My Top 20 Psychology Books (10-6)

Following on from my first two posts (20-16 and 15-11), I am continuing the countdown of my top 20 popular Psychology books.

Here are the titles that have been included so far:

20. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQDaniel Goleman (2005). star rating = 4.1/5

19. The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You – Elaine Aron (1997). star rating = 4.3/5

18. The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone-Especially Ourselves – Dan Ariely (2013). star rating = 4.4/5

17. The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live – and How You Can Change Them – Richard Davidson and Sharon Begley (2012). star rating = 4.4/5

16. Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength – Roy Baumeister and John Tierney (2012). star rating = 4.4/5

15. Outliers: The Story of Success – Malcolm Gladwell (2011). star rating = 4.4/5

14. Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships – Eric Berne (1967). star rating = 4.4/5

13. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business – Charles Duhigg (2014). star rating = 4.5/5

12. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Revised Edition – Robert Cialdini (2006). star rating = 4.5/5

11. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff: Simple Ways to Keep the Little Things From Taking Over Your Life – Richard Carlson (1996). star rating = 4.5/5

Please check out the first (20-16) and second (15-11) posts for more information about these above titles, why I think they are good, and who they would be recommended for.


Now onto numbers 10-6…


10. Reinventing your Life: The Breakthrough Program to End Negative Behavior and Feel Great Again – Jeffrey Young and Janet Klosko (1994) star rating = 4.5/5 51DMlnHHWEL._AC_US320_QL65_

Why it’s good: Young is the father of Schema Therapy, which is an excellent model of psychotherapy that was developed to help treat clients with challenging problems that have failed to improve through more standard psychotherapy approaches, including CBT. ‘Reinventing Your Life’ helps individuals to identify and overcome 11 different lifetraps, including:

  • Abandonment – “Everyone close to me leaves in the end!”
  • Mistrust and abuse – “No one can be trusted – they only use and abuse!”
  • Emotional deprivation – “No one will ever love me in the way that I need!”
  • Social Exclusion – “I’m too different to everyone else and don’t fit in anywhere!”
  • Dependence – “I’ll never be able to make it on my own!”
  • Vulnerability – “Disaster can strike at any moment, and I won’t be able to cope!”
  • Defectiveness – “I’m broken, unloveable and worthless!”
  • Failure – “I’m a failure and always will be!”
  • Subjugation – “My needs are less important than others, so I put them first!”
  • Unrelenting standards – “No matter what I do, it’s never good enough!”
  • Entitlement – “I should be able to get what I want when I want!”

Lifetraps are self-defeating ways of perceiving, feeling about and interacting with oneself, others and the world.

The three ways that we can keep lifetraps going is by surrendering and acting as if it were true, trying to escape from it by staying away from all situations that could test whether it is true or not, and counterattacking, or going to the other extreme.

Let’s say I had the emotional deprivation lifetrap. If I were surrendering to it, I would choose friends or partners that do deprive me of things emotionally, and I wouldn’t ask them for what I need. If I were escaping from it, I would entirely avoid close friendships or romantic relationships. If I were counterattacking, I would be emotionally demanding and test out my partners and friends to see if they will meet all of my needs all of the time. By acting in each of these ways, I only further confirm to myself that I’ll never get the love that I need.

Once we develop an awareness of what our lifetraps are and when they are being triggered, we can then determine another way to respond to these situations that can potentially get our emotional needs met. For emotional deprivation, this would be seeking out partners and friends that are likely to be supportive and understanding and taking risks to be open, honest, and vulnerable by sharing what we feel and asking for what we need.

Read it if: You had a difficult upbringing, have tried CBT and haven’t improved as much as you would like, or you would like to learn more about the different lifetraps, what they involve, and how you can successfully overcome them.


9. Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment, and How It Can Help You Find – and Keep – Love – Amir Levine and Rachel Heller (2012) star rating = 4.6/5 41ASy0R0sjL._AC_US320_QL65_

Why it’s goodAttachment styles, which are initially developed in the context of our relationship with our parents growing up, have a much bigger impact on how we are in intimate relationships than most people are aware of. This book offers easy to understand information on the three main attachment styles in adult relationships, with questionnaires to help you to identify if you have a mostly secure, anxious, or avoidant attachment style.

Being securely attached is ideal. It means that you enjoy being close and intimate with your partner when they are there and are happy to do your own thing when they are not. Relationships feel relatively natural to you, and you are more likely to have a happy, long-term relationship.

Being anxiously attached is tough. It means that you love being close with your partner, but find it quite difficult to be apart, often fearing that they don’t care or that they will stop loving you or will be unfaithful towards you when they are not around. You have a tendency to become preoccupied with fears of abandonment, especially in times of high stress, and may inadvertently push your partners away by making them feel like they don’t have enough independence or that you don’t trust them enough.

Being avoidantly attached is also tricky. It means that you are likely to value independence and freedom a lot, and tend to feel smothered or trapped if you spend too much time with your partner. As a result, you will tend to push partners away, especially if they are demanding or needy, and not share enough of your own emotional needs or desires.

Levine and Heller identify the main traps that people with an anxious or an avoidant attachment style need to look out for when it comes to romantic relationships and offer specific strategies for how to become more secure over time.

Read it ifYou have had similar difficulties in multiple romantic relationships, think that you may be avoidantly or anxiously attached, or are securely attached but are in a romantic relationship with someone who you feel may be avoidantly or anxiously attached.


8. The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living: A Guide to ACT – Russ Harris and Steven Hayes (2008) star rating = 4.6/5 51tM3A8wTXL._AC_US320_QL65_

Why it’s goodSteven Hayes is known as the father of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Russ Harris is the big ACT guru in Australia. Harris has some books (including ‘ACT Made Simple’, ‘The Confidence Gap’ and ‘The Reality Slap’) that describe the six ACT components in easy to understand language with simple steps and exercises that can be applied in everyday life to help you to stop struggling and start living.

The six components of ACT that help us get out of the happiness trap are:

  • Defusion: Letting go of unhelpful thoughts and changing focus o whatever is most important at the moment
  • Acceptance or Expansion: Opening up to and making room for whatever we are feeling at any given moment without judging it or trying to change it.
  • Contact with the present moment: Trying to keep our focus on what we are doing in the present moment in an open, accepting and curious way.
  • The Observing self: Realising that there is a part of us that is more than our thoughts or feelings in any given moment; that is capable of taking a step back and observing what is going on rather than being caught up in the emotion or the thought that is being experienced.
  • Values Clarification: Tuning into what is most important to us, deep down, that gives us a sense of purpose and direction in life and helps let us know if we are on the right track.
  • Committed Action: Setting short, medium and long-term goals that are consistent with our values to help us get to where we would like to go in the future.

Read it ifYou would like to learn more about the traps that you can fall into, the six components of ACT, and the simple experiential exercises and metaphors that can be utilised to help you to break free.


7. The Relationship Cure: A Five-Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships – John Gottman (2002) star rating = 4.6/5 51x7RAf9nsL._AC_US320_QL65_

Why it’s good: There isn’t an author out there who has conducted more in-depth and scientific research on intimate relationships than John Gottman. Unlike a lot of his other books, which focus specifically on how to improve romantic relationships, ‘The Relationship Cure’ offers a 5-step guide to improving relationships with partners, friends, family members and co-workers. The five steps are:

1. Look at Your Bids for Connection: We need to analyse both how we bid for connections with others, and how we respond to other people’s bids for connection. A bid is simply any form of expression, whether it be a verbal question, a visual look, or a physical gesture or touch that says “I want to connect with you!” A response to a bid can either be an encouraging sign that shows that you are also wanting to connect by turning towards them, or a discouraging sign that indicates that you do not wish to connect, either through turning away from them or turning against them. Over time, turning towards responses lead to even more bidding and responding and a stronger, closer relationship, whereas turning away and against both leads to less bidding, hurt or suppressed feelings, and the relationship breaks down.

2. Discover Your Brain’s Emotional Command Systems: There are seven main areas in which people differ that can influence relationship needs. Once you have discovered if you (or the other person in the relationship) are low, moderate or high on each system (based on the questionnaire responses), it becomes easier to see how it affects the bidding process in the relationship. The systems are referred to as the:

  • Commander-in-chief (dominance and control)
  • Explorer (exploration and discovery)
  • Sensualist (sexual gratification, procreation)
  • Energy Czar (regulates need for energy, rest, relaxation)
  • Jester (play, fun)
  • Sentry (safety, vigilance)
  • Nest-builder (affiliation, bonding, attachment)

3. Examine Your Emotional Heritage: People typically develop one of four emotional philosophy styles. These styles are learnt during childhood and can impact your style of bidding and ability to connect with others. They are:

  • Emotion-dismissing (“You’ll get over it!“) = less bidding and turning away
  • Emotion-disapproving (“Don’t feel that way!“) = less bidding and turning against
  • Laissez-faire (“I understand how you feel.“) = bidding may or may not increase
  • Emotion-coaching (“I understand. Let me help you!“) = more bidding, turning toward, with the added bonus of guidance being offered for how to cope.

Families that create emotion-coaching environments give their children a higher chance of having more successful relationships when older.

4. Sharpen Your Emotional Communication Skills: By learning Effective Communication Skills, which I have already gone through in a previous post, we are more likely to be able to say what we actually mean and feel without the other person becoming defensive, which can increase our chances of positive changes occurring and relationship satisfaction increasing.

5. Find Shared Meaning With Others: This can be done through sharing your dreams or visions with each other, or it can be about developing consistent rituals together that over time can lead to more shared experiences and a stronger emotional bond.

Read it ifYou would like to improve the quality of any of your relationships and are wanting to explore more of why you perceive, feel and act the way that you do with bosses, work colleagues, clients, friends or family.


6. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change – Stephen Covey (1990) star rating = 4.6/5 51pj4KUq-gL._AC_US320_QL65_

Why it’s good: while this book may be considered more of a business book than a Psychology book, becoming more effective and productive is really the only option for people who want to get more out of their life without having to work harder or longer hours. If people are able to be effective, they can get more out of less, not feel like they are wasting any time, and still maintain an ideal work/life balance filled with leisure, socialising, quality relationships, personal growth and optimal health. Here are the habits:

Habit 1: Be proactive – Some people wait around and hope that what they want in life will be given to them. Others are reactive to whatever happens and worry about things that are out of their control. Proactive people are clear about what they want, and they take responsibility for the actions that they do. They focus on things that they can influence and change, rather than putting effort into things that they cannot control.

Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind – It doesn’t matter how far up a ladder you climb or how fast you get there if it is leaning on the wrong wall. So take time to reflect and dream, be imaginative, and visualise who you would like to be and what you really want. Then determine how each moment or task can take you in your desired direction towards your eventual destination, and be proactive in making it happen.

Habit 3: Put first things first – To ensure a right balance with things, we need to be able to prioritise between things that are essential, things that could be useful or fun, but aren’t crucial, and things that we don’t want in our lives. It is then necessary to organise and manage time according to these priorities so that more of our time is spent towards things that we define as having the most worth. By doing this, we won’t over-extend ourselves or burn out.

Habit 4: Think win-win – Thinking in a win-win way involves having integrity, maturity and an abundance mentality. It is about approaching scenarios in a co-operative rather than a competitive way, and looking for strategies and solutions that can be mutually satisfying and beneficial for all parties involved.  It is about being courageous and considerate, empathetic and confident, and realising that we will probably get further ahead in life by working together rather than against everyone else.

Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood – This is the opposite of what most people do, but it is a vital communication skill to have. We need to try to see and understand things from the other person’s perspective first, not from ours. Use the active listening skills of clarification, paraphrasing, reflecting and summarising to show that you understand, and then say what you would like to say.

Habit 6: Synergize – Work with others in a collaborative, co-operative and open-minded way if you are interested in challenging yourself and growing. Two heads are thought to be better than one, as long as it is an accepting, non-judgmental environment, as each person is able to bring to the table their own personal experiences, ideas and expertise. Especially if you have different strengths and weaknesses, you are more likely to identify your blind spots, develop greater insights and discoveries, and obtain better results than either individual could produce by themselves.

Habit 7: Sharpen the saw – If you are trying to cut down a tree with a blunt saw, what should you do? Keep cutting, or sharpen the saw? We can think of ourselves in this way too, and realise that we need to prioritise self-renewal in four areas of our life if we want to be consistently productive:

  • Physical: Healthy eating, moderate exercise and adequate rest
  • Social/Emotional: Socialising and connecting with others, time for reflection and relaxation
  • Mental: Learning new things, gaining knowledge through reading or watching exciting things, expressing self through writing and teaching others
  • Spiritual: Spending time in nature, being creative, music, art, prayer, mindfulness meditation and helping others

Read it if: You’d like to become more effective in your work, at home or in your personal life.


#5-1 is now up…



Published by Dr Damon Ashworth

I am a Clinical Psychologist. I completed a Doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology at Monash University and a Bachelor of Behavioural Sciences and a Bachelor of Psychological Sciences with Honours at La Trobe University. I am passionate about the field of Psychology, and apply the latest empirical findings to best help individuals meet their psychological and emotional needs.

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