Book Review of F*ck Feelings by Michael Bennett, MD and Sarah Bennett

Occasionally I will read self help books that I feel are great resources for clients (and myself). It’s been awhile since I’ve been moved by any self-help book, and this one really caught my eye because of its title…I have to say, I was not disappointed.  

Title: F*ck Feelings
Authors: Michael Bennett, MD and Sarah Bennett
Genre: Self-help/humor
My rating out of 5 stars: 3.5 with chapter 9 getting its own rating of 5

F*ck Feelings

Click here to purchase

 I want to start off by saying that the chapter “F*ck Assholes” (note that this title is not a literal phrase of instruction) is pure genius and should be its very own book as it is a how-to for managing the Asshole(s) (again, not literal) in your life.

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F*ck Feelings is an in-your-face take on self-help that emphasizes values and behavior and suggests that the reader should ignore, or “f*ck feelings”. It also suggests that one should “f*ck Love” and “f*ck communication” and even “f*ck treatment” (see the table of contents at the beginning of the book).

So, if you are busy telling your feelings to “f*ck off”, what should you do instead? According to the authors, you should focus on your behavior, using your values to guide you in deciding what behaviors are appropriate.

Which is sort of in direct conflict with other the authors’ suggestions, like f*ck love, f*ck communication, or, one of my personal favorites, f*ck parenting. I mean if your values include being a good parent or a good partner, why would you then say “f*ck love” or “f*ck parenting” or “f*ck” any of these things? Once you start to read the book, you realize very quickly that the authors are being ironic…for the most part. Yes, they do make it clear that you should “f*ck” (ignore) your feelings and feelings in general; however—or maybe I should say, at the same time—they are also saying you should not “f*ck” (ignore) your values (the things you care about).

My overall problem with the book is not the above premise of using values to guide behavior rather than feelings (as a CBT/ACT therapist, I agree with it). The problem is that if you have no sense of your personal values (or if your personal values are that of a serial killer), then the strategies the authors propose won’t help you manage your life.

Also, the ideas in this book are not new—which in this day and age, who really does have a NEW idea? I just wanted the authors to directly acknowledge that they are heavily influenced by several highly empirically supported and effective modes of therapy (ACT, DBT, and CBT). Not only because it is the right thing to do (as a writer I am particularly sensitive to attribution), but also because the reader then could explore these ideas deeper and even learn more skills and tools for coping:

Aside from good old fashion attribution, the problem with the authors not directly referencing ACT, DBT, or CBT, is that the reader only has a vague sense of what to actually DO. See some examples below:

The authors say: “Accept that peace of mind is rare, and that, without learning proper management of stress and fear, you can lose your mind entirely” (143).

 Find ways to tolerate and deal with stress and anxiety. A significant part of DBT is the concept of distress tolerance and there are specific skills for how to manage stress, fear, and anxiety. An example of skill for distress tolerance is distracting through activities—not mindless activities where you check-out of the moment but mindful activities that get you fully engaged into the moment like reading, cleaning, or doing a hobby (painting or knitting) or even going to an event. For more specific information on this go to http://www.dbtselfhelp.com/

The authors say: “[Do] not let pain change your values, basic course, or determination” (13).

Find ways to stay the course.  ACT teaches people how to discover what is important to them so they can then use those values to guide behavior. For example, ACT practitioners use worksheets that guide clients through a series of questions like what matters to you in your life or what sort of person do you want to be or how do you relax? For some worksheets on values and other ACT concepts, go to https://www.thehappinesstrap.com/upimages/Complete_Worksheets_2014.pdf

What the authors say: “Put doing good over feeling good and you will get good results” (40).

Figure out what behaviors will help you get what you want in life. CBT teaches people to be aware of thoughts and feelings but that behavior does not have to be driven by them. The emphasis is on doing, i.e. behaving your way to feeling better—emphasis on the feeling rather than the better. For some CBT worksheets, go to http://psychology.tools/download-therapy-worksheets.html

Additionally, in their effort to be cheeky and funny, they make some not funny sexist and stupid remarks—for one example see chapter 6’s reference to crazy women and some dissing of mental health treatment in chapter 9 (which is odd, since one of the authors is a shrink himself).

Despite this critique, I enjoyed the book because it does say what I think is an important message for all of us—focus on what you can control and can change and do not dwell on the many limitations in life that, no matter how hard you try, you ultimately do not have any control over.

Highlights from my favorite chapter F*CK Assholes

Quotable Quotes

“…an Asshole is someone who behaves like a jerk and doesn’t see it. These aren’t people you call Assholes because you’re angry. They’re Assholes because of the specific way they behave” (285).

Take-aways

  • Assholes, according to this book, tend to be ex-spouses, horrible bosses, terrible friends, and/or bullies at work/school.
  • Assholes are who they are and no influencing or begging or bribing changes them.
  • Assholes are completely unaware of how much of a jerk they are.
  • Assholes only come to see shrinks to complain about others, not to fix or changes themselves.
  • Assholes are your best friend as quickly as they are your enemy.
  • Assholes can be disguised by their saccharine kindness.
  • If you are asking yourself if you are an Asshole—you aren’t; they lack insight and self-reflection.
  • If you find yourself seeking closure from an Asshole, the authors considered that to be “the emotional unicorn”, a.k.a impossible.
  • Helpful advice for dealing with an asshole:
    • Get a lawyer
    • Get a shrink
    • Document everything
    • Protect your assets
    • Communicate with the Asshole as little as possible and only say what’s necessary
    • Be prepared for the worst—don’t respond to their communication with any intense emotion (the old wait-24-hours trick)
    • Unless you have to stay connected, plan to leave/cut ties, and if you have to stay connected (if you share custody with an Asshole ex) set firm boundaries, document, and get a lawyer ASAP.

Highlights from my least favorite chapter F*ck Treatment

Quotable Quotes

“If your therapy is making you feel even less independent, it’s also less beneficial than you think” (333). 

  • Unlike physical pain, emotional pain is harder to “pinpoint”, which makes the idea of a “cure” in all reality, impossible.
  • When considering treatment, consider your time, money, and how much your problems are interfering with your daily functioning.
  • The authors quote REM: “Everybody hurts sometimes.” But they add, “so not everybody needs to see a doctor about it” (318).
  • What you can expect talk therapy to do for you—provide support and tools but no magic cure.
  • Finding the right therapist takes times. Don’t be afraid to try meds, too.
  • Look for treatment that helps focus more on what you can do about your problems and less on the why.
  • They give DBT and CBT a 7 out of 10 on their BSTP (Bullshit To Pragmatic Scale). See pages 324-329.
  • They offer a nice list of “low cost DIY treatments”: exercise, diet, vitamins, 12 step groups, meditation/yoga.
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Social Media Can Make You Depressed

When I was in school studying creative writing, the director of my MFA program started off each of the residencies with a mini speech about the dangers of comparing yourself to other writers. The main danger is that you can render yourself not only artistically paralyzed, but also emotionally frozen by focusing on how much better you think everyone else is compared to you. Envy and comparing were dangerous emotional paths to take during workshops with other writers because it took away from both your own experience as well as the experience of enjoying another student’s writing. Not to mention, as our director would often say, there is room for all successes, and one person’s success doesn’t detract from your own.

In the nurturing environment of the MFA program, coupled with the inspirational speech from our director at the twice-a-year residencies, I can honestly say, I never experienced more than small flickers of envy and comparing during those two and a half years.

Then, I graduated, thrust out of the cocoon of warm and fuzzies that was The Solstice MFA Program and into the Real World where I encountered a serious problem with envy and comparing, encounters that got increasingly more emotionally upsetting over the subsequent four years post graduation.

Looking back, thanks to my newest pursuit of becoming a psychotherapist, I know from my studies of psychology that comparing yourself to others is a normal and even healthy way to measure your own successes and failures and that envy also is a normal response to such comparisons. However, there is an insidious cognitive experience that occurs when we start comparing ourselves to others, and it’s called Social Comparison Bias.

Social Comparison Bias, which stems from Leon Festinger’s Social comparison theory that states humans have an internal drive for “accurate self evaluations” (basically we want to know how well or poorly we are doing), and the way that we humans get those self evaluations is by comparing ourselves to others, across the many domains of our lives (looks, economic status, education, etc). Festinger’s theory was expanded upon by a guy named Willis, who talked about upward and downward comparisons. This is where it all can get tricky and exceptionally bad for us artist-types because we are pretty sensitive and emotional creatures. Willis’ idea is that in order to measure our own success, we look up (for motivation to be better) and we look down (to feel better). This is all well and good if you can, in fact, compare yourself to an Olympian, or the Olympian of YA fiction, Judy Blume, and become inspired. Or, if you can compare yourself to an out-of-shape slob and feel good about the three miles you jogged. And, in my case, if you can compare yourself to someone who isn’t as far along in the world of publishing as I am—someone unagented or who hasn’t had anything published yet—and feel like you are progressing towards the goal of published author.

The problem lies in this: as we are looking up or down, if our self-esteem isn’t in a healthy place—instead of being inspired by Judy Blume, I actually started to resent her (like I even knew her personally!) after I got my MFA—this psychological shit hits the fan.

And, friends, my shit (emotional, spiritual, psychological) hit that fan, hard, splatteringly hard upon graduation of that MFA program.

On the surface, I was a model post-MFA student—within a year I was launching a YA anthology, landed in Publisher’s Weekly, and was receiving an offer from an agent. Deep inside, something terrible was happening.

These successes were trumped by the failures that came along with them. The YA anthology, while widely recognized and submitted to, didn’t “take off” as I hoped. Signing with an agent I loved and who believed in me didn’t guarantee we’d sell my work. Within a few short years post MFA, I was sobbing in a therapist’s office, declaring myself a complete and utter failure and sham of a writer. I took this even further, by the way, attaching guilt to the fact that I’d spent over a decade of my time and money to this to turn up with nothing and sacrificing time away from my family. I took my failure to launch as an author to be a failure as a mother, wife, friend, daughter, teacher, etc.

How did this happen?

As soon as I graduated from Solstice and began my YA anthology, I spent a lot of time on social media, building up interest and excitement over my new endeavor. Unfortunately, I also started to compare myself to other writers/authors, who I perceived as being better than me, and neither comparing up nor down served me well. Not to mention, my comparisons were 24-7, thanks to Twitter and Facebook.

All of us are continually bombarded with Facebook posts and Tweets that espouse successes, triumphs, and achievements, as if life is truly always endless bowls of cherries and constant dancing unicorns. This is such a problem that in recent psychology studies, researchers have been able to link Facebook with depression, making this social comparison bias phenomenon a possible cause to mental illness! This makes perfect sense! When we continually see statuses about job promotions, new relationships, and expensive purchases or, in my case, new book deals, we start to compare ourselves to those statuses in unrealistic ways. The bias (tendencies to think in certain ways that stray from what is rational) part is the worst because this is the part where now we actually start seeking out information that supports this cognitive distortion that I suck and everyone else doesn’t. Thus, when I see the status that so-and-so got a “nice” book deal, I start to seek out more information about the book deal to either confirm that, in fact, I suck or, the opposite, that they suck. Everyone who has a Facebook or Twitter has committed the social media “crime” of stalking that ex-boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife/friend’s page to find out more about his or life…in search of some information to reassure yourself that somewhere in his or her life things are not perfect. Aha, Suzie may have just married a hot guy in Fiji but scroll down a few years we find out that she got divorced from an overweight, former, high school sweetheart. Or, in my case, aha! Suzie may have signed a book deal, but it was with XYZ publisher and “nice” means that she could have gotten no advance. Woo-hoo! Boy do I feel good now because she isn’t such hot shit.  

There were times, for a few of those post-MFA years, Suzie’s new book deal simply drove me to work harder on my craft and on my research of publishers to send my work out to. Unfortunately, more times than not, it made me feel like total shit.

My “illness” took over for a period of time and rendered me depressed. By comparing myself to others, it didn’t inspire me as it could have had I been in a better mental state.

And, as I discovered in therapy, this constant comparing, over time, changed the way I thought about myself not just as a writer but as a mother, wife, friend, teacher, etc…What rendered me so depressed was the major change in my thinking and my perception of myself. The comparing myself to others I perceived as more successful, reinforced the thought, I am a failureat everything and that thought became the lens through which I looked at myself and my world.

Eventually, the healing came in the form a serious commitment to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. By both challenging these thoughts about failure and gathering up concrete factual evidence to both support and refute that statement, I was able to start seeing myself more clearly. I started to examine failure and discovered that I was equating my failures as crimes rather than what they were, simply failures and that failure doesn’t make me a bad a person. A bad person is many things but not someone who simply fails to get a book deal. I also discovered that I was putting my worth into something that is kind of equivalent to winning the lottery: saying “I suck because I don’t have a book deal” is like playing the lottery and saying “I suck each time I don’t win.” You can’t control winning the lottery any more than you can control if someone wants to publish your book. All you can do is play the game.

 

*Though I wrote this 5 months ago, look at what was just published on Psych Central! https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-online-secrets/201608/new-link-between-depression-and-social-media-use

The Existential Anxiety Symptom: Depersonalization/Derealization

Today has been a day where I did all the right things, and yet my depersonalization was pretty intense at times. I did all of my self care rituals: mindful meditation, exercise, yoga stretches, Epsom salt bath, and I went to my fav coffee shop, followed by watching a silly TV show. Then, I did my dreaded homework from my shrink. It is a rare day that I can do all my “ablutions” as my spouse calls the self-care routine, but today I could.

I saw my shrink just yesterday and told him how I think I’m driving myself crazy. That while depersonalization itself wasn’t so scary any more, the thoughts I had while and when I depersonalized were scary. “Why do I keep having this depersonalization? If I’m having it so much, it means I must be crazy or about to go crazy.” Brilliant Dr. said the homework for this was exposure therapy to the thought. That I had to say the thought into a tape and play it on a loop for a set period of time. (According to my Good Doc, research indicates that it typically takes 30 to 50 minutes of exposure to see the level of anxiety start to drop off and that you have to do this repeatedly until there is no anxiety at all. However, he also agrees that I most likely will not need that much time.)

At the time he posed it, I thought, this is probably easier than when I did exposure for driving and for depersonalizing. Boy was I wrong. First, I used my iPhone and couldn’t get it to play on a loop. So I had a 30 second recording of myself that I had to keep hitting play once it got to the end. I also found myself getting really irritated hearing myself over and over as well as a little creeped out by it. Fine…I guess on some level I’m supposed to have whatever reaction I have and just let it be. I lasted 10 minutes. It got too weird for me. My anxiety definitely increased during it and lingered after. I’m just proud that I got myself to sit with it for 10 minutes.

I’m writing the rest of this the next day and the exposure to the thought went better today. It got boring before the ten minutes were up. On some level, that’s a victory. However, my depersonalization and feelings of anxiety connected to it loomed all day. My shrink also had said in the session this week some of what I’m experiencing could be “med student syndrome” and also simply over-attending to my symptoms and, thus, aggravating them. I guess this is the price you pay when you are in school for a field in which you are both clinician and patient.

The thing is…as both an emerging shrink and a person who is experiencing DP, I want to learn more about it, maybe even choose it as a topic for my first paper in the class I’m taking now. Yet, I’m a little worried that all it will do is feed the beast so to speak…on the other hand, everything I’ve researched about DP is that the “answer” is to not run from or avoid the feeling. To let yourself feel it and still get on with your life. I thought, before this recent reoccurrence with it that I had done that, that I had kind of made some sense of peace to the point where when it happened, I wasn’t as freaked by it. I spent quite a bit of time doing the exposure therapy with it and it did become boring. So why? Why this wrestling with it again?

The possible answer to the above is that while the actual DP sensation is uncomfortable, it no longer really scares me…but the thoughts attached to the DP do…thank God I see my Dr. on Tuesday. Apparently, I need a refresher.