Book reviews

Book Review: Everything Isn’t Terrible

book cover: Everything Isn't Terrible by Kathlleen Smith

Everything Isn’t Terrible is written by marriage and family therapist Dr. Kathleen Smith and draws on Bowen theory.  This is a theory of human behaviour that sees anxiety as being rooted in social relationships, and thus work on social relationships must be done to improve anxiety.

The book is divided into four sections: the anxious self, anxious relationships, anxious career, and anxious world (which includes social media and politics/religion).  Anxiety is described in an emotional sense, and the book doesn’t specifically address anxiety disorders.

Each chapter is based on an example of a client she has worked with.  Each chapter concludes with questions to guide you through the steps of observe, evaluate, and interrupt, as well as things to practice

The book begins with background information on Bowen theory, including the existence of a true self and a pseudo-self that’s susceptible to relationship pressures.  “Under-developed beliefs” are susceptible to influence by others, and to work past this the therapy involves developing guiding principles on which to base one’s actions.

Differentiation of oneself (including our own thoughts and feelings) from others is a major theme throughout the book.  Greater differentiation is equated with greater maturity.  The author also observes that people who are more differentiated tend to have more and deeper friendships.

The author outlines a number of strategies that families tend to use: distance, conflict arising from emotional reactivity, triangles, over-functioning roles (parenting one’s own parents), and under-functioning roles (helpless child).

Bowen theory is a type of family systems theory, so that can probably give you some idea of the lens the author uses in this book.  One of the fundamental concepts is that how we behave within our family predicts how we’ll behave in social groups, and to fully address issues in other relationships we have to look to our family relationships first.  Community is described as the cake rather than the icing, and feeling settled and calm would be unlikely without having community.

This doesn’t really overlap with my own worldview, but everything was explained well and it represented a novel way of looking at things.  I liked the idea of taking an astronaut’s view rather than a ground view.  This was framed as a way to help us calm down and handle situations more maturely. While on the face of it that sounds a bit condescending, it wasn’t presented that way in the book.

What did provoke some internal grumblies for me was when the author minimized the number of bad bosses out there, saying most bosses are imperfect and anxious just like anyone else.  While that may be true, it sounds like it comes from the privileged position of not having had to deal with stigma, bullying, and cruelty in the workplace.

There were also a few comments here and there that weren’t all that significant but left me wondering, huh?  She wrote that while cutting off and staying off of social media might work for a monk or ferry boat captain, most of us will need to be online.  It’s minor but it was just one of a few things that left me thinking that the author and I don’t look at the world in quite the same way.

I think this book would be a good read for people who can relate to the idea of poor differentiation.  Probably a big part of why I didn’t really relate to the book is that, whatever my other issues might be, I’m well-differentiated from my family.  If I wasn’t, I think the book would have been a lot more relevant.

Everything Isn’t Terrible is available on Amazon.

I received a reviewer copy of this book from NetGalley.

You can find my other book reviews here.

book cover: Managing the Depression Puzzle by Ashley L. Peterson

My latest book, Managing the Depression Puzzle, takes a holistic look at how to put together the pieces of your unique depression puzzle.  It’s available on Amazon, other online retailers, and the MH@H Store.


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9 thoughts on “Book Review: Everything Isn’t Terrible”

  1. That’s really interesting. I rolled my eyes at her assertion that most bosses mean well. Um, hello. I mean, I guess that could be true of some bosses, but I have to agree that it makes her sound as if she’s simply never encountered any micromanagers or bullies.

    Sonya has a lot of “anxious world” anxiety. It makes me sad for her. She frets about the environment, pollution, whales eating plastic trash and getting it in their tummies, that sort of thing. 🙁

    When I read that self-help book a year ago, I forget its title, I related to a lot in it, but then the author completely lost me with her worldview in one of the last chapters. And it was just regarding something random, not triggerish or anything like that, but I just couldn’t relate to her thinking, and it caused a disconnect. There might be a moral here that if you’re writing a self-help book, you should try to leave out anything about your worldly opinions…?

    1. Self-help is tough that way, since most people aren’t going to agree with everything you have to say. I suppose it comes down to presenting opinions in a way that won’t alienate people even if they disagree.

  2. At my age I am kinda done with all this stuff – 2 degrees in psychology and I no longer care to read other’s opinions about what’s wrong and how to make it right. It was useful when I was younger but you get to an age when you are who you are LOL I read Lori Gottlieb’s book “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” and fell into the trap of seeing myself and self-diagnosing – a rookie mistake!

      1. It’s a book I can recommend. She is an engaging writer and it can be experienced on 3 levels. As a memoir – she has led an interesting life and she comes across as an engaging person. As a human interest story – you, or at least I, got thoroughly engrossed in the story of her patients and her personal therapist. As an insightful look at what it is to BE a therapist. A dear friend of mine is a therapist and we discussed the book – she had been hesitant to read it because she doesn’t think therapists should write publicly about their patients but many of her colleagues praised it. I should ask my friend if she ever did read and what she thought.

        Psychology students, like medical students, tend to self-diagnosis with whatever condition they are currently studying – you get over it but I think with psychology you keep falling into that habit – so easy to be self-centered LOL

  3. I don’t know the Bowen theory oops! But I don’t think the author knows what monks do. They sure have social media. Being a monk doesn’t mean you don’t live on this planet 🙂

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