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Behind the Façade by Dennis Friedman

September 22, 2018

Some little parables, little vignettes where people achieve some degree of self-knowledge.

Each story, based on a real-life case, is only a few pages long. I was expecting a collection of unusual, extraordinary tales, but most of the scenarios featured within the book are surprisingly commonplace. Friedman looks at each case from a clinical perspective, examining why the people involved act the way that they do. In most cases, the characters in the stories are able to come to terms with events in their past that shape their current thinking and can then move on with their lives and change things for the better.

The book encourages self-reflection in the hope of shedding light on personal problems and emotions that may be clouding relationships. Each story is concise and to the point; the reader takes away a little piece of wisdom from each tale, but they are written in such a way as to allow the individual to interpret the lessons learned.

They are also, perhaps, warning tales for parents, as most of the issues dealt with in the book stem back to parenting problems in childhood. Friedman makes no secret of his distaste for mothers who put their careers first and children second.

Friedman believed that the single most important factor in how a child will turn out is its interaction with its parents – particularly its mother — in the first 12 months of life; and he was generous in his application of this principle. Thus, the global financial crisis of 2008 could ultimately be said to have been the fault of bankers’ mothers: “If the interaction between mother and child is fulfilling and the dependent child’s needs are satisfied,” he said in 2010, “then we would have a generation which wouldn’t need to buy love through prostitution or steal love through sexual crime and by the theft of security and securities. This theft of security and the abuse of other people has been on such a huge scale that the whole economic system has collapsed.”

Reading the stories felt a little voyeuristic.

Quotations;

When I was a teenager, we had a big fire in our house. Nobody was hurt but some of us had to escape over the roof, and the fire (or the water to put it out) caused major damage. Everyone was deeply shocked.

The next day I had lost my voice. ‘Hysterical paralysis,’ declared my psychiatrist parents. Mind over body. I was amazed. How could this be? I knew about the unconscious but this was the first time I was so obviously affected by mine. It was really cool to think there were these powers within me that could paralyse my vocal cords. It was also astonishing.

I whispered my way through the rest of the week and my voice eventually returned. I did not follow my parents into medicine but I did retain a fascination for the unconscious and what it can do to us. So I was particularly interested to read a new book by Dennis Friedman, a psychiatrist who has written a collection of stories based on his experience with patients in his psychiatric practice.

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