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WHAT YOU CAN CHANGE AND WHAT YOU CAN'T by Martin E.P. Seligman

WHAT YOU CAN CHANGE AND WHAT YOU CAN'T

The Complete Guide to Successful Self-Improvement

By Martin E.P. Seligman

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-679-41024-4
Publisher: Knopf

 Provocative overview by Seligman (Psychology/U. of Penn.; Learned Optimism, 1991) of human psychological and behavioral characteristics: Which ones are subject to change? Which are more or less fixed? Fortunately, there's a great deal of plasticity in human nature, Seligman says, so many troubling patterns of thinking and acting can be altered: anger, depression, phobias, anxiety, depression, sexual-performance problems, alcoholism. Included among Seligman's list of traits that are resistant to change--or are even unchangeable--is the tendency to overweight (our body weight is genetically determined and defended by primal evolutionary forces, he contends; we can attain our own natural, healthy weight but few of us can achieve or maintain the model slimness that the multibillion-dollar diet industry and the media have established as ideal). In what the author describes as ``the saddest chapter'' here, he discusses the irreversibility of post-traumatic stress disorder, claiming that for some people--for instance, those who have lost a child, survived the Holocaust, or endured terrible wartime experiences--the damage to their psyche and outlook is permanent. Sexual identity (whether you regard yourself as a man or a woman, irrespective of what your physical characteristics are) and sexual orientation--homosexual or heterosexual--are more or less fixed as well. Among Seligman's more controversial assertions is his claim that childhood experience is a relatively weak influence on adult character and worldview. Flying in the face of a century of psychoanalytic theory--as well as the powerful new Inner Child movement--he maintains that ``only a few childhood events, like the death of your mother, have any documented influence on adult emotional life..,'' and that childhood influence ``is surprisingly small, particularly when compared to the effect of genes on adult personality.'' Readable, solidly rooted in research, and offering--for the most part--a hopeful message. (Tables throughout rate treatments for various disorders according to effectiveness and expense) (First printing of 75,000)