StudySmarter: Study help & AI tools
4.5 • +22k Ratings
More than 22 Million Downloads
Free
|
|
The Examined Life

We'd all love to read minds, wouldn't we? Imagine knowing the best approach to take in every conversation. It'd be like having a superpower. Or, perhaps it'd be like being Stephen Grosz (1952-).

Mockup Schule Mockup Schule

Explore our app and discover over 50 million learning materials for free.

The Examined Life

Illustration

Lerne mit deinen Freunden und bleibe auf dem richtigen Kurs mit deinen persönlichen Lernstatistiken

Jetzt kostenlos anmelden

Nie wieder prokastinieren mit unseren Lernerinnerungen.

Jetzt kostenlos anmelden
Illustration

We'd all love to read minds, wouldn't we? Imagine knowing the best approach to take in every conversation. It'd be like having a superpower. Or, perhaps it'd be like being Stephen Grosz (1952-).

Grosz is a psychoanalyst, but he probably wouldn't strike you as one. He is not intimidating, nor is he invasive in his practices. Instead, he highlights the power of storytelling and conversation as a tool to help our negative emotions rise to the surface. Taken out of context, Grosz's Sunday Times bestseller book The Examined Life (2013) often reads more like a storyteller's collection of parables than it does a psychoanalytic study. That captivating combination of intelligent analysis and enthralling narration sets Grosz's work apart from the rest.

The Examined Life: Stephen Grosz

Born in Indiana in 1952, Stephen Grosz knew from a young age that he wanted to be a psychoanalyst.

A psychoanalyst aims to tap into the unconscious to reveal the hidden meaning behind people's thoughts and feelings. They typically take on patients and help them to cope with loss, grief and pain.

Grosz studied psychology and politics at the University of California. Later, he attended Baliol College in Oxford, England. During this time, Stephen studied several texts that educated and inspired him to pursue psychoanalysis as a career. Among these, he cited Erving Goffman's (1922-1982)The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1956) and Sigmund Freud's (1856-1939) The Interpretation of Dreams (1899) as significant influences.

After finishing his studies, Grosz began learning the secrets of psychoanalysis, eventually completing his training in London. He references crucial figures in the community that helped shape his clinical style, including Anne-Marie Sandler (1925-2018) and Hanna Segal (1918-2011).

Grosz has worked as a psychiatrist for his entire adult life. Between 1999 and 2009, he also lectured at the University College London, where he taught 'The Case History' course in Theoretical Psychoanalytic Studies. Throughout his career, Grosz has written many reflective stories and accounts within journals and magazines. Despite this, it took decades for Grosz to turn his experiences into a full-length book.

In 2013, Grosz wrote his first book, The Examined Life: How We Find and Lose Ourselves. The book is a culmination of Grosz's 25 years of psychoanalytic experience. It contains a collection of patient accounts, histories and stories that Grosz has gathered throughout his life. Upon its release, the book was nominated for the 2013 Guardian Book of the Year Award. It was also chosen as a book of the year in the New York Times, Observer, and Mail on Sunday. It has also been translated into over 25 languages.

The Examined Life: context

Psychoanalysis is a collection of theories that deal with the unconscious. The goal of psychoanalytic treatment is typically to help people combat depression, anxiety, or grief by bringing repressed emotions to the surface. Central to the theory is the belief that patients can only overcome feelings once they are fully recognised and understood. Psychoanalysis is based on the ideas of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939).

Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist famed for founding psychoanalysis. He would often have a patient lie on a couch to relax while they told him about dreams, memories and experiences.

The Examined Life Sigmund Freud StudySmarterFig 1. Sigmund Freud is considered the father of psychoanalysis. One of his psychoanalytic accounts, The Interpretation of Dreams (1899), was an early inspiration for Grosz.

Grosz was inspired by Freud's theories. In particular, he was in awe at the idea that humans could live without ever knowing their real feelings or desires. To Grosz, the real quest in psychoanalysis has always been to discover the absolute truth and to help people understand things about themselves that they hadn't considered.

Freud was also the first to acknowledge that a patient history often reads more like a novella than a scientific analysis. Many of his books, like The Interpretation of Dreams (1899), The Unconscious (1915) and Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (1905), could be mistaken for gripping works of fiction if one was not aware of the context.

Reading psychoanalytic works in the style of novels convinced Grosz of the link between storytelling and psychoanalysis. Grosz often states that conversation is the most powerful tool within psychoanalysis because it opens the door to self-discovery.

Janet Malcolm (1934-2021) likened the psychoanalytic process to pouring water through a sieve. The water represents the flow of conversation, and the moisture left on the mesh represents the repressed emotions that rise to the surface.

Grosz's own book, The Examined Life, is more than just an account of patient histories; it is a collection of short, individual stories that teach crucial lessons that Grosz has learned over his long career. Much like the literature of Freud that preceded it, The Examined Life could be mistaken for a work of captivating fiction. Each story is styled like an allegory, with a powerful, insightful conclusion that teaches us something about the inner workings of the human psyche.

The Examined Life: summary

The book contains 30 chapters, each telling the story of a different patient. Grosz changed all of the names in the book to preserve patient anonymity. Despite this, all accounts are entirely accurate. Below are summaries of two chapters that encapsulate the themes Grosz addresses and the moral messages he puts forward within his work.

'How paranoia can relieve suffering and prevent a catastrophe'

Amanda comes home after spending ten days in New York and suddenly believes that her house will blow up when she opens the front door. She has the fantasy that a terrorist organisation has primed a bomb to detonate as she turns the key. Grosz reveals that those experiencing constant, intense paranoid emotions also tend to feel disconnected and alone. He argues that paranoia is a defence from the feeling that nobody is concerned about us.

When asking Amanda to tell him more, she reveals that returning from a business trip is one of the moments when she hates being alone; she claims that the house feels empty, cold, and abandoned. To Grosz, the fantasy of being blown up was simply a response to Amanda's feelings of isolation. Her paranoia shielded her from the catastrophe of feeling that no one cared.

'The bigger the front'

Grosz meets Abby, who is travelling to visit her mum for the first time in 16 years. She tells Grosz about a boy named Patrick, whom she met 18 years earlier. Abby's dad was distraught by the thought of Abby having a blonde boyfriend. He made numerous racist remarks about him and threatened to disown Abby when she mentioned she intended to get engaged. The day that Abby and Patrick married was the last day that she had contact with her father.

During the first few years of marriage, Abby questioned her decisions and found it challenging to make sense of her father's behaviour. One day, Abby received a call from her mother saying that she had discovered that her husband, Abby's father, was having an affair. This affair had been going on for decades, and as it turns out, the woman is blonde.

Grosz refers to this unconscious strategy as 'splitting', which involves transferring shameful aspects of ourselves onto another person. By expressing hatred towards Abby's boyfriend, her father was trying to cut himself off from the aspects he hated about himself. Abby summarises her experience with a poignant phrase - the bigger the front, the bigger the back.

The Examined Life: analysis

Within his work, Grosz simplifies complex topics, makes the text accessible, and takes an unbiased approach to psychoanalysis. These three defining characteristics help to set Grosz's work apart from other psychoanalytic accounts.

Simplification

Grosz's talent lies in his ability to turn complex cases into short, captivating stories with moral lessons. His work has been closely compared to that of famous short-story writers Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), Franz Kafka (1883-1924) and Andre Dubus (1936-1999). It is Grosz's flair for storytelling that makes The Examined Life so enjoyable to read. However, Grosz's book is also based on 25 years of experience, and all of the stories are true. This gives his book a unique charm that gives it a broad appeal to a wide range of people.

The Examined Life Anton Chekhov StudySmarterFig 2. Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) was a Russian short-story writer and playwright. Grosz's work has been compared to Chekhov's work, partly due to Grosz's flair for storytelling.

Accessibility

Part of Grosz's goal is to make psychoanalysis understandable to everyone. He removes unnecessary scientific jargon from his work. In some cases, he even details why a psychoanalytic term is outdated or unnecessary and explains the concept in a simpler way. This demystifies the process and helps make it more accessible to a broader audience.

Grosz has two children with his wife, Nicola. He cites them as an inspiration for the book, stating that he wanted an accessible way to pass down his lessons to them when they came of age.

Balanced view

Grosz's book is not an argument for psychoanalysis. While he does make a subtle case for its usefulness, he is quick to show the shortcomings of the process and offer different ways that a problem could be viewed. He also makes it clear that psychoanalysts are not all-knowing, nor should they shouldn't see themselves as such. Instead, Grosz claims that psychoanalysis is a process in which the patient and analyst are uninformed and embark on a journey of discovery to find things out together.

Perhaps Grosz's goal here is to help the general public better understand the work that psychoanalysts do. The technique has often been criticised for its invasiveness and reliance on outdated scientific methods. In stereotypical representations of psychoanalysis, the analyst is often portrayed as an interrogator, probing deep into a patient's mind to draw conclusions about their trauma. Grosz instead puts forward that psychoanalysis is an intimate, vulnerable conversation between patient and analyst in which the goal is to allow unconscious emotions to float to the surface naturally.

The Examined Life: quotes

The Examined Life is renowned for its quotability. The moral conclusions to each chapter lend themselves well to being quoted because they are short, simple, and insightful. Many of the lines from the book, like this one, appeal to several people because the message can be applied to various situations.

Closure is just as delusive--it is the false hope that we can deaden our living grief."

In this quote, Grosz asserts that trying to achieve closure is a way of lying to oneself, as it is centred on the belief that it will make grief disappear. Instead, Grosz claims that understanding and acknowledging grief is the first step to dealing with it and that only then can it be overcome.

All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them. But if we cannot find a way of telling our story, our story tells us--we dream these stories, we develop symptoms, or we find ourselves acting in ways we don't understand."

Here Grosz emphasises the importance of storytelling within psychoanalysis. He believes that providing people with the necessary space to tell their stories is the best way for emotions to come to the surface naturally. He believes that vulnerable conversation between patient and analyst is at the heart of any successful treatment.

I like Abby's phrase 'the bigger the front, the bigger the back' - it's more telling than the psychoanalytic term. 'Splitting' is thinner, less dynamic; it suggests two separate, disjointed things. Abby's saying captures the fact that the front and back are a part of each other."

One of Grosz's primary goals is to make psychoanalysis accessible to everyone. He does this by demystifying challenging terms and admitting when they are unnecessarily confusing. In this quote, he shows a better way of explaining a complex psychoanalytic term. This tells the reader that Grosz has remained honest, candid and sincere when writing his book.

The Examined Life (2013) Overview - Key takeaways

  • Stephen Grosz (1952-) is a psychoanalyst and the author of Sunday Times bestseller The Examined Life (2013).
  • A psychoanalyst aims to tap into the unconscious to reveal the hidden meaning behind people's thoughts and feelings. They typically take on patients and help them to cope with loss, grief and pain.
  • The book contains 30 chapters, each telling the story of a different patient. Grosz changed all of the names in the book to preserve patient anonymity.
  • The Examined Life is more than just an account of patient histories; it is a collection of short, individual stories that teach a crucial lesson that Grosz has learned over his long career.
  • Grosz aims to demystify the field of psychoanalysis by simplifying it and making it more accessible to the reader.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Examined Life

The author of The Examined Life is Stephen Grosz (1952-)

The book contains 30 chapters, each telling the story of a different patient. However, The Examined Life is more than just an account of patient histories; it is a collection of short, individual stories that teach a crucial lesson that Grosz has learned over his long career. 

The Examined Life was published in 2013, but the stories were collected over the course of several decades.

Grosz aims to show that conversation is at the heart of psychoanalysis. He also tries to demystify the theory by simplifying it and making it more accessible for the reader.

The book is a collection of Non-fiction case studies. The stories could also be categorised as parables. 

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

Who wrote The Examined Life?

When was The Examined Life published?

Grosz wanted to pursue a career as a psychoanalyst when he was studying at the University of California. Is this true or false?

Next

Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

  • Flashcards & Quizzes
  • AI Study Assistant
  • Study Planner
  • Mock-Exams
  • Smart Note-Taking
Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

Start learning with StudySmarter, the only learning app you need.

Sign up now for free
Illustration

Entdecke Lernmaterial in der StudySmarter-App