How to be Broken by Dr Emma Kavanagh

About the Book

The past year has been ROUGH. It has pushed so many of us right to our absolute limits.

If, you have found yourself:

– Not being able to sleep 
– Wanting to cry all time 
– Being terrified of everything changing
– Trying to understand what has happened to the world

Then this is the book for you.

In 2020, while it seemed that the world was falling apart, psychologist Dr Emma Kavanagh began bringing together the psychological research on the impact of trauma, what it means, and what it does for us – the good and the bad. Within the psychological literature, she found important clues about why trauma and stress are not the life sentences they sometimes seem to be, and, most importantly, how they can often lead to growth beyond the despair.

This is a book about why it’s ok to struggle, why it’s ok to fall apart, and why it’s ok to be broken. Because, once we give ourselves permission to be broken, we can put the pieces back together. And we can come back, stronger than we were before.

My Thoughts

I saw this book on twitter on publication day and the title alone made me immediately one-click on my Kindle! I’m so glad that I spotted this book and that I read it as it has been exactly what I needed.

The book is short at 124 pages so it doesn’t feel overwhelming when you start it and the author writes in such a way that you can take in all the information even when your brain is feeling frazzled, which I really appreciated.

The book starts from the personal as Emma writes about how she felt as the pandemic approached our shores but then she widens out to look at examples from other things that have happened in the world and how our brains cause us to act in times of high stress and trauma.

I really connected to this book as, like Emma, I also have complex PTSD. I was very lucky that after suffering for more than twenty years I got treatment three years ago that finally gave me my life back. Unfortunately the pandemic has caused me to go backwards a bit as my coping strategies tend to be the ones I used to survive and this is so frustrating to me. This book has helped me better than anything else I’ve read to understand why this has happened and why it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

There is a section in the book where Emma talks about how people, when caught up in an horrendous situation, such as a fire in a nightclub, often panic and try to get out the door they came in through rather than looking for other exit but so does everyone else, which makes it harder for anyone to get out. However, people with ‘broken brains’ who perhaps have PTSD or anxiety often make sure they know where all of the doors are when they go anywhere. The first thing I do when I go anywhere is look for where the doors are, it’s instinctive in me and I never connected my need to do this with the behaviours that have come back during the pandemic. I already feel so much calmer now I understand that my ‘broken brain’ is actually just trying to keep me safe. I understand now what is happening in my head and I know I have got past it before so I know I can do it again. I’d never heard the term post-traumatic growth until I read this book but it makes total sense to me that we can go on to find positives after the darkness.

I also found it fascinating and useful to read about how we can get tunnel vision and fixate on an aspect of something but then our brains look for more information that confirm what we believe, and this causes us to not see the bigger picture anymore. I really recognised this in myself as I was reading it – my consumption of news relating to covid-19 definitely falls into this pattern. I’ve been making a point since reading How to be Broken of reading less news and making sure that when I do click on articles that I look for the positive ones or the ones that give a different perspective to what I usually focus on and I think this is really going to help me.

I think this is an invaluable book for everyone to read as the country is beginning to come out of lockdown, especially for people who feel uncertain and anxious about it. The book helps contextualise why we behave as we do and why we feel as we do – it makes you feel less alone with it all. I finished this book on Sunday and immediately felt able to put a plan in place for when my husband returns to work later this month – something that I’ve been very scared about for many reasons but now we have a plan that makes sense to both of us and I’m feeling much calmer and more in control.

I know this is a rambling review where I can’t put into words exactly how I feel about this book, I just want to urge everyone to read it. It’s a brilliant read and one that will soothe your anxious brain. I highly recommend this one!


13 thoughts on “How to be Broken by Dr Emma Kavanagh

  1. This sounds like such a helpful book. I’m so glad you shared it! It’s definitely needed for many right now ❤️❤️❤️. Wonderful review!

  2. So glad to hear that this has given you the ability to look at life in a different way and put some coping strategies in place. I suspect there will be many many people who would benefit from the advice here

  3. Oh, that’s fascinating about the exits; I am exactly the same, always know the safe routes out and where I can hide if … and yes, I have complex PTSD, too, didn’t even realise you could have it after anything but a single traumatic event or being in the armed forces till I read a Guardian article a few years ago and it all made massive sense!

    • It really struck a chord with me when I read about the exits and I hadn’t considered how that feeds into other behaviours around the pandemic. I genuinely feel like I understand myself better since reading this book and it’s helped me explain how I feel to others too. I was diagnosed with PTSD many years ago and then complex PTSD a few years later. I’ve been doing really well ever since I had EMDR three years ago but my OCD behaviours are back again. I’m sorry that you have Complex PTSD too, it’s not an easy thing to live with.

      • It’s tricky, isn’t it? I manage most of the time by using the very strong reaction I had to realising I had it to shout at it “That’s just my PTSD, go away!” when I got a weird reaction or an Intrusive Thought (I talked to my GP about getting some CBT for it and she said that exact thing is pretty well the end point of CBT although I might explore that option again in the future!). But that ability comes and goes during times of extra stress!

        • Yes that pretty much is the point CBT gets you to so it’s good that you can do that most of the time. I ended up having EMDR (by chance I was offered it for something else) and it worked brilliantly for me. I’ve not had any PTSD symptoms since then, which is brilliant. My OCD is being a nuisance at the moment but I’m working on it.

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