When two people from very different parts of your life suggest that you read a particular book, it's wise to do so. 'The Reality Slap' by Russ Harris was the book in question for me. I think it takes a brave person to suggest a self help book to another, there is so much potential to cause offence. Having said that, I have great trust in and respect for both these women so no physical slapping took place! It has been several months since I first read the book and I'm returning to it now both for this review and also because the lessons it teaches can never be heard too often or learned too well.
We've all been there, to varying degrees, haven't we? When life slaps us in the face for no reason at all. It doesn't matter how big or how loud the slap is, it's an insult and an unexpected one at that. As Harris explains, the fall out isn't just from the pain of the 'slap', it also come from dealing with the reality 'gap' that follows. That what is actually happening to us right now is so far from what we had dreamed, hoped or worked for. We hurt the most when that gap is the greatest. Sound familiar?
The first part of 'The Reality Slap' explores these themes and the second is a series of thought exercises and references. Dr Harris is qualified as both a medical practitioner and psychoterapist. He considers this book to be the kind of self help book where the aim is to deal as best you can with what you've been dealt rather than the kind which promises you the ability to have everything you want in life. Along the way, the book explores his own very painful journey in accepting the diagnosis of autism in his beautiful first born son - the 'slap' he was dealt and how trying to close the 'gap' gave his life more meaning and richness as well as pain and anguish.
Harris has a gift for writing with both intelligence and empathy. He takes pains to emphasise that that reality gaps can occur in anyone's life and also in any aspect. It's not just the huge traumas that we need to address in order to improve our appreciation of life, it is also the seemingly small disappointments that fester and create deep scars in our hearts.
To me, the core principle of Harris' approach to life's disappointments is to acknowledge that they happen and that they hurt. However, dealing with them is not about giving up or denial. Instead, choose to take a stand for things that matter. In doing so, you find a new sense of vitality in your life and the ability to find the treasures that can be too skilfully hidden in the pain.
'The Reality Slap' doesn't suggest that this is easy nor that grinning and bearing it is the answer. Instead, there is approachable teaching about theories with the aim of challenging the reader's mindset about goals versus purpose as well as what fulfilment really means. Beyond this, there are practical thinking tasks that invite readers to analyse themselves in the context of: response to pain, being able to engage fully in the moment (or not) and the ultimately futile fixation on controlling thoughts.
I read 'The Reality Slap' on my Kindle and it was one of the few books that I felt compelled to highlight and bookmark almost compulsively. Looking back on my highlights helps me keep my mind where it needs to be and not where it was. I'm now going play it forward and suggest this book to you, if not for now then perhaps as food for thought in the future.