Reviewed by Nancy Eichhorn
How can I feel connected to someone I have never met and in turn feel more engaged in my own real-life relationships from reading a book?
Therein lies the mystery and the magic of writing. When an author is authentic and shares their vulnerability and humility, their compassion and love openly, palpably, figuratively, and literally, the reach of their words knows no bounds. True, the reader must be open minded and open hearted, curious enough to willingly step into the author’s world and feel the text, as both a bodily and a cognitive experience.
When a book is crafted just right, the author walks side-by-side with the reader through the text. Together they are immersed in the muck as well as in joyful laughter; they grieve losses and repent miscommunications and misunderstandings all the while forgiving the distances within one’s self and others. The author must knowingly, yet subtly, offer their experiences as a mirror or perhaps as a shadow as they present ideas and feelings that both reveal themselves and entice readers to look deeper within and see themselves in the author’s words. It cannot come straight away, like a sermon espousing the sense of I am greater than thou so follow me to the promised land. No, the writing has to flow from an inner place of knowing, of being, from a serenity that comes with stillness and silence that arises from doing the work to know one’s self, to love and accept one’s self wholly, completely. From this place they can reach outward, touch the hands and hearts of those in their lives and witness their presence without the need to fix or cure anything, without the drive to compete or protect with anger and withdrawal. There is a balance of me and thee within a larger sphere of all that is, Universal Love for some, God for others, Jesus for Dr Flanagan.
Kelly Flanagan is present on the pages of his newest book, True Companions: A Book for Everyone About the Relationships that See Us Through. His stories resonated deeply in my body triggering tears, gut swirls, and deep breaths as well as times where I found myself holding my breath. I also felt it in my soul as I sank into stillness, into moments of contemplation that led to surrender and acceptance.
The book is divided into three parts:
Grow Quiet: Befriending Your Loneliness
Grow Strong: Embracing Your Struggle
Grow Old: Cherishing Your Time
Each part begins and ends with a letter to his wife, also a psychotherapist named Kelly, who he nicknamed ‘M’ 20 years ago when they met because she is his miracle. The nickname was based on many personal reasons and to this day the reasoning has deepened.
The stories he shares are personal. They involve his wife and children (Aiden, Quinn and Caitlin) as well as their extended family, friends, neighbors, community and colleagues. They are poignant, down to earth. Humanness shines in their simplicity. Kelly offers his path seeking true companionship by sharing what he has learned even when it’s messy. There is no rosy picture here, no promise for a remedy to make your life better, your relationships better. But there is a person willing to witness the journey with you if you are willing to try. There is also a companion study guide that invites readers to join a five-week Companion Camp to explore how to show up in their most important relationships that can be completed alone, with another person, or in a group setting. Having read the guide, I think doing it with someone or a group might yield a deeper, richer knowing.
On with the Review
As is my way, when I read a book to potentially review it, I take notes, including choice comments, insights, and language use. I also capture what I am feeling while reading so I can reflect and weave my impressions in the review as appropriate. It is a concentrated, orchestrated effort. Today, however, having just finished the book in two sittings (I was immersed), my response thus far has flowed without the aid of my notes. I know I will turn to them shortly to fill in and flesh out my experience with the book, and yet I wanted to sit in the flow of self and let the words come on their own accord, trust that what I was reading can become part of me as I take on some of the tasks Kelly offers to make changes within myself and thus my relationships.
Near the beginning, Kelly slays the myth of unconditional love and its hindrance in true companionship—it’s not that it is a bad thing in and of itself. But in human hands it can become a shield to hide flaws and failures: “If you loved me, you’d accept me no matter what.” It becomes a defense or a ramrod demanding someone love you even when what is happening should not be tolerated let alone loved.
In place of unconditional love, Kelly offers four types of love based on the Greek conception: agape, eros, storge, and philia. Agape runs parallel to his conception of unconditional love in that it keeps going even when the other person is cruel, unresponsive, offense. “It is sacrificial, in the sense that it will persist no matter what” (15). In the Greek language it is used synonymously with divinity, not with human beings. Eros is passion, fleeting, intense. It cannot be sustained overtime, however, needing more balance, thus Storge comes in. Storge is loyal, devoted. It naturally arises, an inheritance within a tribe or family. And finally, there is Philia. If there were an English word for it, Kelly says it would be companionship.
Philia is “about an abiding affection for the other. Yes, it is about loving, but it’s just as much about liking. Unlike storge which happens spontaneously, philia happens intentionally. . . . Philia is about giving and receiving. It’s about mutual sacrifices. It’s about real-world love, the kind you have to fight for. It’s about doing life together until our lives are woven together” (16)
Philia replays in scenes throughout the book cementing Kelly’s perspective and in turn possibly yours.
I started Part 1 a bit hesitant. The crux of my drive to distract and avoid abysmal feelings is loneliness—it tears into the tenderest most vulnerable parts of me, leaving me in shreds. I felt old tears creep up from deep within while reading many paragraphs in Part One. My longing for connection, for a ‘true companion’, and my inability to fully experience it was laid out in this section with a clarity I lacked but clearly needed.
To read the complete review, please click here to access the PDF
To read a special excerpt for SPT readers, please click here
Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a clinical psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life. Kelly has a Ph.D. from Penn State University and is the founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. In 2012, he began his now popular blog, where he writes regularly about those three essentials: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His writing has been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and in 2014 a letter he wrote to his daughter led to their appearance on the TODAY Show.
In 2017, Kelly published his first book—Loveable: Embracing What Is Truest About You, So You Can Truly Embrace Your Life—and it debuted as the #1 New Release in Interpersonal Relations on Amazon. His next book—True Companions: A Book for Everyone About the Relationships That See Us Through—will be published in February 2021. Kelly is married to another clinical psychologist named Kelly—because they decided to make life more complicated than it already is—and they have three children: Aidan, 17; Quinn, 13; and Caitlin, 11. They live in a small town outside of Chicago.
Connect and learn more at www.drkellyflanagan.com.
To access his Facebook page, click here
Kelly Flanagan photo by Bureau Gravity
Love Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash
Loneliness Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash