Monday, May 02, 2011

Emotional Vampires, and How to Deal with Emotionally Explosive People


Last week I read two popular psychology books by Albert J. Bernstein: Emotional Vampires and How to Deal with Emotionally Explosive People. These books both have very cheesy titles, and one of them (Emotional Vampires) relies on a corny metaphor for personality disorders throughout. Moreover, as you will discover if you click on the preceding links, Bernstein's website needs a major makeover! I cannot believe that this is the best picture he has of himself, for example. For someone who is such a clear writer, and who has had so much success as a consultant in the business world, I am surprised that he doesn't have more savvy at promoting himself on his website, which (like the art from his books) has a whole "It came from the 90's" vibe, in the worst possible sense.

However, despite these defects, Bernstein's books are chock full of insight into mood and personality disorders, contain informative summaries of relevant research, and give plenty of practical, hands-on-advice for dealing with emotionally difficult people (or for dealing with yourself, if you should have a personality or mood disorder!). For example, if someone is explosively angry, Bernstein recommends a variety of disarming and defusing interventions, such as calmly introducing yourself and asking to shake their hand, saying that you need a minute to think about what they are saying, or politely asking them to speak more slowly so that you can hear and understand what they are saying.

We tend to think of anger as the "explosive" emotion, but Bernstein also discusses depression and anxiety disorders in his book How to Deal with Emotionally Explosive People. Interestingly, the emotions of sadness and fear have their own corresponding categories of mood disorders (depression and anxiety disorders, respectively), but anger does not; Bernstein associates anger issues with a variety of personality disorders, which are also the main subject of his book Emotional Vampires. Remarkable for a popular work, Bernstein even makes some interesting methodological criticisms of the field of psychology in his book on explosive emotions, and critically discusses the issue of whether people with mood disorders are morally responsible for their behavior. These theoretical discussions are at a pretty rudimentary level, but Bernstein is an insightful and balanced commentator, so they still enhance his books. Bernstein has had a lot of experience working as a consultant in the business world, and his familiarity with dysfunctional behavior in the workplace really comes through. In Emotional Vampires, he even offers insight into why management gurus are so successful, and provides a balanced look at the benefits and drawbacks to their advice. Both of these books are recommended! (By the way, the new edition of Emotional Vampires which is on sale an Amazon.com lacks the cheesy vampiric cover art of the original edition, which in my view is a great improvement.)
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