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Review of "The Angry Heart"

By Joseph Santoro, Ph.D. with exercises by Ronald Cohen, Ph.D.
New Harbinger Publications, 1997
Review by Margo McPhillips on Apr 11th 2000
The Angry Heart

This book contains a great deal of useful ideas and information. Based on the author's BPD treatment approach, called "Mentorship Self-Help Therapy", the book was written to identify and teach ways and means of regaining or maintaining control over significant aspects of a borderline-diagnosed person's life through identifying psychotraumatic events in the person's childhood that have "conditioned" the person to manage their emotions or behave in borderline fashion. According to this author, once the roots of the behaviors are identified, the person with BPD can be taught skills to better manage stressful events.

The first thing I liked was the quick introduction of journaling and the many reminders throughout the book to "Remember to write in your Recovery Journal today." There is lots to "see" and do in this book, many exercises that reinforce what is read about or suggestions of ways to practice. Early on the reader is told they don't have to do the exercises, they only have to do what they want to do. There is some good effort on the authors' part ot connect with teen or young adult BPD sufferers but it is a relatively small-print, 250-page, dense book and I wondered, given the characteristics that make up BPD and the likely age of most readers, how well someone with "unstable, intense moods or emotions that can be triggered by events and may last hours or days" or someone with "chronic feelings of emptiness, boredom, or loneliness" would be able to do, working with the book by themselves.

The book contains a great deal of narrative material, written by "Samuel, a young man who is struggling with BPD and addictive activities. Samuel grew up in a dysfunctional family. His early psychotraumatizing experiences shaped his character and personality. His life never felt safe, secure, or consistent. Emotional thunderstorms were the norm in his childhood world, and naturally sunny days the exception." This material is set alongside the "expert" material offered by the author. I was uncomfortable with this presentation and saw it as being too dichotomous. In the introduction the author has "A Word of Caution" section stating, "Readers afflicted with these problems may be actively blocking their feelings and will view the book's stories and commentary as irrelevant to their lives. Readers who are 'ready' will find the narratives, commentaries and Recovery Exercises emotionally stimulating." I would think reading this would turn off many of the people with BPD whom the book purports to wish to help. I don't know why this "information" was included; people will either read the book and be helped or they will not. Why more or less state, "If you don't like this book, you're the one with the problem, not me, the author."? There are many other similar ways that the author's style hampered my enjoyment of this book. I did not like his omnipotent, expert stance.

It looks to me as if this book was written with more than one audience in mind and the audiences are not "compatible". There a lot of technical, professional material; material for parents and spouses of; as well as material for persons themselves suffering from, Borderline Personality Disorder. As a self-help book with exercises, I would have written the book in a simpler style and taken out most of the "theory". I think the author's written presentation should have been analogous to that of a counselor rather than that of an instructor.