The gimmick is clever: the “f-word” combined with a counterintuitive premise that we don’t need to care about our emotions. After all, haven’t we been indoctrinated with the primacy of our feelings? The title alone is profanity plus blasphemy — and consequently piqued my interest.
Written by psychiatrist Michael Bennett and his comedy-writer daughter, Sarah Bennett, F*ck Feelings: One Shrink’s Practical Advice for Managing All Life’s Impossible Problems uses no coy asterisks inside; chapters put the profanity right out there with titles like “fuck self-improvement,” “fuck self-esteem,” “fuck fairness,” “fuck parenthood,” “fuck assholes,” and “fuck treatment.”
The overarching premise here is that some problems don’t have to be solved. That some can’t be fixed. That when all else fails, we’re better off accepting what is and figuring out how not to let it get to us or control us. It’s a good thought: the serenity prayer writ large.
In each chapter, Bennett and Bennett include “quick diagnoses,” including a diagnosis of things you “wish for and can’t have” and things “you can aim for and actually achieve.” For example, in “fuck serenity,” the unattainable wish-fors include:
- An ability to change others or get them to see why they should change themselves
- A life with better people or more options
- Escape from the tension
- A less-touchy personality
And the achievables:
- Tolerate long periods of wishing you were with other people while going about your business
- Control your mouth even if you can’t control your feelings
- Be proud of what you’ve accomplished even if you’re irritated and unhappy most of the time
- Not let the lack of escape make you despair
The book also includes case studies — anecdotes about a loutish teenager, a bossy husband/father, a mean mom — and scripts to use when you need to tell a feeling to fuck off. For one of the scripts, Bennett and Bennett write:
I wish I wasn’t so angry at my [parent/spouse/kid] but I’ve tried [family therapy/exorcism/high colonics] and I can’t get rid of the [anger/filth/evil thoughts/inner tension]. I will not take responsibility for the [insert synonym of “excruciating psychic pain or those who cause it”] but I will become amazingly good at managing difficult people and keep them working together.
The book feels (much) longer than it needs to be, and it’s somewhat overwhelming, even if you focus, as I did, on chapters that specifically apply to problems in your life. Each chapter covers a lot of ground. The chapter on self-improvement, for instance, ranges from feeling like a phony to feeling like a fuck-up to addiction. Each chapter has numerous quick diagnoses, scripts, and sidebars. The authors try hard to illuminate the common thread of this slumgullion of diverse problems, but it’s a lot for the reader to make sense of.
And while the Bennetts labor at being funny and edgy, the effect is sadly more exhausting than entertaining. I found myself getting lost in long-winded thoughts and wishing an editor with a sharp pencil and no fear had taken them in hand.
The book’s title is intriguing and the premise is promising, but hard as I tried to make it through the whole thing, I eventually had to say fuck it.
F*ck Feelings: One Shrink’s Practical Advice for Managing All Life’s Impossible Problems
Simon & Schuster, September 2015
Hardcover, 384 pages