Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “They F*** You Up: How To Survive Family Life” as Want to Read:
They F*** You Up: How To Survive Family Life
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

They F*** You Up: How To Survive Family Life

3.8  ·  Rating Details ·  711 Ratings  ·  55 Reviews
This text demonstrates that who we are is largely the result of the way we were cared for during our first six years, rather than our genes and other environmental factors.
Paperback, 384 pages
Published September 30th 2006 by Bloomsbury UK (first published September 16th 2002)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Nov 10, 2007 Jafar rated it it was ok
I remember listening to an interview with Steven Pinker on NPR right after The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature was published. There were these angry moms who kept calling in and telling him, What do you mean I can’t micro-manage my child’s personality? They should read this book instead. They’d love it. Despite the title, the book doesn’t say that parents are necessarily fucking up their children. What it does say is that children really are blank slates, and just about everything ...more
Stuart Aken
Sep 10, 2010 Stuart Aken rated it it was amazing
Using as examples of various personality traits and problems, Oliver James cites the lives of Prince Charles, Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Paula Yates, serial killers and victims of sexual abuse in They F*** You Up. In the process, he has written an accessible but scholarly treatise on the role of care, or its lack, in early childhood. His observations and quotes from various studies make a convincing case for the primary function of good parenting in raising children. He breaks down the process int ...more
Aug 28, 2009 Kirsten rated it liked it
This was very interesting, but equally pretty depressing (if you have parents like mine and equally probably if you don't). Lots of fascinating facts (tm) like sexually abused girls are more likely to start menstruating an average of six months before those who are not, and if you have been very stressed (by a variety of factors) before the age of three, then your production levels of cortisol are permanently changed, yes that's right for the rest of your life. Also, if you have no exposure to h ...more
Stephen Russell
Jul 07, 2012 Stephen Russell rated it really liked it
I've never really read a book like this; something that allows me to hold up a critical mirror in order to really assess what comprises me as a person. It was an interesting, thoughtful and, at times, worrying/upsetting experience to be able to so easily apply the archetypes laid out within this books pages, and so easily map them to your own character traits and personality.

Oliver James writes in an easily accessible way, which is great for somebody like me who hasn't got the background lexico
Apr 11, 2010 Yas rated it it was amazing
This book wasn't as life changing as I expected, but it did leave me with a sense of relief. It allows for introspection with some clever examples about why we are the way we are (our parents of course, hence the title), but it also leaves you feeling that all is not lost and that once we recognize these things about ourselves we can change them.
Hannah Wingfield
Jan 01, 2013 Hannah Wingfield rated it really liked it
They F*** You Up takes its title from the Larkin poem This Be The Verse, and is an introductory thesis to the idea that our personalities, and level of mental health(-y-ness) are shaped by our childhood and not by genetics. Indeed, the earlier something happens in childhood the more crucial it is for our early development, as it lays down the brain’s basic pathways and shapes what we expect to happen in future. Often people discount the importance of events in babyhood/early childhood as they ca ...more
Jul 12, 2011 Mei-Lu rated it really liked it
Written by a clinical psychologist, this book is head and shoulders above the typical "self help" book because the author really knows what he's talking about and actually uses a combination of studies and clinical experience to back up his assertions. I definitely learned a lot about myself and my relationships from reading this book and doing the exercises in it. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to change their life for the better. (And should I ever have kids, I'm definitely going t ...more
Nov 21, 2008 Terri rated it liked it
This book favors the Nurture/Environment side of why we are the way we are. Pretty good book with helpful insights. Fairly graphic descriptions of abuse and violence difficult to take, but are used to illustrate how people "visit" their experiences onto others. Some bad typos...why? So many books these days are filled with them.
Jonathan-David Jackson
Sep 07, 2014 Jonathan-David Jackson rated it really liked it
A very interesting book, and one that goes farther than anything else I've ever read in nature v. nurture. The answer, according to Oliver James, is about 99.9% nurture. Plenty of evidence and examples are given, such as the fact that many child abusers were themselves abused as children, i.e. 'nurture' made them that way. Highly successful people are much more likely than anyone else to have lost a parent when they were a child, and their despair drove them to achieve. Babies born to poor, uned ...more
Elizabeth Arveda
I picked this up thinking it would be useful next time I teach family communication - and it will be. James argues that personality and character are determined much more by environment than by genes, and cites seemingly valid research to back it up. He also points out that environmental variations can be subtle - for instance, it's not possible for first-born and later-born children to have the same experience of family life.

They F*** You Up may also be helpful in the gender & communicatio
Jan 09, 2013 Kulwant rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

A lot of food for thought. Should be read before having children. My 4 stars are for it providing some food for thought. At times though I thought he shoe-horns research to fit his theories. At other times, I found his theories of the different selves unhelpful because they are overly simplistic. He makes reference to some psychoanalytic concepts - to provide back up for his own perspectives. Some of the exercises might provide some limited insight; but they may also uncover issues that a person
Aug 02, 2011 JChipol rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I absolutely agree with Oliver James and think that although genetics has some part to play, we are mostly made by nurture. It is contentious and controversial - we really don't like being told that some things that happen to kids are the fault of the parents, however, I am certainly in agreement, as difficult a pill it is to swallow.

A must-read for anyone with kids- or even better- for anyone about to have kids...
Oct 21, 2008 Katie rated it it was amazing
amazing information on nature vs. nurture. did you know that our genes are not much different from that of a fruit fly? and yet, people are always so quick to blame any unwanted or negative qualities on genetics... haha. this book delves into how the way our parents act and react towards us shapes our personalities and our psychosis.... very interesting.
Aug 23, 2007 Dima rated it liked it
Recommends it for: spoiled brats and bored bums
Shelves: newthoughts
the title should explain it all. the first time i saw the title, and straight away i think of parents (not necessarily mine, but in general). and i wasnt disapointed. it really is a book, a rather technical book, about parent-children relationships.

a real eye opener, worth considering Oliver's point of view.
May 04, 2014 Phoebe rated it really liked it
When i read the synopsis I thought this book is for me. I'm fascinated by child development and how my own upbringing has made me who I am today. At times it was a bit pf a hard read due to the sciencey nature of it but otherwise made total sense to me and I loved the interactivity of it.
Rachel Weber
Nov 02, 2008 Rachel Weber rated it it was amazing
This is actualy one of my favorite books. It teaches you a lot about how your family life can influence you as a person.
Jan 03, 2013 Nyssa rated it it was amazing
This is not a blatant attack on parents on how they raise children, but They F*** You Up is an examination on deliberate parenting and encouraging you to look within yourself. It’s not just how you were raised, but how you perceive how you were raised and how you deal with that information as an adult and in your relationships.

James, while he allows for the nature/nurture debate and genetics, definitely leans on the side of nurture. The process of building personality and traits is incredibly c
Jul 25, 2016 Holly rated it really liked it
Shelves: 100-non-fiction
This was an interesting read, however I'm not sure I 'buy' all of what the author is saying. James is very explicitly a behaviourist, and is adamant of the fact that it is our upbringing and how we are treated by our parents or primary caregivers that determines who we are, rather than our genes - there is no 'bit of both' in the nature vs. nurture debate as far as this author is concerned. It's all a very interesting read though, and he does make a lot of very interesting and plausible points. ...more
Jan 14, 2009 Andrea rated it liked it
Shelves: recommended
I bought this solely because the title interested me. No, I haven't had a bad childhood! While I do believe that who we are is definitely shaped by 'a little bit of this and a little bit of that', I definitely agree with his assessment of why siblings can be so different.

It reminded me of Dawkins a little - in that he's pretty strident - which gets wearing after a while. I was also a little surprised at the attack on the right wing during Thatcher's time as PM, but since I wasn't in the UK at th
May 07, 2009 Andy rated it liked it
Much-needed alternative to the 80's/90's genetic determinist dogma that has so polluted the zeitgeist for the last 20-odd years. James undermines the very foundation of much of the nature side's domination of the nature/nurture debate: twin studies conducted in the early 1980's. He then illustrates how the family, in particular the parents, shape the personality, largely through a process he calls "scripting". James underplays the role of peers and culture in shaping the individual, in my humble ...more
Sep 20, 2010 Dan rated it it was ok
Shelves: family
A real struggle. Based mostly on what sounds like a lighthearted title, I think I had expected a romp through the psychology of family life and how to come to terms with one's own personality and do the best for one's family. That was not the book I found myself reading.

Instead, it's a terribly serious and dry exposition of the author's conviction that nurture in our early years has a huge role to play in determining who we become. I've no doubt that he's right, but I just didn't get along with
Jul 27, 2008 Vickie rated it really liked it
I found this really interesting and useful during a stressful time. I did most of the exercises in it, which he constantly says you don't have to, but I never really did the final one, which involves a bit of writing. At times (with work and so on) I found it hard to find time to do the exercises and was so engrossed in reading the book that I was getting backed up with homework, but it was worth it in the end.
Aaron Murphy
Apr 01, 2016 Aaron Murphy rated it really liked it
I decided to enjoy the book and trust that the author has plenty of experience backed by academic honesty. There were somethings I instinctively marked as (needs more research), but it did open my eyes to additional arguments around the nature / nurture debate and helped me understand what influenced myself and how and why my children are different even though we tried to bring them up the same - this has helped me watch out for things and adapt and I'm seeing positive results.
Apr 05, 2011 Shane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
They F*** You Up provides a heavily behavioralist slant on the nature vs. nurture debate. The material is compelling and sometimes shocking, and the presentation is targeted towards the general public rather than a scientific audience.

If true, the contents of this book strongly suggest that as a society we are thinking about parenting wrongly. One issue I have is that references are not included inline, so it's difficult to cross-reference information against primary sources.
Tariq Mahmood
Jun 04, 2013 Tariq Mahmood rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
Nature vs nurture? Oliver has very clearly favoured nurture over genetic composure at birth throughout this very convincing argument.
More focus is needed to address this fault introduced by the 'science' of eugenics. Trouble is how will Oliver's argument prevail over the much more popular genetics one? Only time will tell.
Jonty Rushforth
May 07, 2007 Jonty Rushforth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Yes
Wonderful look at how he first four years of your life impact the rest of it. Not a "blame the parents" exercise, though he does give food for thought in terms of understanding how your parents have created you. Great way to try to understand yourself further without going down stoopid self-help cult routes or the like.
Jannine Robinson
3.5-4.0 I raced through this because it resonated issues I had with my upbringing and made me want to read more about child socialisation. I would like to learn more about child psychology and the early learning processes. This is a testing ground for people interested in examining how their parents may have contributed to their jealousy/anger/obsessions/fears/.
William Gurney
Mar 08, 2016 William Gurney rated it did not like it
Depressingly stupid.

The book is annoying as the author tries to present his argument as if it has some scientific validity.

The book is objectionable as the author clearly believes homosexuality is a result of nurture (page 43).

The only clever thing about the book is its title which was probably thought up by his editor.
Helene Björkman
Jan 22, 2014 Helene Björkman rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is the most important book I have read in my life.
I would implore anyone who is, or who are ever planning and hoping to become, a parent to read this.
(When you're finished, you may as well read Philip Larkin's collected poems as well).
May 18, 2013 Alex rated it really liked it
His basic premise is that genes have virtually nothing to do with the kind of people we become and that good early parenting (or lack of it) from 0-6 years forms us completely. He uses some really interesting examples to make his points. A really interesting read.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Psychiatry: The Science of Lies
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Dummies
  • The Mind Gym: Give Me Time (The Mind Gym)
  • Persuasion: The Art of Influencing People
  • Families and How to Survive Them
  • Thinking From A To Z
  • On Murder, Mourning and Melancholia (Modern Classics Translated)
  • Sanity, Madness and the Family: Families of Schizophrenics
  • Toxic Psychiatry: Why Therapy, Empathy & Love Must Replace the Drugs, Electroshock & Biochemical Theories of the New Psychiatry
  • Doctoring the Mind: Is Our Current Treatment of Mental Illness Really Any Good?
  • A Calendar of Wisdom: Daily Thoughts to Nourish the Soul
  • Cute, Quaint, Hungry And Romantic: The Aesthetics Of Consumerism
  • The Life of I: the new culture of narcissism
  • The Urban Revolution
  • Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby's Brain
  • Fear: A Cultural History
  • The Politics of Experience/The Bird of Paradise
  • Success: One Day at a Time
Oliver James is a clinical psychologist, writer, broadcaster, and television documentary producer. He frequently broadcasts on radio and acts as a pundit on television.

He is the author of several books, including Affluenza, which examines the role that consumerist aspirations play in making us miserable.

In 1997 he presented The Chair for BBC 2, a series that put celebrities on the psychologist's c
More about Oliver James...

Share This Book

“This and countless later experiences working in and around the world of "shrinks" and the mentally ill has led me to the conclusion that overinterpretation of human psychology can be inadvisable. My favorite Freud joke has him sitting in his gentlemen's club in Vienna after dinner, enjoying a cigar. A hostile colleague wanders up and says, "That's a big, fat, long cigar, Professor Freud," to which Freud replies, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” 5 likes
“Human kind cannot bear very much reality’.” 2 likes
More quotes…