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The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves

August 19th, 2013

The-examined-life

Stephen Grosz’s book, The Examined Life – How We Lose and Find Ourselves, is a wonderful read for anyone who has ever contemplated psychoanalysis or deeper insight-oriented therapy, but I would also recommend this book to anyone who is generally curious about the perplexities of everyday life and human behaviour. There are several excellent reviews of this book worth reading including one from “The Independent Review” The Independent and another from The New York Times.

Grosz’s chapter titles are immediately attention grabbing: “How praise can cause a loss of confidence“, “Why parents envy their children“, and “On not being in a couple“, to name a few.  The stories he tells connect the past, the present and the future and demonstrate that inner change is possible. Mr. Grosz quotes Isak Dinesen, observing that “all sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them”. He adds that  stories can help us to make sense of our lives, but that if “we cannot find a way of telling our story, our story tells us — we dream these stories, we develop symptoms, or we find ourselves acting in ways we don’t understand.”

Grosz’s book also highlights is the fact that psychoanalysis goes against the grain: How on earth in our virtual world of speed, tweeting and texting and other sophisticated means of communication can a person take the time to drop everything 3, 4 or 5 times a week to lie down on a couch for almost an hour and attend to what is going on in his or her inner world? If efficiency is defined as doing the most in the least time, the slow pace of analysis seems almost mad or at least a little absurd.

How can people with no experience of analysis imagine what happens in it. There are some kinds of knowledge that can be taught and others that are discovered by personal experience, and I think psychoanalysis falls into the latter category. However, in making use of beautifully written and deceptively simple human stories, Grosz’s book manages to at least convey some of the nuanced complexities of psychoanalysis.

Grosz, is a practicing psychoanalyst, a teacher at the Institute of Psychoanalysis and in the Psychoanalytic Unit at University College London.

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