Monday, November 3, 2014

Book Review: Creating Love

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Creating Love
Author: John Bradshaw
Date: 1992
Publisher: Bantam Doubleday Dell
ISBN: 0-553-07510-1
Length: 374 pages
Illustrations: black-and-white graphics
Quote: “Another baffling aspect of love is...I have often been the most hateful and mean with the people I love the most.”
In his last hugely successful book, the pop counsellor of the 1990s doesn’t come across as hateful or mean. In fact, he’s so humble in describing his failures in other jobs before he became a psychotherapist that it’s easy to forget that he is one. Why are we reading his book?
Here’s why: because the book makes sense. This is one of a minority of self-help books that seems likely to be helpful to anybody I've ever met. As Bradshaw explains at length, it’s hard to describe exactly how communication that builds love—between parents and children, spouses, friends, co-workers, even religious people—will sound. Lines that have been presented as models of healthy communication in some therapist’s book can often be uttered in such a way that they become abusive, while lines that seem unbearably, unprintably obnoxious can be used as inside jokes that affirm love. Bradshaw admits that some of his readers may have been verbally abused by words that might have been quoted from his earlier books, or someone else’s similar books. Nevertheless, he affirms that when people have achieved a clear understanding of their own good intentions, they’ll use words for good, not evil, purposes.
At this point I’m tempted to say that studying The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense would help them toward that goal...but although G.A.V.S.D. is a great gift to those who’ve grown up speaking verbal abuse as a native language, I realized when trying to share it with a separated couple that not everyone is ready for G.A.V.S.D. either. Some people really do need, if not counselling, at least extensive self-examination. Mr. Hostility was saying, with all sincerity and no hint of verbal abuse, “I love her...if only she would get over this stubbornness of hers about...” Mrs. Hostility was saying very evenly, “Well, there is no interest in talking with a person who says..., period. There. Computer Mode!” Right. No book, no technique, solves all family problems.
Another important admission, made frankly on page 208: “Setting limits [for a child] means that you must do some blocking. What I urge is that you minimize the shaming...although many kids find their soul by developing courage in the face of these threats [i.e. to spank the child if he can’t be quiet]. Don’t take this example and exaggerate it out of proportion...No one transaction is the end of the world. The chronicity of transactions is what creates mystification.” Parents who love their children can scold, punish, threaten, even spank them when necessary, and still have good relationships with their children because most of the time the parents are sources of love and encouragement for their children. Bradshaw does not recommend spanking, but does admit that it’s not fatal to a child’s mental health.
What's not to love about this book is, basically, that it'll be more useful if you read the one the author wrote immediately before it. I found Creating Love disappointing because it came after Homecoming, which was the book that made the “inner child” approach to self-understanding accessible to me. In the 1980s all kinds of books and people were recommending that everybody visualize their adult selves cuddling their inner infants. My inner infant had been adequately cuddled. My inner toddler had had no trouble potty-training. I’d even met people who wanted to believe that, if you couldn’t remember any tragic, traumatic experiences before age five, you’d probably buried memories of horrible abuse...and I hadn’t; I had an adequate number of bland, boring, but not painful memories of being a toddler. Right. I had no “wounded inner child.” Move on.
In Homecoming Bradshaw finally dared to mention that people could have “wounded inner children” who were over age five, and these were likely to be people who weren’t depressive but whose social and romantic lives hadn’t developed as smoothly as they might have done. And there I was! I had wounded inner children after all, but they were school-aged children. One wound was that, although I’d been an energetic, adventurous toddler, and felt overprotected and wanted to roar around with other kids out from under Mother’s watchful eye, when I got to school I didn’t roar. I was smaller than other little girls, hadn’t been allowed to play outdoors as much, was in fact starting to show physical symptoms of gluten intolerance. I didn’t run as fast as other children, and if I ran I was likely to start coughing and be scolded for running “when you have a cold”—I always had allergies that looked like a cold. My inner child was physically wounded, by my own DNA, around age six, up through age fifteen. I didn’t have any deep depression to recover from, but I could feel a missing piece fit back into its place as I finally developed physical skills I’d failed to develop when normal children did. Homecoming was one self-help book I read just to keep up with the fads in word usage, and found helpful, for myself, personally.
I think there was a sigh of relief across the nation when the people who read the self-help bestsellers just to keep abreast of pop culture realized that Homecoming actually had something to offer us. Of course, it wasn’t yet a real insight into how deeply we introverts had been wounded by the school system’s demand that we try to become extroverts...but at last somebody recognized the kind of specific experiences we’d had as being emotional traumas consistent with the lives we had.
I think there was also a gasp of outrage in the school system. How could the public schools maintain their privileged position in our society if people started thinking and talking about the possibility that even more emotional damage had been done to more children, in public schools, than had been done in dysfunctional families? Suddenly the academic culture, and the mass media, didn’t want to give any more attention to the “inner child” fad. If you had a wounded inner child of any age, pop culture began barking at you, you’d had time to grieve and heal by now, so get over it, shut up about it, and don’t let’s ever deal with the feelings some of us had about team sports, correcting classmates’ papers, having to sit next to obnoxious people in the cafeteria, being bullied on the bus, and being verbally or physically abused by teachers! Horrors!
I suspect that, in Creating Love, Bradshaw retreated to safer ground, briefly acknowledging the wounds of school-aged children toward the end of the book but focussing, as psychotherapists traditionally did, on the emotional traumas parents inflicted on children under five. I read this as a step backward. There was a time when the kind of potty-training mistakes from which Freud helped his patients recover were being made in homes all over Vienna. No living person remembers that time any more. Not surprisingly to the scientific reader, very few living people display the symptoms that caused patients to be referred to Freud any more. If Freud were alive today he’d be tracing the personality defects of the present generation to the shortcomings of public schools, day care facilities, and (I hope) not specific TV shows so much as the whole idea of parking kids in front of a TV screen. I think our society could use more of the actual spirit of Sigmund Freud—bold, iconoclastic, innovative, very scientific—and less slavish, outdated infatuation with the dead letters of his findings from a bygone century.
Anyway, regardless of when your emotional wounds were formed, in this book you get more positive encouragement toward whatever your life after emotional healing is meant to be. Bradshaw obviously doesn’t know what that is—whether emotional healing is going to make you a better student, bride or bridegroom, satisfied single, nun, parent, employer, employee, grandparent, or concert pianist. He admits that. So what he can offer is some discussion of ways other people have acted out their healthy, soulful-rather-than-mystified love for any and all of the people they loved. There’s a detailed account of what Milton Erickson, a brilliant psychologist and polio survivor, said to comfort a bleeding, wailing little boy (without cutesipating or mollycoddling); a description of an apparently highly functional family Bradshaw observed on a cruise; a description of “a soulful religious community”; an explanation of precisely how a rich, depressed widow made new friends at church; a first-person story of how Bradshaw was able to reconnect with a good friend who had to fire Bradshaw from a job while Bradshaw was an untreated alcoholic.
So, it’s a feel-good book. Is that something you want? If so, Creating Love is a good choice. Let Bradshaw’s stories prompt you to explore more ways of showing love to friends, relatives, people at work, people in religious groups or recovery groups. (There’s a searing analysis of how addiction resembles a false, “mystified” form of religion.) It’s hard to have too much love. Because Bradshaw remembers rather vividly his attempt to be a celibate Catholic priest, his discussion of ways to create love are family-friendly enough to be useful to mature teenagers. And, yes, there are some stories and thoughts just for the grandparents, too, although Bradshaw is appropriately modest about trying to counsel them while he was only 56 himself. Creating Love is a book anyone can use to make self and any number of other people feel good.

If you buy it as a Fair Trade Book, you pay $5 for the book + $5 for shipping (only one $5 shipping fee for as many items as fit into one package), and out of this Bradshaw or a charity of his choice will get $1. Some other online sellers are showing it for less, but are they paying the authors?