Review #10 – Families and how to survive them

⭐️⭐️⭐️ The best marriages are tolerant of emotions behind the screens...

Title: Families And How To Survive Them
Author: Dr. Robin Skynner, John Cleese
Year: 1997 (1983)

Back cover text:

What makes a family happy? Why do some marriages ‘succeed‘ and others end in divorce? How can we free ourselves from the legacy of past mistakes and bring about positive change?

 Love, sex and marriage and parenthood, depression and sadness, independence and experience are just a few of the many issues explored in conversation by family therapist Robin Skynner and his former patient and comedian, John Cleese. Guiding us through the daily issues that confront us all, 

Families And How To Survive Them offers vital advice in helping each of us to maintain a happy, healthy family life. Looking candidly at everything from our relationships with our parents to why and how we choose our partners, no emotional stone is left unturned: jealousy, rage, fear, envy, love, obsession, hope and despair – all are featured-with practical advice on how to turn round a negative situation and bring about change for the better.

My Review

Stars (1/5):



At first, I was flabbergasted and thought this is a book everyone should read. Up until the part where he talks about the mother’s role. And Cleese asks only mothers? Here it was evident he was talking about two women living together. And from there on I could not unsee it anymore. It is scary because it so fits into the idea of family systems and how they (de)form you. But here in my opinion it goes overboard

Does the book deliver (its title)?:

Yes and no. It goes to all the childhood stages of growth. But in fact, it seems to say, do you have family problems? Go see a shrink. So this book in itself might help you see what your (family) problem is. But it offers nothing more than this. For me, it comes close on a few occasions throughout the book. And then does not go deep enough. 

Biggest take away/s:

  • We all need consistent, reliable love and care. 
  • Family System Exercises show unconscious attractions at work. 
  • People somehow pick out people whose families function in very similar ways to their own. 
  • You find in each family some emotions that are regarded as ‘good’ and some as ‘bad‘. Those get put behind the screen
  • This is why husband and wife will tend to screen off the same things. They will have the same blind spot.
  • We first hide it from others, and then it becomes such a habit we end up hiding it from ourselves. Called selective inattention.
  • Screened-off emotions are not available to us when we need them. For example, the loss of envy means we can’t compete.
  • If we are tired, drunk, or ill then the emotion can escape
  • And when we start living together the screened-off parts start showing through.
  • The best marriages are where partners are tolerant of what’s behind the screens – their own and their partner’s. They are free-er, have more fun, grow and develop more as people. They can accept change very easily. 
  • Take the ‘open, relaxed’ track through life. Making life more rich and varied.
  • There is always care and affection available if people ask for it. Start sending out the right signals. Be open and ask for help. 
  • Two stereotypes of bad marriages: Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf and The Doll’s House. 
  • Dictators love uniforms and uniformity, and they hate and have to destroy everything that is different
  • transitional object (like a teddy bear is a kind of portable support system. Adults have photos of their family or rings that remind them of support that is available to them. 
  • Train yourself to feel sadness. Because that is exactly what they’ve been trained not to do. Accept the sadness behind the screen so they can get free of the pattern
  • We are made of chemicals. If you change the automatic pattern of reaction, the person usually may not get depressed again in the same way.
  • Communications by depressives, ‘nobody loves me.’ 
  • They can be very successful in life. The fact that they’ve got to be loved and approved of makes them very hard workers.
  • You only get excited about things you are not confident about.
  • The outsider family has conflicting maps, that can produce either creativity or neurosis.
  • If they got through the outsider phase and learned to be part of a team, they’ll be willing to listen to each other and argue until they hammer out a compromise.
  • If the parents become very embarrassed by sex, this may cause the child to switch off sexual feelings. It would be good to know that the parents do make love, and that they enjoy it, and that it makes them happy. That they get a clear indication from the parents that they regard sex as something good
  • Their sexuality wasn’t encouraged to blossom when they were young because their mothers were jealous of them and discouraged them. 
  • Impotence and frigidity are called sexual ‘dysfunction’. It is like a train on the right track but it has met a red signal and stopped. The wo/man has disconnected himself from the physical feelings. Behavior therapy principle —> Immediate experience. Relax and enjoy it. Try to change things. 
  • They haven’t got far enough to be able to have a loving, trusting relationship with the opposite sex where they can be totally relaxed and natural
  • Deviation (trans-sexuality and homosexuality) is when the train has gone off to the wrong track. 
  • The reason partners choose each other is… ‘unfinished businesss’.
  • If we want to change, we have to start from where we are now!

Points of Improvement or Discussion:

Although mind-altering. I have two major points of discussion. 1. The book seems to advocate that inheritance (family systems) of your family are passed down to you. And only with a therapist, you might overcome that. (Pretty depressing) 2. Secondly the way he/they thinks about gay couples or things that are not status quo is a little bit terrifying. It makes me think of those fanatics who believe that being gay is a disease that can or needs to be cured. 

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