7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
If like me your childhood was not great, this book might possibly even give you an insight into how it has affected you.
The book deals, among other things, with how our childhood experiences can mean that we 'find ourselves acting in ways we don't understand' (a quote from a couple of paragraphs after the free sample ends - if you read the free sample, you will understand the relevance).
The book deals with issues such as a person using laughter as a defence mechanism. That does not seem like a revelation at all - clearly laughter can be used as a defence mechanism - but the explanation in the book as to why a patient acts in the way that she does employs a very different mechanism. I found it profound.
This book does that. It makes you stop and think.
I was particularly interested in the chapter dealing with how praise can decrease a child's confidence. The author goes on to answer the question "if praise doesn't build a child's confidence, what does?" It would be unfair of me to tell you what the answer is but when I read it, it seemed so obvious yet I had not realised before. I am applying that lesson with my own daughter.
I understand the negative reviews of this book (though I still like it). Some chapters are far less fulfilling than others, as they seem to leave things hanging in the air more than others. But then life is like that. I count the good chapters instead.
What strikes me is the number of chapters addressing an issue where I could not understand why someone might act as described; then the author proffers a reason and it seems so patently obvious with hindsight. Consequently I feel that I have learned something - both about myself and others. I will give one example of that, and the proposed psychological theory behind it (so do not read the next two paragraphs if you do not want to know the theory).
One chapter addresses paranoia and paranoid fantasies - the author gives an example of a patient who, returning from a business trip abroad, inserts a key into her front door and fantasises about her flat exploding due to a bomb that terrorists had planted in order to kill her. The author reassures us that paranoia and paranoid fantasies are not unusual, yet we rarely talk about them 'even to spouses and close friends... ...We don't know what they signify or say about us. Are they a sign that we're breaking down? Momentarily mad?' He briefly describes various theories and then elaborates on one of them - namely that they are 'often a response to the world's disregard. The paranoid knows that someone is thinking about him'. Applying that to this particular case, the patient lived alone and her heart would sink when she returned to an empty flat ("I'm unimportant, and lonely") after a business trip abroad (which possibly made her feel "I'm important") - hence the fantasy (if someone wants to kill you, you're not unimportant and your life isn't dull). As the author puts it: 'the fantasy frightened her, but ultimately this fear saved her from feeling alone'. In other words, anyone who suffers from such paranoid fantasies can relax - no, they aren't going mad. Yes, it is normal. It's just a symptom that they feel lonely and unimportant, and the fantasy for a moment counteracts that.
This explains why 'with old age, the likelihood of developing a serious psychological disorder decreases and yet the chance of developing paranoia increases'. The elderly were formerly important in society but, in old age, are far less so, and are likely to be more lonely. Hence how they can complain that 'The nurses here are trying to poison me' and 'I didn't misplace my glasses, my daughter has obviously stolen them'. If you have elderly relatives, that might ring a bell. (Incidentally, if you don't follow those two paragraphs, please forgive me - it is because I am trying to summarise an entire chapter).
Ironically I suspect that this book will have the greatest impact on readers who either have issues of their own e.g. a dysfunctional childhood, or who come into contact with people with issues (e.g. elderly relatives, as above). If you think this book is poor, maybe it's because you have been blessed with a normal life.
I suggest downloading the free sample - it is a flavour of what is to come.
A great book.
112 of 119 people found the following review helpful
on 27 February 2013
Distilling decades of therapeutic work into a slim volume that reads like a collection of short stories, Grosz offers an intriguing insight into contemporary psychoanalysis. A married father-of-four announces that he is thinking of coming out, aged 71, while a woman who has just celebrated her 50th birthday realises a sexy dream that bothered her was about her son.
Anger, boredom, self-delusion, lying, being stuck, Grosz even shows how boredom is worth thinking about. He draws not just on his patients, but literature too - Scrooge shows us how we can't live a life without loss, a Herman Melville character reveals how `we all have a cheering voice that says "let us start now, right away"' and an opposing, negative voice that responds "I would prefer not to."'
But the real joy of this book is that all this is done with such a light touch. I'd take issue with the other reviewer who suggests we go and read Freud instead - many who are attracted to this book are unlikely to, and that's the very point. It avoids jargon, and in an era when CBT is frequently hailed as The Answer to mental health problems (it's just about the only therapy one can get on the NHS these days, though it's still a postcode lottery), it's a timely reminder not to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Don't get me wrong, I think CBT can be invaluable tool, but let's remember looking at our entrenched patterns can help patients who suffer too. To have made complex theories accessible to a mainstream audience is a fine achievement, and to Mr Grosz I'd like to say: THANK YOU.
123 of 133 people found the following review helpful
To be honest, I am not a fan of Freudian analysis, regarding CBT as a less fanciful, if blunter tool for quickly fixing unwanted behaviour. However, I am fascinated by what people do, why they do it and how they think. I am pleased to say that the author does not shoehorn established Freudian ideas on to individual cases but is more intent on squirreling out a unique reason, based on the client's personal history, to account for their idiosyncratic behaviour. To me, this reflects more what true psychological analysis should be. The author does not confine himself purely to relating the details of his clients. He also describes an intriguing case he learned about while chatting to somebody on an aeroplane flight, proving that the author delights in the machinations of the human mind to the extent that he takes his work home with him.
Each account is gripping in its own right and each gives an insight into human nature and the sometimes obscure reasons which may cause it. As you read, you will recognise the behaviour of friends, colleagues and loved ones of your own and start pondering just what makes them tick... Whether you are a champion of Freudian psychoanalysis or not, there is plenty to enjoy in this book because the stories are well told and intriguing. Whether you agree with the author's reading of the situation is of course open to debate but nevertheless it will get you thinking, and that cannot be bad. I found this to be an absorbing and entertaining read and one that I would highly recommend.
152 of 165 people found the following review helpful
on 6 January 2013
I loved this book - reading these short stories ( based on sessions between patients and psychoanalyst) is like lifting the curtains on the lives of your friends and neighbours and, yes, even yourself... To this end I have been posting this book through the doors of aforementioned friends in the hope that we can pepper our walks and talks with some of the insights offered by author Stephen Grosz. Have we over-praised our children? Have we invented fantasy escapes from our everyday lives? Does change scare us? And if, like me, you suspect that psychoanalysis might be a bit of a magician's art, you will be won over by the clarity and humility of the writing and the fascinating insights into how psychoanalysts actually work. The great joy of these highly engaging stories is that, unlike reading fiction where you might think, do I really believe a character would have acted like that, or, is this plot really believable, you know these stories are true: how satisfying it is to be presented with a character in crisis only to discover exactly what precipitated the crisis and how resolution might - or might not - be achieved; such a joy! If I was pressed, I would say this book is a meeting of Jane Austen, Tolstoy and Hello magazine. What a treat.
43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on 12 January 2013
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this on my Kindle. Whilst I appreciate that the focus of the book is observations from analysis, I would have liked the book a little better if it had given a bit more information at the end of each chapter (regarding what happened next) which the author did do with the patient who had AIDS - I laughed out loud at the triumph in this patient's comment to his medication ! (and it is to, rather than about his medication!)
However, I do also appreciate that these are real people and as such they are not fictional short stories with neat endings. Additionally, I also know that whilst some patients return to therapy with further problems later in the transit of their lives, some do not and the series of sessions during a current issue is sometimes all that the analyst gets chance to work on/with the patient.
The only chapter I had any concerns about was the one associated with closure. I completely agree that dealing with death does not in any way have neat endings either, but I do sometimes think that with counselling or analysis or any kind of talking therapy, the patient can gain insights into their grief, especially if the person who died was someone with whom the patient had a particularly difficult relationship. Then, as a result of those insights, they are able to find the bereavement process slightly easier.
However, I do think closure is more useful as a concept when people are recovering from serious assaults etc rather than for bereavement so in this respect agree with the author.
I was really glad I had read this book and would recommend it to anyone for the author's insights and honesty - the chapter with his father moved me very deeply. It is one of those few books I've read where I felt I wanted to talk to the author afterwards !
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
...says the narrator of Stephen Groscz's The Examined Life in the preface. He points out that we all use stories to make sense of our lives to ourselves and others. He also says that there is nothing magical about psychoanalysis and that it's about listening to what is said and what is said in the spaces of what is said. The stories range from those in his early, inexperienced days as a a psychoanalyst when a patient faked his own death, to the more recent past where he describes visiting his father's former home in what was then Hungary and how he was unable to recognise anything. He quotes Karen Blixen in the preface when she says '"All sorrows can be borne, if you put them in a story, or tell a story about them." Groscz's view is that if "we cannot find a way of telling our story, our story tells us -- we dream these stories, we develop symptoms, or we find ourselves acting in ways we don't understand."
I listened to this in the car, as I often do with audiobook CDs, and it the episodic nature of the chapters suits car journeys where the narrative is necessarily interrupted. As other reviewers have said this is not a self hop book but it doe shave some nuggets for immediate change - one example is that Stephen Groscz talks about recent research on praise and how praise of children for their 'cleverness' which is as prevalent now as the opposite was in the 1970s, is less effective in building confidence children than praise of application and hard work. He then takes that into a meditation on the importance of being present with children - that that is the real confidence builder. His chapter entitled How Lovesickness Keeps Us From Love is also well worth listening to by anyone who has yearned for someone and he uses Charles dickens story of The christmas Carol to discuss personal change.
Some of the insights take years to reach though they may seem fairly clear to the outsider, or listener. Groscz's patients often gain that insight but we aren't always told if they were able to change their lives for the better because of it.
Not self help then, but a fascinating insight in the psyche and an object lesson in the importance of being present.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
First of all this is an excellent audio production, the speech is clear and the voice acting perfectly cast, there is not jarring or annoying musical or sound effect accompaniment and the tone and pace of speech is just so, so appropriate. I began on a drive/car journey to listen to the first disk and decided to take a longer journey than I had initially planned because the production is just so good that I wanted to listen to more of it than I had anticipated I would want to.
The casting of the voice actor is pretty important to the enjoyment or displeasure when listening to audiobooks at the best of times but given that the content of this is psychoanalysis and sometimes some traumatic and unhappy material is involved it is doubly important. The material itself is very, very good, I had this book in hardback also but had not read it yet, I think that if I did not I may have considered buying a paper or hardback copy anyway after listening to this.
As I have said some of the material is a little harrowing, discussion of serious self-injury, attempted suicide or disturbed thinking and behaviour, it is not in any respect "psychobabble", it is removed from the self-help genres and likely to please the general listener as much as those with a more seasoned interest in psychoanalysis. No prior knowledge is necessary or assumed on the part of the listener, which is great, and equally there is no effort to dumb down content or simplify it, which is also most welcome.
There is no adaption and abridgement hell associated with this production too which is very important, I have encountered this once or twice the worst instance of which was the audiobook of Rob Bell's book Love Wins, which is fine but at points has he himself describing "well, at this point on this page there is a picture of...", I really did not like those production values at all.
86 of 96 people found the following review helpful
on 6 April 2013
Looking through the numerous and wide ranging reviews this book has already attracted, if you are still considering whether or not to buy it you might find the following explanation useful.
If you buy this book for the wrong reasons you won't get much out of it, and that might help explain the 1-3 star reviews. For example, if you think you are going to get just over 30 sessions (the number of chapters in this book) of psychotherapy on the cheap (the price of this book), think again. Being a fly on the wall during an intimate session between patient and psychotherapist isn't how psychotherapy works.
Nor is there any value in reading it as though this was an exercise in `spot-the ball'. For example, as you read each Chapter you may start to identify with a few of its symptoms or circumstances. You say to yourself `oh, I suffer from that', or `I'm a bit like that'. Well don't think you will find the answer to your problems by the end of the chapter.
But if you buy this book for the right reasons, expect to get a great deal out of Grosz's distillation of some 50,000 hours of conversation in his consulting room over a period of the last twenty-five years, covering a wide range of topics including: telling lies, loving, changing, and leaving. This might help to explain the numerous 4-5 star reviews.
The main benefit of the book lies in his prompting questions, and a few of the generalised lessons he draws out for himself. For example, ask yourself `what haunts you?' after reading his chapter on `How lovesickness keeps us from love.'
Grosz argues that effective desire to change our lives does not come about from fear or other negative emotions, but rather from things that haunt us. For example, we might be frightened of gaining weight, but that alone is unlikely to cause us to change our diet. "Haunting is different." he argues. It makes us feel alive to some fact about the world, or more likely about ourselves, or something we've experienced in the past that we're trying our best now and in future to avoid.
Each chapter is a narrative, sometimes focussing on one individual, sometimes a composite of his clients. In some cases, for example `A passion for ignorance', it reads like a fictional and fascinating short story during which you have to pinch yourself to remember it's based on fact.
The narrative style is deliberate as Grosz want to emphasise his view that we are all storytellers because we want to make sense of our lives in the stories we tell.Understanding ourselves by storytelling is one thing, but it soon becomes clear to the reader how important it is to be listened to (not merely being heard), i.e. being understood.
In his introduction, he sums the book up succinctly by a reference to the philosopher Simone Weil. She describes two prisoners in adjoining cells who learn to talk to each other over a very long period of time by tapping on the wall that divides them. The wall that separates them is also the wall that facilitates their communication. This book is about that wall.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
So many 5* reviews already exist for the print version of this recent book that there hardly seems to remain any more to say about it - the BBC R4 series was also highly regarded. In audio-book form, the book is easy to "read" as you go about your daily life, commuting, doing the housework or whatever. If you haven't tried an audio book, you're in for a treat. I'm convinced it is a form that still needs to "take off", and that it will.
The book is very interesting, being a kind of "short story anthology" where each story, based on a real-life encounter, is from a patient-psychoanalyst session. What is revealed is almost always fascinating and allows us to think very deeply about your own ways of living and thinking. His psychoanalytical "expert" insights become ways for us, too, to develop perceptive insights into our own mind and existence. In that, I think, lies the reason for its success. I prefer to read fiction myself, as a way of exploring the inner mind; but I still thoroughly enjoyed this "non-fiction" account. A reviewer here has written that she prefers this to fiction because "you know these stories are true". Well, that isn't how I read this book, or how I read fiction as both allow us to reflect and consider on another's views.
A highly recommended and excellent "read" (or in this case, "listen"!).
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on 7 March 2013
Case studies and biographical accounts can be rich reading experiences but this compendium of short selections was very disappointing. The accounts are too short and the anonymised characterisations too generic to amount to much beyond a series of anecdotes. Searching analysis and interpretation is not what you will find here. The sections hardly amount to 'examined lives' and this is an easy and undemanding (also superficial and unsatisfying) read for the most part.