Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Book Review: The Reality Slap


I started this book almost 2 years ago.  In a one month period I tried to read 4 books about ACT therapy, a book on DBT, a book on CBT, and another on psychodynamic psychotherapy.

Yeah - I was nuts. (fitting for a shrink)

I finished all the other books, but never completed Russ Harris' "The Reality Slap."

This week I picked it back up - and I'm very glad I did.

I'll admit - I don't like Russ Harris writing style.  I don't think we'd work well in a clinic together.  I can do "mindfullness exercises," but not the way he writes them.  I'm not as "touchy, feely" as he is.  I don't think I could use most of his exact words with my patients.

He doesn't fit my personality, my style, or the way I like to relate to people.  AND - I think he's a great author and this book has real value.

He begins with a great point: "All self help books could be lumped into two categories: those that claim you can have everything you ever wanted in life if you only put your mind to it, and those that claim you can't have everything you want but can still lead a rich and rewarding life." (this book is the latter)

Harris points out that being happy with what we have doesn't mean giving up on goals, needs, wants, etc... It means we don't depend on them for our well being and vitality.

Harris is realistic.  He knows that for most of us, challenging our negative thoughts, repeating positive affirmations, and even self-hypnosis don't work long term.  "Our minds continue to be harsh, judgmental, and self critical."

He points out the fact that our brains don't stop.  We churn out thoughts all day long.  When we're driving, walking, eating, talking, listening, watching, reading - our brain just keeps going.  Thoughts about what we're doing, or not doing, or the girl who just walked by, or the movie we saw, or the political turmoil on the world, or how we should have responded differently to our boss last week when he gave us that assignment.
THE MIND JUST KEEPS RUNNING.

Our minds tell us we are smart, funny, silly, stupid, ugly, strong, inept, over-qualified, under-appreciated, etc...  It judges us.  Sometimes correctly, sometimes incorrectly.

Harris doesn't tell us to ignore our thoughts, or to fight against them, embrace them, hate them, or change them.

He asks us simply to acknowledge them.  Know they are there.  See them for what they are - thoughts.  The may be painful, joyful, true or false - but first we just recognize them, and accept the fact that they exist.
He doesn't ask us to enjoy painful thoughts.  He refers many times to the day his son was diagnosed with autism.

This is where He shows his humanity and his reality.  He admits that when this happened he failed at all this therapeutic techniques.  His thoughts completely overwhelmed him, and it happened again and again for years.  He feared for his son, for how much he'd get made fun off, ostracized by other kids.  He feared the stress it would cause in his house.  He knew how many couples get divorced because the stress and heartache of loving and caring for a "special needs" child can be overwhelming.

Harris admits freely and gladly that his son's Autism is not a "gift from God."  It is not something to be cherished.  It did not "make him a better person."  At the same time - he did learn from it.  He did adapt, and learn a new kind of love he never knew before.  He saw that the only reason his son's autism hurt so badly, was because of how much he loved and cherished his son.

The only things that hurt us are the things we care about.  Our pain shows us what we value.  Pain is not the enemy.  It sucks, it's not fun, but it is not the enemy.  Apathy is the enemy.  When you don't care anymore, when you are unwilling to feel pain, you are also unwilling to feel joy.  That is the message Harris brings.

He also brings stories, research, exercises, and step by step instructions about how we can accept the pain in our lives, and with that pain, move forward living the life we value.

The book title is genius - The Reality Slap.  What do we do when we realize that our life is not what we want? When we get slapped in the face by a death, a cancer diagnosis, a job loss, addiction, etc...  What do we do when we can't meet our expectations.  Do we "try harder" or "lower our expectations?"  Or is there another option....

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