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

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  518 ratings  ·  61 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 f
Paperback, 336 pages
Published May 11th 2004 by Shambhala (first published 2003)
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Average rating 4.19  · 
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 ·  518 ratings  ·  61 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. ...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."
—Miriam G
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
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
Jan 07, 2021 rated it it was ok
Shelves: yet-to-finish
I’m militant about finishing books, but I got to 54% & just couldn’t do it anymore. While I agree with her premise - we need to feel bad emotions instead of suppressing them - her delivery was irritatingly repetitive and grating at best, and insulting and dangerous at worst. She hates psych meds and tells you this on just about every page. She doesn’t like talk therapy - despite being a psychotherapist?? She thinks emotional suppression is the cause of serious diseases - diseases that can be cur ...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 whe
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 psycholo ...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 lif
Aug 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Simply wonderful. This was recommended by my therapist, and is grounded in both experience and practice. Super feminist, climate-heavy look at how we might use and be informed the negative emotions we would otherwise try to push away. Lots of quotes from Joanna Macy and stories about intergenerational trauma if you're wondering where Greenspan is coming from. I'm still working through the exercises on this one (I'm actually doing the exercises!! that's how good this is!) and this is a keeper. I ...more
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, energ
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. ...more
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.
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. ...more
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 i
This is the most emotionally intelligent book I have ever read. It's filled with much wisdom and guidance. The term "feel your feelings" had previously perplexed me. I often wondered, What does that mean exactly? How do I go about feeling my feelings? I thought I was feeling my feelings and that's why I am walking around so depressed.

This book tells you how to actually feel your feelings, how to befriend dark emotions in order to understand the important messages they are trying to tell you in
Dec 25, 2020 rated it it was ok
I don't remember how or where I first heard of Healing Through the Dark Emotions, but ever since I heard the title I was intrigued and extremely interested in reading it. Unfortunately, the title of the book is, in my opinion, the best part. I mostly found this book to be a big disappointment and a chore to get through. Most of the time I spent reading it I found myself wishing I was doing something else.

There are some good insights in the book, especially in Part One (the first 70 pages), but
Jan 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: heart-spirit
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 be ...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 ins ...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 don' ...more
Apr 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best books on emotions and healing I've read. Deeply spiritual and scientifically grounded, Greenspan gets to the core of our darkest emotional experiences and how we can befriend them. She offers numerous stories and examples from her own life and lives of patients she has worked with. And she offers valuable practical exercises. I hope to use many of them in my pastoral work. ...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
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". ...more
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.
May 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Definitely read again. Enjoyed both audio and book formats.
Matthew Dimick
Jan 05, 2021 rated it really liked it
A little judgement about psychotropic medicine but otherwise good for confronting dark emotions
Lanette Sweeney
Jan 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful reassuring writing about how common grief and despair is.
Jun 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Elizabeth by: laurie my pool therapist
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Miriam Greenspan was born in a refugee camp in southern Germany to two Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. From her parents, she learned that even in the aftermath of genocide, it is possible to live a life of kindness, generosity, and love. Her work as a psychotherapist, author, public speaker, and poet are rooted in her abiding faith in the redemptive power of facing into the worst without flinch

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“anyone who’s ever lost a parent, child, lover, spouse, or close friend, knows that grief is one of the most powerful emotional forces there is—powerful enough to shatter the self we’ve carefully constructed.” 6 likes
“When we psychologize human suffering, we narrow our focus to the individual—perhaps in order to be less overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of human suffering, which, in the modern era, has reached a crescendo of atrocity. In doing so, we lose the connection to anything larger than our family of origin. The sense or meaning we give to pain keeps us stuck in a kind of narcissistic individualism that paradoxically fuels neurosis and emotional suffering.” 5 likes
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