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What does a Book with a Rude Title have to do with Stepfamilies?

I saw my husband David reading this rudely titled book described below and asked what was up. He gave his reasons for picking it up and mentioned that he had some thoughts why some of its messages might be beneficial to Stepfamilies. So, I suggested that he step in and communicate them to you in this blog.

Here you go;

There is no question that the challenges of Covid over the past couple of years, the social/political issues, global warming and the like combined perhaps with my age have left me reaching for some coping mechanisms. Meditation held some promise until the reality was that it generally turned into a good nap. So, in passing the rudely titled “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” on bookshelves I found it intriguing. I thought what the F*ck and jumped in to see what Mark Manson, the author had to say. I can now report that he has some generally interesting perspectives and I saw some that felt would be helpful to the stepfamily participants, especially those in conflict or suffering negative experiences. It also clearly has much broader lessons for life in general.

“ We don’t always control what happens to us. But we always control how we interpret what happens to us, as well as how we respond. The real question is what we are going to choose to give a f*ck about.” Pg 94.

This was bit of a aha moment for me in that, although I knew this, I had really forgotten that there are two sides to the emotional equation. In that I, we, may be bombarded by negative thoughts or experiences which often we have limited control over, but we have absolute control over how we internalize and respond especially emotionally to them.

In the stepfamily situation, some participants can cause no end of grief for those around them. If you are caught in the situation then the lesson learned from Mark is, you can decide how you respond. I would argue that this directive has multiple meanings. You can respond by way of action and/or communication but also how you internalize what is happened perhaps leading to you not reacting at all.

Your steadfastness becomes important here in that once you have settled that your perspective and response, if any, is a reasonable one then you owe it yourself to be vigilant in that position. There is no need nor benefit to raise your level of distress internally to meet the situation.

Mark mentions interestingly, although I might preface this by saying as far as we know, that humans are the only species that have thoughts about our thoughts. An interesting thought (pun intended) Mark talks about how this leads to the “feedback loop from hell” an “insidious quirk in your brain that, if you let it, will drive you absolutely batty”. pg 5.

I would take this one further in that if you let it your brain will not only dwell on the thoughts and rethink them, but some will compulsively share them with others. We all have friends that will talk about their negative interpersonal relationships over and over until your eyes water. When I asked why, my mental health therapist wife Blythe succinctly remarks “because it works for them” Blythe tells me that it becomes self-defining. They often need the drama to bring meaning, albeit negative, in their life. They are now the hard done by, picked on stepparent and they may be, but Mark would say they choose to be.

“there’s a difference between blaming someone else for your situation and that person being responsible for your situation. Nobody is ever responsible for your situation but you….. You get to choose how you see things, how you react to things, how you value things “ pg 99.

So, my point is if this feedback from hell works for you then of course have at but if not recognize that the choice is exclusively yours to change the narrative. The more you give this negative circumstance life in your personal feedback loop and then in your social circles with family and friends then it breathes life into the situation. Before long it can become all consuming. To say that it becomes taxing on your family and friends might well be an understatement. You have the choice not to do that and step back. I suspect your mental health will thank you.

I hasten to add that we can all appreciate that there is a continuum of stepfamily experiences some being virtually intolerable and others merely uncomfortable. Clearly in some cases Mark’s advice is going to be much easier said, or in this case read, than done. However, his basic point is still valid and relevant, just much harder in some cases than others. Obviously, in most cases you need to reach out to family and friends but keep an eye on the feedback loop and take advantage of the reality that you can control it.

If you want to read a good example of how a stepparent changed the narrative, then read Blythe’s last blog entitled “ A Stepmom’s Story of Love for her Stepdaughter” This stepparent eventually had to step back and weather years of unrest but having reframed her response to the situation then her subtle love and support resulted in a loving caring relationship today. She had to change her response but that change served her well.

I had an illustrative moment recently in the exercise of Mark’s philosophy. I sit on a Board where another Board member has a habit of sending seemingly interminable emails on a topic he is keen to persuade the others requires attention. In reflecting on this habit with another colleague on the Board he looked at me and said wryly “Don’t you have a delete button on your computer – just push delete.” So, in life perhaps you just need to push delete from time to time.

In closing, I would also paraphrase another thought from Mark that being that life by its very nature is filled with both negative experiences and emotional pain. Paradoxically though it is often meeting those challenges that give you a positive meaning in your life. It is the yin and yang of life.

My best wishes on your journey.

David C. Bowker



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