Authors: MD Michael Bennett
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For the previous generation, Claire and Dr. Jacob Bleiberg, and Beatrice and Jacob Bennett. Tough lives couldn't stop them from sticking to their values and working hard so that our lives could be so much easier.
And for friend, mentor, and legendary mensch Dr. Ted Nadelson, who taught us that the best way to help people accept what's tough about life is to make them laugh.
There's no “should” or “should not” when it comes to having feelings. They're part of who we are and their origins are beyond our control. When we can believe that, we may find it easier to make constructive choices about what to do with those feelings.
The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember
Most people read self-help books, or come to see shrinks, because they can't solve their problems after trying very, very hard to do it themselves. This is true whether they feel depressed, anxious, ill-treated, burdened with self-destructive behaviors, hurt by an unhappy relationship, too fat, too thin; you name it. They come expecting advice or treatment that will reduce symptoms, ease painful feelings, strengthen self-control, or mend broken relationships. Basically, they want a cure. These expectations are stoked by the public faces of therapy, particularly those telegenic, first-name-basis self-help gurus like Drs. Phil, Drew, Laura, Nick, etc.
offers a more realistic approach from a medically trained, practicing psychiatrist who, over a forty-year clinical career, has treated hundreds of patients with intractable mental illness, bad habits, and troubled relationshipsâDr. Lastname. That was the alias used by your authorsâDr. Michael Bennett, the aforementioned Harvard-educated psychiatrist, and his daughter Sarah Bennett, a
writer who spent years writing sketch comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New Yorkâas we developed our collaborative technique at our website,
Observing the difference between what people expect from therapy and what they are actually likely to achieve, I, Dr. Bennett, came to believe that people use the very act of coming for helpâand their overbelief in a cure for their problemsâto deny the fact that there is much about life, others, and their own personalities that is beyond anyone's power to change. They would rather see themselves as failures or as partially developed seekers who cannot properly begin their lives until they have found an answer that has so far eluded them. Clinging to the belief that they can be cured, they want to know what they or any prior therapists did to block them from achieving their treatment goals. Unfortunately, many therapists, eager to help patients realize these wishes, support their false hopes. I am not one of them.
explains that, in most cases, you have not failed and do not need to try harder or wait longer for improvement to begin; instead, you need to accept that life is hard and your frustrated efforts are a valuable guide to identifying what you can't change. After urging you to accept whatever it is you can't changeâabout your personality, behavior, spouse, kid, feelings, boss, country, pet, etc.âthe
approach shows you how to become much more effective at managing life's impossible problems, instead of vainly and persistently trying to change them. If you're willing to accept what you can't change, we have many positive suggestions for improving the way you manage the shit on your plateâbeginning with not wasting time repeating what hasn't been working.
Your issue may be the love or hate you wish you could stop, the urge to drink or drug that you wish would go away, the blues you wish you could cure, or the spouse, kid, or parent you wish you could change. By the time you seek help, however, it's usually obvious that something about your wish isn't feasible, but that hasn't stopped you from confusing that wish with a permanent, dedicated, high-priority goal. You can't go forward, or be helped by treatment, until you accept
its impossibility, suck it up, and turn your bullshit wish into a goal that can actually be achieved.
Accept whatever is obviously impossible about your goals. Accept that depression is often chronic and incurable, so you can stop blaming yourself for not controlling it. Stop treatments that don't seem to be helping. Embrace whatever positive steps help you to live with and manage your illness or issue. Accept that there are some losses that never stop hurting, so you can stop delving into them, get used to living with a heavy heart, and try to build a better life. Accept that you have some urges for stimulating but unhealthy substances, sex partners, or self-expression that no amount of self-understanding will change. Stop asking why you've got weaknesses and start preventing them from turning you into a jerk.
After challenging advice seekers, patients, and our readers to accept what you can't change, we show how you're much less responsible for your misery than you thought. We teach good, often well-established methods for making the best of thingsâmethods that you weren't using because you were too busy with wishful thinking instead of problem solving.
Obviously, we don't guarantee happinessâquite the contraryâbut instead we offer you methods for building strength and pride in your ability to deal with the inevitable misery of a tough life. It's not that we're against happiness, just against holding yourself responsible for making it happen when it can't. In our world, feelings don't rule, many things can't be changed, and acceptance of limits, not limitless self-improvement, is the key to moving forward and dealing effectively with any and all crap that life can throw your way.
So, no, we can't tell you how to repair a long-broken relationship with a difficult parent, reform a bad boyfriend, or get respect from your boss, but that's only because nobody can. The only book that can actually teach you how to change how others think is a lobotomy manual. Instead, we can show you how to look past the disappointment, resentment, and/or neediness that result from those issues so they can be managed realistically.
With the right limits, you can have a peaceful relationship with a
difficult parent, and with the right standards, you can avoid bad boyfriends altogether. And with realistic expectations, you can get your work done in spite of a bad boss, or better yet, find a better one. Instead of false promises or happy endings, we provide concrete steps for getting past unavoidable bad feelings so you can do your best with what you actually control.
This book is also filled with fun sidebars and tables, like this one, so that I, Sarah, can amuse myself:
Be my best me!
Learn to accept that “me” isn't the best, and that that'll do.
Learn to love myself!
Love the effort I put into putting up with myself.
Never drink again, ever!
Never stop working hard to resist delicious alcohol.
Given life's cruelty and unfairness,
believes profanity is a source of comfort, clarity, and strength. It helps to express anger without blame, to be tough in the face of pain, and to share determination without sentimentality. On the other hand, we don't tolerate the reverent use of truly obscene f-words, like “fair” or “feelings.”
Each chapter addresses the usual wishes people have when they hope to solve a common problemâlike loneliness, bad self-image, or conflictâand explains what part of these wishes are impossible to achieve. Using several composite case examples, we show you how to define the limits of what's possible, create realistic goals, and devise businesslike procedures for achieving those goals. We remind you, repeatedly, because you need to hear it, to respect yourself for how you deal with bad luck, not for the overall quality of your luck. We also include information on how to find off-the-page therapy that might work for you.
So while other self-help books guarantee the path to happiness,
guarantees that said path is nonexistent; furthermore, convincing yourself that there is such a path will actually lead you to feel like a true failure, instead of an unlucky hero. What
can promise you is that there is no situation in life that can't be
endured if you can keep your sense of humor, bend your wishes to fit reality, restrain your feelings, manage bad behavior, and do what you think is right.