Sunday, September 23, 2007

Book Review: Bonds That Make Us Free



I read an absolutely amazing book this week.

I read it once before--in fact, I think I reviewed it once before, but I didn't finish reading it that time. I don't think I was really ready for the full implications of what the book was telling me.

What the book proposes is that a lot of the unease, frustration, and anger we feel is rooted in attempts to justify the times when we do the wrong things.

As an example:

A new father is lying in bed at night, and the baby starts crying. His wife doesn't wake up right away.

The father feels the right thing to do is get up and help with the baby.

But he doesn't want to. So he starts coming up with reasons why he shouldn't. The meeting he has in the morning. That he got up last night. That she got a really good nap in after he got home from work.

And he doesn't just stop there--he goes ahead and lets himself get angry with his wife for not getting up. Starts thinking about how little she must be thinking about his wants and feelings to not be jumping up to take care of the kid.

Well, this could lead to one of two actions--he either wakes his wife up and gets her to take care of the kid, or, he gets up and takes care of the kid himself.

In the first case, he doesn't appreciate what his wife did fully, because he feels like he had to goad her into it, and in the second case, he still resents his wife even though he did the nice thing for her. And now he feels like she "owes" him.

So here's the scary thing:

We always think that if we "do" the right thing, then we'll have peace, and that our relationships will work out. "What should I do?" is usually the question we most ask.

But in this case, we can see that, no matter what way the guy chose, he was still hurting the relationship. In other words, what he did wasn't nearly so important as who he was when he was doing them.

The book then takes this a step further, and says that we tend to get into cycles of this with people. Cycles where we see other people as acting irrationally, and we have to act a certain way to try to "control" them, or keep them from acting how we think they're acting. (EG, "I know my wife wants me to fix the sink. But if I just drop everything and go do it, then she'll always expect that. I need her to understand how valuable my time is.")

And then the other person does the same thing with us (EG, "I know I'm nagging him, but if I don't stay on top of him, then it won't ever get done!")

This builds into cycles of blame and frustration, as we become so busy justifying who we are ("Can't he see that I do ____, _____, and _____?") and negating who they are ("He's the one who always _____, _____, and _____!") that we don't ever let our defenses down, and let ourselves see the truth.

And that's what this book is really about, is Truth.

Most of this anger and frustration is caused because of fantasies. Fantasies about what we think we're supposed to be, and fantasies about what we're afraid we might be.

We think we're supposed to be perfect, that we're always supposed to do the right thing, that we're never supposed to hurt anybody and that we're never supposed to mess up. But what we're afraid of is that we're monsters, monsters who do hurt people, monsters who monsters who don't do the right thing, monsters who consistently mess things up.

But the truth is simpler--the truth is we're all just people. People who are struggling, people who are afraid, people who have hope. People who do amazing things, and people who make mistakes.

And when we get away from those caricatures of everybody, of seeing people as being monsters we have to hate, or annoyances who drive us crazy, or even as anybody who can make us be anything other than who we are, that's when we can truly start to have peace.

That's not to say there aren't terrible people out there. One negative review on Amazon says this book is more for "Jerks," and that people who are accustomed to letting people walk all over them should stay away from it, because it will just fuel their fire.

This couldn't be further from the truth. Like I said at the start--this book is not about what you do. A woman with an abusive husband could stay with him or leave him, and still have anger and bitterness and malice in her heart. Leaving him won't take the hurt away by itself.

But a woman who has let go of her false perceptions, a woman who is straightforwardly dealing with truth, a woman who has let go of the caricature of her husband that she's held in her mind--that woman will see, more clearly than ever before, who her husband truly is. Once she's able to let go of the stories she's telling herself about him, once she doesn't need those any more in order to define who she is, then she will truly know whether she has a reason to stay with him, or whether she needs to go.

Because that's the thing the book won't tell you--what to do.

Because for you to have peace, it isn't about being true to who C. Terry Warner thinks who should be. It's about being true to who you know you ought to be, the person who, deep down is really your best self.

That's why the full title of this book is what it is: Bonds That Make Us Free: Healing Our Relationships, Coming to Ourselves. Because the book isn't nearly so much about trying to change who we are into someone who is acceptable. It's about letting go of all the self-justification, self-recrimination, and self-analyzing that distorts us and weighs us down, and instead, just being the decent people we really are inside, and being okay with that.

I hope this doesn't all sound like psychobabble. It's a fantastic book that I hope will change my life. I'm definitely having a hard time coming to terms with some of the implications of it. But I'm never going to be able to forget it.

1 comment:

Katie said...

I am interested...Would you be willing to share with me a story of your own...one that you have realized or maybe a change you have experienced since your introduction to this book? Thanks.