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Healing through the Dark Emotions: The Wisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair Hardcover – January 28, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this heartfelt therapeutic manifesto, psychotherapist Greenspan (A New Approach to Women and Therapy) argues that grief, fear and despair are not pathologies to be medicated away but emotions that help us grow psychologically and spiritually. The disavowal of these painful emotions (which she blames on Western culture's privileging of "masculine" reason over "feminine" emotion; lifelong lessons in suppressing emotional pain; and modern psychology's focus on "dispelling feelings, not learning from them") leads to depression, numbness and violence in both individuals and the world at large. But by "attending, befriending, and surrendering" to grief, fear and despair we can effect an "alchemical transformation" through which they become "gratitude, faith and joy." Greenspan's eclectic approach to healing invokes "depth psychology, Hasidic Judaism and Buddhist meditation"; her desire to make "meaning out of suffering" owes something to religious traditions that acknowledge the redemptive value of pain, as well as psychoanalysis's dedication to lighting up the mind's dark recesses, while her praxis includes New Age and recovery movement therapeutics such as visualization, breathing exercises, "chakra bodytalk" and prayer. Drawing on her clinical experience and her own painful recollections of the death of her infant son and her parents' travails during the Second World War, Greenspan writes intensely and compassionately. This is a committed, serious look at the emotions most of us would rather sweep under the rug.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

"In this heartfelt therapeutic manifesto, psychotherapist Greenspan ( A New Approach to Women and Therapy ) argues that grief, fear and despair are not pathologies to be medicated away but emotions that help us grow psychologically and spiritually. The disavowal of these painful emotions (which she blames on Western culture's privileging of "masculine" reason over "feminine" emotion; lifelong lessons in suppressing emotional pain; and modern psychology's focus on "dispelling feelings, not learning from them") leads to depression, numbness and violence in both individuals and the world at large. But by "attending, befriending, and surrendering" to grief, fear and despair we can effect an "alchemical transformation" through which they become "gratitude, faith and joy." Greenspan's eclectic approach to healing invokes "depth psychology, Hasidic Judaism and Buddhist meditation"; her desire to make "meaning out of suffering" owes something to religious traditions that acknowledge the redemptive value of pain, as well as psychoanalysis's dedication to lighting up the mind's dark recesses, while her praxis includes New Age and recovery movement therapeutics such as visualization, breathing exercises, "chakra bodytalk" and prayer. Drawing on her clinical experience and her own painful recollections of the death of her infant son and her parents' travails during the Second World War, Greenspan writes intensely and compassionately. This is a committed, serious look at the emotions most of us would rather sweep under the rug."— Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Shambhala; 1 edition (January 28, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1570628777
  • ISBN-13: 978-1570628771
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #466,078 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

101 of 102 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Cathy Goodwin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 27, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Greenspan's book deserves wider recognition. I found it by accident online and I wish I had seen it earlier.
What I liked best: Greenspan writes from her own experienced as therapist and bereaved mother, a woman who came to the US as a young child and lost her first child due to unexplained brain defects. She knows the darker emotions first-hand.
Even better, Greenspan is not afraid to confront the received wisdom of the psychiatric establishment. Medication works for some depressed clients, but it is only by going into the emotion that we can transform despair into faith and fear into joy. She picks up on the values embedded in the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria: depression is a "mood disorder," which means that only cheerful, upbeat people are "normal."
I found myself making notes of key points that were unusual and insightful. In particular, her discussion of "boomerang emotions" will be especially valuable to anyone who's ever been frustrated in one area and acted out in another. It is easy to make impulsive, often dysfunctional decisions after stifling feelings for a long time. This section is one of the best in the book.
On the downside, I wish Greenspan had been more rigorous. Although her views seem sensible, some research suggets disagreement. For example, one study found that people recovered from grief as well if they were medicated as if they were allowed the full experience. Other studies have demonstrated that people experience grief differently. Some may not need to go deep into the feeling.
Because Greenspan works with therapy patients, she does not discuss the context of these "dark" emotions. Despair can be experienced by someone like William Styron, whom she discusses, as a person who seems on top of the world.
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78 of 80 people found the following review helpful By Phyllis Chesler on April 3, 2003
Format: Hardcover
From Phyllis Chesler, author of eleven titles, including "Women and Madness" and "Woman's Inhumanity to Woman":
Greenspan is the gentlest and therefore the wisest of healers. Her book is a poem, a prayer, a guide, a ritual. She herself models what can be done. She is vulnerable, grief-stricken, mindful, supple, connecting, and joyful. She describes enormous grief and terror--her own, that of the world's--and explains what it means to surrender to fear, to face straight into it, to "let it be" as the royal road to sanity, rightful action and rightful non-action, and to exuberance and freedom.
This book is very easy to read--but not simplistic; political but not rhetorical; spiritual but not dogmatic; literary but also practical. It beholds that which is tragic about the human condition but embraces it in a therapeutic and consoling way. It is both Jewish and Buddhist, feminist and humanist, grave but sometimes funny. Greenspan provides an excellent discussion of the "alchemy of fear," and of the Buddhist concept of "tonglen": non-action, action, surrender. She is excellent on violence, trauma, numbing, and the consequences of omnipresent media in our lives. Her discussion of the world post 9/11 is compelling. The tone is grave, measured, supple, vital, enchanting.
Greenspan is a trustworthy guide for us in these times.
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65 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Lerner on March 25, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is a book of remarkable depth. It is also engaging and wonderfully readable. The author is a brilliant thinker and a natural storyteller. Best of all, I loved the stories from her own life. As a psychologist and writer myself, I've read countless books about the difficult emotions. None is as interesting, helpful, and riveting as this one--or offer as much hope for our personal suffering and turbulent times.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 10, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book is beautifully written, moving, and passionate. Greenspan's basic idea is that if we mindfully experience grief, fear, and despair, we will heal our pain and discover some fundamental truths about life. She tells her own story, stories from her clients, and engages in deft cultural critique of our emotion-phobic culture. She also situates our personal emotional experiences in a wider culture, developing a brilliant and original 'ecology of emotion.'
You won't forget this book.
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Format: Hardcover
Everyone has losses. Everyone has wounds. This is not the end of joy but the beginning, if only we can learn to live with and find ourselves in our feelings, and embrace the life that waits for us on the other side of our pain. Miriam Greenspan's wise book is a warm and helpful guide to dealing with the dark emotions we all experience. As a writer and therapist myself I know how needed her book is and how valuable what she has to offer is. This is a must read for everyone.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Bill Herring, LCSW on January 31, 2007
Format: Paperback
A relatively recent book with the simple but profound concept that fear, grief and despair contain the seeds of great wisdom, vitality and balance when they are experienced fully rather than phobically avoided. It demonstrates how our aversion to pain sabotages our search for happiness. I often recommend this book in my psychotherapy practice.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By R. Zubizarreta on August 11, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I can't recommend this book highly enough... The author writes is a very direct, honest, down-to-earth style, yet what she has to say is extremely profound. Like the little boy who says, "look, but the emperor has no clothes", she compassionately yet clearly through the cultural myths and denial that envelop and alienate us from the truth of our own direct experience.

I came to this book having read plenty of other books already on "the shadow", "befriending our pain", the dangers of "spiritual bypass", etc. etc. etc. so I was initially concerned that I might find some of this material old-hat or repetitive. Instead, I was delighted to find that the author offers a fresh and original take on these valuable subjects from the perspective of both Jewish spirituality and mysticism, as well as from the wisdom of her own hard-won experience.

The stories that the author shares from her own life, as well as the stories of the clients who have been fortunate enough to have her as a therapist, point to the real possibility of transformation and healing, by learning to listen to the wisdom of the "dark emotions". I found this book highly inspiring, and would recommend it to anyone who wants to find their way through and beyond the truth of suffering...

While I have never met the author, I want to say a heartfelt "thank you" for having written such a powerfully moving book...
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