Thursday, September 10, 2015

F*ck Your Feelings

Put down the talking stick. Stop fruitlessly seeking "closure" with your peevish co-worker. And please, don't bother telling your spouse how annoying you find their tongue-clicking habit—sometimes honesty is less like a breath of fresh air and more like a fart. That’s the argument of Michael Bennett and Sarah Bennett, the father-daughter duo behind the new self-help book F*ck Feelings.

The elder Bennett is a psychiatrist and American Psychiatric Association distinguished fellow. His daughter is a comedy writer. Together, they provide a tough-love, irreverent take on “life's impossible problems.” The crux of their approach is that life is hard and negative emotions are part of it. The key is to see your “bullshit wishes” for just what they are (bullshit), and instead to pursue real, achievable goals.

Stop trying to forgive your bad parents, they advise. Jerks are capable of having as many kids as anyone else—at least until men’s rights conventions come equipped with free vasectomy booths. If you happen to be the child of a jerk, that's just another obstacle to overcome.

In fact, stop trying to free yourself of all anger and hate. In all likelihood you're doing a really awesome job, the Bennetts argue, despite all the shitty things that happen to you.

Oh, and a word on shit: “Profanity is a source of comfort, clarity, and strength,” they write. “It helps to express anger without blame, to be tough in the face of pain.”

I recently spoke with the Bennetts by phone about what the f*cking deal is with their book. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows. (...)

Khazan: How would you sum up your approach to life’s problems, whether it’s love or childhood issues, or work?

Sarah Bennett: The first step is accepting what you can't control. So many people who come to my father—they want something they can't have. They want a happy relationship that’s never going to be happy, or they want opportunities that are not easy to come by.

So it's going into accepting what you can't control, the factors that are out of your hands, and seeing what you can do with what you can control. And learning to be proud of yourself not just for accomplishing what you can, and not beating yourself up for what you can't. Not seeing yourself as a failure, when you haven’t really failed because it’s not something that you could have controlled in the first place. And admiring your ability to withstand a feeling of rejection, and the frustration and the pain, and keep going on towards a more reasonable goal while being a good person. That’s also what’s emphasized so heavily. Figuring out your own values and sticking to them.

Michael: A big part of this—and it’s so hard to capture—is being able to laugh at how much life sucks. If you can laugh at it, you don’t take it as personally. That moment when you can laugh at how much life sucks and open your mind to the idea that, there you are. What are you gonna do?

Khazan: How would you say that this differs from other advice that you see out there? What’s the main difference between you and a lot of the other “how to be more content” books?

Sarah: Well, from what we know—and we are two people that have never read a self-help book—they seem to put the onus for happiness on the reader. I've had too many friends who made Secret collages. And that makes it seem like, if you made your collage as prescribed by [the pseudoscientific self-help book] The Secret, and you’re not happy, you screwed up. When that’s not really fair to you. You could wake up that morning determined to be happy, and the first step you take out of your building is into dog shit, and now you’re unhappy, but you didn’t put the dog shit there. It's not your fault. You really can't control your happiness, no matter what a book says.

Michael: I think there ought to be a law that you spend a certain amount of time right up front looking for the limit and preparing yourself for it. ... You go in the hospital and right away you start to think about what the limits are—what does it mean if things don't go right? Where is the point where you’ve had enough? People are ready to think like that, and they’re starting to think like that about medical problems. We should think like that about psychiatric problems. (...)

Khazan: I know that the title is a little bit glib, but do you think there’s any downside in walling off your emotions or not necessarily exploring the roots of your emotions too deeply?

Sarah: We always try and make sure that people know that we don’t hate feelings in general. That we aren’t total Vulcans. But this is more of a book about solving problems. It’s to not make feelings the most important factor in how you would approach a problem. In terms of getting to the source of problems, the issue with that is a lot of people think about it like, “If I can remember where I last saw my keys, then I can get them and everything will be okay.” If you can get to where you last or where you first saw this issue, that doesn’t make the issue go away.

Sometimes the search for the source of a problem can be a distraction, and it can also be a disappointment. A lot of the time, knowing why, for example, you pathologically cheat on partners, and you can say, “Aha, it’s because my dad was a jerk and he cheated on my mom.” That isn’t immediately going to flip a switch in your brain and make you monogamous.

What’s the real result? Will it just be rumination on all these bad things that have happened to me? Or, what is a more active action I can pursue that can have a more possible positive and constructive outcome?

by Olga Khazan, The Atlantic |  Read more:
Image: YulyYulia