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The Examined Life: How we lose and find ourselves

Stories from the psychoanalyst's couch, captivating peek into the human mind

Stephen Grosz’s The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves, a collection of vignettes based on his 25 years as a psychoanalyst, is an unlikely bestseller. Even so, it has been steadily climbing bestseller lists, both in the U.K. and in America, since its publication. Remarkable for a short, non-fiction book on such a narrow topic. Why such a bestseller? There is something completely unpretentious, yet caring and sympathetic about Grosz, his patients and their conversations.

Many of the issues raised are familiar to us all – psychoanalysis or no psychoanalysis. They range from loneliness, lovesickness and envy, to fear of death, hate and paranoia. I am sure there is an element of voyeurism too in the appeal of this book; the chance to have a peek in on other peoples’ problems and perhaps realise that we are not alone in having strange thoughts or fears.

There are the extreme, distressing cases, such as 5-year old Thomas, who draws pictures of himself chopping Grosz into pieces and eating his body parts. Yet, the majority of cases are less violent, but equally engrossing, such as Graham, senior partner at a law firm, who bores everyone stiff as a way of controlling others and protecting himself from living in the moment.

Or Daniel who after winning an important contract at work, unconsciously punishes himself for his good luck. Or Tom, the outwardly confident, successful radio presenter, who takes everything personally. Who in his fear of getting criticised, criticises everything and everyone.

There is warmth radiating from every story as the author makes them personal without revealing the identity of his patients. Grosz’s genius is in his ability to distil his clients’ problems down to their very essence and communicate them in layman’s language. If his writing reflects his skill as a psychoanalyst, Grosz must be a truly brilliant practitioner.

The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves by Stephen Grosz  is published by Vintage Books, 215 pages.

Here is a YouTube interview where Grosz talks about his book.

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