I think of my diagnosis as a gift in a sense that I could finally do some studying and understand myself. As a result, I’ve read a lot of books on trauma and abusive relationships and thought it would be useful to share my impressions with others too.
I am a qualified journalist and my criticism is based on writing in a professional capacity myself, where criticism is towards the work, not towards the person who wrote it. My personal experience with trauma is secondary on this occasion.
Nobody has asked me to review these by the way, so any glowing feedback I have is totally off of their own merit.
Whole again – Healing Your Heart and Rediscovering Your True Self After Toxic Relationships and Emotional Abuse by Jackson MacKenzie
I’d like to start off by saying that his book isn’t without merit. I can understand why people can find this book helpful, and many people have written glowing reviews on it.
I genuinely do applaud that Mr MacKenzie, who has faced trauma himself, has wanted to turn his experiences into helping others. You will never hear me criticise anyone for doing that.
With that, I’d like to tell what my problem with this book is. First of all, he is not a qualified professional who deals with trauma from a place of professional experience or education. This doesn’t mean his experiences don’t matter of course, but being a trauma sufferer doesn’t make you an expert on everyone else’s trauma.
This also applies to me. I hope sharing my experiences can inspire others to talk about theirs and helps to create conversation but at no point you will hear me say I have any authority on what other people should do with their trauma. That would just be irresponsible of me. I’ve been touched by trauma, but I’m not qualified to speak about anyone else’s. I also know that personal experience gives you understanding but also gives you natural bias you need be aware of. I think this is an important distinction.
This is Mr MacKenzie’s second book after his first best-seller Psychopath Free, and many readers of this book have gone on then to read Whole again, but I haven’t. I think this is worth mentioning.
I’m really uncomfortable with the tone of this book. Mr MacKenzie speaks with authority which I feel isn’t his to hold. I can say without discounting his experiences that he just isn’t qualified to use the terms he uses. He speaks like a counsellor but he isn’t one. He speaks with authority he doesn’t have. The book mentions ‘steps’ of trauma and divides the book accordingly, which obviously reminds me and probably everyone else of the 12-step programme.
However, the important distinction is that the 12-step programme is under constant scrutiny from multiple professional bodies while this set of steps isn’t. I would like to emphasise that I haven’t found anything to suggest that bar from personal experience Mr MacKenzie has no education regarding trauma or dealing with it in a professional capacity of any kind.
Someone will probably point out that the book doesn’t just consist of his experiences but also features other people’s stories. However, this doesn’t change the issue I see with this book.
In the book he sandwiches together personality disorders, trauma, trauma disorders and recovering from abusive relationships, which I think is just irresponsible. These are very distinct psychological conditions, which just cannot be spoken about in merry unison, especially without psychological training, even though they do overlap at points.
My biggest problem with this book however is where Mr MacKenzie states that understanding abusive person’s motives doesn’t hold any meaning in your personal recovery process. I fundamentally disagree with people who claim that trying to understand an abuser’s motives somehow ‘gives them power.’
It’s human nature to want to understand why a person who hurt you did what they did. Obviously this can become an obsession, which isn’t healthy, but telling a victim off for wanting to understand their abuser’s motives is a form of victim-blaming in my opinion.
I’m not just talking about this book here. I’ve heard so many people tell me that I’m somehow giving my abuser power for trying to understand things he did. That’s not how it works, and I don’t like it that this book, read by incredibly vulnerable people, echoes this rhetoric.
I can only speak from my own perspective but once I was able to understand my abuser’s motives with the help of an experienced person, I have been able to put this aspect of my trauma aside to focus on my recovery. It has been an unimaginable weight off of my shoulders.
Obviously it’s everyone’s personal choice whether they want to pursue this. It would be pretty ironic if I did the exact same thing as Mr MacKenzie does, using my trauma as a permission to speak with authority about other people’s traumas. However, to tell a victim outright you shouldn’t think or do something, especially with a voice of authority, makes the hairs at the back of my neck stand.
I’m not going to suggest that training and education makes everything you say right. I haven’t agreed with everything people who are actually educated in trauma have said. However, their opinion is an educated one while his isn’t.
In my (equally uneducated) opinion, this book doesn’t deserve the accolade it has received. It’s not without value but by telling that certain therapies, such as EMDR, didn’t help him, Mr MacKenzie can inadvertently make someone who could’ve been helped by it not to even try it out. No matter how pure your motives, there just isn’t an excuse for that and as a fellow trauma sufferer he should agree.