Image: Bret Hartman/TED
Image: Bret Hartman/TED

Relationship expert or strange Swedish agony aunt?

It might be a crime to label someone as highly qualified as Esther Perel an Agony Aunt. It is also completely incorrect to call her Swedish, she is in fact Belgian. However, her podcast, Where Should we Begin and its focus on lessons we may take from the individuals she has encountered in her time as a couple’s therapist, does offer a similar comforting familiarity as the agony aunt, counselling all our deepest, darkest secrets and fears. Perel is also responsible for having written a number of bestselling books including, The State of Affairs, giving a controversial, seemingly to some, exculpatory account of the taboo of infidelity. It is perhaps no surprise then, that Esther has no fear in addressing the awkard and uncomfortable topics that inter-personal relationships regularly bring about. 

Esther Perel’s insight is informed not only by her too-many-to-count qualifications in psychology but also by her lived experience as a child of holocaust survivors. She has as a result worked with the adult survivors of the holocaust as well as those, like her, who were left with the legacy of this collective trauma and who despite the passing of generations still carry a part of that burden. Perel is perhaps in the best position to do this however, as she herself notes, the risk aversion and apprehension of loss that her parents imbued her with often served to hold her back in her learning as well as in her relationships, even with her own children.  Despite or perhaps owing to the hurdles she has faced in her own self-realisation, her podcast has featured on numerous top-50s lists since its debut in 2017 and is now in its third season.

Every episode leaves me with a feeling of having better understood myself 

The thing I find most refreshing and necessary about her podcast and the numerous other features she has been a part of, is the intelligence with which she conveys what appear to be very suddenly obvious truths. Every episode leaves me with a feeling of having better understood myself and given that relationships often provide the most fertile ground for becoming aware of one’s own weaknesses and subsequent opportunities to grow, it makes sense that this format has appealed to so many in their plight to understand why they are the way they are and how they can get better.


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