Divorcing Mom: A Memoir of Psychoanalysis
by Melissa Knox
Cynren Press

"She wanted me slaughtered…I imagined her drooling at the thought."

With a hateful, uncaring mother, an alcoholic father, and a drug-addicted brother, it was inevitable that author Knox would end up in therapy. From her early teens through college, she talked regularly to a Freudian psychoanalyst, Dr. Sternbach, a Jew who had narrowly escaped the Holocaust. He rarely offered sympathy. When she became bulimic as a depressed young teen, he ordered her to stop vomiting; he told her repeatedly that she was masochistic and an exhibitionist. He asked her lurid questions about her sexual feelings, indicating a more than professional interest. He divulged her secrets to others while demanding that she say nothing about their sessions. And, possibly because her deranged, narcissistic mother was the one paying his fees, he sided with Mom. Near the end of his life, after she had thoroughly dispelled his influence, Sternbach insulted his former patient’s new husband. Ultimately, Knox was able to “divorce” both her mother and her therapist.

Knox’s memories present in clear, intelligent prose the disturbing coming-of-age saga of an adolescent girl trying desperately to gain the respect from others that leads to self-respect, generally with no success. Hers is a painful chronicle whose humor is mostly in the form of irony and whose bright moments of respite or hopefulness are rare. The greatest relief comes at the end of the book when she reveals that, with a loving spouse and some tempered insights and advice from close friends and relatives, Knox has grown up and out of the trap of her emotionally scarring youth. Her book is also a studious examination, and rejection, of Freudian psychoanalysis, now discredited and no longer taught. Knox’s audience will include those who have lived with family dysfunction and grown beyond it, and those who, considering therapy, may wish to choose carefully among the varieties now offered.

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