First, the background
What is a life shock? It’s the, “Unexpected moments that accompany the onset of illness, divorce, redundancy, bereavement or any major challenge.” writes Sophie Sabbage, Lifeshocks author.
Sabbage is an advocate of the ‘everything happens for a reason’ school of thought. She believes life shocks are really just encouraging us to reveal more layers, until we eventually reach our most authentic self. For some people, this is a lovely, comforting thought. The macaroni cheese and feather down duvet of modern psychology. And it feels like it should be true, even if its veracity can never be tested.
Sabbage was a student of Dr. K Bradford Brown for 16 years. Brown was a clinical psychologist and theologist, whose theory was based on transformational psychology. After his death in 2007 Sophie took up the gauntlet and wrote Lifeshocks to bring his teachings to the masses.
I find Lifeshocks an odd type of book, part counselling theory, and part memoir of Sophie Sabbage’s life. Sabbage is the author, Sabbage is the spiritual student and Sabbage is most of the case studies.
In the interest of honesty, I have to admit I initially struggled to engage with this book. Within the first few chapters the author had alluded to a privileged lifestyle which I found alienating. She recounts the distress caused by her mum’s cleaner throwing away a bin bag full of her books. And swiftly follows this with another story, but this time she’s holidaying in New England, in a white cliff top house with ocean views. Instead of joining the family and guests for lobster dinner, she sits under a tree and reads To Kill a Mockingbird.
“Their garden was in full bloom and the table was laid for a fresh lobster lunch, but I wasn’t there. I was in Maycomb, Alabama with Jem and Scout.”
If Jackie Kennedy had written a self help book this would be it.
To her credit, Sophie addresses her gilded childhood head on in chapter 5. Her life has indeed been privileged, but not without its problems. And for me it’s an interesting insight into my own prejudices as a counsellor that her initial alluding to class, wealth and social status should jangle.
Her style of writing leans towards the overly flowery and self-consciously literary.
“I savoured her words like fat drops of water from a giant leaf in the rainforest.”
Some may enjoy this, but for me the metaphors detracted from the books key messages, rather than emphasising them.
All the good stuff in Lifeshocks
And yet, despite these drawbacks, I found real wisdom and truth among these pages. The sort that makes you read the sentence again. Most of the value in this book is in doing the exercises. They are revelatory and I don’t use that term lightly. After completing them I felt refreshed, lighter and had gained some clarity.
Dr K Bradford Brown was renowned for writing in the margins of his spiritual texts, “yes, but how?”. Through Lifeshocks this question is answered. Written and verbal exercises lead us to examine our beliefs, question our mind talk and provide a step by step exercise for forgiveness and releasing resentment.
It’s an experiential book and, despite my lengthy review, the value isn’t in the reading but in the doing. I bought the book, I tried the exercises and I feel much better. That alone makes the £9.99 price tag worth it.