The Complete Idiot's Guide To Human Feelings
December 10, 2012 1:42 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for books that will introduce basic emotional literacy concepts to an adult. An adult with strong tendencies toward avoidant, anti-social, narcissistic, and paranoid behavior. No, I'm not using those terms lightly.

I have a friend who has, throughout his entire life (60+ years,) shown a remarkable lack of understanding about basic human emotions and how they work. This is not surprising, and not particularly his fault (he had lots of childhood abuse/neglect/etc. and a family history with severe psychological issues.)

I am going to buy him a book or three to help him improve his skills in this area. I am aware there are pros and cons to this plan, and have thought it through/analyzed the situation quite enough, thank you. All I'm looking for here is the book or books to buy him.

He will not read a textbook or anything light/fluffy/feel-good. I know for sure Burns is out at this stage, as is the Dalai Lama. I need the "why and when" of stuff more than the "how to tell" kinds of books (the "how to tell" stuff will be next year, I think.)

He likes extremely literal topics (taxation - the practice, not the theory) and action plans, particularly very short ones.

He has a wicked and clever sense of humor. He has a thing for stuff you hear on Coast to Coast AM and likes to give gifts with words like "conspiracy" and "the end of time" in them. He loves John Carter of Mars (the books) and has perfectionistic/idealistic/completist tendencies (he bought all of the Barsoom books when he decided he wanted to read the first one again.) He adores the worst movies of all time and doesn't understand why someone (ANYONE ON EARTH) wouldn't want to watch a violent gore-fest action thriller with crappy writing & production values on Thanksgiving day.

He has a particular propensity for being completely unable to predict how incredibly hurt another person will be when he says something incredibly hurtful - he literally has no idea that it's not funny or clever. He hates hurting people, though - it really distresses him, and he really has internalized this idea that he's someone who hurts others. He tends to laugh things off when he's nervous or uncomfortable, especially if he thinks he's done something to hurt another person.

He has some interest in learning how to negotiate and persuade others, but he says he's complete rubbish at it. He doesn't really have a conceptualization of a middle ground between "completely leaving the topic alone" and "dragging you bodily toward the one true solution despite your struggling against it."

What is needed:
  • Books
  • which are: short; [think 150-200 pages with 12pt text]
  • about core psychological topics/feelings and how human beings in general think/feel;
  • cool, quirky, funny, and/or fascinating; and
  • helpful in terms of actually teaching someone how to act like a normal person, or at least why people act the way they do and how to predict how they'll react in advance.
If it turns out to have been written by a person who's actually been interviewed on Coast to Coast AM, I will heart you forever - especially if you can tell me the date, so I can find him an MP3. A dash or ten of parapsychology or past lives or astrology or new age randomness is also appropriate. A forward from Art Bell would be... amazing.

I'd also be thrilled if they have an actual degree in real psychology, but I realize that this may be asking too much.

(Podcasts & TED talks and the like are acceptable, but he's less likely to actually sit and listen to them than he is to read a book.)

Oh... and if it happens to explain why he marries extremely dependent women with severe psychiatric issues (exactly like his mother) that would be, well, wizard.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! to Human Relations (9 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

John Elder Robinson, Look Me In The Eye. I think it hits the middle ground between "something that will teach him helpful skills" and "something he might actually read."
posted by pie ninja at 1:54 PM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

You might try behavioral economics books like Predictably Irrational and Thinking Fast and Slow. They're interesting and less granola-feelings and more like economics books than self-help books, but give a lot of insight into why people make decisions and how they react to things without being too touchy-feely. Knowing people react emotionally, THEN (if) logically may help him realize why some of those jokes sting, even if they are funny/true/wordplay, for example.

It may take some persuading, but get him to take a look at How to Win Friends and Influence People. I was pretty skeptical, too, but it's some pretty good realtalk on how people react to things rather than being as soft and fluffy as I thought it was going to be. It's short and it's breezily written in charmingly old-school lingo.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:59 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Seconding Emotional Intelligence though the length may be a factor. It helped me see why emotions were an important part of human nature and why I should embrace them when I was closed off and more into intelligence.
posted by kanata at 2:15 PM on December 10, 2012

Perhaps The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships?
posted by elmay at 2:45 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

What about an etiquette book? It might help him to fake it while he's working through the concept of emotional literacy.
posted by freshwater at 2:59 PM on December 10, 2012

Since you say "he hates hurting people" you could try looking at books aimed for people on the autistic spectrum. There was a title called What does everyone else know that I don't? aimed mostly at ADHD-ers, but there's a lot of overlap there.
posted by tel3path at 3:49 PM on December 10, 2012

Irvin Yalom might be worthwhile. He's a great writer, and the Existentialist focus on the here-and-now might appeal. Love's Executioner for non-fiction, When Nietzsche Wept for historical fiction (describes the birth of Freudian analysis).
posted by jaguar at 4:57 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm a little confused (if he feels bad for being "mean," doesn't he have the "why" and need the "how?"), so please excuse me if these suggestions are off-point.

How about some of those books on work communication? They are short, with some examples of benefits, and with very clear How Tos. (One specifically says to think about how a person might be unnecessarily insulted by what you're about to say, and try to clarify: "I'm not saying you're a bad cook; I just don't like spaghetti.") Two I've liked are Difficult Conversations and Crucial Conversations.

Another line of investigation to pursue are books about Dialectical Behavior Therapy, like this one. In my limited and second-hand understanding, DBT teaches coping tactics and skills to people suffering from some of the hardest-to-treat mental illnesses.

One last idea. It seems like part of what could help would be for him to become more aware of his own patterns and how they stem from the abuse he suffered. What about a memoir of an abusive childhood? I imagine some could appeal to him ("I escaped from the cult my parents sold me to").
posted by salvia at 9:54 AM on December 11, 2012

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