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Customer reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars

on 9 May 2017
I'd read Martha Stout's "The Sociopath Next Door" a while back and enjoyed it a lot. Stout writes in a clear, non-pretentious way yet still describes things in beautiful detail, even when they're harrowing.
I found this book to be more enjoyable than the other, as, having read it, I feel I know myself far better. The subject matter is misunderstood and unknown to most of us, yet still extremely important. A clear expert in her field, Stout knows this, so describes psychological conditions in a compassionate and complete way. Her case studies, while extremely moving and shocking, contain rationals for her patients' behaviours and concise descriptions of how these conditions can manifest in seemingly "sane" people. The ending of the book was so beautiful and life-affirming that it made me cry with joy. I recommend this book to absolutely everyone, first because it's so wonderful to read, and second because it provides an essential perspective into the lives of society's most unlucky individuals; the trauma survivors.
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on 19 June 2011
Let's first say perhaps that this book's title is a whit misleading. A book could certainly be written about how sanity really is a slippery concept and how ordinary people in ordinary circumstances may unwittingly stretch its envelope. This book however it isn't: it is narrowly, and competently, about how chidren survive unimaginably shattering childhoods, and the very steep cost they pay, and keep paying throughout their lives, for having stayed alive. It should perhaps have been titled something like: Abusive Childhoods: Adulthood Aftermath, or, less dryly, Why Some People in Your Life Sometimes Seem Like Strangers, or such.
Another slight issue is that the book inevitably looks from the outside in (although very competently) - for its author enjoyed a happy childhood. It would be interesting to read from a scientifically trained survivor. Certainly, every experience is unique, and it is entirely possible that different strategies are developed by different children to cope with the horror. Some survivors did publish memoirs (e.g., 'A Child Named It', or even the fictionalized 'The Painted Bird') which however tend to be heavy on narrative but light on analysis. Maybe some survived by chance - survival just happened - maybe some by instinct and/or their subconscious taking over, and maybe some by partly deliberate coping strategies attempting to somehow manage the wreckage - it would be instructive to hear from them.
But these are very minor whinges. A milestone.
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VINE VOICEon 6 April 2008
I bought 'The Myth of Sanity' having read 'The Sociopath next Door' as I thought Stout's other book was brilliantly written and very informative. I have to say that the same is true of 'The Myth of Sanity'. This time Stout, an expert in treating people who have experienced trauma, tackles Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) which is more commonly known as Multiple Personality Disorder. It is Stout's belied that many of us experience dissociative episodes, whether that be experienced as simply as being lost in a film, or not remembering a drive home but also gives examples from her therapeutic work of people who experience much more extreme episodes.

The wonderful thing about Stout's books is that she gives clear anecdotal examples to explain her points clearly, and remains very practical in her approach. She is a therapist who is not concerned about appearing 'human' and revealing her weaknesses.

This is a great book. Highly recommended.
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on 14 November 2007
This book is a must-read, it provides a crucial introduction to the study and understanding of childhood trauma. Well written, in a clear and simple style (understandable by non-native English speakers such as myself) despite its complex subject, it illustrates for us the many ways a child can become dissociated due to some traumatic event (not necessarily parental abuse, it can be external causes totally independent of the child's family and upbringing). Now this is really scary in all its implications. Reading through the book, one realises how COMMON dissociation is. From the ordinary dissociation state while watching a movie to the most severe cases of Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder), one gets to realise that nobody's truly sane and devoid of dissociation issues. A scary thought, but a necessary realisation -- that's only through learning of these disorders that one gets to understand them and begins the process of healing, in order to regain a truly healthy psyche, a more united and coherent Self.
For the reader who wants to dive deeper into the subject of childhood trauma and the impact upbringing can have on our psychological make-up, the reading of Trapped in the Mirror (Elan Golomb), Unholy Hungers (Barbara E. Hort) and the Narcissistic Family (SD and RM Pressman) are highly recommanded excellent follow-ups.
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on 13 July 2007
Martha Stout gives a great insight into area of dissociative personality disorders and how it functions as a survival mechanism in the young child when trauma happens. The book is easy to read with many case studies which highlight the subject. I found it very interesting as it was easy to see how the spacing out and dissociating operates both in myself and in friends and family around me. It has given me much to think about and to question about my own childhood especially, and that of some of my family members/ancestors. The book is written with much heart and with a great belief in the human spirit. A very valuable contribution towards understanding the human experience.
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on 3 November 2007
How many times have you asked yourself why did I act that way, who is this other person acting through me, or why do I repeat the same mental program and actions to similar situations and/or emotions and feelings especially when I realize it hurts others?

I've done this many times and this book has helped me to see a part of the reason why. Everyone goes through some kind of trauma in their childhood, some more severe than others, which affects who we are as adults and how we react the way we do to given situations. We learn to dissociate as a survival mechanism from the pain and stress brought on by trauma that we aren't equipped to deal with as children. As adults we may not remember or understand this dissociation, but we can see a pattern in our behavior and how this behavior affects friends, family and everyone else we interact with, which we can take the responsibility to try to understand and change. I think these two paragraphs near the end of the book tell something important about possible change and the alternative:

"The true remedies are making a safe place, finding out, remembering, not hiding from the memories, and not blaming. Also, at first, simply learning to recognize dissociative behavior in oneself and in others, at least some of the time, may be counted as a part of the cure. By definition, increased self-observation exercises the observing ego, the part of the self that will be able to view dissociation as a currently unnecessary limit upon one's freedom.

These are difficult prescriptions, and as I say, the presence of another person, a therapist or a mentor, is helpful, may even be required. But the alternative is for us to continue in something reminiscent of a tedious science fiction plot in which the otherwise admirable characters are trapped in a hermetic time loop, and repeat over and over again the same galaxy-shattering mistakes, never ascertaining that they have done it all a fathomless number of times before. In this sort of plot, the only way out is somehow to percieve and sever the time loop, of which the only detectable symptom is a wispy sense of deja vu."

A must read book if you want to start to understand yourself, who you are, and why you are who you are.
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on 9 December 2003
Martha Stout has written a cogent, eminently readable book on the wide range of dissociative reactions we have to different stimuli, providing meaningful insight into the behavior of ourselves and those around us. We are all a little bit crazy, she declares. This book was something of an eye opener for me, as I had never considered dissociation as a common condition in society. Dissociation is actually a natural survival mechanism that has helped man survive for thousands of years on this planet; in cases of extreme, disturbing stimuli, the human mind may be unable to handle what it is witnessing, so it compartmentalizes the trauma into self-contained groupings within it. The person may withdraw his/her own awareness from the situation at hand, and he/she may well have no conscious memory of it after the fact. The effects of significant trauma cannot be self-contained in such a way forever, though, and so eventually the individual begins having nightmares or flashbacks, begins to space out or lose himself/herself at different times, exhibits dramatic mood swings, etc. In the most serious cases, the person may well harm himself or someone else, transform into a completely new person, lose control of his own conscious self, or exhibit what used to be called multiple personalities. It has been my understanding for some time that the number of actual multiple personality cases is extremely small, but Stout points to a small but significant number of cases of dissociative identity disorder (DID), an unknown number of which go undiagnosed.
Pointing to vivid examples from her own case files as well as anecdotal accounts of nonprofessional acquaintances, Stout identifies the points along the dissociative spectrum. The most familiar and benign examples of detachment from self include daydreaming and losing oneself in a good book or movie. At the opposite end of the spectrum is full-fledged DID. In between lie such states as temporary phasing out, habitual dissociative reactions (phasing out whenever a remark or emotion suddenly triggers a trauma from early life), dissociation from feeling (feeling nothing during an event that should be emotional), intrusion of dissociated ego states (feeling strong, usually negative, emotions for no clearly discernible reason), demifugue (feeling adrift from both reality as well as your body), and fugue (losing significant periods of time wherein you unconsciously go about your daily life). In extreme cases, an individual may develop separate personalities of which he/she may or may not be consciously aware, as these separate personalities may or may not have identifiable names.
The source of all these dissociative states, Start argues, is childhood trauma. She is quick to point out that trauma does not necessarily result from a condition of personal harm, although it naturally does include physical abuse, incest, emotional abuse, and similar reprehensible acts. A child has a limited understanding of the world, so he/she may be traumatized in ways his/her parents never even discern; becoming lost, for example, even for a short period of time, can have a lasting, deleterious effect on a child. Years later, some word or sound or smell might trigger this buried trauma, thereby triggering a dissociative reaction in the individual; such root causes of dissociative behavior can be very hard to ferret out. The very process of remembering can be pure torture, but whatever dissociative behavior is negatively impacting the individual's life must be uncovered in order for that person to find healing and live as normal a life as possible. One cannot protect oneself (which is basically what dissociation consists of) and live life to the fullest at the same time. In the end, one's ability to withstand and/or recover from the dissociative effects of early traumas comes down to a conscious choice of personal responsibility.
I'm no psychologist, but Stout communicates her ideas in a way that makes very good sense to me; she even manages to sum up quite distinctly the difference between her techniques and those of psychoanalysis. Her case studies of dissociative identity disorder are of course fascinating, but the biggest thing I will take away from The Myth of Sanity is the insight I have gained into normal, everyday life.
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on 25 March 2012
Martha's writing style is very engaging and touches your soul while she tells her story.

This book is about dissociation and dissociative disorders, but not only applies to that small minority. As the title says, Martha goes into the human mind and challenges the Myth of Sanity.

We all think we are a single person, always the same, never changing. What Martha shows with her case studies is that, in a single ordinary day, there are lots of stimuli that might remind us our past traumas and we begin to start in ways that are not us anymore, we may become defensive, hostile, impatient and hurting the ones we love.

In addition to this, the most amazing part of the book is Martha's engaging tales of her patients and how they recovered from severe cases of trauma with horrible abuses in their past. Even you didn't experience such abuses, it sets an example to us showing how courageous people inhabit earth.

It is a must read for anyone who wants to peak into human psyche to understand our minds and wake up from this myth of sanity.
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on 1 January 2012
A great introduction to the concept of the pluralistic self - the how and why of such. It is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we are naturally holistic, that our psyche is one, but the author clearly demonstrates that this is in fact a fallacy and that in reality what we consider to be the 'self' is but a constellation of sub-personalities as a result of traumatic or difficult life experiences. A very interesting and informative read.
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on 6 November 2007
This book was very helpful in learning about dissociative states. Something that everybody experiences. It was a real eye-opener for me, and helped me to understand myself to a much higher degree.

This is a "must read" for anyone who is interested in, not only learning about the behaviors of others, but in their own behaviors as well.

And, as usual, Martha Stout's writing style is such that it is easy to understand and interesting to read.
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