“Running on Empty” by Jonice Webb, PhD

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Subtitle: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect

Emotional neglect is the whitespace between parental actions, what didn’t happen rather than what did happen. Lack of emotional connection, not paying attention, and not responding competently to the child’s emotional needs. The parent sees the child as an extension of themselves, a possession, or a burden, rather than a separate person.

The book describes twelve kinds of emotionally neglectful parents, with brief vignettes. The twelfth kind is the most common, “Well Meaning But Emotionally Neglected Themselves” parents.

Some effects of emotional neglect:

Some effects of emotional neglect are

  1. Feelings of Emptiness
  2. Counter-dependence (not depending on anyone)
  3. Unrealistic Self-Appraisal (not being mirrored by parents, lack of self-understanding)
  4. No Compassion for Self, Plenty for Others
  5. Guilt and Shame; What is Wrong with Me?
  6. Self-Directed Anger, Self-Blame
  7. The Fatal Flaw (If People Really Know Me They Won’t Like Me)
  8. Difficulty Nurturing Self and Others
  9. Poor Self-Discipline
  10. Alexithymia: Poor Awareness and Understanding of Emotions

There is also a brief, respectful chapter on suicidal feelings.

The second part of the book is “Filling the Tank.” It starts by talking about how change happens, gradually, with some setbacks, requiring ongoing persistence to move through avoidance and discomfort.

The sections on how to fill in missing parenting by acquiring new habits are trying to be helpful, but they feel glib and superficial. “Keep practicing these skills you never learned, you’ll get there eventually!” Topics include boundaries, emotional fluency, self-care, diet and exercise, and kind self-talk.

In the brief section on relationships, there is a useful tip on horizontal and vertical questioning. Horizontal questions ask for information and can be answered quickly. Vertical questions ask the person to turn inward to find and share understanding.

The chapter on parenting encourages stepping away from guilt and filling up yourself to be able to fill up your child.

The final chapter, for therapists, felt more helpful. Here is how to really help someone who was emotionally neglected, by providing what they missed out on, rather than the previous chapters that seem to say, “Figure this out for yourself.”

It is important to name and recognize Emotional Neglect in ourselves and others. The ideas in this book are groundbreaking and crucial. The self-help format does not quite work, but it is still worth reading. It reminds me of The Emotionally Absent Mother by Jasmin Lee Cori, which covers related ground with more focus on understanding what was missing and less focus on self-help.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Arrival” by Shaun Tan

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Recommended to me by: Sarah Pinsker

This book has no words, only illustrations. Whimsical and menacing by turns, the images tell the story of an immigrant’s parting with his family and arrival in a new land where everything is unexpected and askew. It was unclear until the end whether the macabre or the whimsy would win.

This book is far more serious than “picture book” would imply. The sepia-toned art is magnificently expressive.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Steerswoman” by Rosemary Kirstein

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Recommended to me by: Sumana Harihareswara

A fun fantasy book, first of a four-book series. The main protagonist is an intelligent, curious, capable woman, and the book easily passes the Bechdel Test. There was more casual violence than I’m comfortable with these days, although it wasn’t enough to make me stop reading.

It reminds me of The Riddle-Master of Hed series by Patricia McKillip, except with more explicit violence than I remember in that series.

You can read the first chapter for free here.

ETA: I have been reading the rest of the series as they become available at the library. The second was even more violent than the first. The third is a little less violent, but there is still mayhem. Nevertheless the world, characters, and relationships pull me through the books.

Available at Amazon.

“shadow daughter” by harriet brown

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Subtitle: A Memoir of Estrangement

Recommended to me by: Body Impolitic

A powerful, lyrical book about Harriet Brown’s complicated relationship with her difficult mother, including estrangement, and about family estrangement in general. She describes her ambivalence and self-blame in the face of anecdotes demonstrating dramatic emotional abuse, as well as the long process of naming her own truth.

The book also covers estrangement in general, both the pressures against it and the reasons for it. She interviews and quotes from other people who have gone through estrangement, and researchers into the topic.

She brings in estranged parent forums with both clarity about their self-deception and defensiveness, and empathy as well. There is a sense of bending over backwards to be fair.

The lower case title and author name on the cover make me sad on Harriet Brown’s behalf. I wonder if they were her choice, or a marketer’s design.

I am fascinated by the way Harriet Brown continues to put a lot of effort into family relationships, despite the ruptures and judgements stemming from her estrangement with her mother. She skillfully navigates those tricky waters.

I read the book cover to cover in an evening. Highly recommended if you have had to walk away or strongly limit an important family relationship, or if you want to understand that process better.

More stories by Harriet Brown on her website.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Stop Caretaking the Borderline or Narcissist” by Margalis Fjelstad, Phd

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Subtitle: How to End the Drama and Get on with Life

Recommended to me by: a client

A clear analysis and set of tools for bringing your energy back to yourself when you have been wrapped up in caretaking someone who is volatile and focused on themselves. In the book, persistently difficult people are labeled as narcissists or borderlines, or BP/NP for short. I have hesitations about casually throwing around psychological diagnoses and prefer to focus on problematic behaviors, such as the inability to see others’ point of view.

Accept that the difficult person will not suddenly become empathic and considerate. Move out of the drama triangle (persecutor, rescuer, victim) into the caring triangle (assertiveness and doing, caring and choice, acceptance and self-responsibility). I like having a clear alternative to the drama triangle. Practice saying no, disengaging from arguments, and saying what you want. Take concrete actions to make your life better, possibly including ending or severely curtailing the relationship.

Recommended for anyone fed up with the caretaker role in relationships with persistently difficult people.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“It’s Ok that You’re Not Ok” by Megan Devine

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Subtitle: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand

Recommended to me by: Robyn Posin

The way our culture deals with grief is vastly broken. We treat it as a problem to be solved rather than as an experience to be carried. We shame grieving people for not doing the process “right” (what does that even mean) rather than listening to and accompanying them. We spout platitudes like, “It’s all for the best,” to separate ourselves from the reality of loss.

Megan Devine shares about her own catastrophic grief at the accidental death of her husband at age 40, and offers support for others going through grief.

Pain is a healthy, normal response when someone you love is torn from your life. It hurts, but that doesn’t make pain wrong.

Suffering comes when we feel dismissed or unsupported in our pain, and when we thrash around inside our pain, questioning our choices, our “normalcy,” our actions and reactions.

She advises experimenting to see what helps even a tiny bit in the depths of grief. What lets you feel companioned in your pain. What lessens the suffering. What supports wellness and avoids “worseness.” What are your internal signals of overwhelm, and what to do about it.

She addresses how (and why) to stay alive, physical and mental effects of grief, how to manage anxiety, and why to make some kind of art to express your grief. Advice to supporters is: listen. Don’t try to fix, minimize, or put the focus on yourself. Listen.

The last section of the book addresses how to handle would-be supporters’ missteps, and how to help them be more helpful.

The word trauma is only mentioned once in the book, even though it focuses on traumatic sudden losses. I wonder how much the combination of trauma and grief can be eased with trauma healing techniques.

Highly recommended to anyone who has been knocked down by grief, or had a friend knocked down by grief. (That’s just about everyone.)

Megan Devine blogs and runs online Writing Your Grief support groups at her website, Refuge in Grief.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“A Headache in the Pelvis” by David Wise, Ph.D. and Rodney Anderson, M.D.

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Subtitle: A new understanding and treatment for prostatitis and chronic pelvic pain syndromes

Recommended to me by: a client

As is clear from the subtitle, this book is written by and for men, or at least people with prostates and penises. The book is focused on physiology rather than gender, and a lot of the information applies to everyone. They do include a chapter on the physiology of people with vaginas as well.

When people go to the doctor with pelvic pain, they are most often given antibiotics. If the pain persists, they are sent to psychologists, or recommended for surgeries that usually don’t help either.

The Stanford Protocol addresses chronic pelvic pain through a combination of trigger point release and conscious relaxation. Their model is that most pelvic pain is caused by chronic tension, similar to a tension headache. Trigger points in the muscles are released through a combination of external and internal massage by physical therapists trained in pelvic work.

The book carefully covers other causes of pelvic pain before turning to the Stanford Protocol. Pelvic anatomy is illustrated in detail, with common locations of trigger points.

Paradoxical relaxation is taking time to be with tension, without avoiding or trying to change it, and also separating tension from pain, even when they are occurring in the same place. It is similar to Inner Relationship Focusing in its attitude of warmth and acceptance toward exactly what is so right now. In this space of acceptance, muscles can begin to relax and the nervous system can calm down overall.

They note that the same trigger point can cause more or less pain depending on the overall level of nervous system activation and anxiety in the body.

The authors also recommend briefly checking in with pelvic tension and inviting it to relax many times during the day.

Their method is “inconvenient” since it takes a long time and requires hours of physical therapy and relaxation practice. They teach people paradoxical relaxation and self-treatment for trigger points in 6-day intensives. They claim their method works for about 80% of people who try it, most of whom are desperate after running out of other options.

Recommended as a knowledgeable, practical, compassionate approach to pelvic pain.

I also skimmed through “Wild Feminine: Finding Power, Spirit & Joy in the Female Body” by Tami Lynn Kent, which is about pelvic healing for women from both a physical and spiritual perspective. Unfortunately it completely ignores the existence of trans, intersex, and nonbinary people who may have vaginas and not identify as feminine, or vice versa. It contains a lot of practical advice for getting to know the pelvic region and rituals to balance the energy there.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Spark in the Machine” by Dr. Daniel Keown

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Subtitle: How the Science of Acupuncture Explains the Mysteries of Western Medicine

Recommended to me by:Tracy Andrews, LAc

This is a fascinating look at how acupuncture channels correspond with fascial planes and embryonic development. The author is a medical doctor as well as an acupuncturist, and includes vignettes of using acupuncture in the ER.

Unfortunately, as part of the correspondence with yin and yang, he emphasizes the “yin” passivity of the egg during fertilization. That has been debunked since the early 1970’s, as this article in Discover Magazine, June 1992 points out.

When he doesn’t have that basic fact about fertilization correct, I wonder how much poetic license goes into the rest of his information about fetal development. The book is still an interesting read though!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Tear Soup” by Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen, illustrated by Taylor Bills

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Subtitle: A Recipe for Healing After Loss

Grandy, a “somewhat wise” grandmother with a long silver braid, has suffered a big loss. In gorgeous detailed illustrations we see her making tear soup with her tears, memories, and time. She grieves alone and with friends. She gives it all the time it needs, far longer than some people think it should take. Eventually she’s ready to put her soup in the freezer and only eat it occasionally.

A loving, compassionate look at grieving big losses in children’s book format, but appropriate for any age. Highly recommended.

Grief Watch website has more books, and a free download of the “cooking tips” and “recipe” from the back of this book.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating” by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

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Recommended to me by: my cousin

Bedridden with a severe neurological illness, Elisabeth Tova Bailey finds companionship and entertainment in watching a woodland snail go about its life on her bedstand. The snail is housed first with a potted violet plant, and then in an elaborate terrarium. The book describes the snail’s life in carefully observed, lyrical detail. Her illness, circumscribed life, and slow recovery are described along the way, but are not the focus.

Quoted from a letter:

I could never have guessed what would get me through this past year—a woodland snail and its offspring; I honestly don’t think I would have made it otherwise. Watching another creature go about its life…somehow gave me, the watcher, purpose too. If life mattered to the snail and the snail mattered to me, it meant something in my life mattered, so I kept on… Snails may seem like tiny, even insignificant things compared to the wars going on around the world or a million other human problems, but they may well outlive our own species.

I enjoyed learning more about snails, and about resilience. Recommended!

Elisabeth Tova Bailey website

Available at Powell’s Books.