WHAT YOU CAN CHANGE AND WHAT YOU CAN'T --- THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO SELF-IMPROVEMENT (LEARNING TO ACCEPT WHO YOU ARE) by Martin E. P. Seligman. Fawcett Columbine, 1993



PART 1 --- BIOLOGICAL PSYCHIATRY vs. PSYCHOTHERAPY AND SELF-IMPROVEMENT (p1-47)

    1) What changes? What does not change? (p3-15)

      [1] This is the Age of Psychotherapy and Self-Improvement --- millions are struggling to change! (p1-7)

        (1) FACTS ABOUT WHAT YOU CAN CHANGE:

          1. Panic can be easily unlearned, but cannot be cured by medication alone

          2. The sexual "dysfunctions" such as frigidity, impotence, premature ejaculation are easily unlearned

          3. Your moods, which can wreak havoc with your physical health, are readily controlled

          4. Depression can be cured by straightforward changes in conscious thinking or helped by medication, but it cannot be cured by insight into childhood

          5. Optimism is a learned skill. Once learned, it increases achievement at work and improves physical health

        (2) FACTS ABOUT WHAT DOES NOT CHANGE:

          1. Dieting, in the long run, almost never works

          2. Kids do not become androgynous easily

          3. No treatment is known to improve on the natural course of recovery from alcoholism

          4. Homosexuality does not become heterosexuality

          5. Reliving childhood trauma does not undo adult personality problems

      [2] The nature of the beast (p7)

      [3] No sacred cows (p7-8)

      [4] Outcome studies as best evidence (p8-10)

      [5] "Human Plasticity" Questionnaire --- "plasticity" is academic jargon for what changes and what doesn't (p10-14)

      [6] In the subject of human personalityh, what are the facts? This book provides an understanding of what you can and what you cannot change aobut yourself so that you can concentrate your limited time and energy on what is possible.

      So much time has been wasted on fruitless activities. So much needless frustration has been endured. So much of therapy, so much of child rearing, so much of self-improving, and even some of the great social movements in our century have come to nothing because they tried to change the unchangeable.

      Too often we have wrongly thought we were weak-willed failures, when the changes we wanted to make in ourselves were just not humanly possible. But all this human effort was necessary for our species to learn how to cope successfully. Because there have been so many failures in the quest, we are now able to "see" more clearly than ever before the boundaries of the unchangeable. This discovery in turn allows us to see clearly for the first time in human history the boundaries of WHAT IS CHANGEABLE!

      The beginning of real change is this KNOWING THE DIFFERENCE between what you can change and what you must accept in yourself! With this knowledge, you can use your precious time to make the many rewarding changes that are possible.You can live with less self-reproach and less remorse. You can live with greater confidence. This knowledge is a new understanding of who you are and where you are going!

    2) Booters and bootstrappers --- the age of self-improvement and psychotherapy (p16-29)

      [1] Change is an American ideal (p16-29)

        What Americans believe people can change is --- in historical perspective --- truly astonishing!

        Americans are told from childhood that they can improve themselves in almost every way. Our schools are supposed to help accomplish this, namely:

        Our children are not just to be filled up with facts but taught to read, to be good citizens, to be lovingly sexual, to exercise, to have high self-esteem, to enjoy literature, to be tolerant of people who are difference, to play baseball, to sing on key, to be competitive as well as cooperative, to lead and to follow, to have good health habits, to be ambitious, to use condoms, to to obey the law!

        That is the mission of American schools, even though the reality may fall short of that at times. Improving is absolutely central to American ideology! This value or ideal is fused with the American idea of individual freedom!

      [2] The Seder and the Road to Damascus (p18-20)

      [3] Cracks in the firmament (p20-24)

      [4] The dogma of "human plasticity" (p24-27)

        19th Century America fed the faith in the Dogma of Human Plasticity:

        1. The democratic idea that all men are created equal

        2. An endless frontier for the poor to find riches

        3. Waves of immigrants, subsistence laborers who were soon clamoring for power

        4. The gold rush

        5. The motto "Rags to Riches"

        6. Universal schooling

        7. The notion of criminal rehabilitation

        8. Public libraries

        9. The freeing of the slaves

        10. The drive toward women's suffrage

      [5] The maximal self (p27-29)

        The society we live in exalts the "self' --- the self that can change itself and can even change the way it thinks! Our economy increasingly thrives on individual whim. Our society grants power to the self that selves have never had before in history! We now live in an age of "personal control. Our market economy was created by the glorification of individual choice!

        When a society such as ours exalts the self, the self, its thoughts, and their consequences become objects of careful science, of therapy and of self-improvement! This improving self is not a fake. Self-improvement and therapy often work well, and it is a belief in human plasticity or changeability that underlies these strategies. The "Maximal Self" believes that it can change and improve, and this very belief allows change and improvement. The dogma or belief in human changeability tends to fulfill itself. In fact, this human ability is the keystone of the self-fulfilling prophecy!

    3) Drugs, germs, and genes --- the age of biological psychiatry (p30-45)

PART 2 --- CHANGING YOUR EMOTIONAL LIFE --- ANXIETY, DEPRESSION, AND ANGER (p47-144)

    4) Everyday anxiety --- The aim of this section is to help you decide if you should try to change your general anxiety level. There are no hard-and-fast rules, but to make this decision, you should take all three hallmarks or benchmarks (1) irrationality, (2) paralysis, and (3) intensity --- into account! (p49-59)

      "Self-Analysis" questionnaire (p54-56)

    5) Catastrophic thinking --- panic! (p60-68)

    6) Phobias (p69-83)

    7) Obsessions (p84-94)

    8) Depression (p95-116)

    9) The "angry person" (p117-134)

    10) OPost-traumatic stress (p135-144)

PART 3 --- CHANGING YOUR HABITS OF EATING, DRINKING, AND MAKING MERRY! (p145-222)

    11) Sex --- Your erotic life has five layers, each gorwn around the layer beneath it (p147-173)

      [1] LAYER 1 --- Sexual Identity and Transsexuality --- What are you? (p149-154)

        (1) Sex change --- Psychotherapy rarely changes sexual identity, if ever (p150-151)

        (2) The origin of sexual identity--- Transsexualism is the deepest disorder (p151-154)

      Hyopothesis: Sexual identity --- both normal and abnormal --- is so deep because it has its origin in a fundamental hormonal process that occurs around the end of the first trimester of fetal development. Fetal hormones are not the only influence on sexual idenetity. Rearing, pubertal hormones, sex organs, and being mocked also play a role. But at most, these later influences can reinforce --- or disturb --- the core identity with which we are stuck from well before the moment of birth! (p153-154)

      [2] LAYER 2 --- Sexual Orientation --- Do you love men or women? (p154-157)

        (1) Exclusive homosexuality (p154-156)

        (2) Homosexuality and therapy (p156-157)

      [3] LAYER 3 --- Sexual Preference --- Breasts, buttocks, and bisexuals (p157-164)

        (1) The idea of "Inhibitory wrapping" (157-160)

        (2) Females and feishes (p160-162)

        (3) Changing sexual preference (p162-164)

      [4] LAYER 4 --- Sex role --- Social behavior, personality, and ability (p164-169)

        (1) Spatial, math, and verbal abilities (p167-169)

      [5] LAYER 5 --- Sexual Performance --- Correcting Sexual Dysfunction (p170-173)

        (1) Sexual dysfunctions defined (p170-172)

      [6] Conclusion --- The idea of "depth" organizes your erotic life and affects how changeable it is. In summary, Sexual identity and sexual orientation are very deep and do not change much, if at all. However, sexual preference and sex role are of middling depth and, accordingly, change somewhat. Sexual dysfunction is a "surface problem" that with proper treatment can change readily. These statements or conclusions are based on modern empirical scientific research into the subject of human sexual activity. (p172-173)

      The most mysterious and painful and costly sexual problem is "acedia," which means the waning of sexual attraction and passion between married couples as they age. Acedia is is both a physical torpor and the torpor of the soul. It is a sexual indifference that comes from familiarity. Acedia is a sexual disorder since it meets the defining criterion of a disorder, namely, it grossly imparis sexual, affectionate relations between two people who used to have them!

    12) Dieting --- a waist is a terrible thing to mind! (p174-197)

    13) Alcohol (p198-222)

PART 4 --- GROWING UP --- AT LAST! (p223-253)

    14) Shedding the "skins" of childhood --- Where are you truly "at home?" (p225-243)

      [1] Pivotal questions for the transition from childhood to adulthood (p225-226)

      Assumption: There are two great "seasons" in your life --- the season of expansion and the season of contraction. The season of expansion begins at birth, where the overriding task is to discover the demands of the world as you find it and to fit yourself to those demands. In short, the demands are: schooling, finding a mate, having children, embracing the values of your place and time, embarking on your life's work, and, if you are lucky, mastering it! (p225)

      Evolution has ensured that this will be an extrinsic season, your time for learning what is expected of you and then doing what is mandated from the outside.

      The second season of your life begins roughly halfway through your life. Then your life will be defined not so much by the outside world as by certain realities that have been coalescing inside you. Your task during the season of contraction centers around what you learned during the season of expansion. You discovered then the activities, objects, and people you love. These things were not means to any ends but ends in themselves. The second season of your life gives you the opportunity to rearrange your life to fit what you havee discovered you are. From now until very late in your life, when so many of your options will narrow, you can pursue what your inner or intrinsic world demands.

      It is perilously easy to fail at making this transition. It is easy to allow what happened to you in the first season to cripole you in the second. But you don't have to be a prisoner of your childhood. Success and growth are common throughout adulthood.

      [2] The inner child (p226-228)

      [3] The power of childhood (p228-230)

      [4] Do childhood events influence adult personality? (p230-232)

      [5] Childhood sexual trauma (p232-235)

      [6] The flashbulb or the snowball (p236-237)

      [7] Freedom and depth (p237-238)

      [8] Catharsis (p238-239)

      [9] The moral dimension of recovery re-examined (p239-242)

      [10] The uses of childhood --- Change is within your grasp, and almost routine, throughout adult life! A pattern of mistakes is a call to change your life. How you change is up to you! (p242-243)

    15) Depth and change --- the theory (p244-253)

      [1] The first claim of the "theory of depth" is:

        To the extent that a psychological condition has biological underpinnings because it is "prepared" or "heritable," it will be HARDER TO CHANGE! Also, to the extent that it is "unprepared" or simply a "learned habit," it will be EASIER TO CHANGE!

      [2] The second claim of the "theory of depth" is:

        The easier a belief underlying a problem is to confirm and the harder it is to disconfirm, the harder it will be to change!

      [3] The third claim of the "theory of depth" is:

        To the extent that the belief underlying a problem has "high power," it will be hard to change. And to the extent that it has low power, it will be easier to change! In other words, the thoughts underlying our problems can be of high or low power. And the more powerful a "theory" is, the more tenaciously we cling to it than to a less powerful theory when we are confronted with exactly the same contrary evidence disputing both.

    Added together, these three claims or assumptions can explain when a problem will change easily and when it will resist change.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (p255-259)

NOTES (p261-301)

INDEX (p303-317)

PERMISSIONS (p319)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (p331)


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