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Healing Through the Dark Emotions: The Wisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  440 ratings  ·  55 reviews
Nautilus Book Award Winner - Gold

We are all touched at some point by the dark emotions of grief, fear, or despair. In an age of global threat, these emotions have become widespread and overwhelming. While conventional wisdom warns us of the harmful effects of "negative" emotions, this revolutionary book offers a more hopeful view: there is a redemptive power in our worst
Paperback, 336 pages
Published May 11th 2004 by Shambhala (first published 2003)
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Average rating 4.18  · 
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 ·  440 ratings  ·  55 reviews

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Raymond J
Jun 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone and their mother
I don't normally say such things, but this book could change your life, and then, the world. The way people quote "The Secret", I quote this text which I call "The Book". I can be a bit of a sucker for psychology/self-help books but find the majority of them disappointing. Not this one -- every page was illuminating, and never was my intelligence insulted.
Bon Tom
Nov 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Not your usual self-help book. There's a lot of common sense, but also some counter-intuitive revelations. I believe very basic premise of befriending your dark side and emotions, instead of trying to get rid of them via substance abuse and behavioral addictions is something that doesn't come as first on the list of coping skills for most people. Author also shares her rich life experience and lessons she learned through hardship, adversity and tragedy. This book is strangely uplifting and hope ...more
May 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those who are depressed, grieving, in despair, etc.
Shelves: healing
"We pay psychotherapists to cure it, take Prozac to mute it, seek counsel from religions that exhort us to rise above it, read inspirational books to overcome it, join recovery programs and self-help groups to cope with it, spend millions of dollars to escape it, use alcohol, drugs, food, work, possessions, sex, entertainment, and all the techno-toys we can get to distract ourselves from it. . . . [But] grief, despair, and fear are our human birthright as much as joy, wonder, and love."
Hilary Barnett
Mar 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is profoundly paradigm-shifting. It came to me at a crucial time, and helped me navigate through my own dark emotions with more confidence and empathy. This book seems so necessary right now, especially as we deal with toxic cultural emotions erupting into bodily harm and violence. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
Leanne Ellis
Aug 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
This book shines a light on the dark emotions that we as a society view as negative: fear, grief, despair, as well as their companion emotions like anger. We all experience these feelings, but we really are trained to ignore them, bury them, but certainly not listen to and experience them fully. We all live in a world of violence and global challenge, but we are also told to feel good and be happy. This book honors all the parts of the Self and the wisdom of your emotions. It also reminds me of ...more
During a Skype conversation between my best friend and I (he was in India and I was in the US) in September 2012, my best friend of 6 years told me "Katie, no matter what happens, I will love you forever." The second most heartbreaking phone call I've received in my adult life came just two months later when my other best friend called me on a Monday morning in mid November. "Katie, he's gone."

I've experienced deaths of loved ones in my life (one of the most painful of my childhood occurred
Sep 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Great book. As a psychologist, I think this is one of the most important books I have read. One of the main ideas presented in the book is that we live in a culture that has become emotion phobic -- particularly of the "dark" feelings-- and this is negatively impacting our ability to achieve well-being for a variety of reasons. If we can learn to accept, experience, and listen to our dark feelings, we can learn how to change & grow. In the context of a culture that is espousing positive ...more
Apr 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book was massively useful to me during a period of grief and anxiety.

It's one of the only books I've ever read about psychology and healing that acknowledges cultural context as a legitimate source of suffering beyond the classic "all of your anxiety must go back to your parents." Of course, ones upbringing affects emotional health, but there is often much much much more at play

I found this book particularly helpful at a identifying the cultural disconnection I've felt during much of my
Aug 28, 2011 rated it liked it
Not your usual self-help book. Greenspan uses her own experience as a child of Holocaust survivors and mother of a child who lived only two months along with Jewish wisdom literature as well as stories from her psychotherapy clients to argue that recognizing rather than suppressing our so-called negative emotions creates opportunities for growth. Similar ideas about the beauty of the imperfect life can be found in Erik Erikson's classic IDENTITY: YOUTH AND CRISIS. Although I was set not to like ...more
Nov 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is a remarkable book! (recommended by Annie, facilitator for Process Painting workshop). Turns on its ear the current culture viewpoint, including psychotherapy, about the value of "dark" emotions, esp grief, despair and fear. That emotions are felt in the body, not the mind. And she provides "how to" advice on how to work with them, rather than trying to get rid of them. How they can become toxic when you push them away. I think this will be a turning point book for me.
An ongoing, pick-up
Aug 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. The author does a good job of elucidating a lot of the mental health problems facing our culture. Namely, that an inability to name and face our more uncomfortable emotions causes bottled up anger, neuroses, and impaired functionality.

I also thought it was brave of her to incorporate her own personal experiences of losing a son and raising a disabled daughter. It made the book a lot more real.

Some of her statements were a little out there. Discussions of reiki,
May 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This has to be the most insightful book I've read in years. Highly recomment to anyone.
Oct 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This book proves that we must embrace darkness. The only way to heal is to go straight into the dark parts of ourselves and make friends with whatever we find there.
Mary Hammer
Aug 18, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone grieving over anything
this book was essential in getting me through some dark, dank bleak. i had never thought of grieving as being good, and i certainly didn't know how to go about doing it healthily until i read this.
Aug 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, checked-off
This was a great read for anyone who struggles with their emotions, especially the darker ones. All emotions are valuable and this book does a great job of teaching you how to be ok with them and what to do. The fact that it outlines specific steps and practices is wonderful for those who know they want to handle things better but have no idea where to start.

The only critique I have is the author's opposition to the use of medications. While she claims that the use of anti-depressants is fine
Jan 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
this book felt so validating. seemed to have everything I was ever searching for in a book about emotions. i love the way the author calls bullshit on a lot of ideas that are simply ingrained in western society, that are still spread in more recent self-help/positivity/mindfulness articles, books etc.,. that have been used in my own personal therapy sessions. radical when you’ve grown up under the western perspective of pain. I always felt there was something off about the way western therapy ...more
Feb 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
I went back to this book to read the material concerning emotions rooted in the chaos of our world. Greenspan points out that not all trauma can necessarily be traced back to family issues. Sometimes, one really can be affected emotionally watching 9/11 transpire or fearing an atomic attack any day, as many did in the 1950s. I found it refreshing for book concerning psychology to give a place to these emotions. You don't see that much. She dealt with the topic even-handedly, and I gained new ...more
Aug 15, 2019 rated it it was ok
I see it has very high ratings, but I did not think this was well-written. At first I thought maybe it was too shallow and mystical, like maybe Greenspan would vote for Marianne Williamson, but there are references to patriarchy and ecology and a lot of areas where getting the broader view should be good, but I don't think she has a clear enough understanding to bring it home. Individual stories can resonate and there are true things in here (as well as some pretty questionable ones), but I ...more
Angela Fritz
Jan 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Powerful, emotional, real and raw, this beautifully written book taught me so much about tolerating and learning from the dark emotions that we as a society don’t like to address. This book greatly improved my emotional intelligence and will help guide me through grief, fear and despair for years to come
Jorge Rodighiero
Dec 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
A mix of swallowness and religious mysticism with a bunch of good intentions and the occasional good idea.
Jun 19, 2017 rated it liked it
This book gives you a lot to think about! I didn't exactly agree with everything but it certainly gave me some new perspectives and helpful ways of thinking about "the dark emotions".
Jun 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Elizabeth by: laurie my pool therapist
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Debbie Hoskins
I'm not even through the preface and I'm taking notes. She uses the metaphor "emotional alchemy" to be a description of the transmutation from grief to gratitude, fear to joy, and despair to faith.
Now I'm further into the book. This was written in 2003, so I'm not sure what was actually believed in the psychological community at that time. Miriam is saying that after 2 months, grief is interpreted as clinical depression and is medicated. My interpretation is she's against medication. I truly
Feb 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Wow. Wow. Wow. This is a book that I wish I could have read years ago. Although, I wonder if it would have had as much meaning to me if I hadn't experienced the dark emotions of grief, fear, and despair. I wish that this could be a course that was taught to everyone. I think I may have highlighted at least half of the book. It was full of truths that made my soul sing and had me nodding again and again. It brought a huge amount of peace and relief for me to understand that these emotions were ...more
Feb 18, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: psychology
I had a hard time getting through this book. Some parts of it were useful, but I was mostly bored. The author has a more holistic approach to grief, fear, and despair, especially in the idea that everyone on this planet is interconnected emotionally with each other and with nature in general. It went a little beyond what I was looking for from a book like this. I wanted something a little more self-focused. I feel a little badly only giving it two stars, but it's a personal rating. I can see how ...more
Jul 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mind-wellbeing
The author makes some interesting points on the different ways in which men and women are socialised to deal differently with emotions and her perspective on the impact of world events, politics, economic crisis affect our psychology.

She shows how these emotions are not inherently negative but simply difficult emotions which have much to teach us if we can learn to bear them and make sense of them. That you cannot have joy, gratitude and hope without them. How they keep resurfacing from our
Jul 12, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
I read the first seven chapters of this book before I gave up. The foundation of the argument is sound, but the way it is presented, as well as the specifics, negate whatever good was in it. Sometimes I thought I was reading genius, often I thought I was reading complete codswallop, and the rest fell somewhere in between, making the book as a whole hard to take seriously. My biggest problem with it is that her clear anti-psychiatry perspective and desire to "prove" her ideas minimizes or rejects ...more
Mar 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: socialwork, favorites
This is going on my "Favorites" shelf for sure. Greenspan's work is phenomenal. She clearly elucidates and expands on everything I believe about the power and possibility of actually confronting the "dark emotions" (grief, despair, and fear) and the transformation that is possible through this process. It is a very reader-friendly book that is accessible for interested readers as well as clinicians and Greenspan offers numerous "emotional exercises" to help readers engage in a process of ...more
Nov 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing
One of the most honest, amazing, beautiful books on the wisdom & gifts that come to us when we allow ourselves to surrender to the darkness. This process of feeling our way through our dark emotions is beyond under-emphasized in our current culture & era, so it's a true gift that someone is sharing the value of this with the world. The only way out is through...there is so much ecstasy buried underneath our sorrow.
Dec 30, 2012 added it
A little formulaic, after a while. A good formula, but then it's just variations on a theme throughout the rest of the whole book. I did like her discussion of those who are identified as "sick" (usually carrying the burden of "sickness" in the organism), and those who allow someone else to be Identified. I can't remember the exact terms she used, but it is an important discussions that I think can be especially helpful in current discussions regarding guns, violence, and mental health.
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