Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Book Review: Inner Natures

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Inner Natures

Author: Laurence Miller

Date: 1990

Publisher: Ballantine

ISBN: 0-345-37201-8

Length: 298 pages text, 26 pages endnotes, 11 pages index

Quote: “The way a person characteristically organizes his perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and attitudes is in large part determined by his or her particular cognitive style, and this style also influences the ways in which the person deals with life and with his or her own reactions to situations…It’s only when aspects of this pattern occur in the extreme, when they dominate the person’s life…that we refer to the style as neurotic or maladaptive.”

It’s interesting to consider the different ways humans have tried to classify our personality types. Some early philosophical systems identified four, three, or five aspects of the natural world with personality traits; in western Europe people identified the personalities that can now be described as HSP, LBS, Type A, and ADHD with earth, air, fire, and water. C.G. Jung and some other “personality psychologists” classified human behavior into patterns, with introversion and extroversion being the most conspicuous, and other behavioral tendencies like rationality and emotionality, tension and relaxation, and so on, following in various sequences. Sigmund Freud began by observing the personality types of psychiatric patients and how they can be understood as unbalanced versions of the personality types of “normal” people. (In Freudian psychology, although there is a range of “normal” behavior, there is no such thing as a truly mentally healthy person; “normal” people are those who have learned to cope with their mental problems.)

Miller is one of these Freudian psychologists who identify personality patterns with paranoid, hysterical (or, more accurately, histrionic), impulsive, antisocial, and similar tendencies, as distinct from the Jungian school who, more encouragingly, identify personality patterns with more or less healthy physical traits. No points for guessing that I’ve always inclined toward the Jungian approach. However, we all begin by observation, so each of the different systems of classifying personality patterns does contain some truth. While reading Miller’s descriptions of the most common Freudian personality patterns you’re likely to think of people you know, perhaps people who don’t quite fit the patterns discussed by other schools of thought—“Oh, there’s Jane Doe! I don’t think she’s really HSP or really ADHD, I suspect she’s learned to act a bit like both in order to pursue her goals in what might be a sort of Type A way, but she’s not a real Type A…but everything Miller is saying about the ‘hysterical’ or histrionic personality sounds more and more like our friend Jane.”

This book is more of an explanation for non-professionals than it is a self-help book. Read it to find out what a psychologist of the older school, including those working at the Minirth-Meier Clinic, might mean by describing someone as an "antisocial personality" or a "paranoid personality" in the absence of solid evidence that the person has done anything antisocial, is clinically paranoid, etc. If the material interests you, the literary style probably won't seem unbearably verbose or technical.

Miller is still alive and practicing psychology in Florida, so this is a Fair Trade Book. Currently it's widely available in a cheapish "mass market" paperback edition (the size that fits into a trench coat pocket), which is the edition I physically own and can offer for the usual terms: $5 per book, $5 per package, $1 per online payment, from which (if you send the $10 or $11 to the appropriate address at the bottom of the screen) I'll send $1 to Miller or the charity of his choice. You could fit at least one more paperback of this size, or two thinner ones, into the package for the one $5 shipping fee; if you consolidate shipping fees in this way we send the $1 (or occasionally more) to as many living authors for as many of their books as are included.