“Victory Over Verbal Abuse” by Patricia Evans

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Subtitle: A Healing Guide to Renewing Your Spirit and Reclaiming Your Life

Recommended to me by: Reading Patricia Evans’ earlier books about verbal abuse many years ago

Patricia Evans named the severity and prevalence of verbal abuse and offers validation and healing for survivors. Her earlier books “The Verbally Abusive Relationship” and “Verbal Abuse Survivors Speak Out” focus on describing verbal abuse and coping with it. This book focuses on healing from the aftermath once the abuse is over. She recommends no contact with abusers.

She states clearly and repeatedly that verbal abuse is not the survivor’s fault. The abuser has projected their self into their victim and is not recognizing the victim as a separate person. Healing involves recognizing that and rebuilding one’s self.

The book includes a summary of what verbal abuse is, including survivor stories, brief descriptions of trauma healing modalities, and a set of 52 affirmations such as “I am confident even as I confront the unknown,” with a page or two of accompanying text.

The trauma healing modality called “Healing the Spirit” had some victim-blaming quotes, but the rest of the book is wonderfully free of that.

Recommended if you are in the process of healing from verbal abuse and would like an understanding guide.

Patricia Evans’ website.

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.

“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.

“Belonging” by Toko-pa Turner

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Subtitle: Remembering Ourselves Home

The gorgeous, inclusive cover and introduction/dedication to this book grabbed me.

For the rebels and the misfits, the black sheep and the outsiders. For the refugees, the orphans, the scapegoats, and the weirdos. For the uprooted, the abandoned, the shunned and invisible ones.

May you recognize with increasing vividness that you know what you know.

May you give up your allegiances to self-doubt, meekness, and hesitation.

May you be willing to be unlikeable, and in the process be utterly loved.

May you be impervious to the wrongful projections of others, and may you deliver your disagreements with precision and grace.

May you see, with the consummate clarity of nature moving through you, that your voice is not only necessary, but desperately needed to sing us out of this muddle.

May you feel shored up, supported, entwined, and reassured as you offer yourself and your gifts to the world.

May you know for certain that even as you stand by yourself, you are not alone.

With poetic language and myths and Jungian dreamwork, Toko-pa Turner tells her own story of not-belonging and weaves a wider net of strategies to belong better. There is an Outcast archetype who can visit our dreams, and whose patterns we can follow. We can open our hearts to our own pain, and be willing to be more vulnerable (“woundable”) to others.

Her Black Sheep Gospel resonated for me. Adopt your rejected qualities. Venerate your too-muchness. Send out your signals of originality. Go it alone until you are alone with others.

In a lot of this book, I heard, “Try harder! Work harder! Get out of your own way!” While that may be valid advice, I’ve tried a lot of things it advises. It does also touch on fallow time and letting go of connections that no longer work well.

The author is writing from a place when things are going well for her, so she describes her steps in that direction and then prescribes them for others. While I’m glad she landed where she did, I’m not sure it’s so deterministic as all that. She talks both about divine guidance and about taking action on your own behalf. Yes, when things go well, it looks like a mix of those things led you there. A mix of those things can lead people to any number of places, not all of them positive.

The book was published in 2017, so she does acknowledge increasing environmental and political disaster throughout the book. She advises living closer to the earth, returning to more indigenous ways, without noting that all 7.6 billion of us can’t do that at the same time.

Her description of the problem resonated with me. Her solutions, not as much. Recommended especially if you already do dreamwork.

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.

“Not the Price of Admission” by Laura S. Brown PhD

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Subtitle: Healthy relationships after childhood trauma

Recommended to me by: a client

Relationships are hard for everyone. For people with less-than-adequate caregivers early in life, the difficulty feels personal, a cause for shame as well as sadness. Laura Brown, a feminist psychologist, kindly lays out the likely consequences of early attachment wounds and repeatedly advocates for self-compassion.

Feminist therapy looks at people’s experiences in the context of marginalized identities that often lead to disempowerment and maltreatment, rather than saying that all the problems are inside the individual. The first example in the book is about a same-sex couple. And they’re not the only ones. The book fairly bursts with same-sex couples, as well as emotionally important friendships and work relationships, not just heterosexual romantic partnerships, in a matter-of-fact, “you are all welcome here” way.

I also felt welcomed by seeing quotes from Jewish scholars and traditions. She translates Yom Kippur as “Day of Return,” day of mending connections. And, even though I never watched it, quotes from “Deep Space Nine,” a science-fiction TV show felt welcoming as well.

There is a lot of great material densely packed into this book. It does not skip disorganized attachment like many relationship books do. It shifts the focus to disorganizing caregivers, since the disorganization is not inherent to the child.

Frozen-in-time child states are called EPs, short for Emotional Parts. The book also emphasizes that emotions are positive and useful, so that didn’t seem like the most helpful terminology. EPs are in contrast to ANPs, Apparently Normal Parts that handle day-to-day adult tasks like going to work.

Relationships similar to what we experienced as babies will have limbic resonance and feel “right,” even when they hurt.

The goal is to mindfully notice when a pattern from childhood has taken over, and compassionately self-soothe and notice what is happening in the present, both positive and negative. It’s okay to be imperfect. We don’t have to be abused or used or ignored to be in relationship. We can tolerate conflict that has the goal of reaching better understanding, rather than causing more hurt.

Highly recommended. There is so much more useful material in the book than I can even begin to summarize.

Available at Amazon.

“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.

“An Emotionally Focused Workbook for Couples” by Veronica Kallos-Lilly and Jennifer Fitzgerald

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Subtitle: The Two of Us

Recommended by: David Mitchell

I love the diverse couples on the cover of this book. They create a sense of inclusion and emotional safety right away.

Sue Johnson introduces Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) in “Hold Me Tight.” EFT assumes that adult attachment is natural and normal, and that it makes sense that we feel terrible and protest loudly when our attachment bonds feel threatened.

This workbook kindly and carefully works through the steps of creating emotional safety in a relationship. Clear explanations alternate with questions that invite self-reflection and partner communication. Topics include: cycles of relationship distress, attachment bonds, past influences, emotions, how we feel now, more about difficult emotions, security, rebuilding our bond, repairing relationship injury, stories of change, maintaining intimacy and revitalizing your sex life.

For example, the chapter on emotions asks, “In my family or previous relationships… What messages did I get about experiencing and expressing emotions?” In my family, emotions were never a topic of discussion. I hadn’t consciously noticed that before.

Highly recommended! Useful as an adjunct to couples therapy, or on its own. Each question takes time to answer and process, so this is a workbook to go through slowly and gently.

Available at Powell’s Books.