Book Review: Hidden Treasure

Hidden Treasure: How to Break Free of
Five Patterns That Hide Your True Self
by Alice McDowell, Ph.D.

Releases November 14, 2017 

I don’t read, let alone review, a great many self-help books, and wasn’t sure what to expect from Alice McDowell’s Hidden Treasure: How to Break Free of Five Patterns That Hide Your True Self, but upon seeing its blurb I was curious straight away. Who hasn’t heard that most of us have accumulated some (or at least one) bad habit that gets in the way of greater success, more rewarding relationships, or even of lasting contentment? “Sure,” I thought to myself, “I’m game.”

Click image to see the author’s extensive website

I found the book is broken down into rather straight forward segments consisting of an introductory chapter, five that each lay out one of the patterns referenced in the title and a final chapter, aptly titled, “Now What Do I Do?” Two appendices provide further information. A one-time questionnaire helps you gain better insight into which pattern you fit, thought and physical exercises are combined with each section on the five types and quirky drawings are sprinkled throughout the book. Brilliantly, the author also includes links to audio book companions.

So what exactly is a hidden treasure? Some readers might, by virtue of the book’s title and it being self help, be able to deduce a general idea of it referring to a type of worthiness we don’t really see within ourselves, or display; the author gets to that pretty quickly by defining it as the “true self,” the one that is too often blocked by childhood trauma or early environmental behaviors and the defenses we utilize to protect ourselves from them.

In the beginning I confess, I started to become a bit skeptical, concerned this would be too New Age-y and questioned the author’s frequent use of childhood, even birth, events as the culprit behind behavioral defense, and feared it all would descend into relativism when she spoke of a spiritual teacher giving a pass to pirates, who raped and pillaged Vietnamese escapees in the 1970s, based on the conditions under which they were raised. I also wasn’t completely sold on the re-birthing process discussed within true stories and other passages.

Having said all that, it is important to note that keeping an open mind, at least adopting a “Well, let’s just see where this goes” sort of mindset most definitely has its reward. As it turns out, the author’s approach is much more balanced, and this is more greatly reflected as the work moves forward, with acknowledgement that these behaviors exist on a continuum, some experiencing the negative impact to a greater or lesser degree than others.

She also wisely advises that none of these past experiences provide carte blanche to unload on others and stresses personal responsibility with a blame pledge that doesn’t prohibit a person from ever complaining, rather that one “honestly examine[s] what you claim to be the source of your feelings and [reject] the false belief that others or circumstances are causing them.” Especially in today’s environment in which people are routinely blamed for being offensive (a wrongly- and overused word I have grown to loathe) simply for expressing their opinions, I was relieved to see this important distinction made more than once.

McDowell introduces terms that correspond to childhood experiences and the techniques developed to protect ourselves from them, and the chapters succinctly explain examples of early trauma, behaviors standard for that character type, individual experiences and ways to heal. She also provides a table that summarizes the structures, which I found to be a useful visual to bring it all together.

The author early on acknowledges that traditional names of each of the five character structures aren’t as “palatable” as the terms used today. These are (with modern terms in parentheses):

Schizoid (Outsider)

Oral (Dependent-independent one)

Masochist (Endurer)

Psychopathy (Controller)

Rigid (Achiever)

While I’m not generally in favor of the term upheaval that continues to occur in our society, I appreciated these additions, given their association with psychology and mental health and how labeling ourselves and others with the older terms don’t necessarily go a long way toward the healing her book promotes. Being referred to as a controller, for example, isn’t exactly flattering, but it retains its negative connotation without wildly fantastic phrases that to the lay ear cast aspersions on a person’s ability to function in society.

Occasionally I came upon an exercise I wasn’t sure I could bring myself to do—not owing to physical inability, more along the lines of my own awkward feelings—though the vast majority are not only ones I felt I could participate in, but they also bore relation to the unique difficulties with added, associated benefits. For example, a person who presents within the oral structure and feels overwhelmed, never seeming to be able to have enough of anything, or anything done, might try the “I Am Enough” mantra.

[Elena recounts:]

 The simple act of repeating “I am enough” seemed ridiculous, but I was desperate because I felt insecure and existentially unworthy. I’m humbled by this exercise. Whenever there’s a crisis or I feel inadequate, I switch on my “I am enough” mantra. It helps me defuse the negative spiraling voices. By doing this on a daily basis, I’m actually starting to anticipate my triggers and not give them power. My life’s purpose and energy has been a Sisyphean striving for enoughness: to be intelligent enough, well-read enough, rich enough, compassionate enough, loveable enough, spiritual enough, limber enough. Lately I’m starting to entertain the radical concept that perhaps “I am enough” just the way I am.

 I especially chose this example because today it seems everyone relates to this on some level: perhaps they are fed up with the commercialization/“competition” of Christmas, or constantly compare themselves to other parents and people at work who seem to get more done. It also fits in very well with other works I have read that speak of continual growth paired with giving yourself permission to be who you are, such as a “good enough parent,” as one article spoke of. Another opened up the idea of rising from sleep an hour or so before one’s usual time, and some of the breathing exercises within Hidden Treasure would fit quite nicely in that period, to set the tone for the day, ground oneself, feel more connected to oneself in a world in which so many demands are made upon us.

Perhaps the element I most loved within Hidden Treasure is that within each chapter devoted to a particular character structure is a “gift” section: positive character traits that also tend to accompany each, transformed or of a higher version. For example, endurers might carry a great deal of anger, but that energy can also be utilized to achieve, especially as re-worked persistence (elevated above stubbornness) and their hardworking nature also contribute. Achieving all this becomes so much more a reality because, as McDowell stresses, you are not your structure and, importantly, gives readers choices. Having introduced Hidden Treasure groups and the idea of readers forming their own circles, she openly states there might come a time when a group is no longer needed, or participants have reached a point at which growth in a new direction is natural.

The stated parameters (e.g. accepting and identifying self behaviors) pair well with the flexibility within Hidden Treasure and I like that the physical and breathing exercises can fit into any lifestyle. Moreover, the book’s setup ensures that once someone identifies which character structure they fit into, they can easily focus on that particular chapter for easy return and reference. Accessible and written with a positive message, it works within a balance for all to experience ongoing, constructive change.

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More on Alice McDowell, Ph.D and Hidden Treasure

When I was 11 years old, my father suddenly died of a heart attack. I started questioning everything. Why did this happen to me? What is the purpose of life, anyway? Why am I here? This set me on a path of discovery.

My journey led me to the IM School of Healing Arts where I learned about the five patterns—called character structures. Impressed with the changes occurring both within my classmates and myself, and building on my prior studies, I developed a three-year program of five weekends a year called Finding the Hidden Treasure, which I have been teaching for the last 20 years.

My students—of all ages and walks of life—discovered that the most powerful, life-changing part of the course was their work with the five character structures. Some found life partners or improved their intimate relationships. Many found themselves to be happier at work, while others found the strength to leave unsuitable jobs and find ones more in alignment with their true self. Some began—or deepened—a spiritual practice.

With such success, I asked myself, “Why not offer this to more people?” This idea started me on a journey to write Hidden Treasure. I hope that reading the book and doing the exercises will also change your life for the better.

I’ve taken you to the present. I hope you’ll be part of my future.

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The five personality patterns in this book are well documented — it is the author’s approach to the patterns that differentiates this book.

With its light tone, the illustrations and cartoons help readers stay off their case and not take themselves too seriously, rare in this subgenre.

You can read Hidden Treasure‘s synopsis and a few brief reviews, as well as watch the book’s trailer. Also available is an excerpt from the first chapter (with a fun drawing included!) and some more on the five character structures. You can even take the character structure quiz to find out where you might fit in.

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If you are in the Ithaca, New York area, come check out Hidden Treasure‘s launch appearance!

Ithaca, NY: December 3, 2017 at 3:00 p.m.
Buffalo Street Books
215 N. Cayuga Street, Ithaca, NY 14850
Located in the Dewitt Mall

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An advance reader copy (ARC) of Hidden Treasure was provided for the blogger to write an honest review.

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