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Susan Forward

Our review of someone who is also trying to figure relationships out.

Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them
Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life
Emotional Blackmail
Obsessive Love: When Passion Holds You Prisoner

Summary: Can be a good message for the appropriate audience, but one must be careful to dodge the potential pitfalls that lie along this path as well.

A few decades ago in the mid-eighties, a little-known therapist named Susan Forward wrote a little book called Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them.

Evidently, there were a lot of women thought thought they loved men who hate women. (Try saying that twelve times really fast.) The book struck a national nerve, staying at the top of bestseller lists for 44 consecutive weeks.

While a panel of academic experts gave Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them a "Not Recommended" rating (for reasons we will discuss below), this issue itself - popular culture verses the "experts" - raises some interesting questions: who is right? Susana and her audience - the individuals who bought and loved her book - or the "experts," or both, or neither?

These questions can be difficult to conclusively settle. Perhaps the experts are right - it's a lousy book, and everyone who bought it is gullible. Or, perhaps Susan and everyone who bought the book is right - and the panel of "experts" are actually, say, men who hate women and also hate having their cover blown.

Regardless, Susan went on to tour the national lecture circuit and write several other books with such titles as Emotional Blackmail, Obsessive Love (are we seeing a theme emerge here?), which received better critical reviews, and others such as Money Demons.

 

Forward's message lies at the heart of the Oprah-style feminist and female-empowerment thought of the 80's and 90's, encouraging the masses of women who are in relationships with jerks to wake up and improve their lives.

She profiles types of men who "emotionally abuse" women - to use the kind of language that Forward and others helped give birth to - and the women who are (shock!) attracted to them, including many case histories and self-help guidelines for any woman who wants to increase her self-respect, courage, and confidence. This is a similar vein to many other "Codependency" authors such as Robin Norwood, Melodie Beattie, and Pia Mellody.

 

So, what's the draw? Well, the hook is obvious - a common cry from enthusiastic readers are of the sort that "This book may have saved my life." For women in abusive marriages or relationships, regardless of what the "experts" may say, this type of testimonial is hard to ignore, and Forwards' message may very well have saved some lives. Her work in Obsessive Love (which came more highly praised by "experts") shed more light on unhealthy relationships, especially focusing on love as an addiction (which actually means that it isn't really "love").

Like many other authors such as Roy Masters, David Deida, Harville Hendrix and others, Forward came to the conclusion that many relationship problems are hugely influenced by childhood experiences. (She does differ, however, in how to recover from those childhood experiences, which Masters, Deida, and Barry Long, explore, in our opinion, much more thoroughly.)

 

So, what's the drawback? And why did the experts give it a "thumbs-down"?

One example comes from this passage from fellow counselor Bill O'Hanlon:

"I do a lot of marriage counseling (my degree included a specialization in marriage and family therapy.) I remember when the book Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them was first published. A couple would arrive at my office. The women would tell me that she had read the book and had found it very eye-opening and validating. This was her relationship. Then she had given or shown the book to her husband, suggesting that he read it to gain insight into their problem (read: his problem). Predictably, he wouldn't be moved in a positive way by the book. He would either get angry, make fun of the book, or just ignore it. She would then be certain that her diagnosis was correct: he was a man who hated women. In the meantime, the relationship had not improved one whit and had usually deteriorated another notch."

- From the Chapter entitled "The Codependent Cinderella Who Loves A Man Who Hates Women Too Much: Analysis, Blame, and Vague Talk as Sources of Relationship Problems" from the book Do One Thing Different by Bill O'Hanlon

In another area, Forward also criticizes a somewhat common therapeutic error of rushing to "forgive your parents" in order to heal childhood wounds (yet another instance of therapists/self-help authors warning us against the bad work of other therapists/self-help authors). Forward stands against a premature forgiveness which can undercut your ability to let go of your pent-up emotions. While it is true that phony forgiveness is exactly that - phony . . . at the same time, it's important not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Real forgiveness has always been and remains crucial for real psychological work, and it seems much more common for individuals to hold a grudge (say, at their parents, husband, etc) than to do the real work of genuine forgiving. Don't be phony about doing it, correct - but do it.

In addition, as with everything, with Forwards' message there is the classic danger of getting too "hung up" in or identified with the roles, stories, and scenarios she describes. This can lead to a person taking on a permanent "identity" or ego as a "victim" or "survivor" . . . which, again, can be is useful at times, and can often be an improvement over a previous identity. But once a period of healing has gone through, it is time to move on with life. (This seems obvious, but some folks get as extreme as saying that one's entire lifetime is a process of healing). When this type of belief system is overused, it eventually keeps a person looking backwards, chained to the past (which is finished and over with) instead of letting go of the it all and moving on to a fresh, brighter, more victim-free future.

Forward also touches on the business of "clearing negative emotional effects from the past." A significant percentage of therapists believe in the idea of re-living or re-creating the trauma as an effective method for clearing them. This approach can, at times, have its uses and benefits (see the LiveReal Products for our take on a better way to approach this.) Yet, this can be dangerous ground: many therapists suggest that re-experiencing traumatic incidents from the past does not always necessarily "clear" bad memories, but instead, actually fixes them more firmly in your character, re-experiencing them and even re-traumatizing oneself, instead of "clearing" them. While this isn't always the case, of course, it is often a danger that many ignore.

The age-old danger of Forwards lies in the hazards of suggestion - as in, self-fulfilling-prophecy type of scenarios. A message such as Forwards' can potentially provide rationalizations for a person to play "victim" and become unwilling to accept that they are responsible for their actions (through no fault of Forwards, necessarily, but of the reader and rationalizer). If a reader takes the message too literally, there is always the chance of families or relationships getting torn apart unnecessarily by someone reading a book, decided that they are - for example, married to a man who hates women (even when this is the sole advice/book one has gotten on the issue), and hitting the road. instead of working things out. This is all obviously a very important and person decision, which at best is made with more input than from a single self-help book.

Forwards' message, judging solely by the numbers, can be an eye-opening and very helpful one to her target audience, and is best taken with a grain of salt and within a correct context.

Additional Note:
This type of transition - from becoming an emotionally dependent person in a bad relationship to an independent, self-reliant person who can take or leave a relationship - is, in the work of David Deida, only the first step - a move from "Stage One" to "Stage Two." After this has been made and one feels ready to "move on" again, see the work of David Deida on "Stage Three."

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