A wide-ranging primer for understanding and strengthening the inner life.
Kildahl (co-author of Beyond Negative Thinking, 2001) examines the various factors that form a person while avoiding jargon that often plagues psychological or philosophical texts. Instead, the author relies on common terms and everyday ideas to draw a map of personality, which he calls “the chief executive officer of one’s life.” The book prioritizes lived experience over vague ideals as it draws a broad circle around all the pieces of the self. Kildahl’s eight “skills”—relationships, independence, defenses, reality, thinking, impulse control, relaxation and balance—are illustrated via a combination of anecdotes and musings gleaned from clinical experience and books. Kildahl conveys his ideas with spare prose and intriguing, but nevertheless effective, phrases, including “a rumpus of brain activity” or “psychological scurvy.” The chapters vary in length and detail but follow a clear progression. For a self-help book, though, it’s occasionally difficult to locate the help. The suggestions, some explicit and some not, are mixed throughout and challenging to keep straight even for a careful reader. The insights are strongest when they describe young and developing personalities, less so when seeking to help an adult find the eight-part behavioral balance the book encourages. The work conveys a philosophy gently connected to the twin ideals of independence and responsibility: Bad things happen, of course, and intervention is occasionally necessary, but for the vast majority of us, all eight of these skills are within reach and, above all, malleable.
What it lacks in specifics, it makes up in insight.