Monday, July 8, 2013

Beyond Blame: Freeing Yourself from the Most Toxic Form of Emotional Bullsh*t

By Carl Alasko

Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

There are 319 pages and 17 chapters — close to 19 pages per chapter. There are no footnotes, bibliography, suggestions for further reading, or even an index. These are elements which, for me, make reading more meaningful. I can find out what sources the author is reading, from where he or she is getting information, how I might expand my understanding, and what kind of outside support ideas have. I think — before actually reading this book — these are flags that make me a bit suspicious. I may be proven wrong, but my antenna is up.

The book is full of stories. It is the way the book is constructed. Alasko has simply amassed numerous stories that he derived from his 25 years of work as a practicing psychotherapist working with couples and families. There is nothing wrong with this, and the book reads well because of all the stories, however, the illustrations work effectively as Alasko moves from describing blame and how destructive and confusing it is, to why it is misunderstood, how it is deeply rooted in our biology, and then offers an explanation of the three-part syndrome initiated by a blame attack and how people respond to it.

Watch the way stories are used as primary (exclusive) support for his ideas: "Walter and Suzanne’s story is not all that unusual. Their drama illustrates how we can illegitimately use an external force such as destiny or a Greater Power to shift responsibility and justify behavior that can have serious life-changing consequences." Research shows that their story is not all that unusual? Other psychotherapists have heard the same story over and over? Historically, there is evidence that Walter and Suzanne’s story is similar to many others? No, in Alasko’s clinical work alone, it is not all that unusual!

The first eight chapters explore the "nature of blame and how it shows up in our relationships under a countless variety of guises. Now it’s time to grapple with the solution, how to part of the book, Positive Accountability" (p. 101). On page 231. Alasko calls this the undergraduate portion of his book.

The second part of the book examines positive accountability in dating, marriage, parenting, and the workplace. Alasko calls this master’s level work. Part three of the book, the Ph.D. level course of study, looks at the law of personal limitations and the paradox of criticism.

In addition to his stories, he uses a great deal of personal experience. For example, "I learned an early lesson about criticism in a college freshman English class. My professor sported a bushy white moustache and resembled Mark Twain. His way of teaching was as unique as his looks . . ." (p. 50). Again, this makes for enjoyable, light reading that moves quickly.

Another example of the use of personal experience, and there are many: "My clinical experience teaches me that most of us have scant knowledge about how our emotions function and the dominant role they play in our lives . . ." (p. 80). The statement isn’t to be doubted necessarily, but surely there is extant research that clearly demonstrates people’s scant knowledge of their own emotions, much less their biology, physiology, or intelligence for that matter.

At one point Alasko says: "It’s a biological and behavioral fact that we’ll respond with anger to defend our position of being right" . . . (p. 84). Well, if it is truly a biological and behavioral fact, then it can be easily documented and the source provided, can’t it? Why not? There are many of "The Point" parts throughout the book, and many of them could use a footnote to direct readers to the appropriate research and literature.

The book is incredibly practical as you would expect from a practicing psychotherapist. It is definitely a "hands-on" experience. You can almost feel as if Alasko is sitting in his clinician’s chair talking directly to you. The only problem is that you are getting just one person’s opinion. You do not know — at least from reading this book alone — whether his ideas have support from other psychotherapists, from the research literature in the field, or from any historical roots. I have to admit, that his ideas appear sound and his advice appears to be correct; however, I would certainly be interested in hearing from other practicing psychotherapists or from research that proves that his methods are well-accepted and widely adopted. Unfortunately, one person’s opinion is just that: one person’s opinion.

How do we know that "Blame is a Three-Part Syndrome"? —except that Alasko claims that it is. Even his law of personal limitations and the paradox of criticism go entirely uncited or unreferenced. I may have missed a reference or two, but I don’t remember seeing a single reference to an outside source except as Alasko claims them to be in support of his ideas.

There is no doubt that from reading this book you will come away with an understanding of the concept of blame. And from all Alasko’s advice and suggestions, you are likely to develop different personal behavioral outcomes as a result, and, too, a better understanding of others. For these reasons, his book is worth reading. I think for the general public and lay readers, it makes a useful contribution and a worthy book choice.




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