I was going to write something about my first book Stop Walking on Eggshells (SWOE) on the book's 10th anniversary. That was in 2008. Now I can say I'm writing this in celebration of the recently published second edition.
Whatever you think of Stop Walking on Eggshells (SWOE), you can't deny its influence.
SWOE has sold 500,000 copies in English and an unknown number of copies in Spanish, Croatian, Japanese, French, Chinese, Slovenian, Dutch, German, and Korean. SWOE helped bring borderline personality disorder (BPD) and the concerns of family members into an international forefront. Its success sparked the publication of many other books on the topic. It's rare for me to find a therapist who hasn't heard of it. The potential ramifications in people's lives (readers and their families), is beyond anything I can imagine.
I hope it's been a force for good. But I've learned that when you birth a book and send it off into the world, you lose track of how people use it or interpret it. This is especially true when you write about polarizing topics. One person called it a "singular, indispensable, life-saving contribution on BPD." Another said it was a "treatise on the evil of borderlines and an instruction manual for taking control of the indomitable witch for her own good in order to preserve the family unit."
Most reviews are very complementary: on Amazon, 182 reviewers out of 212 total have given it four or five stars. It's been called, "A brilliant analysis of a tragic disorder."
But it's the 17 one-star ones that I find myself drawn to because it's disliked for completely opposite reasons: about half the one-star reviewers say it's too insensitive to the needs of family members; the other half say it's too insensitive to people with BPD. For example, (edited for space and grammar):
Is Stop Walking on Eggshells insensitive to family members....
- "If you grew up with someone who has BPD, then you are already familiar with the content of this book: yes, borderline behavior is abusive and crazy-making, but the poor borderline, he/she can't help it, so twist yourself into a pretzel in order not to trigger them or upset them in any way."
- "Most of this book is devoted to how to cope with, coddle, make excuses for and accommodate the BPD in your life, using techniques from AA, and the usual pop-psych bromides. BPD is a personality disorder that is generally considered to be intractable. This book presents a distorted, rosy view of the possibility of improvement."
...Or Is Eggshells too insensitive to people with BPD?
- "Ironically, while they the authors say that one of a borderline's greatest fears is being abandoned, that is just what they recommend spouses and lovers (and even family members) to do with a borderline person--to divorce them, to leave them, to cut off the relationship--in a word, to ABANDON them!!"
- "This book enraged me so much with its one-sided and simplistic portrayal of borderlines and the people in their lives, I could hardly finish it. This book is shallow, ignorant and one-sided, is completely and ironically black and white and makes BPD look like possession by the devil rather than a tragic illness."
In fact, just today my husband forwarded me two new reviews:
- "This book only escalates the damage done to relationships."
- "I once felt lost but now am finding myself again because of this well written book that tells the story from both sides!"
This reminds me of two rejection letters my agent received about SWOE in 1996 from potential publishers. One said, "No thanks, no one has ever written about borderline personality disorder." The other said, "No thanks, too many books about BPD already exist."
You can't please everyone
Today there's so much info about BPD out there that it's hard to imagine a time when there wasn't. In 1997, without other books to guide us, my coauthor Paul Mason and I did our best to strike the right tone: compassionate toward people with BPD and their suffering, yet honest about the effect of BPD behavior on others.
Nowhere in the book do we tell people to be doormats; nowhere do we say limits are the primary way to handle BPD relationships (in fact, the pages on limit setting takes up less than 5% of the book). Nowhere do we tell people to leave the BP in their life: In fact, we have an entire chapter about how people can make that decision for themselves. (That's one problem with the bad reviews: none of them quote the actual book. It's always someone's perception of it, not the thing itself.)
Of course, it's understandable that a book about splitting would be, in itself, split. The fact that it's split about half one way and half the other way tells me we did a pretty good job.