In Why Can’t I Change?: How to Conquer Your Self-Destructive Patterns, Shirley Impellizzeri outlines the psychological issues surrounding attachment from birth through adulthood.
Using the latest research on brain science plus well-supported theories, Impellizzeri does a solid job of setting the stage before addressing the ultimate question underlying her book: Why is it so difficult for people to change?
The answer, Impellizzeri posits, lies in our attachments. Those attachments start forming at our earliest ages: According to Impellizzeri, “[D]uring the first year of life, infants select one primary attachment figure. This is typically the mother, as this is the person to whom the infant has been closest to the longest. Once selected, this person is set apart from all other adults in the infant’s mind. The special bond continues throughout life.” That bond manifests itself in any of four ways:
- Proximity maintenance: The infant will try to stay close to the attachment figure.
- Safe haven: The infant will go to the attachment figure for safety.
- Secure base: The infant will make the attachment figure an anchor of security.
- Separation distress: The infant will become anxious or distressed when separated from the attachment figure.
Impellizzeri spends the first chapter enumerating the ways attachment consumes our lives on a psychological level. The chapter is titled “Planting the Seeds that Lead to Your Patterns,” so the intent is clear. We’re starting small before getting big.
It would have been easy to write this book with academic jargon and difficult-to-follow explanations. However, Impellizzeri makes her subject readable by engaging her audience with stories they can relate to. She provides a case study of a girl named Amy, whose life we follow from infancy to adulthod throughout the course of the book. At the end of each chapter, Impellizzeri provides three additional brief sections: “Conclusion,” where she summarizes the chapter, “End-of-Chapter Exercise,” where she gives a technique for getting to better know ourselves, and “Chapter Takeaway,” where she gives wisdom and advice for putting the ideas into practice.
In the second chapter, Impellizzeri expands upon the first by discussing how the brain works and how attachment plays into our development. In addition to the left and right sides of the brain, there is a small pocket where things get a bit complicated. Impellizzeri discusses the reptilian brain, the limbic or emotional brain, and the neocortex or thinking brain. Impellizzeri does a good job of explaining, but there is a lot of information that could have been better condensed. In order to understand her subject, it is reasonable to first study it on a micro-scale. That said, Impellizzeri gets a little too technical and runs the risk of confusing her audience when simple clarity would have been a better fit. This, however, is really the only minor misstep I found in Why Can’t I Change?
An interesting aspect of the book is that Impellizzeri chooses to include herself throughout. By making herself vulnerable, she becomes accessible and respectable. Impellizzeri traces her own psychological journey throughout the book, describing how she started to notice her emotional and behavioral patterns, and how she began to change them. She writes:
Understanding how you behave based on your attachment style and the development of your brain is crucial to understanding yourself. Learning about the nervous system and my automatic reactions based on my past was invaluable to me. I not only began to understand myself but also my contribution to how others reacted to me. I felt empowered with this information, knowing that first I needed to feel safe in the world and then to help those around me feel safe to change the way we interacted.
Not only was she able to become more comfortable and aware of herself through self-education, but Impellizzeri was also able to understand on a deeper level how she interacted with people, including those to whom she is closest. As a result, her life improved.
Why Can’t I Change? excels most in giving the reader the proper foundation to approach this subject. It would have been easy to dumb the subject down, but Impellizzeri fortunately opted not to. She instead chose to give her readers credit and respect.
By fusing academia with self-help, Impellizzeri gives us a book that is right in the middle. It doesn’t condescend, but it doesn’t pander. Why Can’t I Change? finds that happy medium that makes it both readable as well as engrossing.
Why Can’t I Change?: How to Conquer Your Self-Destructive Patterns
By Shirley Impellizzeri, PhD
Sunrise River Press: May 15, 2012
Paperback, 212 pages