Over the years I have begun to build up quite a collection of popular Psychology books, most of which now sit on the bookshelves at my office or at home.
I often get asked by clients if any of these books are good, and if there are any particular books that I can recommend for them to read outside of therapy that could assist with the work that we are doing together so that they can improve more quickly.
Here are my top 40 Psychology books that I have read:
- To qualify, I have to have read and enjoyed the books myself.
- To avoid personal bias in the rankings, I will rank them from lowest goodreads.com star rating to highest.
- If there is a tie in regards to the star rating, I will rank the most recent title first.
Hopefully, some of them can be useful to you or give you some ideas for your next holiday reading!
40. ‘The Road to Character’ by David Brooks (2015)
Goodreads.com star rating = 3.66/5
Why it’s good: It helped me to clarify my most important values and showed me how they could inform the life that I wanted to live. It does this through many small biographies of various famous people and how they developed their character over the years, including politicians, civil rights activists, and authors.
It made me see that I really don’t desire “resume” virtues, including wealth or status, but do strive towards “eulogy” virtues, including being kind, humble, honest and brave. The eulogy virtues are much more about relationships and less about individual pursuits, and this is the path towards a great character.
Many of the examples of famous people also highlight the importance of self-discipline and self-restraint if you want to develop good character.
Read it if: You’d like to know what the road to good character look likes, how other people have trodden it, and how you could follow it if you wanted to.
39. ‘The Village Effect: Why Face-to-Face Contact Matters’ by Susan Pinker (2015)
Goodreads.com star rating = 3.76/5
Why it’s good: Utilising the latest findings from the field of social neuroscience, Pinker highlights just how essential face-to-face contact is.
She visits a village in Sardinia, which has the highest proportion of people living to over 100, and finds that social integration within a town or community and close relationships with friends and family are the two most important factors of long-life. This is more important for longevity than not smoking, not drinking alcohol, or exercising (as shown in her TED talk below).
Read it if: You’d like to see just how vital face-to-face contact with friends and family is and how it may be a risk to expect more from technology than we do from each other.
38. Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships – Eric Berne (1967)
Goodreads.com star rating = 3.81/5
Why it’s good: Berne is known as the father of Transactional Analysis. Although the book seems a little outdated now, it is quite an insightful read into various interpersonal interactions, such as rituals, pastimes, and games. It is based on the idea that each of us has within us an inner parent, adult and child ego-state. As long as we are relating to people in the way that they are relating to us, then everything will run smoothly. If instead, we are trying to relate to the other person like a parent to a child, whereas the other person is trying to relate to us as an adult to another adult, then we are likely to have miscommunication and potential conflict (as depicted by the crossed lines in the book cover). This is why teens and parents have so much conflict, as the adolescent wants to be seen as an adult, but their parents still treat them like a child. It is also why unwarranted advice so often goes wrong, especially among peers.
Games are much more complicated than rituals or pastimes, and consist of two separate messages being sent at the same time. What person A says to person B is the clear message or overt behaviour, but the underlying intention of person A is different. This is done to obtain a specific result or reaction from person B. Berne covers all the possible games that people play, with the idea that if you know what these games are, you will be more adept at dealing with deceitful, indirect, or passive aggressive people. A game is typically won by the person who returns to the adult ego-state the quickest, so if you can understand what someone is trying to do, but not be trapped by it, you are successfully not being pulled into the mind game that they are trying to play, and you win.
Read it if: You are interested in why people always talk about sports or the weather. Or you have a tendency to rub people the wrong way and want to know why. Or you are interested in learning about the rules of the various games, including “See What You Made Me Do,” “Why Don’t You – Yes But,” “Ain’t It Awful,” and “Now I’ve Got You, You Son of a Bitch!”
37. ‘Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked’ by Adam Alter (2017)
Goodreads.com star rating = 3.84/5
Why it’s good: Alter makes the compelling argument that addictive technologies are taking up all of our spare time that we used to have for leisure, creativity, and social connection. As a result, they are actually making us less happy.
Worse still, how we use our screens is not even consistent with how we’d like to use them. We feel happy engaging with screens when they help us to relax, exercise, read, improve our health or learn something useful. But we spend three times more time just browsing the web, looking at news sites, social media, dating apps, or games and entertainment, which tend to make us feel less happy over time (as shown in his TED talk below).
It also introduced me to the app called ‘moment’, which is helping me to cut down how much screen time I have each week.
Read it if: You are similar to the average person that spends three hours a day using their smartphone and feel that you would like to learn more about how this happened, and what you can do about it. The fact that more of us would prefer a broken bone to a broken phone is a sign of just how severe this problem is.
36. ‘Think Like a Freak (Freakonomics #3)’ – by Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner (2014)
Goodreads.com star rating = 3.85/5
Why it’s good: I’ve enjoyed all of the Freakonomics books, and still listen to the Freakonomics podcast regularly. The way that the authors use behavioural economics tools to explore and answer all types of strange real-life questions is excellent, including:
- “did the introduction of legalised abortion reduce crime rates?” (YES)
- “do drug dealers make a lot of money?” (ONLY THE KINGPINS)
- “are child car seats safer than regular seatbelts?” (NOT MUCH)
- “do real estate agents leave their own houses on the market for longer than their customers so that they can get a better deal?” (YES)
- “is cheating prevalent in sumo wrestling?” (YES)
- “could we solve climate change by spending less on potential solutions than what we are currently spending on raising awareness of the climate change problem?” (MAYBE)
In Think Like a Freak, they teach you how to approach problems in your life in a similar way and use incentives to help you achieve your goals. They also tell you how to win a hot dog eating competition if you ever wanted to challenge your friends.
Read it if: You want to challenge conventional wisdom or learn more about how to make smarter decisions in your life.
35. The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You – Elaine Aron (1997)
Goodreads.com star rating = 3.87/5
Why it’s good: Like ‘Quiet’ by Susan Cain, ‘The Highly Sensitive Person’ does a great job of depathologising something that people are often made to feel bad about. Some of us have more reactive physiological systems and are more likely to become overwhelmed or drained if presented with too much stimulation for too long a period of time. The aim is not to change a highly sensitive person into someone who is not sensitive anymore, as being more sensitive to things also has its benefits. It is about understanding what is needed for a highly sensitive person to best care for themselves so that they can thrive in this world and enjoy a healthy and happy life.
Read it if: You or someone that is close to you has ever been called “too sensitive!” and you are wanting to know which strategies are most helpful in efficiently managing things.
34. ‘Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy’ by Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant (2017)
Goodreads.com star rating = 3.87/5
Why it’s good: Another book that highlights how to find meaning and cope with grief following the loss of a family member. Sheryl lost her husband suddenly, and never thought that she or her children would experience joy again. Adam showed her the concrete steps that could help her to recover from her life-altering experiences, and they both share these steps in this book.
They also show how many others have rebounded from a multitude of hardships in their lives, including job loss, health problems, sexual assault, war or natural disasters. Resilience is a skill that can be built over time. It is not a fixed resource.
Read it if: You’d like to learn more about how to develop resilience and perseverance and find strength in the face of adversity.
33. ‘Life on Purpose: How Living for What Matters Most Changes Everything’ by Victor J. Strecher (2016)
Goodreads.com star rating = 3.91/5
Why it’s good: Victor wrote this book after the death of his daughter. She had previously suffered from heart problems following exposure to the chicken pox virus, and knowing that death was potentially around the corner at any moment enabled him and his family to make the most of their lives while she was still with them.
Once his daughter passed, he turned to philosophy to try to understand the meaning of life and explored just how beneficial it is to have a strong sense of purpose. It can help you live longer, reduce your risk of dementia or heart disease, and generally help you to live a more satisfying life.
He also goes into five ways to improve energy and willpower:
E– Eating well
Read it if: You loved ‘Man’s search for meaning’, are interested in the scientific benefits of meaning in our lives, or want to find more purpose in your own life.
32. ‘Think Small: The Surprisingly Simple Ways to Reach Big Goals’ by Owain Service & Rory Gallagher (2017)
Goodreads.com star rating = 3.91/5
Why it’s good: Based on the successful learnings from the UK’s Behavioural Insights team, or “Nudge Unit”, this book is all about scientifically supported interventions for behavioural change, both on a societal and an individual level.
Follow these seven steps if you want to achieve your goals:
- Choose the right goal
- Set a specific target and deadline
- Break it down into manageable steps
- Keep it simple
- Create an actionable plan
- Turn the plan into habits
- Make a binding commitment
- Make it public and write it down
- Appoint a commitment referee
- Put something at stake for a headline objective
- Build good habits through smaller rewards
- Beware of backfire effects
- Ask for help
- Tap into your social networks
- Join a group
- Know where you stand in relation to your goal
- Make feedback timely, specific and actionable
- Compare yourself to others
- Practice with focus and effort
- Test and learn
- Reflect and celebrate
Read it if: You want to learn more about the seven scientifically supported steps of successful behavioural change.
31. 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)
Goodreads.com star rating = 3.92/5
Why it’s good: Thanks to the advances in Brain scanning technology, such as fMRIs, Davidson, a pioneering Neuroscientist, has now found that each of us has our own unique emotional style. An individual’s emotional style depends on where they sit on six different variables, which can all be identified and contrasted via brain scans. Some people are more resilient, whereas others struggle to bounce back from adversity. Some have a very optimistic outlook, whereas others are much more pessimistic. Some people are very self-aware, whereas others have little insight into what they do. Some people are socially intuitive, whereas others struggle to grasp how to interact socially. Some people are very sensitive to context and will change how they are depending on the situation, whereas others act the same wherever they go or whoever they talk to. Finally, some people find it very easy to pay attention to things and focus on the task at hand, whereas others are easily distracted.
It then looks at how Mindfulness Meditation is a particularly useful way to rewire our brain so that we manage our emotions better and respond to things more helpfully.
Read it if: You want to figure out where you are on each of the six different components, and how you can change them if you would like to do so.
30. ‘Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion’ by Sam Harris (2014)
Goodreads.com star rating = 3.92/5
Why it’s good: Waking up shows us that it is possible to experience transcendence and to get in touch with a sense of spirituality or something greater than yourself without having to turn to religion. It also explores if there is anything scientific to be gleaned from the various religious and spiritual beliefs.
Alongside love and connection with others, Meditation is suggested as the primary secular way to reach transcendence, and it was this book that encouraged me to try a 10-day silent meditation retreat to fully explore the potential benefits that meditation can bring. I personally would never go again and am more than happy to just stick to my 10-15 minutes meditation practice per day.
Read it if: You are interested in exploring spirituality and getting in touch with transcendental experiences from a secular and scientific perspective.
29. ‘Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are’ by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz (2017)
Goodreads.com star rating = 3.92/5
Why it’s good: Let’s face it. Everybody does lie. On social media, people portray the person that they want to be and how they want to be seen by others, not how they actually are. In surveys, whether they are completed face-to-face, over the phone, or online, people tend to change their responses just a little bit to manage their impression to others or even to themselves.
This is called a social desirability bias, and it appears to be the main reason why the US polls were all predicting that Hillary Clinton was likely to win before the last presidential election. Trump won, and specific big data could predict this based on google search results. The more racist search results there were in an area, the more people voted for Donald Trump. This highlighted that the problem of racism is still explicit, but it is often just kept to behind closed doors.
In general, people have much less incentive to lie to search engines when they are looking for what they want in the privacy of their own home. This could be a google search or a Pornhub search, and most people are more honest with these search boxes then they are with anyone else in their lives. So what if we could pool this data to learn more about what people actually think and feel. This is what Everybody Lies does. It tells us that we lie about how much sex we have and the type of sex that we are having, and it also tells us that more people struggle with mental health difficulties and suicidal ideation than we have been previously aware of. I just hope that these insights can lead to positive changes and earlier interventions for those in need, and help people to see that they may not be as different from others as they fear.
Read it if: You are curious to find out what else people’s search histories can reveal about the state of our current society.
28. The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone-Especially Ourselves – Dan Ariely (2013)
Goodreads.com star rating = 3.93/5
Why it’s good: Most people are just a little bit dishonest, in a way that is biased towards themselves, especially if there is an incentive to do so, and even more so if they know that they will not be caught. If there is some money going missing at work, chances are it is many people taking a little rather than one person taking a lot. There are ways to increase honesty too though. Put up a fake security camera, place a picture of someone’s eyes near the till, put up a police notice in blue and white colours saying “offenders will be prosecuted”, and provide incentives for people to do the right thing.
Read it if: You are curious to see just how much we lie to ourselves and others and then try to rationalise or justify our actions afterwards.
27. 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 (1997)
Goodreads.com star rating = 3.97/5
Why it’s good: It’s 100 simple, easy-to-grasp recommendations for how not to worry too much about the little things in life. This is most things that we worry about, especially if we can put them into a broader perspective. Some of my favourites are:
- Make peace with imperfection
- Be aware of the snowball effect of your thinking
- Develop your compassion
- Choose being kind over being right
- Learn to live in the present moment
- Surrender to the fact that life isn’t fair
- Practice patience
- Breathe before you speak
- Do one thing at a time
- Set aside quiet time each day
- Choose your battles wisely
- Seek first to understand
- Become a better listener
- Practice humility
- Be flexible with changes in your plans
- Think of what you have instead of what you want
- Cut yourself some slack
- Listen to your feelings
- Give up on the idea that more is better
- Look for the extraordinary in the ordinary
- When in doubt about whose turn it is to take out the trash, go ahead and take it out
Do something nice for someone else – and don’t tell anyone about it
Read it if: You’d like to learn more about any of the recommendations that I have mentioned, or if you want to check out what the other recommendations are.
26. Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength – Roy Baumeister and John Tierney (2012)
Goodreads.com star rating = 3.97/5
Why it’s good: So many people believe that if they just had more self-discipline and willpower than they would achieve more, be more efficient and productive, do more of what they like, and be happier. These same people often have very little understanding of what willpower actually is, which is a finite resource that can be drained quickly. Once we can understand it, what drains it and what replenishes it, we can then schedule and plan our lives so that our willpower drains less quickly and is there to help us get through a difficult task when we really need it. As much as it is fun to be flexible and spontaneous, not having a routine or good habits drains willpower quickly, as does having too many choices, being indecisive, and constantly deliberating about what to do. Although it is also tough to build good habits and routines initially, once they are established, we can then utilise our willpower in other, more challenging ways that will help us to continue to grow.
Read it if: You want to understand how willpower works so that you can better utilise it in your life to achieve your goals.
25. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ – Daniel Goleman (2005)
Goodreads.com star rating = 4.01/5
Why it’s good: Like the book cover says, it redefined which intelligence was seen as most important in the workforce. It used to be thought that the smartest students with the best grades would also make the best employees. But big companies were finding something different. Individuals who had better awareness and understanding of others emotions, as well as their own, often performed better at work, especially if they knew how to respond to and utilise their greater emotional understanding effectively. Emotional Intelligence, or EQ, is now seen to be just as important, if not more important, for occupational (and social) success.
Read it if: You’d like to better understand what Emotional Intelligence is and why it’s essential. Or to see if you have high EQ, and how you can develop it more over time.
24. The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life – Tal Ben-Shahar (2009)
Goodreads.com star rating = 4.04/5
Why it’s good: Perfectionism is interesting. Most people don’t actually see it as a bad thing, and fail to see the negative consequences associated with it. Sure, Nadia Comaneci received a perfect 10 for her gymnastics routine at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, but how many of us actually ever reach perfection, and what is the cost for always striving to do so?
Ben-Shahar uses Alasdair Clayre as an example of the dark side of perfectionism. He was a star student and scholar at Oxford, a published novelist and poet, had recorded two albums and had written, produced and directed the TV series ‘The Heart of the Dragon’. Although he had achieved a lot, Clayre never considered anything he did to be good enough. At age 48, before his series won an Emmy Award, Clayre committed suicide.
Ben-Shahar believes that becoming an Optimalist is a much better thing to strive for than being a perfectionist. Here are the main differences between the two:
|The Perfectionist||The Optimalist|
|Focuses on the destination||Focuses on the journey and the destination|
|Fears failure||Views failure as a form of feedback|
|Rejects failure||Adapts to and learns from failure|
|Rejects success||Is grateful and appreciative of their success|
|Rejects painful emotions||Understands and makes room for painful emotions|
|Is frightened by change||Is fascinated by change|
|Is rigid and static||Is adaptable and dynamic|
|Has low self-esteem||Is willing and self-confident|
|Is harsh towards themselves and others||Is forgiving towards themselves and others|
|Looks for and finds faults||Looks for and finds benefits|
|Is defensive||Is open to suggestions|
|Exhibits all-or-nothing thinking||Exhibits nuanced, complex thinking|
|Rejects reality||Accepts reality|
|Views their life journey as a straight, consistent line||Views their journey as an irregular spiral with ups and downs, as well as periods of backtracking and jumping ahead|
Read it if: You think that you may be a perfectionist, or exhibit some the perfectionism traits listed above, and want to learn how to become more of an Optimalist. Tal-Shahar says that it takes a lot of time, patience and effort, but it is also “a journey that can be delightfully pleasant and infinitely rewarding!”
23. ‘Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less’ by Greg McKeown (2014)
Goodreads.com star rating = 4.04/5
Why it’s good: If you have ever been stretched too thin by unnecessary work, or feel overworked and busy but not productive, then you need to learn about the Way of the Essentialist.
An Essentialist doesn’t get more done in less time. Essentialists just do the things that actually matter. By being disciplined, they systematically determine what is absolutely essential, and then eliminate everything that is not. This disciplined pursuit of less empowers people to reclaim control of their lives and the choices they make about what they spend their time and energy on. They don’t let society, their bosses, their family or friends choose for them
What if you could do less, but better, in every area of your life?
Read it if: You want to discover why less is sometimes more.
22. ‘Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us’ by Will Storr (2017)
Goodreads.com star rating = 4.04/5
Why it’s good: In modern-day Western culture we have more material possessions than we have ever had before, and yet we are also more miserable than we have ever been before. Depression, anxiety, insomnia, and suicide have all increased over the past 50 years, and narcissism rates continue to rise exponentially too. Could this be due to our increased self-obsession and the ongoing negative impact of the self-esteem movement of the 1970s? Storr seems to think so.
We have turned away from the Christian and Psychoanalytic traditions of seeing ourselves are inherently flawed and sinful and towards the Humanistic approach of thinking that we are the source of our productive success and have all of the crucial answers within. We aren’t just meant to accept ourselves as we are, however. We need to follow our dreams, and try to reach our limitless potential. We need to be slim, fit, productive, famous, outgoing and happy. We then need to project this image for the world to see just how great we are.
This split between the external projections and the internal insecurities is the narcissistic dilemma. People tend to feel both unique and inadequate and worry that they’ll never be able to reach the perfect self that helps them to feel good while giving them the recognition that they deserve. They can then either keep trying under immense stress and pressure, give up, or attack anyone who is a threat.
What we need is to believe in something bigger than ourselves, to find a sense of belonging and community again, and to accept ourselves for who we are. By understanding our temperament, personality, strengths and weakness, and values, we can then make the connections with others and changes within ourselves that lead to real satisfaction in life, rather than blindly just trying to keep up with the Joneses.
Read it if: If you want to learn more about when and how we became obsessed with ourselves and the damage that this obsession can cause.
21. The Relationship Cure: A Five-Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships – John Gottman (2002)
Goodreads.com star rating = 4.05/5
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 if: You 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.
20. ‘Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance’ by Angela Duckworth (2016)
Goodreads.com star rating = 4.07/5
Why it’s good: Duckworth shows that talent tends to be hugely overrated when looking at who is likely to succeed in life. Her father always taught her the value of hard-work and told her that she was “no genius”. Through finding her passion for psychology and persevering through difficulties, she eventually won the MacArthur Genius Award.
If you are not overly gifted or talented at something, it is not the end of the world. What is important is knowing what you need to do to get better (through learning, coaching, deliberate practice, and feedback), and then putting in the hard yards in whatever it is that interests you. If the long-term goal inspires you and feels like it will be worthwhile, it suddenly gives meaning to the hard work that you put in and helps you persevere until you achieve what you have set out to do.
I used to want to get as far as possible in life with as little as work as possible. This book has shown me that putting in the hard work and becoming grittier will help me much more than always trying to take the easy route. It also suggests that making small changes if you are sick and tired of something is much better for long-term success than always trying to reinvent yourself.
Read it if: You are striving to succeed and want to learn how to identify your passion, increase your ability to persevere, and learn more about how to become grittier in pursuit of your long-term goals.
19. ‘Happy: Why More or Less Everything is Absolutely Fine’ by Derren Brown (2016)
Goodreads.com star rating = 4.07/5
Why it’s good: The pursuit of happiness has long been a desire for many people. But what does this mean for you? And how do you know if you feel it? Is it a sense of satisfaction with your overall life, or just a fleeting sensation or feeling that can disappear as quickly as it arises? This book can answer all of these questions plus more.
In Happy, Brown explores the history of happiness, summarises the different philosophical views towards how we might live the high-life, and shows how the self-help industry has taken over the concept of happiness these days. He wants to reclaim joy for everyone and help you to appreciate the excellent things in life once again.
Read it if: You have ever wondered if there is more to life or wished that you could be happier on a more regular basis.
18. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business – Charles Duhigg (2014)
Goodreads.com star rating = 4.08/5
Why it’s good: Firstly, this book taught me about how amazing the product Febreze is, and why habits inform even which products become top-sellers. To begin with, they had this amazing product which literally did what no other product at the time could do. Febreze could eliminate all odours in an environment rather than just mask the smell with another smell, as a lot of other air fresheners do. They were even able to remove all stinky smells with a lady who handled skunks during the day, so that her friends may actually want to get into a car with her or come over to her house again. Yet no one was buying it, because it wasn’t built into any of our pre-existing habits! It wasn’t until they put a pleasant smell into it and encouraged people to spray it at the end of their household clean that it started to fly off the shelves. I want the initial odourless product minus the fake “fresh” smell, please.
Apart from the wonders of Febreze, Duhigg teaches us that every habit follows the same loop:
- Our urge or craving to do a particular thing is always triggered by something, whether it is a specific emotion, thought, sensation, time or place.
- It is why I always crave popcorn when I go to the cinemas, and yet never crave it in any other place or at any other time.
- We then engage in a set routine that we engage in when we get the urge or craving.
- As much as I try to resist, I usually buy the extremely overpriced, over-salted and over-buttered movie popcorn.
- We then experience a reward or payoff for engaging in the routine.
- I keep engaged in the movie more, get to crunch on something loud and annoying for the people around me, and enjoy the overall experience.
As long as there is a reward, the loop is complete, and the next time we encounter the same trigger, our urge or craving increases, and we feel more pressure to engage in the habitual routine. Over time as we participate in the habit more, we also tend to get less and less of a reward, which only strengthens the urge or craving further.
If we want to break a habit, the easiest way is to find an alternative, hopefully, a healthy routine that we can engage in when the urge or craving arises that gives us the same reward. If it gets rid of the urges and desire, you will know that the alternative routine has worked, and you can then repeat this the next time the craving is triggered.
Read it if: You are interested in learning more about how habits work, how marketers and casinos use our habits for their benefit, or if you would like more detailed step-by-step instructions for how to best break or change a habit.
17. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change – Stephen Covey (1990)
Goodreads.com star rating = 4.09/5
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.
16. The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living: A Guide to ACT – Russ Harris and Steven Hayes (2007)
Goodreads.com star rating = 4.11/5
Why it’s good: Steven 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 if: You 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.
15. Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment, and How It Can Help You Find – and Keep – Love – Amir Levine and Rachel Heller (2012)
Goodreads.com star rating = 4.11/5
Why it’s good: Attachment 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 if: You 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.
14. Reinventing your Life: The Breakthrough Program to End Negative Behavior and Feel Great Again – Jeffrey Young and Janet Klosko (1994)
Goodreads.com star rating = 4.13/5
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.
13. Outliers: The Story of Success – Malcolm Gladwell (2011)
Goodreads.com star rating = 4.14/5
Why it’s good: Gladwell looks into the various facets of life that can increase our chances of success. He explains that many people do not just succeed because they have the talent, but are also in the right place at the right time, and put in an incredible amount of work to obtain their success. He states that it can take up to 10,000 hours before we truly become a genius at something, and describes the backstory of The Beatles and Bill Gates, and how much work and hours they put in to reach their levels of success. Any “overnight sensation” that has sustainable success has usually put in much groundwork before they “make it” too, even though the media doesn’t tend to show this part.
Gladwell also shows how children who are born in certain months of the year (depending on when the cut-off dates are for various sports) are much more likely to make representative teams when they are younger, mainly because they are older than the other children. Developmentally, an 8-year-old is expected to be more coordinated and physically stronger than a 7-year-old who is 364 days younger but playing in the same age group as them, so it makes sense why they get picked first. Although this may not seem like a problem, it does tend to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the older kids then get the best coaching and the most encouragement, and are much more likely to make a state or national team in that sport when they are older.
Outliers is the main reason why I will now recommend for children to start primary or elementary school later rather than earlier. Younger kids are more likely to be restless in class and display signs of ADHD, whereas older kids are seen as smarter with more leadership qualities, mainly because they are older. These early perceptions by teachers, other children, parents and even the children themselves can also become self-fulfilling prophecies. It is therefore much better to have your child as one of the older rather than younger students in a class. It could give them an advantage from the beginning that helps them to be more successful in the long run.
Read it if: You liked any of the Freakonomics books or if you are interested in learning some unique perspectives about what leads to success in various aspects of life, such as why Chinese students are likely to be better than American students at Mathematics.
12. ‘Creatures of a Day: And Other Tales of Psychotherapy’ by Irvin Yalom (2015)
Goodreads.com star rating = 4.14/5
Why it’s good: The fact that Irvin Yalom was still conducting therapy with patients and writing books at the age of 83 is pretty surprising and is a credit to his work ethic and generativity throughout his life. On top of that, the book is pretty good.
Written in a similar style to Love’s Executioner and Momma and the Meaning of Life, Creatures of a Day consists of ten therapy tales that give a sense of what it would like to be one of Irvin’s patients and also gives you some insights to his inner thoughts and struggles with these cases too. Beyond that, each tale offers up things to think about and lessons to be learned about life, but not in a directive or preachy way.
Read it if: You had ever wondered what the therapy experience is like, or have tried therapy before and asked what was going on in the therapist’s mind.
11. ‘Ego is the Enemy’ by Ryan Holiday (2016)
Goodreads.com star rating = 4.14/5
Why it’s good: The main obstacle to a fulfilling and prosperous life for the majority of people is not something in the outside world. It is their ego. It prevents people from being able to learn thoroughly and cultivate their talents, it blinds people from their faults and makes a recovery after a failure that much more difficult.
Similar to ‘The Road to Character’, it discusses successful examples of historical figures that reached the highest levels of influence and power by conquering their egos rather than being controlled by them. The book includes Eleanor Roosevelt and Bill Belicheck and highlights their strategies and tactics that they used so that we could employ them too if we want to follow in their footsteps towards reaching our highest goals.
Read it if: As Holiday writes, “you (want to) be less invested in the story you told about your specialness and liberated to accomplish the world-changing work you’ve set out to achieve.”
10. How to Win Friends and Influence People: The Only Book You Need to Lead You to Success – Dale Carnegie (1936)
Goodreads.com star rating = 4.18/5
Why it’s good: It was first published in 1936 and has since sold over 30 million copies worldwide. It has been extremely popular ever since it was first released, and in many ways kick-started the entire self-help literature industry. Even now, it is still ranked as the 13th highest selling non-fiction book on Amazon.com.
Carnegie claimed that the book could help people to make friends quickly, improve their conversation skills, increase their popularity, influence others better, and be more ambitious and capable. Psychologists and scientists didn’t love it, but it found it’s audience, and apparently (due to its popularity and its rating) many people still find it very beneficial even to this day.
Although some of the recommendations do seem a bit outdated, amoral or insincere, it is amazing how much many of the other principles really have stood the test of time. Some of my favourite recommendations are:
- Don’t criticize, condemn or complain
- Begin in a friendly way
- Give honest and sincere appreciation
- Become genuinely interested in other people
- Remember the other person’s name
- Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves
- Make the other person feel important – do it sincerely
- Show respect for the other person’s opinions
- If you’re wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically
- Try to honestly see things from the other person’s point of view
- Ask questions instead of giving direct orders
- Let the other person save face
- Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct
- Appeal to the nobler motives in others
- Throw down a challenge to others if you want to motivate them
- Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to
- Praise every improvement
Read it if: You suffer from social anxiety or a lack of confidence in social situations, and would like an instructions manual and some guidance for how to be more effective in various interpersonal settings.
9. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Revised Edition – Robert Cialdini (1984)
Goodreads.com star rating = 4.18/5
Why it’s good: To write this book, Cialdini actually infiltrated various sales industries and went through their training programs to learn the tricks of the trade. What he came up with, alongside the research he did, was six universal principles of persuasion, which are tools that can be used to get people to change their behaviour. When used in ethical ways, they can assist people in ways that are consistent with who they would like to be. Marketers know these principles all too well though, and if they are not concerned with ethics or the customers best interests, they will only do what is best for them – selling more products. If we don’t know what these principles of persuasion are, we will be influenced by them without even realising. Even if we do know these principles, we are not immune to being influenced by them, but understanding them and discouraging others from using these tactics (or making them illegal) is our best defence against them.
The six principles are:
- Reciprocation – Be wary of people who try to give you things for free. We often feel indebted to them and try to repay the favour. If you take something that is free, make sure that you actually want it.
- Social Proof – When uncertain, we look to others for what is the right thing to do and follow suit. This is why testimonials are so compelling, even if they are fake, and why Psychologists are not allowed to use them when marketing their services.
- Commitment and Consistency – Nobody likes to be seen as a flake or a hypocrite. We want to be seen as consistent in regards to our values and attitudes, and committed in regards to our actions, especially once we have publicly declared what they will be. I am more likely to stick to my goals as soon as I put them out there for the world to see.
- Liking – If we like someone, we are more likely to say yes to whatever they ask of us. We are also more likely to favour people that we feel that we know, people that are similar to us, people that are more physically attractive, and people that give us lovely compliments. Be wary of a complimentary salesperson, even if it has nothing to do with what they are trying to sell.
- Authority – People respect and are typically obedient to authority, as was shown in the now infamous Stanley Milgram experiment. The results were so shocking that the researchers and Psychiatrists failed to predict by a large margin just how compliant people would be in inflicting pain on others when they are told to do so by an authority figure. Even actors posing as dentists can be very useful in selling toothpaste, so make sure that someone’s authority is legitimate before listening to what they have to say.
- Scarcity – This is related to supply and demand. The more scarce people think a commodity is, the more they want it. Manipulative people will use our tendency to be more sensitive to possible losses when they give us an ultimatum or trick us into believing that something is a “last chance opportunity” when it really isn’t.
Read it if: You’d like to learn more about the six universal principles of persuasion, how to use them to ethically persuade other people, and how to defend yourself against them when they are used by marketers, salespeople and other manipulative people in your life.
8. ‘Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead’ by Brene Brown (2015)
Goodreads.com star rating = 4.24/5
Why it’s good: I think I enjoyed Brene’s previous book ‘Daring Greatly’ more than this one, but I do appreciate the openness, honesty, and vulnerability that she expresses in her writing and talks. If you haven’t seen her TED talks yet, please do check them out:
Her research has highlighted to me that we really can’t grow and connect with others as much as we would like if we are not willing to be vulnerable and explore or express what hurts and what holds us back. Brown believes that times of struggle are great opportunities to be courageous, and taking emotional risks is how we can build wisdom, hope, and meaning in our lives.
Read it if: You have had a significant fall or setback that is still holding you back in your life, and want to know how to learn and grow from the experience, or get back up on your feet and start moving forward again.
7. The Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients – Irvin Yalom (2009)
Goodreads.com star rating = 4.26/5
Why it’s good: Yalom writes about being a therapist, and the therapy process, in such an open, honest and engaging way that it is really is quite refreshing. There hasn’t been a book of his where I haven’t learned something, been reassured, or been entertained. My favourite book of his is ‘Existential Psychotherapy’, but ‘Creatures of a Day’, ‘Momma and the Meaning of Life’ and ‘Love’s Executioner’ are also great.
The main reason that I chose the ‘The Gift of Therapy’ for my countdown is that I consider it to be essential reading for all new therapists. It is also useful for any patients who are wanting to understand why therapists do certain things or how they can get the most out of their own therapy experience. Yalom had been inspired by Rainer Maria Rilke’s ‘Letters to a Young Poet’, and wanted to be able to offer similar wisdom and guidance to anyone who is beginning their therapy journey. It consists of 85 short chapters, each of which offers specific advice or warnings towards the young therapist. Some of my favourites are:
- Remove the obstacles to growth for each patient
- Avoid diagnosis (except for insurance companies)
- Empathise and look out the patient’s window
- Let the patient matter to you
- Acknowledge your errors
- Express your dilemmas openly
- Create a new therapy for each patient
- Check into the here-and-now each hour – it energises therapy
- Engage in personal therapy
- Be real and transparent
- Encourage patient self-disclosure
- Provide feedback effectively and gently
- Talk about life meaning and death
- Help patients assume responsibility for their own lives
- Focus on resistance towards making decisions
- Encourage self-monitoring
- Look for anniversary and life-stage issues
- Learn about the patient’s life from their dreams
- Therapy is a dress rehearsal for life
- Cherish the occupational privileges
Read it if: You would like to understand more about what therapists do, why they do it, or why therapy really is a gift that can help people to grow and become more satisfied with their relationships, themselves and their life.
6. ‘Dare: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks Fast’ by Barry McDonagh (2015)
Goodreads.com star rating = 4.28/5
Why it’s good: This is the most helpful and practical book for anxiety that I have read since ‘Feel the fear… and do it anyway!’ by Susan Jeffers.
It goes through how to successfully manage anxiety and panic attack symptoms in a multitude of everyday anxiety-provoking situations, from aeroplanes to public speaking to enclosed spaces and everything in between.
Dare is also a helpful acronym to remember the DARE response to anxiety:
D = Defuse from any unhelpful or unrealistic anxiety thoughts that tell you that you are in imminent danger, especially if you are safe.
A = Allow the anxiety to be there and choose to accept and welcome whatever it is you feel in the anxiety-provoking situation even though it may be uncomfortable or not what you wish. Observe the feeling of anxiety and see if you can make room for it. The more you resist the emotion, the more it will persist.
R = Run towards your anxiety by telling yourself that you are feeling this way because you are excited rather than scared. Changing the meaning of the physical symptoms can be more effective than trying to reduce their intensity. It can also help to run towards what it is that you are afraid of (as long as it is safe).
E = Engage in something that will take up your full attention so that your anxious mind doesn’t pull you back into a state of worry and fear. It could be any activity or specific tasks such as talking to someone, reading or exercise. Whatever it is, focus your whole attention on it, and bring it back to this point of focus if your mind starts to wander or worry again.
Read it if: You suffer from anxiety or panic attacks and would like to learn scientifically supported strategies that can give you some relief.
5. ‘Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise’ by Anders Ericsson & Robert Pool (2016)
Goodreads.com star rating = 4.29/5
Why it’s good: Malcolm Gladwell first popularised Ericsson’s research in his top-selling book on success, ‘Outliers’. In this book, Gladwell said that to develop true mastery in any subject, we need to spend 10,000 hours on that task. While this is potentially true, especially in super competitive fields such as violin playing, it isn’t always the case, and Ericsson’s book ‘Peak’ explains why.
The secret is deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is hard work, and often not a lot of fun, but it is the secret to getting better at anything. I know how to juggle three balls for example, and have done so since I was 16, but seeing that I have never taken any lessons the idea of juggling 4 or 5 objects seems impossible. With coaching by an expert, a clear and concise training program and regular and immediate feedback, I probably could learn it fairly quickly. That’s the difference between play and deliberate practice.
The majority of people are happy to learn a skill up to an adequate level of competence, at which point they become satisfied, stop learning and therefore stop improving. The amount of practice that you do isn’t the most important thing. It’s the mindset you have, and the type of training you do. To get better, you need to be deliberate about it.
Read it if: You would like to learn the techniques that can help you to develop mastery and expertise in any skill.
4. Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror – Judith Herman (1997)
Goodreads.com star rating = 4.32/5
Why it’s good: First published in 1992, Trauma and Recovery is highly regarded by academics, clinicians and trauma victims alike. Herman helped me to emotionally grasp and understand the devastating effects that trauma can have, including:
- difficulties regulating emotions, especially anger, shame and excessive guilt
- feeling cut-off, dissociated, emotionally numb or powerless
- distrusting and avoiding being close to others
- difficulties regulating impulses, leading to risky behaviours, substance abuse, addictions and self-harm
Before this, I had a conceptual understanding of the symptoms that occurred in Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but I had never realised just how severe a problem it actually is on an individual, interpersonal, familial and societal level.
In the book, Herman discusses how Freud initially hypothesised that sexual assault played a prominent role in the development of Hysteria, but later changed his theory to repressed sexual desires, because he found it unbearable that so many children and females were victims of sexual assault. But what if his first assertion was actually correct? Every year in Australia, 125,000 women and 45,000 men are estimated to experience sexual violence (ABS, 2006). Considering that in 2006, the population of Australia was less than 20 million people, these numbers are alarming, even more so because these prevalence rates are per year, rather than across a lifetime. They could be even higher if you take into account that only one-in-five sexual assault victims actually report the crime to authorities. We now also know that a history of sexual assault is highly correlated with the later development of Borderline Personality Disorder. It just shows that Freud wasn’t always wrong.
Herman also introduces and discusses her three-stage model of recovery from trauma:
- The first stage is all about re-establishing a sense of safety and stability and building up healthy self-care and emotion regulation capacities.
- Once safety and stability are achieved, and practical coping skills have been strengthened, the second stage of “remembrance and mourning” can begin. This involves exposure to and reviewing of distressing memories to lessen their emotional intensity and to reframe the meaning that these events have had on one’s identity and their life. It is essential that this is done in a safe setting with someone who can be trusted and has preferably had training in effective treatments for trauma. The second stage allows an individual to grieve and mourn for all that was lost, helps them to see that things were not their fault, and helps them to realise that it is unhelpful to generalise from one experience or one person to all experiences and all people. This then helps them to be in a much better position to move forward without remaining stuck in their traumatic experiences from the past.
- The third and final stage of healing focuses on reconnecting with the world, other people, and meaningful pursuits and activities.
Read it if: You know someone who has suffered from a traumatic experience and want to better understand the impact that it can have on them and the steps towards recovery. Or you have suffered from a traumatic experience yourself, but have already re-established a sense of safety and stability, and are wanting to learn more about the sociological or historical aspects of trauma or how to further recover from it.
3. ‘The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity’ by Esther Perel (2017)
Goodreads.com star rating = 4.33/5
Why it’s good: It’s an interesting paradox in most cultures across the world. Outside of France, the majority of the population agree that cheating is morally wrong and unacceptable. However, the prevalence rate of infidelity is much higher than we would like to admit.
Another paradox is that the majority of people say that they would like to know if they were cheated on, and yet the majority of people who commit infidelity don’t say anything because they don’t want to hurt their partner.
Personally, my view towards infidelity had always been straightforward. It is wrong, and it is a deal breaker. If someone wants to cheat, an individual should break up first, and then do as they please. If someone is cheated on, they should leave the relationship straight away. This book helped me to see it in less black and white terms and showed me that it is not even clear what is and is not cheating. How to then deal with infidelity becomes more complicated too.
What is known is that dishonesty, secrecy, and affairs can cause significant harm to relationships. Openness, respect, and equality are all crucial components to a successful relationship, regardless of where you draw the line on what is and isn’t infidelity.
Read it if: You have experienced an affair in your life and are seeking to understand why infidelity occurs and what we can do about it.
2. Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl (1946)
Goodreads.com star rating = 4.36/5
Why it’s good: First published in 1946, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ has continued to be popular over the years, and now has over 12 million copies in print worldwide. The book contains two separate parts that are connected together by Frankl’s assertion that having a sense of meaning in life is essential for overcoming the pain and suffering that we all have to experience at times.
The first part is titled “Experiences in a Concentration Camp,” and it goes into detail about Frankl’s experiences in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War 2. He found that the prisoners often went through distinct phases in the concentration camps. When they first arrived, they were in shock and horror at the situation and what they had been through and were filled with ideas of suicide, feelings of disgust at the conditions of the camp, and longings for their family and home life. Over time, these feelings subsided as they settled into the familiar routine of long and hard manual labour with little to no comfort or food being provided, and they were replaced by feelings of apathy, irritability and sometimes callousness towards others. Yet some prisoner’s did not succumb to these feelings and remained compassionate and comforting towards others. It was like they were fueled by some inner resource rather than the environmental conditions, and would even give up their last piece of bread to others if they felt that they needed it more. He concluded that:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s own attitude in any given set of circumstances—to choose one’s own way.” – Victor Frankl
The second part of the book is titled, “Basic Concepts of Logotherapy,” and goes into Frankl’s school of Psychotherapy that he created to help others to find meaning in their life. Based on his experiences in the concentration camps, Frankl found that having a reason to live beyond the concentration camps (e.g. to write a book, to reunite with family or a lover) was the best prevention for apathy. So much so that Frankl thought that our primary drive or motivation in life is to find real meaning and then to work towards living a meaningful life, not to seek pleasure, like Freud thought, nor power, as Adler thought.
Frankl believed that there are three main ways in which we can find meaning in life:
- Connecting with others and interacting with the world in an open and authentic way
- Engaging in purposeful work, or giving something back to others through creativity or self-expression, and
- Having courage and perseverance in the face of challenge and adversity.
Frankl believed that his meaning in life was to help others find theirs. His book helped him to achieve this goal, and that is why it is excellent!
Read it if: You want to better understand the atrocities that were faced by the prisoners in the concentration camps during WWII, or you want to learn more about Logotherapy and how to find more meaning in your life.
1.’The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma’ by Bessel A. van der Kolk (2014)
Goodreads.com star rating = 4.59/5
Why it’s good: The most comprehensive, scientifically supported and useful book on trauma ever written. Bessel van der Kolk has put his three decades of trauma learning and expertise into one book, and the result is compelling and engaging.
Seeing that trauma is so pervasive in our society, everyone would benefit from a greater understanding of how it can change our brain, emotional responses, physical reactions, and behaviours. This knowledge could then be utilised to help people seek out the most appropriate and innovative strategies for their trauma symptoms, whether that is neurofeedback, mindfulness meditation, yoga, play or other experiential exercises.
Drugs and talk therapy can help to some degree, but seeing that it is the body that stores the experiences of the past, we need to change what people suffering from trauma do so that they can reclaim a sense of pleasure, trust, engagement, and control.
Read it if: You’d like to learn more about the bold new paradigm for healing from trauma and post-traumatic stress.