“The Inner Work of Racial Justice” by Rhonda V. Magee

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Subtitle: Healing Ourselves and Transforming Our Communities Through Mindfulness

Rhonda V. Magee is a Black woman law professor at the University of San Francisco. She has studied mindfulness in depth, and uses it to get through difficult conversations about race with students as well as live with ever-present microaggressions. She teaches mindfulness to help people pause before reacting, increase inner tolerance for strong emotions, and to stay connected with themselves and others.

The first half of the book very gently and slowly encourages the reader to admit that racism exists and might be part of their lives. This is the opposite of Layla Saad’s direct approach in Me and White Supremacy. I can see that different approaches work well for different people.

The strongest message of the book is that we need to stay in mindful, non-violent conversation with each other (and ourselves) about race. Not until the last chapter does she add a caveat about retreating from people who threaten violence. I would add a second caveat about people who are simply not listening or engaging in good faith. Most of her examples include students or workshop participants who have chosen to learn from her, or community members who have an existing motivation to stay connected.

With the addition of those caveats, I agree that we are all in the racist soup together, each learning at our own pace, and we can do our best to be kind to people who are not as knowledgeable as we are, just as more knowledgeable people continue to be kind to us. I wanted to see more about reaching one’s limits and reacting with anger and frustration. There is a place for that, as well as a lot of good work to be done in the world with mindful listening.

Highly recommended for people who are new to anti-racist work, or new to meditation, but not both. I think it would be difficult to learn both from a book at the same time. I have some experience with both and the pace felt slow, but I still got a lot from the book.

Meditations and articles at Rhonda V. Magee’s website

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Recovering from Emotionally Immature Parents” by Lindsay C. Gibson, PsyD

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Subtitle: Practical Tools to Establish Boundaries & Reclaim Your Emotional Autonomy

Recommended to me by: Reading Lindsay Gibson’s previous book

This book repeats some material on emotionally immature parents from the previous book Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents, in a way that is more focused on how the adult child feels rather than focusing on the parents. It develops more material on how to resist emotional takeovers and how to develop a more functional relationship with emotionally immature parents in adulthood.

The premise is to be sure of your own value, and relate from that place, rather than hoping the parents will recognize and nurture your value. There are some good detailed suggestions for how to build a trusting relationship with yourself. The process could take a long time, even with therapeutic support.

There were occasional mentions of creating more distance from emotionally immature parents, but for the most part this book focuses on staying in relationship. I would have liked to see more about danger signs that indicate it’s better to stay far away.

I’ve been mentioning this book to lots of clients. Recommended for great analysis and ideas for how to regain autonomy and heal from immature parenting.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents” by Lindsay C. Gibson, PsyD

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Subtitle: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents

Lindsay Gibson tells it like it is. There is a lot of clear analysis of the ramifications of dealing with emotionally immature parents, without any waffling about, “Maybe the kid is the problem after all.” Emotionally immature parents are held responsible for falling down on the job.

“Emotionally immature parents fear genuine emotion and pull back from emotional closeness. They use coping mechanisms that resist reality rather than dealing with it. They don’t welcome self-reflection, so they rarely accept blame or apologize.”

“Understanding their emotional immaturity frees us from emotional loneliness as we realize their neglect wasn’t about us, but about them. When we see why they can’t be different, we can finally be free of our frustration with them, as well as our doubts about our own lovability.”

“If they don’t make a solid emotional connection with their child, the child will have a gaping hole where true security might have been.”

Two chapters cover characteristics of emotionally immature people in themselves and as parents. There are some interesting insights here, for example, “They have an inconsistent sense of time,” which leads to issues with accountability, responsibility, and planning. At the same time these chapters feel harsh and angry, very much “them” vs. “us.” Since we all behave in emotionally immature ways at times no matter how hard we try to be considerate, it makes for uncomfortable reading.

The book later notes that we naturally respond with anger at an attachment figure who is non-responsive or abandoning.

Four types of emotionally immature parents are described: Emotional/anxious, driven/perfectionist, passive/avoidant, rejecting/mean. These types are not revisited in later chapters.

Children of emotionally immature parents create healing fantasies about what will finally let them receive the connection, nurturing, and emotional responsiveness they crave. They also create a role-self which is their best effort to get what they need from difficult parents, rather than living as their true self.

Children of emotionally immature parents tend to be either internalizers or externalizers (locus of control, but without using that phrase). There is some lip service here to people combining both styles and balance being the goal, and at the same time a clear preference for internalizers as being more emotionally mature and capable of growth.

To heal, release self-defeating roles, for example being small and self-effacing in an effort to elicit a caring response. Acknowledge true thoughts, feelings, and opinions, whether or not you choose to share them with parents or others.

As an adult, avoid getting hooked by an emotionally immature parent through detached observation and maturity awareness (estimating people’s probable level of emotional maturity). If someone is showing signs of being emotionally immature:

  1. Express boundaries, feelings, etc. and then let it go
  2. Focus on the outcome, not the relationship
  3. Manage the relationship rather than engaging.

Emotionally immature parents may feel safer and respond better to this more distant approach – or not. It is still calmer and emotionally safer for the adult child to alter their expectations to better match the parent’s capacity and skills.

The books answers objections people may have to the maturity awareness approach, and then details how it feels to be in relationship with an emotionally mature person.

In this book’s example stories, on the positive side, the men and women seem like real people, not gendered stereotypes. In the second half of the book, there is some variety of names that includes different cultures. On the negative side, as far as I could tell, there were no same-sex couples nor trans nor non-binary people.

Lindsay Gibson clearly brings a wealth of thought, research, and experience to this book. There is a lot of great information here, and at the same time it can be uncomfortable to read. Recommended.

The publisher New Harbinger has a download available of all the exercises in the book (pdf) which give you a great summary of the content as well.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Turn This World Inside Out” by Nora Samaran

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Subtitle: The Emergence of Nurturance Culture

Recommended to me by: Nora Samaran’s online essay The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture

This book contains three of Nora Samaran’s powerful essays (also available on her blog) and dialogues with other writers that expand on the themes of nurturance, attachment, shame, gaslighting, gendered violence, and repairing harm.

It is a short book that can be read quickly, and at the same time there are a lot of chewy ideas to take in over time. There are also references to more reading on these topics by people who are one or more of trans, Indigenous, and Black who have developed skills of sustainable, relational living. The book holds the question: how do we best move forward from and heal from white supremacy, colonialism, capitalism, and patriarchy.

What would it be like to live in a culture where we all could be socially embraced in this way, where we could speak up about harm, could say not to it, without fear, because we know without question that no one in our community will dehumanize another?

I admire Nora Samaran’s insights, and I long for the kinds of communities and relationships she describes. This book brings in more voices to deepen and expand the conversation. Highly recommended.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Educated Heart” by Nina McIntosh

book coverSubtitle: Professional Guidelines for Massage Therapists, Bodyworkers, and Movement Teachers

Recommended to me by: Ethics and Boundaries class in massage school

I re-read this book because I’m planning to write about dual relationships. Nina McIntosh writes lucidly about the need for clear boundaries as a bodyworker.

The book is filled with guidelines and anecdotes from her own practice and from extensive research and interviews with other bodyworkers. “Being professional is an educated way of being kind.” A strong framework around scheduling and fees helps clients feel safer and keeps practices running more smoothly. Attention to the daily small ethical and boundary decisions helps avoid big disasters.

Highly recommended for practitioners who use touch, and for clients who want to better understand their responses to different practitioners. This book is dear to my heart and had a big influence on how I run my practice.

This blog post by Laura Allen talks about meeting Nina McIntosh, and sadly, about her death from ALS in 2010. Laura Allen put out a 4th edition of “The Educated Heart” in 2017.

“Unlocked” by Gerald Zaltman

book coverRecommended to me by: Received a copy from Asakiyume who edited it

Gerald Zaltman is a marketing consultant for corporate executives and a professor emeritus of business administration at Harvard. The idea for this book came out of interactions with his young grandchildren. I do not belong to these target audiences, and the book did not resonate with me. I realized as I read the first few sections that the author had not won my trust, so I was engaging with the thought exercises warily, waiting to be tricked and tripped up.

The book starts off with a couple of ethical dilemmas, and then the rest is about many ways our thinking can be influenced that we might be unaware of, and unconscious assumptions we might be making. There was no mention of racism, sexism, or any other -isms that lead to unconscious biases affecting our thinking and responses.

While there is a section on embodied cognition, it is more about how, for example, holding a warm drink can make us perceive a person more warmly, rather than about how our bodies and minds are integrated. The rest of the book is very much disembodied, based on the premise that, “You are how you think.”

There were links to a couple of interesting related videos:

Selective Attention Test: Count the number of passes between players dressed in white.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJG698U2Mvo

A Portrait Session with a Twist: 6 photographers, one subject, 6 different stories.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-TyPfYMDK8

The ebook contains live links and color illustrations. In one exercise, color names are printed in non-matching colors and the instruction is to say the color of the text rather than read the word. The gray-scale illustration in the printed book does not do the exercise justice.

Available at Amazon.

“So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo

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Recommended to me by: Ijeoma Oluo’s twitter feed

Ijeomo Oluo is a writer, speaker, and editor at large at The Establishment. She is also a queer Black woman, the single mother of two boys. Her writing is kind, direct, and clear, with practical suggestions on how to talk about race and dismantle racism.

Through both personal anecdotes and statistics from research studies, she lays out what racism is, how it affects people of color, and what we can do about it.

First, she addresses some of the objections white people have to discussing racism at all. Just because white people don’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not happening. No, it’s not just about class. Yes, race affects how people are treated in a long-term targeted effort to use Black people’s labor and keep them from competing with white people. Racism is prejudice + systemic power. Calling a white person a cracker does not have the far reaching effects and historic resonance that calling a Black person the n-word does.

With care and clarity, she addresses privilege, intersectionality (don’t leave more marginalized groups behind), police brutality, affirmative action (yes it works, no it’s not a panacea, and sadly it’s being dismantled), school-to-prison pipeline (all kids deserve to be seen in a positive light), cultural appropriation, using the n-word (if you’re not Black, DON’T), touching Black people’s hair (DON’T), microaggressions (when and how to address them), model minorities (still racism), and taking action.

Carefully, at the end of the book, she addresses that we’re all racist (yes me, yes you) because we are all immersed in a racist culture. We can do our best to become aware of our racist thoughts and habits and change them. We are better prepared to have conversations about race with our friends of all races with Ijeoma Oluo’s explanations and detailed advice.

Highly recommended as a no-nonsense, compassionate guide to what white people need to know about racism. I imagine Black people would find it validating as well. Please read this book!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Braving the Wilderness” by Brene Brown

book coverSubtitle: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone

Recommended to me by: reading Brene Brown’s other books

I liked this book a lot better than I liked Rising Strong. There is less material, but it is more coherent, and it directly addresses crucial tools we need for the current political situation.

There is only one cutesy acronym, which was also in Rising Strong. It repeats as a theme through the book and is even included in the title.

The seven elements of trust:
B – boundaries
R – reliability
A – accountability
V – vault (confidentiality)
I – integrity
N – needs, non-judgmental about needing help
G – generosity, ascribing good intentions

Brene Brown addresses the harm being done as we fracture into more and more homogeneous groups both in person and online. Homogeneity increases isolation, and loneliness is on the rise. Homogeneity also supports acrimony and hating the Other.

She also addresses the longing to belong in her own life. She has always forged her own path. With the exploration and research around this book, she realizes that belonging is an internal quality, not dependent on outside approval. We are beholden to Spirit and our shared humanity, not to the rules of one particular social group.

Her suggestions for finding belonging inside ourselves:

  1. People are hard to hate close up. Move in.
  2. Speak truth to bullshit. Be civil.
  3. Hold hands. With strangers.
  4. Strong back, soft front, wild heart

She includes Dr. Michelle Buck’s suggestions for conflict transformation (rather than resolution). Stay in the conversation. Look for underlying intentions. Why is the topic so important to each person. Focus on the present and the future, rather than the past and who said what when. Have the goals to learn more about the other person and find new possibilities. Hold both-and rather than either-or. Listen!

The prerequisites for staying in conversation with someone we disagree with: no threats to physical safety, and no dehumanization. We do not have to tolerate being erased and dehumanized in the name of tolerance.

I disagree with her assertion that face-to-face connection is key, and the internet is only useful to find new people to connect with in person. I agree that in-person connection is lovely, but connection over the internet also has value, especially for people with limited ability to get together in person.

Highly recommended as a thoughtful approach to the unfolding catastrophe of disconnection in modern life.

A worksheet on Brene Brown’s website that contains the main points from Braving the Wilderness.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Attached” by Amir Levine MD and Rachel S.F. Heller MA

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Subtitle: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find and Keep Love

This book was published in 2010, and is still fully relevant – except the “new!” around attachment theory. Once you get past the initial “amazing!” hype, this book is practical, encouraging, accepting and compassionate.

While I’m talking about downsides, all the example couples are heterosexual (except possibly one brief negative vignette) and almost all have Anglo names. On the upside, there aren’t overt sexist stereotypes. On the downside, gender-related differences in emotional labor are not mentioned at all.

I was uncomfortable with referring to people as “avoidants” and “secures.” Sure, it gets awkward to keep saying, “People with an avoidant attachment style,” but respect is important, especially when attachment styles are “stable but plastic” – they tend to stay the same, but can change over time.

They emphasize up front that attachment is a primal survival system in the body. We need other people. Our nervous systems like to attune with others to help us feel calm and handle stress. “Needy” is a statement of fact, not an insult or a weakness.

People with a secure style accept their own needs and those of others calmly. People with an anxious style feel ashamed of their needs, but feel them strongly. People with an avoidant style suppress their needs, but still have them.

The disorganized attachment style (traumatized by attachment figures) gets short shrift once again. They call it anxious-avoidant and say that only 3-5% of the population have this style. Their advice for non-secure folks does still apply.

They also say that 50% of people are secure, which seems surprisingly high to me. They do say that people with an avoidant style are over-represented in the dating pool because they successfully avoid ongoing relationships, and people with a secure style are under-represented because they find someone and settle down for the long term.

For people with an anxious attachment style, they recommend filtering potential partners by asking, “How much is this person capable of intimacy? Are they sending mixed messages or are they genuinely interested in being close?” People with a secure attachment style intuitively do this, knowing they deserve love and care.

They also recommend distinguishing between an activated attachment system (alternately panicked and euphoric) and the calm safety of a secure connection.

The main antidote to attachment-related struggles is effective communication. Calmly say what you need and ask about confusing signals in a non-accusatory way, and then pay attention to how the other person responds and follows through. Do they avoid, deflect, defend, or repeat troubling behaviors? Or do they listen, care, and repair issues in a collaborative way?

When you become part of someone’s inner circle, do they treat you like an enemy, or like royalty? In the inner circle of a secure relationship

  • Your well-being comes second to none
  • You are confided in first
  • Your opinion matters most
  • You feel admired and protected
  • Your need for closeness is rewarded with even more closeness

To move toward a secure attachment style, accept your current needs for closeness or distance, practice effective communication, don’t take other people’s bad behavior personally (but do get out of range!), and find secure role models. In conflicts, assume the best and also pay attention to how you are treated. They suggest that pets can be great role models for secure relationships.

It is very hard to leave an attached relationship, even when it is destructive and painful. We can only gradually deactivate the attachment system, and tough out the primal panic of being without an attachment figure. Building a support network can help a lot with reality checks about the relationship and soothing for the internal attachment system.

Highly recommended for people who want to understand past relationship catastrophes and get better results in the future, without blame or shame.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Wired For Love” by Stan Tatkin

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Subtitle: How Understanding Your Partner’s Brain & Attachment Style Can Help You Defuse Conflict & Build a Secure Relationship

Recommended to me by: Nora Samaran

I bounced off this book the first time I tried to read it. The second time, I got past the over-simplified initial examples and cutely simplified brain science to get to some useful relationship suggestions. They boil down to: Make your relationship a priority. Pay attention to what your partner likes, and do that. Pay attention to what upsets your partner, and offer comfort. Negotiate in good faith rather than trying to control them. Be aware of attachment styles and threat responses.

I took serious exception to calling the ventral and dorsal vagal nerves the “smart vagus” and “dumb vagus.” That’s just plain inaccurate, and has all sorts of ableist implications that don’t belong in a relationship book (or anywhere).

As frequently happens, the disorganized attachment style is left out. He uses the metaphors of anchor (secure), wave (anxious), and island (avoidant).

There are some same-sex couples in the examples, and the genders are not painfully stereotyped in the heterosexual couples. The names even have a bit of cultural variability. Yay.

Recommended for the relationship advice, but not the brain science.

Available at Powell’s Books.