The Undervalued Self, a book review

Aron, Elaine N. (2010) The Undervalued Self: Restore your love/power balance, transform the inner voice that holds you back, and find your true self-worth. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

I requested this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program because Aron’s earlier book, The Highly Sensitive Person, had proved invaluable to me in understanding myself and several members of my family.  I hoped The Undervalued Self would be similarly useful; in that, I was disappointed.

The book begins by presenting the concepts of Ranking (aka power) and Linking (aka love/relationships) and how they might contribute to the Undervalued Self (aka low self-esteem).  Next Aron outlines Six Self-Protections we use for dealing with low rank followed by a discussion of how Traumas from Childhood and Adulthood  (as well as prejudice, sensitivity, and insecure attachment) can lead to our low self-ranking.  The next three chapters deal with techniques for healing (Linking with others, Linking with the Innocent (aka the “inner child”), and Dealing with our Inner Critic (aka Superego).  Finally, two chapters deal with Relationships.

Following Aron’s suggestion for “dealing with your inner critic”, I will accompany my criticisms with “four comments on what was good” (see p. 163).  The book provides a helpful new way of looking at “low self-esteem” through the concept of “the undervalued self.”  The analysis of the possible causes of the undervalued self, including trauma, prejudice, and sensitivity clearly shows why “positivity” and “affirmations” actually make many people feel worse instead of better.  The techniques for creating balance between power (aka “ranking”) and relationships/love (aka “linking”) seem useful.  The language of the book is generally accessible.

Unfortunately, the book contains many of the pitfalls of most “self-help” books: long catch-all subtitles, vague (sometimes all-encompassing) definitions, pseudo-scientific analyses invoking evolution and genetics without any clear scientific backing, oversimplification of concepts, attempts to make it seem as if anyone and everyone can and should benefit from this book, the use of buzzwords and popular concepts many of which are merely “new” terms for old familiar concepts (old wine, new bottle), and, my personal favorite, implying that any resistance to the ideas in the book is a sure indicator that you need to use it.

Unlike most self-help books, The Undervalued Self recognizes that not every wound can be self-healed.  Unfortunately, the caveats about what situations require a therapist are a bit buried under all the seemingly simple techniques for do-it-yourself fixing.  This attempt to appeal to the current anti-expertise/”everyone’s an expert” zeitgeist combines with quite a few everyday analogies which don’t seem very accurate (e.g., using the book is like baking a cake, the internet as linking not ranking) to make the book seem overly aimed at a “popular” audience.  Anyone expecting a bit more substance is likely to be disappointed.

Of all these areas of concern/complaint, the misuse of evolution/genetics was most annoying to me.  Even if I grant something like “ranking” or “linking” or “empathy” might have some evolutionary and/or genetic basis, that does not imply that the trait or inclination would be universal across the species or that the need for it would not show variability across individuals.  I don’t believe Aron’s argument actually hinges on this presumed evolutionary basis, so it is even more annoying that it is dropped into the discussion willy-nilly as if it is convincing proof.

I should probably say something about the checklists and exercises in the book.  The checklists seemed designed to indicate that nearly everyone needs to read and use this book; in one case checking even a few items was an indicator, in another the instructions virtually guarantee a “True” answer to almost every question.  The exercises, including active imagination, journaling, inner dialogues, working with dreams, seem straightforward enough; most readers of this book should be able to follow the instructions.  I might even go back to some of them myself.  I’m just not convinced that the purposes and steps are described in enough detail to really get people to explore the difficult issues underlying them (e.g., letting down protections related to trauma, recognizing the experience of trauma in the body).

Finally, some structural issues, in case the editors of the book are reading this review:

  • the first three heading levels within each chapter are all centered (Level 1: centered bold caps, Level 2: centered bold, Level 3 centered italic) which made it difficult to sort out the structure within each chapter
  • the personal examples (e.g., “Jake Wakes Up . . .” “Myra’s Inner Critic” etc.) should have their own unique style heading (or be set off in some other way), to distinguish them from the more analytical sections around them
  • many of the exercises (which one might want to come back to after reading the whole book) are buried within the text; putting them in a box or highlighting them in some other way would be helpful
  • some of the chapters (especially Chapter Six) need major restructuring to make their structure easier to follow;  (e.g., Chapter Six has two very short sections sandwiching a very long section with many subparts, this center section could easily have been divided into two or three major sections that would have made the whole chapter more clear)

In summary, if you are someone who suffers from low self-esteem and other techniques have not helped, or someone who has experienced trauma but is resistant to psychotherapy or for whom psychotherapy hasn’t worked, you might find this book helpful.  My review on LibraryThing will have 3 out of 5 stars.

Ethiopian Food

Tonight I managed my first foray into cooking Ethiopian food.

Several years ago I first tried Ethiopian food at our local food coop. A local restaurant provided the coop with injera and a variety of Ethiopian dishes to go with it: several lentil stew variations, spicy green beans, and  a beet/potato/apple? combination.  Then the restaurant changed hands and the selection at the coop got pretty narrow (lentils, but not much else).

Recently I gathered a pile of recipes (from cookbooks and the internet) and bought some berberé (an Ethiopian Spice Mixture essential to almost every dish).  I decided I would try to make Doro Wat (Chicken Stew), Mesir Wat (lentil stew), and spicy green beans (which I could not find in any Ethiopian cookbook, so I used an Indian recipe that seemed similar to the dish I remembered).

Below are some pictures.  Will post recipes once I figure out exactly how I merged the several recipes I had for each dish.

Update 4/26/10: The recipes are posted.  You can find them in the recipe list to the right, on the Recipe Index page, or via

Doro Wat (Spicy Chicken Stew)

Mesir Wat (Spicy Lentil Stew)

Addictive Indian-style Green Beans

Doro Wat

Doro Wat (Spicy Chicken Stew)

Yes, those are hard boiled eggs in the stew . . . it’s a “chicken and the egg” thing 🙂

Miser Wat

Mesir Wat (Spicy Lentil Stew)

Spicy Green Beans

“Addictive Spicy Green Beans”

Ethiopian Platter

Ethiopian Platter (clockwise from top left: Mesir Wat, Doro Wat, Spicy Green Beans) served on Injera Bread and eaten with your fingers

Mid-event might be end for me

The following questions were posted at the 24hourreadathon.com site at the half way point.  I’m closing in on hour 14 and probably won’t make it much further.  Will answer these questions now and then tomorrow post some reflections on what I learned about my own reading habits.

Mid-Event Survey:

1. What are you reading right now?
Patricia Cornwell’s Scarpetta
2. How many books have you read so far?
parts of six books; unfortunately, I didn’t actually “finish” any of them, so my “Currently Reading” list hasn’t changed at all 🙁
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?
don’t think I’ll make it much further
4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day?
Not really.  Just made sure I didn’t commit to anything else today
5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?
A couple of emails that I just ignored and some people at the door who I tried to get rid of (see description in earlier post)
6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?
How much more slowly I read than I used to.  Most likely due to my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the “brain fog” it produces.
7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
I actually found all the mini-challenges and trying to check on other people’s blogs to be distracting.  I just wanted to read.  This was my first read-a-thon so I wasn’t really prepared for all the potential online distractions.  So maybe providing some explanation of how that will work (or some examples in the FAQ) would help the newbies.
8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year?
sign up sooner and get some friends to sign up to so we can all encourage each other
9. Are you getting tired yet?
I’m exhausted, but then I suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, so I’m amazed at how well I’m doing (even with all the naps).
10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered?
I did appreciate the few comments I received.  Wish I had gotten more, but I signed up late.  For me reading for 90 minutes, then taking 15-30 minutes for break, snack, and blogging worked pretty well.  Of course I also included many naps.
That’s all for me folks.  I’m going to read a bit more of Scarpetta and then call it a night.  Sorry to be such a party pooper . . . that’s nothing new.

Review-a-thon

Made it through the first three chapters of Elaine Aron’s The Undervalued Self before I needed a nap.  I received a free copy of this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program.  So far, the first chapter was full of lame pseudo-science and faux evolutionary theory.  The second (on six self-protections) and third (on childhood & adult traumas) chapters were better, but I’m not seeing much difference between “The Undervalued Self” and traditional analyses of “low self esteem”.

After nap I cheated and watched a bit of baseball.  C.C. Sabathia was on the verge of a no-hitter in the Yankees/Rays game.  But the Rays finally got a hit off of him in the eighth inning.

Time for some popcorn and Scarpetta.

BTW, my headache from this morning is still with me, despite Tylenol this morning and ibuprophen later.  Doesn’t seem to be a migraine (which would prevent me from reading anything), just an annoying headache.  My guess is it’s a “joys of Spring” headache . . .