My 2021 Summer reading

And so, its Summer once more, where here in the UK you must be prepared for all meteorological possibilities. And what better time to lie in the sun or snuggle up somewhere (weather depending) and catch up on a bit of reading. Here are some books which tickled my psychological fancy this season, hope they inspire.

How to Fail by Elizabeth Day

Published a couple of years ago, How to Fail acts as a delicious side serving to the main course, being Elizabeth’s renowned podcast of the same name. I raced through this book with ease and really enjoyed Elizabeth’s dry wit as well as her absolute honesty about parts of her life which haven’t gone according to plan. The book manages to walk that fine line of humour and tragedy, including chapters on failing to be Gwyneth Paltrow to tackling far heavier topics such as fertility issues and divorce. 

I especially liked her chapter on anger, an important feeling which I feel is often misunderstood. As the author explains; “I’d been worried that anger belonged to my darker self; that by unleashing it, I’d become a bad person. But that didn’t happen. If anything, acknowledging my anger made me more sane. It made me realise that anger can be a transformative force for good.” 

The book doesn’t just focus on the author’s life but also includes vignettes from her podcast including interviews with other writers such as Dolly Alderton and David Nicholls. This seasoning of other people’s failures stopped the book from feeling at all self-indulgent and added further support to the notion that true growth comes from our failures in life not from our successes. 

Goddesses in Everywoman by Jean Shinoda Bolen

This isn’t a new book by any means (first published in 1985), but one which I have found very useful in my work and my own personal development. Essentially this book is a study of female archetypes centred around the Greek/Roman goddesses. Jean methodically describes each goddess in turn, the myths which surround them and their attributes as women (both positive and negative). She then begins to describe how each goddess may manifest in us mortal women. Each chapter is very well organised with lots of sub-headings enhancing its accessibility. The author has also written a version of the book for gods in everyman, which I have yet to read.

What I find particularly useful is Jean’s ideas as to how we can cultivate these goddesses within us. For example, I’ve always had a fondness for the goddess Artemis (goddess of the hunt and the moon) who personifies an independent female spirit. Jean describes how in the myth, Artemis gathers a band of nymphs to help her in the hunt and how this can be reflected in the feminist movement, describing American activist Gloria Steinem as a typical Artemis figure. But as with the myth, one of Artemis’ shortcomings is how merciless she can be towards others, indicating contempt for her own vulnerability. Jean explains that women with a leaning towards Artemis need to become self-aware of their vulnerable part to allow for emotional grow and intimate relationship.  Jean skilfully likens this vulnerable part to the mythic character Iphigenia whom Artemis chooses either to sacrifice or protect during the Trojan War. 

The clever use of the goddesses and their narratives really brings to life different personality types, far more evocative than say the Myers Briggs approach. I especially appreciate the way each chapter is carefully laid out, telling the life story of each goddess archetype, and addressing possible psychological difficulties. This book has become a bit of a bible for me for considering different personality styles and possible challenges in my work.

The body keeps the score by Bessel Van Der Kolk

Speaking of bibles, “The body keeps the score” is a must read for anyone with an interest in trauma and how it affects us. First published in 2014, it tells of Bessel’s vast work in this area signposted by research, in particular around the neurology of trauma with a generous sprinkling of client case studies.  

Bessel advises a holistic approach towards trauma, including EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), yoga, tableaus, talking, writing, sub-personality work and theatre. A key premise of the book is that when traumatised, the person keeps responding in present time as if the trauma is still happening and that treatment needs to help the person place the trauma in the past where it rightly belongs. Another premise is that when in trauma we don’t have a choice or control over what is happening to us, but now with the trauma over, we can regain our agency. 

He writes beautifully about something so deeply painful (also anyone who opens a chapter with lyrics from Dar Williams gets my vote). Regarding recovery, Bessel recommends that “you need a guide who is not afraid of your terror and who can contain your darkest rage, someone who can safeguard the wholeness of you while you explore the fragmented experiences that you had to keep secret from yourself for so long.”

I highly recommend this book, although dense in content and tackling a heavy topic, I didn’t find this an arduous read, which is testament to Bessel’s passion for helping people recover from trauma. 

The Child in You by Stefanie Stahl

Inner child work in therapy can be incredibly effective, so I was greatly intrigued by this book and its methodology. The main premise is that by understanding our inner child, we can make our feelings, thoughts, behaviours more conscious, and call upon our inner adult to help heal our past pain and wounds.   

The book centres around getting to know the two sides of our inner child, one being the shadow child and the other being the sun child. The shadow child represents our injured self-esteem whereas the sun child embodies our positive influences and feelings. Stefanie recommends creating a pictorial representation of each side of the inner child, and as the book progresses, she talks us through what elements to consider for each drawing. For example, the shadow child could include our negative self-beliefs (e.g., I’m a burden or worthless), and the sun child could include our core values. Stephanie includes lots of useful exercises to help access the different aspects of our inner child and as well as side chapters on related topics such as addictions or procrastination.

I found this book quite useful but can’t say it taught me anything very new. I also found the layout a little disorganised, (but maybe that’s my own shadow child wanting a bit of order and control over things)! I did greatly appreciate Stefanie’s long discussion on the shadow child’s self-protection strategies which included aspects such as the control freak, helper syndrome and perfectionism. This book is a useful and welcomed exploration of inner child work and give it’s been bestseller; it has hopefully converted the odd sceptic to this kind of work. 

Happy reading all and a very happy Summer too!

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

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