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Shelves: highly-recommended-favorites , help-me-help-myself If you can love and respect yourself in failure, worlds of adventure and new experiences will open up before you, and your fears will vanish. It is an interesting statement on contemporary culture that practical, self-help books are often looked down on as lowbrow, unsophisticated, and unworthy of serious consideration.
Just note how often in reviews of self-help books you come across the phrase, I dont normally read books like this, or the like. Of course, skepticism regarding books of this If you can love and respect yourself in failure, worlds of adventure and new experiences will open up before you, and your fears will vanish.
Of course, skepticism regarding books of this kind is merited, especially when you take into account the amount of quackery, chicanery, demagoguery, and baloney in print. But why are so many people willing to pay for and devour book after book, getting swept about by the ceaseless winds of doctrine, navigating their lives through fad after fad? Fashionable ways of running and ruining your life have always been with us; yet I think there is another aggravating factor at work in the present day. Recently I read two history books, one about Ancient Greece and the other about Rome.
As I learned about the philosophies of education in those societies, I noticed how central were the ideas of ethical and moral teaching. These were primary concerns of pedagogy. By contrast, our current education system, as least here in the States, has deemphasized ethical teaching almost completely. There are, of course, many reasons for this, and many of them are good ones; but I do think it leaves a certain gap in our culture that self-help books partially fill. Unfortunately, from what I can tell, many of these seem rather mediocre—or worse.
But this book, by David D. Burns, is for me one of the exceptions. It is an interesting and, for me, an extremely useful book, based on a well-studied and much-tested therapeutic technique. Beck, among others. The premise of CBT is very simple: your moods are caused by your thoughts, so by controlling your thoughts you can control your moods. At first sight, this may seem like complete nonsense; our moods come and go, and our thoughts simply take on the timbre of whatever mood we happened to be in, right?
This seems to be what most people assume; certainly I did. Yet consider this scenario, which actually happened to me: My boss scheduled a meeting with me out of the blue. Eventually, this panic turned to indignation, as I convinced myself of the injustice of the situation, since I worked hard and tried my best.
This I think well illustrates the central idea behind CPT. All of my negative and positive emotions in this scenario were due to my interpretation of the event, not the event itself. I made the false assumption, based on no evidence, that I was going to be fired. I thought of every mistake and imperfection in my work over the last month or so, and convinced myself that I was doing poorly and that termination was imminent. And when I was finally given the bonus, I interpreted that to mean I was doing a good job and that I was getting all the support I needed—which were equally tenuous interpretations.
Thus you can see how my mood was a direct product of my thoughts. These are irrational patterns of thinking which have been found to be common in depressed and overly anxious patients. The CBT interpretation of depression is that these thinking patterns are not caused by depression, but actually cause depression. Burns gives a list of 10 types of warped thoughts, but in my opinion there is quite a bit of overlap in the categories.
The first part of this book is dedicated to allowing the reader to recognize these types of thoughts and to combat them. This most often is just a matter of writing these thoughts down and exposing the distortions that lay beneath. As you might have guessed from the above example, I am rather prone to anxiety; and during this summer, my anxiety was getting to the point that I felt incapacitated. I was driving my friends and family nuts with my constant worrying; and nobody, including myself, knew how to deal with me.
Desperate for some relief, I completed the reading and activities on the website, and found that I felt much, much better. Impressed, I looked for books on CBT techniques, and of course came across this one. What most intrigued me about CBT was the emphasis on accuracy. Quite the reverse: the whole emphasis was on thinking clearly, basing beliefs on evidence, avoiding unreasonable assumptions, and seeing things from multiple points of view.
Take anger. Very often though not always , our feelings of indignation simply result from seeing an event through a narrowly selfish lens.
But when we consider these scenarios from the perspective of the boss or the other driver, the situation suddenly seems much more just and fair; they are pursuing their own interests, just like we are. So simply by looking at the situation from multiple points of view, and thus understanding it more fully, our feelings of anger are cooled. When I began working through the techniques in the book, I was astounded by how often these types of distortions plagued my thinking.
Everything bad in the world confirmed my negativity, and everything good only served to reproach me and to make me envious and resentful. After teaching the reader several personal and interpersonal techniques—strategies for dealing with oneself and others more effectively—Burns moves on to examining some of the underlying assumptions that give rise to warped thinking. There is, of course, nothing wrong with enjoying the approval of others, the thrill of love, the sense of accomplishment, or the satisfaction of a job well done.
The problem arises when, instead of enjoying something, we use it to measure ourselves. How do you measure that? But the absurdity of this kind of thinking is revealed when you consider how many famous, beloved, rich, virtuosic, brilliant, successful people there have been, and still are, who are deeply depressed and feel worthless and hopeless.
Short of torture, there are no circumstances in life that guarantee unhappiness; and the same goes for happiness. After all, by definition, nothing feels better than happiness. Burns writes in a purely heteronormative vein, not even acknowledging same-sex couples, which is difficult to justify, considering the higher rates of depression and anxiety among gays and lesbians—not to mention others in the LGBTQ community. I hope this is changed in future additions.
A criticism I am tempted to make, but which I actually think is unfair, is that CBT makes people passive, accepting, and more content with the status quo. It sometimes seems as if Burns is telling people not to try to change their circumstances, but rather to accommodate themselves to them.
I think this is unfair for a few reasons. No matter how powerful we may be, there will always be things in life which we cannot change and which we simply have to accept; so developing the tools to do so without frustration or anger is useful for everyone.
Quite the opposite: depression often makes people apathetic and anxiety makes people feel too overwhelmed to do anything. So I think accusations that this book is somehow reactionary or that it leads to passivity are unfair. It certainly has been for me. Now I no longer feel that I am at the mercy of my moods or emotions, or that my sense of self-worth or confidence is dependent on my circumstances.
Oh, and if the book seems like too big a commitment, MoodGYM is pretty swell too, despite additional corniness of course.
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