Review: Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy by Irvin D. Yalom

I had originally started Irvin D. Yalom’s newest release Becoming Myself, where he mentioned this collection of stories which sounded more fitting because my attention span was slight at the time.

Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy offers a keen insight on ten patients, from all walks of life, who turned to therapy, “all ten were suffering the common problems of everyday life: loneliness, self-contempt, impotence, migraine headaches, sexual compulsivity, obesity, hypertension, grief, a consuming love obsession, mood swings, depression. Yet somehow (a “somehow” that unfolds differently in each story), therapy uncovered deep roots of these everyday problems—roots stretching down to the bedrock of existence.”

Though the problems may be considered “common problems of everyday life,” Love’s Executioner made them seem like anything but. Yalom writes his patients with the utmost respect and interest.

I’d like to mention in particular one story that started off the collection on a bang for me with Thelma, “a depressed, suicidal, seventy-year-old woman,” who for the past eight years “could not relinquish her obsessive love for a man thirty-five years younger.”

“Perhaps the function of the obsession was simply to provide intimacy: it bonded her to another—but not to a real person, to a fantasy.”

My attention was riveted to her. I went through a turmoil of emotions reading her story, and came out of it with a changed perspective of my own. It was such a wild ride that in the end I felt like both the doctor and the patient being treated. The longest piece, deservingly so.

“You are you, you have your own existence, you continue to be the person you are from moment to moment, from day to day. Basically your existence is impervious to the fleeting thoughts, to the electromagnetic ripples occurring in some unknown mind. Try to see that. All this power that Matthew has—you’ve given it to him—every bit of it!

“What goes on in another person’s mind, someone you never even see, who probably isn’t even aware of your existence, who is caught up in his own life struggles, doesn’t change the person you are.”

I was easily swept away into the pensive and therapeutic writing style. It offered an introspective look into moments not many of us get to see represented. The book also had many noteworthy lines that left an imprint on me, such as:

“You know, there is no one alive now who was grown-up when I was a child. So I, as a child, am dead. Some day soon, perhaps in forty years, there will be no one alive who has ever known me. That’s when I will be truly dead—when I exist in no one’s memory. I thought a lot about how someone very old is the last living individual to have known some person or cluster of people. When that old person dies, the whole cluster dies, too, vanishes from living memory. I wonder who that person will be for me. Whose death will make me truly dead?”

This precise piece of commentary struck me.

Speaking of which, this note on experiencing “love at first sight” was so satisfying to agree on: “You don’t know this person. In a Proustian way, you’ve packed this creature full of the attributes you so desire. You’ve fallen in love with your own creation.”

At the expanse of sounding a bit abrasive, this book was perfect for my nosy self that likes to hear personal stories without having to share something of myself in exchange. And though I did not agree with the tactics used in certain tales, I read on in fascination of the differing views of reality presented. Now, I can move on to Yalom’s newest release.

Oh, and one last thing I have to highlight upon ending my review, this piece on experiencing “crushes”:

“At a conference approximately two years prior to meeting Thelma, I had encountered a woman who subsequently invaded my mind, my thoughts, my dreams. Her image took up housekeeping in my mind and defied all my efforts to dislodge it. But, for a time, that was all right: I liked the obsession and savored it afresh again and again. A few weeks later, I went on a week’s vacation with my family to a beautiful Caribbean island. It was only after several days that I realized I was missing everything on the trip—the beauty of the beach, the lush and exotic vegetation, even the thrill of snorkeling and entering the underwater world. All this rich reality had been blotted out by my obsession. I had been absent. I had been encased in my mind, watching replays over and over again of the same and, by then, pointless fantasy. Anxious and thoroughly fed up with myself, I entered therapy (yet again), and after several hard months, my mind was my own again and I was able to return to the exciting business of experiencing my life as it was happening.”

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