Home Carleton's Corner: Books Worth a Read Overcoming Your Difficult Family: 8 Skills for Thriving in Any Family Situation

Overcoming Your Difficult Family: 8 Skills for Thriving in Any Family Situation


Written by Eric Maisel

Reviewed by: Monica Spafford

Family life can be difficult; the interconnectedness of family can spark conflict that is hard to avoid. Family difficulties take many forms therefore there is no easy solution or magical fix for dysfunctional families. Family members can influence each other but can only control how they, as an individual, respond to the conflict.

In his self-help book Overcoming Your Difficult Family: 8 Skills for Thriving in Any Family Situation, Eric Maisel presents eight skills anyone can acquire and utilize to help themselves through difficult familial circumstances, and in turn hopefully influence the whole family unit in a positive way.

Maisel discusses his eight skills for dealing with difficult families: smarts, strength, calmness, clarity, awareness, courage, presence, and resilience. He characterizes these skills as tools in a tool kit that can be employed in a difficult family situation to help individuals experience less distress in the face of adversity. He provides tips to help readers apply these skills.

Maisel also introduces ten different types of family difficulties, advises readers on ways they can work through those difficulties, and applies the eight skills to case studies. He emphasizes that we can’t label families, much like we can’t label people because there are often multiple difficulties and circumstances that create a dysfunctional family dynamic; rather, he outlines ten types of difficult families for the purpose of presenting how readers can apply the eight skills in different situations.

Overall, the purpose of this book is to teach readers how to help themselves through family conflict and model positive behaviors that hopefully translate to the entire family. However, this is all easier said than done and developing these skills takes time, therefore patience and determination is key.

As Maisel says in this book, “There is no pill that can make family life easy. There is no pill that can spare you pain…” (1). Luckily, we all have the ability to cope in an adaptive way and Maisel’s eight skills are a good starting point. For clients, this book can be a useful self-help tool, but for clinicians it is really only worth skimming.

Eric Maisel is a retired family therapist, a creativity and life coach, and an author. Some of his other books include: The Future of Mental Health, Rethinking Depression, Life Purpose Boot Camp, Mastering Creative Anxiety, and his most recent book Humanizing the Helping Professions. He writes the “Rethinking Mental Health” blog for Psychology Today and the “Coaching the Artist Within” print column for Professional Artist magazine.





Monica Spafford studies applied psychology at New York University and is set to graduate in May of 2018. She is a Research Assistant for the INSIGHTS into Children’s Temperament research study at NYU’s Institute of Human Development and Social Change testing the efficacy of the INSIGHTS program, an evidence-based intervention that works to support children’s social-emotional development and academic learning. In addition to writing for Somatic Psychotherapy Today, she also writes reviews for the International Journal of Psychotherapy.