Why ‘Self-Help’ Isn’t Always Helpful

Once you learn how to think for yourself and stop blaming anyone or anything for what happens in your life, you’ll be forever free.

Omar Cherif

Now I know what you’re probably thinking. How can the act of uncovering or seeking out self-help material and aiming for self-development be a negative or detrimental process? After all the very nature of the term ‘self-help’ would imply a long list of benefits and advantages, with great opportunity for growth and little room for error and huge backward steps. Although I want to first reiterate that the notion of searching and subsequently engaging with self-help material can be immensely rewarding and enlightening for many people, and I for one would strongly encourage anybody to try and better themselves every single day, I also want more people to be aware that becoming obsessed and too engrossed in self-help content can be deeply harmful, overwhelming and counterproductive in the long-term. And this isn’t me attempting to scare you I promise.

As someone who’s battled with anxiety and depression for almost 10 years now, I’ve gone through my fair share of challenges and traumatic experiences, of which I’ve often found testing to bounce back from. In those times of hardship, I’ve certainly been guilty of coping in destructive ways and aiming to claw myself out of darkness through the never-ending conveyor belt of self-development books, audiobooks, news articles, podcasts and self-proclaimed gurus who often have little to no knowledge or scientific expertise on the topics they’re preaching about. And when, like I have, people are facing inner turmoil, are unsure of their identity and don’t know which direction to turn in to make themselves feel better, it’s easy for them to be sucked in by the glamourous idea that they can become happier, more productive, more fulfilled, less stressed, less fearful by following the values or teachings that somebody on the internet may be discussing. We can be very quick to trust. And equally quick to lose faith. We often take information at face value. Oh it’s worked for this woman and that guy who’s incredibly successful, therefore surely it could be effective for me right? If I work hard and hang on their every word, there’s no reason I won’t be happy and living my true purpose in no time whatsoever.

Yet, on the other hand, if it doesn’t work out how we’d envisaged or hoped for, our instincts immediately assume that it’s our fault and that we will always remain in our current, debilitating mindsets. That the book we’ve read or podcast we’ve been listening to is automatically correct and if we haven’t gained enough from it, we’ve obviously not followed the advice down to a tee and done something drastically wrong along the way. But what if we’ve been looking at the art, yes it is an art, of self-development wrong this whole entire time?

If we hit a rocky patch in our lives, it’s perfectly natural to want to find a solution that will drag ourselves out of a specific scenario or situation. The problem is that in seeking self-development through all the mediums I have mentioned above, it can make us look inward to a point where we feel even more shit and disheartened about our lives and how we feel than when we started the process of making improvements. While it’s definitely healthy to be reflective and find methods of bettering yourself, this modern Western culture of basically ramming ‘self-help’ down people’s throats, often with the intention of benefiting financially off people’s vulnerability, can foster an environment of comparison, perfectionism and a constant, never-ending state of self-reflection and feeling like we NEED to and SHOULD be doing better. And, more importantly, it’s making it even harder for people to use their own initiative and think for themselves.

No matter how happy or how productive or how well we perform, there’s always something else to achieve. There’s always another milestone to reach, another box to tick, another hurdle to overcome, another Everest to climb. And again I’m not speaking for everybody who wants to help people and share their knowledge with the world, however I just fear that people will become so overloaded with conflicting information and messages that they will lose sight of what they’re doing right; instead continuing to focus on their weaknesses and then feeling inadequate. In striving for better lives, let’s be careful to avoid a position where people cannot be themselves and are conditioned with an inability to be grateful for the good in their lives.

After all it’s wildly unrealistic for us humans to be developing or evolving all of the time. Taking time to recharge the batteries and refresh is perfectly acceptable- you shouldn’t have to feel bad for doing so. Becoming a better, happier person is fantastic, but it needn’t be so non-stop and relentless. As ever, balance is key!

Thanks for reading,

Adam

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