Psychology (whatever that is), saying "This book will set you free." I've read the book, and of course it didn't set me free. Even without looking at much detail, we can tell from the first few glances that there's very little reason to take this book seriously. Readers need an ability to assess which books are worth their money and time, and this one isn't promising.

On the other hand, it is sometimes useful to pick up books like this just as a way to organize one's own thoughts. Maisel does have a doctorate, although his website does not say where it is from. He does have training in family therapy and he does write for Psychology Today, so there's a fair chance that he has some respect from peers. The book's advice is mostly platitudinous. In the chapter on loveless and distant families, he writes "Closeness is great, but losing yourself or giving yourself away is not. Being smart means valuing both closeness and strong boundaries." (92). That's fair enough, and it's hard to imagine disagreeing with it. The whole book is set at this level: the ideas are pretty clear and he gives examples which help to explain what he means. So some people may find it helpful to peruse this book before a family visit or while going through a hard time with their family. The book may help people pause and restrain themselves from repeating old destructive patters, because any book could fulfil the function getting them to reflect on what they are doing.

 

© 2017 Christian Perring

 

Christian Perring teaches in NYC.


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