Book Review: “Healing Emotional Pain Workbook” by Matthew McKay, Patrick Fanning, Erica Pool, and Patricia E. Zurita

(A big thank you to NetGalley for supplying a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review!)

Like many writers, I consider myself to be an emotional person. In certain ways, I’m grateful for this personality trait. For instance, I like to think my emotional self finds joy in the smaller things in life. Like the existence of mint-chocolate chip ice cream or standing in a surprisingly short line at the DMV. It also allows me to experience a range of emotions that makes life more “colorful.” You know, emotions like crippling embarrassment, debilitating depression, etc. (Kidding. Sort of.) But I also get to experience incredible happiness, contentment, peace, and joy from merely existing.

That being said, I do sometimes allow myself to let emotions dictate my actions to a negative degree. And so, I downloaded this workbook to see if it could shed some light on my thought processes.

It’s important to note that this book isn’t so much a straightforward self-help book as it is a workbook, which means you’ll likely not need (or want) to read it straight through. Some sections may apply to you while many may not.

After a short introduction, you’re encouraged to complete a self-assessment that serves to identify any coping mechanisms that you struggle with. The assessment is easy. Just assign a numerical value that reflects your level of agreement with several statements.

Once you’ve calculated your score for each section of the assessment, you’ll pick the top two or three coping mechanisms you’re lacking. My main three trouble areas are:

  • Passion (learning how to switch from emotion-driven behavior to value-driven behavior)
  • Clarity (learning how to think flexibly instead of negatively)
  • Serenity (learning how to balance my thinking instead of ruminating on negative thoughts)

Each subsequent chapter focuses on a different coping mechanism. Structured in the same format, each chapter begins with a general description of the coping mechanism and what it looks like when you struggle with using it. The bulk of each chapter is devoted to introducing a range of action steps you can take to shift your behavior. Drawing from a range of mindfulness techniques, the authors offer several simple steps you can take to improve your response to stressful situations.

For example, in Chapter 3, the reader is encouraged to visualize their ideal behavior in a situation that would typically result in their shutting down or lashing out in anger. This visualization strategy is intended to help the reader develop a plan to combat stressors.

Similarly, Chapter 7 (which focuses on shifting away from over-the-top negative thinking), the authors propose alternatives to falling into thought patterns that center around catastrophes or assuming another person is thinking the worst about you. Instead, the reader is encouraged to think realistically, asking themselves questions like: How likely is it that this negative event will occur? Additionally, the reader is prompted to assign a percentage to the situation, reflecting its likelihood of actually occurring.

When I’m worried someone may perceive me negatively, I can create a list of other reactions the person could be having instead. The technique doesn’t rule out a negative thought, but it does offer alternatives.

This workbook succeeded in doing just what it set out to do: make your daily life a little less painful, at least mentally. I definitely give this book the green light for anyone interested in learning practical tips for worrying less and feeling less of a mental toll.

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