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Better Than Normal: How What Makes You Different Can Make You Exceptional

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A groundbreaking new view of human psychology that shows how eight key traits of human behavior—long perceived as liabilities—can be important hidden strengths.

What if the inattentiveness that makes school or work a challenge holds the secret to your future as an entrepreneur? What if the shyness in groups that you hate is the source of deep compassion for others? What if the anxiety and nervousness you ...

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Better Than Normal: How What Makes You Different Can Make You Exceptional

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Overview

A groundbreaking new view of human psychology that shows how eight key traits of human behavior—long perceived as liabilities—can be important hidden strengths.

What if the inattentiveness that makes school or work a challenge holds the secret to your future as an entrepreneur? What if the shyness in groups that you hate is the source of deep compassion for others? What if the anxiety and nervousness you often feel can actually help energize you? What if the mood swings you sometimes experience can be the source of tremendous creativity?

Renowned psychiatrist and popular on-air personality Dr. Dale Archer believes that labels for behavior like “ADHD,” “bipolar,” and “OCD” are normal human qualities—and contends that we all experience these and other psychological traits to some extent, yet fail to leverage the significant advantages they can offer. Worse, we stigmatize one another for these prevalent, widely shared aspects of our personalities.

In Better Than Normal, Dr. Archer offers an empowering framework for redefining what constitutes mental health. Drawing on his twenty years of clinical experience, he describes eight traits of human behavior—heretofore known only as psychiatric diagnoses. Each of these occurs along a continuum rather than as a simple on-off switch (where “off ” means we’re fine, and “on” means we’ve got a problem). These are the aspects of our personality that we worry about the most, but these are also the very things that make us distinctive and different.

According to Dr. Archer, each of us has a unique personality that emerges from our hardwired genetics and individual life experiences. With Better Than Normal, you can map your individual characteristics by taking the eight trait self-assessment quiz and see how what makes you different can indeed make you exceptional. Filled with engaging anecdotes and practical tools to help you capitalize on your unique characteristics, Better Than Normal offers a new and liberating way to look at ourselves and others.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Concerned about the mental health trend of “Overevaluating. Overdiagnosing. And most important of all, overmedicating,” psychiatrist Archer identifies the dominant trait of each of eight disorders and says they exist on a spectrum in everyone, from absent to superdominant. He argues that if someone exhibits a trait associated with a disorder but the trait is not “superdominant” and is properly managed, it can be seen as a strength, not a mental disorder, and may make the person “better than normal.” For instance, someone may be adventurous, hence restless and easily bored, but they do not have ADHD. Similarly, someone may be a perfectionist and not have obsessive-compulsive disorder. Other disorders he covers include narcissistic personality disorder, histrionic personality, and schizophrenia. As the title suggests, this is an upbeat book. Archer tends to rely too heavily on the experiences of people he has treated or known, and on his own personality and experiences (“Last week I found myself in Los Angeles, celebrating the Oscars.... Next, it’s on to New York, where I’m... appearing on television to talk about Charlie Sheen.” With his fresh approach and some interesting ideas, Archer normalizes personality characteristics too often seen as pathological. But his book covers too much in an often cursory, anecdotal manner. (Mar.)
Kirkus Reviews
A psychiatrist and CNN regular examines commonly held notions of mental-health disorders and their potentials for "normalcy." Frustrated with today's "overdiagnosed, overmedicated, and undertreated society," Archer attempts to destigmatize eight common psychological ailments by quantifying the dominance level of their inherent traits. In uniquely defusing disorders ranging from ADHD and OCD to anxiety and schizophrenia, the author believes the mental-health industry has been somewhat "glamorized." Throughout his chatty, anecdotal book, Archer convincingly argues that we can actually function normally with mildly influential characteristics of narcissism, social anxiety and bipolar disorder. When these traits are within the lower (harmless) end of the continuum and don't become a "superdominant" mannerism, they can be seen as beneficial behavioral enhancements--e.g., high energy and enthusiasm doesn't always mean a bipolar personality; sensitivity and deliberation shouldn't equal social anxiety disorder. Archer's creative redressing of these pathologically considered conditions is compelling and will definitely capture the attention of readers eager to "re-diagnose" themselves using his spectrum scale. The author, who admits to being a hyper-intuitive "world-class poker player," does gamble a bit, however, with the free association of some of the more volatile psychological conditions in considering their lighter traits as derivatives of normalcy. Drawing heavily on his own experiences, Archer proudly advances his beliefs with episodes from his psychiatric practice, website queries and travels throughout the country. There are some fresh, modern and mildly amusing associations here; however, contrasting self-assessed symptoms of a disorder as significant as schizophrenia with the idiom of "magical thinking" will surely raise eyebrows. Optimistic and creatively inspired assessments that occasionally overreach.
From the Publisher
“A psychiatric pep talk guaranteed to rev up any reader.” – Booklist
 
“Archer’s creative redressing of these pathologically considered conditions is compelling and will definitely capture the attention of readers eager to “re-diagnose” themselves using his spectrum scale.” – Kirkus Reviews

“[An] extraordinary book.” -LibraryJournal.com

"With his fresh approach and some interesting ideas, Archer normalizes personality characteristics too often seen as pathological." -Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307887467
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/13/2012
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.84 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Meet the Author

DALE ARCHER, M.D., a board-certified psychiatrist and distinguished fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, founded the Institute for Neuropsychiatry and the psychiatric program at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital. He also runs DrDaleArcher.com, a free advice website.

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Read an Excerpt

ONE the eight traits

And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more diffi cult to take in

hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take
the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator
has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and
lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.
— Niccolò Machiavelli
 
 
It’s time for the introduction of a new order of things in the world of mental health. As a psychiatrist, I feel called to look critically at the overdiagnosing and overmedicating of America. More important, I am driven to spread an empowering new message about mental disorder that places responsibility for identity and mental health back where it belongs— in your hands. 
   I am envisioning a real change in the way we all talk about what it means to be ourselves. I believe that by understanding the eight fundamental behavioral traits and by seeing them as part of a continuum, we can really make a positive change in the way we understand ourselves. By the time you finish this book, I hope you will be able to see that every one of us has all of these traits, to some degree, and can analyze where each of our traits falls on a one- to- ten continuum (more on this in a moment). You’ll be able to say:
 
“I’m an eight on the ADHD continuum.”
“I am a seven on the narcissism continuum.”
 “I am a seven on the bipolar continuum.”
“I am a two on the OCD continuum.”
 
   What’s more, you should be able to recognize exactly how your dominant traits have aided you in the past. “I would never have had the desire to do that ten- day solo sailing trip if I wasn’t an ADHD eight,” you might say, as I do. Or even better: “I have all the strengths I need to go on that trip I’ve always dreamed of. There’s nothing to stop me now.”
   Here’s a story for you. It’s about me, but it could easily be about you or lots of other people.        
   One day when I was in fifth grade, my homeroom teacher called in sick and we had a substitute teacher for the day, whom I’ll call Ms. J. When this young woman walked into the classroom, I was pretty sure I understood what she was all about. 
   I decided to see if I was right about her. To do so, I would perform a series of experiments. My first one involved spitballs. I’m not sure if kids still shoot spitballs, so let me give you a quick primer on this technique:
 
1. Tear off small bit of paper, ideally from homework assignment.
2. Wad up paper, place in mouth, and moisten with saliva (aka spit).
3. Remove paper from mouth and compress into hard little ball.
4. Insert ball into one end of straw, place mouth at other end.
5. Blow hard.
 
   I prepared the first spitball and waited until Ms. J was at the blackboard with her back turned. Ptooey! The spitball shot across the room and hit the neck of a kid in the first row. Ms. J faced us. If she noticed the disruption, she didn’t let on. Oh my, yes, I was quite right about her. I followed up on my experiment by sending several rubber bands zinging across the room before upping the ante to a whole new level: paper airplanes.
   That did it.
   My airplane missed its kid target and nailed Ms. J’s right kneecap. She gasped. She turned red. She looked on the brink of tears. She hastily departed the room and, a moment later, returned with the assistant principal, Mr. B. Without hesitation, he called me to the front of the room and glared at me. “D,” he said sternly. (D was my nickname in school.) I slumped a bit. “Yes?” Mr. B spoke in a low, controlled tone. “If you don’t behave, I will have to call your parents. I will tell your mother and father that you have been disrupting class and that someone will have to come get you and take you home.”
   Despite the way this story makes me sound, I was actually a pretty obedient kid. I told Mr. B that I would behave. I apologized to Ms. J. I went back to my desk. Mr. B departed. I leaned my chair up against the wall. Ms. J continued the lesson. I fell asleep.
    I feel a little bad when I tell this story. Ms. J was probably a shy woman whose personality type was not particularly well suited to substitute teaching fifth graders. So let me take this opportunity to apologize (again) for ruining her day. Sorry, Ms. J!
   My spitball story provides a textbook case of the condition called attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Symptoms include inability to focus, acting out, and fidgeting. According to traditional ways of thinking about this disorder, when such symptoms become disruptive— as they did that day in Ms. J’s class— they are no longer considered normal personality traits. They become abnormal, signaling a mental disorder that needs to be treated, usually with a combination of therapy and medication, typically a psychostimulant such as Ritalin or Adderall.    
     What’s more, anyone who exhibits the symptoms— and goes in for treatment— is labeled mentally ill. They are categorized, stigmatized, and often scarred for life. Good thing for me that my escapade didn’t occur recently or I might have been taken to a doc and medicated on the spot!
   This is the traditional way of thinking about certain personality traits. My mission is to do whatever it takes to blow that thinking out of the water. And I’ll use every tool at my disposal to do so, including, if necessary, spitballs.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 The Eight Traits 12

2 Adventurous (ADHD) 34

3 Perfectionist (OCD) 54

4 Shy (Social Anxiety Disorder) 73

5 Hyper-alert (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) 92

6 Dramatic (Histrionic) 109

7 Self-focused (Narcissistic) 130

8 High Energy (Bipolar) 152

9 Magical (Schizophrenia) 176

Conclusion 199

Appendix: the Questionnaires 209

Notes 219

Bibliography 226

Acknowledgments 231

Index 235

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 12 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 15, 2012

    Excellent book. Eigth traits representing psychiatric diagnosese

    Excellent book. Eigth traits representing psychiatric diagnosese ( ADHD, OCD, Anxiety, social anxiety, narcissistic, histrionic, bipolar, schizophrenia) are examined along a continuum from 1 (absent) to 10+ (severe). In the 9-10+ range these may represent a psychiatric illness with the need for treatment and perhaps medication. But in the 5-8 range, they are considered "dominant" and not only do not represent a mentall illness BUT can be a source of stregnth. Redefines what is 'normal' and what is a 'mental illness'. Fascinating premise.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 15, 2012

    Finally! A common sense explanation from a recognized expert tha

    Finally! A common sense explanation from a recognized expert that details why there is nothing wrong with being different, and that every quirk in your personality is not a reason - nor an excuse - for the problems in your life. Even better, it was easy to read and full of anecdotes that illustrated key points. I love the concept of embracing what makes you different and using it achieve success, instead of trying to "fix" it or use it to excuse a lack of success. I would recommend this to everyone!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 15, 2012

    Such a refreshing read! I really enjoyed the easy to follow brea

    Such a refreshing read! I really enjoyed the easy to follow breakdown of the eight traits, which appeals to everyone. In the over medicated world we live in, its so important to be able to use what you thought as a weakness as your STRENGTH! Why hasnt anyone thought of this before?

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 15, 2012

    I am so excited that someone finally is telling us we aren't bro

    I am so excited that someone finally is telling us we aren't broken when we have a little difficulty in certain areas! We don't have to take medication to make us be like everyone else. I am not very comfortable in social situations where I don't know many people and always thought that was so not 'normal'...thought I should be like my friends.. chatty, outgoing, etc. Now I see that I'm just not wired that way and can have good conversation with my friends, enjoy activities in small groups, and can relax when I have to attend events with mostly unknown people... Thanks Dr. Archer for speaking out for those of us confined to a box!!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2012

    I received this book in the mail recently from Barnes & Nobl

    I received this book in the mail recently from Barnes & Noble. I did not order this book and do not know why I received it. When I called B&N to inquire I was told it was a gift purchased by "A Gift For You" in IL. I do not know anything about a company called A Gift For You, nor do I know anyone in IL. I am creating this post to see if this happened to anyone else or to see if anyone knows why I received this book. Thank you.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 15, 2012

    I will recommend this book to all my friends/family

    This is a groundbreaking book that will make a positive change in our society that is often too quick to over-diagnose and overmedicate when someone does not think they are "normal".

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 25, 2014

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book and learned a lot about quirks, p

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book and learned a lot about quirks, personalities, and psychological disorders. Having a better understanding of one's own behavior and that of others helps you be compassionate and loving.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2014

    Aria

    Name: Ar&#1111anaetha Khoprathashradquefertheserta, but you can just call her Aria. &#9787. Appearance: She has wavy, soft black hair, elf ears, abnormally slender fingers, and eyes that are gold with flecks of green, silver, and turquoise. Personality: At first seems very suspicious, but is actually quite trusting, loyal, strong, awestrikingly intelligent (She taught herself from a dictionary about 75% of the English language last night), and she is crazy in an intentional way. She doesn't know how old she is and she is an orphan with no family at all. History: She was kidnapped at infancy and was eventually sold as a slave from her home planet to a human dr<_>ugdealer. This dr<_>ugdealer made her his slave, for se<_>x and normal tasks. She was set to this task for about 15 years from the age of 5. Finally, a man known as Creon Xandra rescued her. She lived happily with him for about 2 weeks, before she was forced to watch the same dr<_>ugdealer murder him in cold blood. Since then, she has lived by herself, spending her time trying to find a way home.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2014

    Slash

    Name: Slash Gender: female Power: well she has light tan skin and hair covering her body with golden brown hair and blue green eyes. She has a long tail and slightly pointed ears. She can unsheathe her claws and fangs normally when shes hunting or mad. Family: Wolverine (her bf/husband), her griffon, Zeze that has black covering her front half and then blendd into white on her back half. Skills: shes good with all weapons especially bows and arrows and she loves trees. A lot.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2014

    Wolverine

    Name: wolverine. Only three people get to call me anything else, and all three are directly related. Age: does it really matter? Gender: O.e are you seriously that idiotic? Desc: messy brown hair, green eyes, leather jacket, tshirt, jeans, boots, leather gloves. Gf/wife: slash. Family: he was renounced by all but shadow(younger sister), slash, and winter(adopted younger sister). History: just ask. Weapons/powers: he has a sword that splits into seven other swords and each is cursed with a power that only affects dragons unless united with at least one other sword, in which case is devastating to all races. (This is actually a weakness, as wolverine is legally a dragon. and as such, the touch of these swords is extremely painful. Hence the gloves he wears) moving on, his claws are devastating, and he has healing abilities.Other: erm... hes a dragon prince(long story related to the sword and a pair of dragon queens, one if which he cut the tail from four times. Ask for details) and very protective of his motorcycles. And sodas. And virtually everything else. Especially slash.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2012

    Great book

    Helped me understand myself and others! Loved the continuum applied to each characteristic.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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