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Posted August 5, 2001
Avoidance as a Clue to Motivation
Escape provides both hope and control. The pleasure of the escape can come to exceed the potential pleasure of what is being avoided. Psychotherapist Adam Phillips develops these themes in the context of Houdini's career, the attraction of his escapes for audiences, case histories such as those involving a five year-old girl who plays hide-and-seek in peculiar ways and a man who avoids women he is attracted to, mythology (Oedipus, Prometheus, Daedalus, Icarus, and Sisyphus), and literary characters (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Emily Dickinson). The book's themes work best in the context of Houdini. The other examples provide context, but not nearly as much insight. I was particularly interested to learn that the story I had heard about Houdini's death was wrong. He was challenged by a young man to take a punch in the abdomen, even though Houdini had never claimed to be invulnerable in this way. Houdini died a few days later of an internal infection probably caused by the blow. Apparently, he wanted to maintain the illusion of always being able to escape from danger . . . even when he knew of no way to do so. Part way through the book, I began to consider my own avoidance behavior and got some good insights. Certainly, there are some things that are so attractive, this is best not to be tempted. Taking that step to remove temptation is certainly a sign of the degree of the temptation. In general, I found the book interesting, but found that it had some serious drawbacks in its structure and focus. For example, there is discussion about prostitution, pornography, and avoiding sexual relations that is loosely tied back to Houdini's skills in escape illusions. I found the connections tenuous, not well made, sometimes puzzling, and of little interest. The discussions with patients are probably easy for a psychotherapist to follow, but I found them not very clear. I suspect that I would have enjoyed the book more without the patient sections. At the same time, the mythological references are mainly of value to someone who doesn't know the stories. For those who do, those sections become long and somewhat tedious. Basically, the book needed to be edited down further and to connect the dots more. At the same time, the section on Emily Dickinson could easily have been expanded. If you know a lot of about psychological theories, this book will probably not add a lot for you. If you don't try very hard to avoid things, this book will probably not be very interesting. For those who strenuously avoid and would like to know more, this is a pretty low-key introduction into seeing the possible meaning behind patterns of avoidance through self-questioning. What are the implications of your avoidance? Can you embrace what you care about in healthy ways? How well is your seeking out or avoiding behavior serving you and others? Find ways to serve others, give love, and enjoy life! Donald Mitchell, co-author of The Irresistible Growth Enterprise and The 2,000 Percent SolutionWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.