So I feel a lot of ways about this book, which is basically the opposite of the premise of the book, but what are you going to do?
To begin with, I think the authors’ stated premise of the book is both valiant and worthwhile: “to turn your bullshit wish into a goal that can actually be achieved.” That sounds good, right? Sounds… so much better than endlessly trying to figure out why a thing is happening, or how you can prevent bad things from happening in the first place (Tip: You can’t.). As the authors’ say “Since negative feelings are just a fact of neurology and genetics, it’s what you do with them that counts.”
And Yes: this is true. Technically. But here comes the wishy-washy feeling part of my review: The authors make it sound SO MUCH EASIER than it actually is, is the problem. I mean, it’s all well and good to say “F*ck Love, F*ck Fairness, F*ck Assholes, F*ck Communication,’ (which the authors do, since those are all actual chapters in this book), and a lot harder to live those words. Like any book in the self-help realm, though, you’ve got to figure out which parts of the authors’ wisdom works for you and how you could apply it to your life.
Here are some of the pros, IMO –
- There’s something so comforting to an approach that says – ‘Hey, there are givens that you canNOT change, no matter what you say or try or do. Even self-improvement has limits.’ Because that is the actual god-damn awful truth – you aren’t getting taller or shorter no matter how much yoga you do, and I ain’t curing my incurable diseases that way either. In a culture that all but shouts at us that anything negative in our lives is both our fault and somehow within our control to fix, it’s so powerful to hear someone (with some measure of authority) say “Screw that: Some stuff isn’t anybody’s fault, but that also means you can’t really fix it either, sorry.” It’s the truth, and it’s nice to see the authors’ acknowledge it here – “Life sucks, our control sucks, but it’s not personal. There are limits to what you can do to change yourself, and recognizing these limits is essential (to managing bad behaviors, bad pieces of your personality, even bad taste in shoes).”
- Even while they’re acknowledging that some stuff isn’t in your control, the authors are very clear about what that means – and what it doesn’t. It doesn’t mean throwing up your hands and shrugging any real struggles away as unconquerable; Instead it means that you have to work harder to learn which elements of that struggle are under your control, and where your limits are, so you can know what you need help with. It does mean that certain things are unconquerable, maybe, but it doesn’t mean that they’re unlivable, or that you can’t thrive even under those conditions. It means holding yourself accountable not for “results you cannot control, but always for the strength of trying.” It means that maybe you don’t always understand why you behave a certain way in a stressful situation (which is the foundation of all psychology, basically), but it doesn’t mean that if you can’t figure out the why, you then give up on trying to address the behavior itself. It means “Ignorance (of the cause) is ok, but my problem isn’t… from now on, I need to do everything I can to improve and manage my behavior”. They even discuss the (too close for comfort) idea that some people can use introspection and the hunt for a why/cause of their behavior to procrastinate the fixing of the outcome/behavior, and how that’s also not acceptable, really, for courageous adults.
- It’s also quite funny – There’s a lot of heavy duty work in this book: A lot of introspection and adapting of both behavior and thought patterns, so the witty levity in the writing style (apparent right from the get go, with this type of title), is both appreciated and necessary.
- This book actually addressed disability, more than once, but most prominently in a section under F*ck Self-Esteem, entitled Overcoming The Stigma of Disability, which…. is slightly problematic for me, but I get where they were coming from, in the end. For the most part, they managed not to fall into ridiculous and gross stereotypes, although there was one section where I made the notation that these ‘weren’t actual goals of disabled people, but the goals that abled people THINK disabled people wish for, or at the most generous, maybe they were the first baby steps for very newly disabled people,’ but that was only in one particular section, where it seemed to focus a lot on ‘Gee I wish I was more abled than I am,’ or ‘If only I could pass for abled’, which is … not my experience of fellow disabled people’s lives. [For example they state “The people who matter can forget about your handicap.” which a) NO… The people who matter in my life better NOT for get about my disability. It’s kind of a vital part of me, and they also need to take it into consideration a lot. and b) stop with ‘handicap’ and ‘burden’, ok? These are basically the opposite of how disabled people are actively trying to think about themselves now, and it would help a whole lot if everybody else stopped thinking that way too. To be fair, though, they do follow up with the comment that “if they care about you, they’ll have your back,” and that’s much more on target for a less ableist train of thought.] Approaching disability at all guarantees overly critical commentary (like mine), so I do appreciate the authors’ for acknowledging that the disability experience is a unique one, with its own sets of issues and problems to address.
Now a few of the drawbacks, as I saw them –
- While the book did discuss disability, there were some other key elements – most prominently race and class and gender – that I felt should have been addressed and were mostly not. Because some of the “just trudge through this rough patch” kind of advice seemed to overlook the idea that maybe, for some people, the circumstances wouldn’t so much be a ‘patch’ as their ‘whole entire existence.’ And that the idea of just struggling through and trying to come out the other side of those kinds of issues wouldn’t be appropriate advice, because there is no other side. I also felt there were some things that the authors were just not … sensitive enough to? For example, saying “ignore the bullies at work and just put your nose to the grindstone and work around them” is all well and good unless the bullies are sexually harassing you or racially discriminating against you, right? Because then that situation is not just a ‘hold your nose and power through’ kind of dynamic anymore, and so there is a little bit of magical thinking in these circumstances that overlooks key elements of human existence. That maybe being a woman and facing an abuser is different than being a man and doing so, or that being a minority and trying to get unfairness addressed may contain additional hurdles that the authors didn’t even get around to addressing.
- In theory, all of this removal of feelings and acting with ‘logic and clarity’ sounds well and good, but in practice, it often means behaving in painful or spirit-killing ways. See this advice from the chapter on F*ck helpfulness “The sad fact of life, however, is that we’re often unable to help others feel better, regardless of our motivation, intimacy, and commitment.” Now, the chapter goes on to address very reasonable limits on trying to cure addicted family members, or being unable to protect others from injustice, all of which are true, but I don’t think people who want to help others go into it thinking they’re going to solve everything, but that they’re going to help, even if it is a tiny amount. And to that, the authors would say “Ok, well you already have a realistic goal, so this chapter isn’t meant for you,” but the parts of it that do apply to my situation did sort of get overwhelmed with the hopelessness and futility that the authors tended to harp on. Or, for another example, in the chapter about F*ck Assholes, (which was so relevant to my life I just wanted to make copies and post them, highlighted, everywhere I went), when they talk about Asshole Parents, and remaining connected to – potentially abusive individuals, simply because they’re your relative. I vote no. Most of the psychological community votes no with me, btw, but here’s the advice that ‘Accepting his nature as an Asshole helps you avoid conflict, minimizes his opportunities to do his Asshole thing, and gives him just enough contact and caring to fulfill your familial obligation/guilt.” How about instead, ditch the familial obligation bit, accept his nature as an Asshole, and, you know, avoid contact with him altogether to maintain your physical and emotional well being? Yes. Much better advice.
- The doing. Guys, why can’t I just read self-help books and then *poof* they become engrained in me, and I don’t actually have to work at it? Yeah… That’s not how it’s working out for me either.
Overall, I think this is a worthwhile book for you, if you’re stuck in some patterns you’d like to change, and aren’t really sure how to do that. Keep in mind that they aren’t exactly culturally sensitive, though, and that you still have to figure out a way to get from theory to practice other than reading and *poof*.
* Also, to be fair, I’d probably buy this book again just for it’s Anti-Secret rant (p14-15), because that bullshit needs to DIAF, and instead people keep reviving and proselytizing about it to me. No. Hard and fast and forever NO.