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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Review: The Power of Vulnerability by Brené Brown

I decided to give this audiobook – narrated by the author – a chance right after having watched Alain de Botton’s talk, Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person. I don’t really recall how my mind then led me to associate the aforementioned with Brené Brown’s work, but here we are…

On The Power of Vulnerability, Dr. Brown offers an invitation and a promise – that when we dare to drop the armor that protects us from feeling vulnerable, we open ourselves to the experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives. Here she dispels the cultural myth that vulnerability is weakness and reveals that it is, in truth, our most accurate measure of courage.

I still remember the first time I listened to the author’s Ted talk (back in 2014) on the subject of vulnerability because it changed and transformed a lot in me. Brown’s use of humor and wit to educate the listener delivered everything I wanted. And I was ecstatic to then start the audiobook (albeit, three years later) and discover that her comical anecdotes were still on point with plenty of wit and snark to spare. I laughed heartily and merrily throughout the six sessions, which was so wonderful and centering to experience. Pure comedic gems that lead to fascinating discoveries concerning our lives. I went through a roller coaster of emotions that force me to reexamine myself.

So I thought I’d share next a few points from the audiobook that really resonated with me:

  • Self-acceptance and self-love: “We can only love others as much as we love ourselves.”
  • The difference between shame and guilt: the former being a focus on self (I am bad) while the later is focused on behaviour (I did bad). And how crucial it is to pay attention to their differences.
  • Shame resilience and moving through it. Owning your story.
  • The difference between empathy (being the antidote to shame) and sympathy:“Empathy is feeling with, sympathy is feeling for.”
  • Debunking the myths about vulnerability.
  •  Practicing gratitude in the midsts of foreboding joy.
  •  Setting boundaries and learning to say no: “Choose discomfort over resentment.”
  •  Overfunctioning & underfunctioning anxiety.
  • To be vulnerable and let ourselves be seen: “No one reaches out to you for compassion or empathy so you can teach them how to behave better. They reach out to us because they believe in our capacity to know our darkness well enough to sit in the dark with them.”

To put it simply, The Power of Vulnerability is all about becoming aware of your emotions and “bring to light processes people aren’t even aware they’re engaged in.” I wish I could make everyone in my close proximity listen to this audiobook as soon as possible. Already I’ve had so many discussions over the past few days about certain notions shared by Dr. Brown that are well worth the spotlight.

And not only did she make this reading experience feel fun and interactive while following her mindfulness, the personal anecdotes about her husband, kids, and friends made me laugh out loud without fail. That’s just a guaranteed way to make me remember a crucial point a long way down the road. Plus, the book never suffered from giving off vague advice, thanks to Brown having the experiences of those she researched and of her own to back-up the statements.

4/5 stars

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Review: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

I went into this admittedly with quite some skepticism and entitlement— “what is this going to teach me that I don’t already know?”— but The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck is truly one of the most ground-shaping nonfiction books I’ve read so far. It will and can change a perspective, a life. And as such, this is the perfect book to give to your loved ones on holidays, birthdays…

It made me rethink all the times I ever gave a fuck over some of the most irrelevant things in hindsight. It made me realize that it’s sometimes necessary to take a step back and re-evaluate why I think so-and-so on a daily basis.

I also wrote down a lot of Mark Manson’s writing into my notes because I knew I would need it in the near future. And I would like to thank him for answering quite a lot of fears of mine with such a dose of raw, refreshing, honest truth.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck was both personally relevant and entertaining.

Here are a few pieces that helped me and then some:

“The key to a good life is not giving a fuck about more; it’s giving a fuck about less, giving a fuck about only what is true and immediate and important.”

“Because when you give too many fucks—when you give a fuck about everyone and everything—you will feel that you’re perpetually entitled to be comfortable and happy at all times, that everything is supposed to be just exactly the fucking way you want it to be. This is a sickness. And it will eat you alive. You will see every adversity as an injustice, every challenge as a failure, every inconvenience as a personal slight, every disagreement as a betrayal. You will be confined to your own petty, skull-sized hell, burning with entitlement and bluster, running circles around your very own personal Feedback Loop from Hell, in constant motion yet arriving nowhere”

YES! This is exactly how I feel when I give too many fucks about things that have little lasting impact on my life.

“Life is essentially an endless series of problems, Mark,” the panda told me. He sipped his drink and adjusted the little pink umbrella. “The solution to one problem is merely the creation of the next one.”
A moment passed, and then I wondered where the fuck the talking panda came from. And while we’re at it, who made these margaritas?
“Don’t hope for a life without problems,” the panda said. “There’s no such thing. Instead, hope for a life full of good problems.”

Disappointment Panda was one of the best additions to this book.

“Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for. People who enjoy the struggles of a gym are the ones who run triathlons and have chiseled abs and can bench-press a small house. People who enjoy long workweeks and the politics of the corporate ladder are the ones who fly to the top of it. People who enjoy the stresses and uncertainties of the starving artist lifestyle are ultimately the ones who live it and make it.
This is not about willpower or grit. This is not another admonishment of “no pain, no gain.” This is the most simple and basic component of life: our struggles determine our successes. Our problems birth our happiness, along with slightly better, slightly upgraded problems.
See: it’s a never-ending upward spiral. And if you think at any point you’re allowed to stop climbing, I’m afraid you’re missing the point. Because the joy is in the climb itself.”

This book is slowly but surely shifting my world.

“If you want to change how you see your problems, you have to change what you value and/or how you measure failure/success.”

“Honesty is a good value because it’s something you have complete control over, it reflects reality, and it benefits others (even if it’s sometimes unpleasant). Popularity, on the other hand, is a bad value. If that’s your value, and if your metric is being the most popular guy/girl at the dance party, much of what happens will be out of your control: you don’t know who else will be at the event, and you probably won’t know who half those people are. Second, the value/metric isn’t based on reality: you may feel popular or unpopular, when in fact you have no fucking clue what anybody else really thinks about you. (Side Note: As a rule, people who are terrified of what others think about them are actually terrified of all the shitty things they think about themselves being reflected back at them.)”

That side note is speaking the truth!!!

“I’m not saying that this excused what my ex did—not at all. But recognizing my mistakes helped me to realize that I perhaps hadn’t been the innocent victim I’d believed myself to be. That I had a role to play in enabling the shitty relationship to continue for as long as it did. After all, people who date each other tend to have similar values. And if I dated someone with shitty values for that long, what did that say about me and my values? I learned the hard way that if the people in your relationships are selfish and doing hurtful things, it’s likely you are too, you just don’t realize it.”

Taking responsibly for your actions, but not blaming yourself was one of the most valuable lessons I got from Mark Manson.

“A lot of people might hear all of this and then say something like, “Okay, but how? I get that my values suck and that I avoid responsibility for all of my problems and that I’m an entitled little shit who thinks the world should revolve around me and every inconvenience I experience—but how do I change?”
And to this I say, in my best Yoda impersonation: “Do, or do not; there is no ‘how.’ ”
You are already choosing, in every moment of every day, what to give a fuck about, so change is as simple as choosing to give a fuck about something else.
It really is that simple. It’s just not easy.
It’s not easy because you’re going to feel like a loser, a fraud, a dumbass at first. You’re going to be nervous. You’re going to freak out. You may get pissed off at your wife or your friends or your father in the process. These are all side effects of changing your values, of changing the fucks you’re giving. But they are inevitable.
It’s simple but really, really hard.”

“Growth is an endlessly iterative process. When we learn something new, we don’t go from “wrong” to “right.” Rather, we go from wrong to slightly less wrong. And when we learn something additional, we go from slightly less wrong to slightly less wrong than that, and then to even less wrong than that, and so on. We are always in the process of approaching truth and perfection without actually ever reaching truth or perfection.”

He’s changing my world right now.

“We all have values for ourselves. We protect these values. We try to live up to them and we justify them and maintain them. Even if we don’t mean to, that’s how our brain is wired. As noted before, we’re unfairly biased toward what we already know, what we believe to be certain. If I believe I’m a nice guy, I’ll avoid situations that could potentially contradict that belief. If I believe I’m an awesome cook, I’ll seek out opportunities to prove that to myself over and over again. The belief always takes precedence. Until we change how we view ourselves, what we believe we are and are not, we cannot overcome our avoidance and anxiety. We cannot change.
In this way, “knowing yourself” or “finding yourself” can be dangerous. It can cement you into a strict role and saddle you with unnecessary expectations. It can close you off to inner potential and outer opportunities.
I say don’t find yourself. I say never know who you are. Because that’s what keeps you striving and discovering. And it forces you to remain humble in your judgments and accepting of the differences in others.”

I didn’t even realize I felt this way until I saw it so clearly on paper.

“There’s a kind of self-absorption that comes with fear based on an irrational certainty. When you assume that your plane is the one that’s going to crash, or that your project idea is the stupid one everyone is going to laugh at, or that you’re the one everyone is going to choose to mock or ignore, you’re implicitly telling yourself, “I’m the exception; I’m unlike everybody else; I’m different and special.”
This is narcissism, pure and simple. You feel as though your problems deserve to be treated differently, that your problems have some unique math to them that doesn’t obey the laws of the physical universe.
My recommendation: don’t be special; don’t be unique. Redefine your metrics in mundane and broad ways. Choose to measure yourself not as a rising star or an undiscovered genius. Choose to measure yourself not as some horrible victim or dismal failure. Instead, measure yourself by more mundane identities: a student, a partner, a friend, a creator.”

That thing about the plane is 100% me!! So I get it know: if you think you’re special—decide not to be.

“The desire to avoid rejection at all costs, to avoid confrontation and conflict, the desire to attempt to accept everything equally and to make everything cohere and harmonize, is a deep and subtle form of entitlement. Entitled people, because they feel as though they deserve to feel great all the time, avoid rejecting anything because doing so might make them or someone else feel bad. And because they refuse to reject anything, they live a valueless, pleasure-driven, and self-absorbed life. All they give a fuck about is sustaining the high a little bit longer, to avoid the inevitable failures of their life, to pretend the suffering away.”

“If you make a sacrifice for someone you care about, it needs to be because you want to, not because you feel obligated or because you fear the consequences of not doing so. If your partner is going to make a sacrifice for you, it needs to because he or she genuinely wants to, not because you’ve manipulated the sacrifice through anger or guilt. Acts of love are valid only if they’re performed without conditions or expectations.”


Damn, I wasn’t prepared for The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck to completely change my worldview in such a meaningful way. I will cherish this book for a long time to come.

4.5/5 stars

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