I grew up watching the Oprah Winfrey Show and Dr. Phil every day at my grandma’s. I did a Deepak Chopra and Oprah 21 day meditation challenge. I do EFT tapping every morning.
The first section I always used to hit at Barnes and Noble was self-help and personal improvement, but I avoid it like the plague now.
It wasn’t an immediate aversion, but a growing, nagging feeling like these books were doing more harm than good.
The first book that got me wary about self-help was F*ck Feelings. I felt personally offended and victimized. I’m sure the concepts resonate with some people, but it just left me feeling (ha) sad that I couldn’t seem to do what the book asked of me.
The last self-help book that actually resonated with me was A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. It was one I’d tried to tackle for years, but always found too esoteric. But finally, everything about the ego and pain body clicked for me. Every paragraph was like a big exhale, a big a-ha. Until about December, I was cruising with the ideas that A New Earth had instilled in me.
And then January, everything seemed to screech to a halt.
By January of this year, I was reeling. My eating disorder had creeped out of dormancy to full-force, my anxiety was debilitating at times, and I could not even bring myself to do the things I loved. Of course, I turned to the library and scoured the stacks.
I read voraciously. I went back to old favorites, tried “miracle cleanses” and smiling for minutes at a time. By the time I finished every book (and I’m a fast reader), my problems felt addressed. I expected to be fixed. I was euphoric, but only for a few days. And then the old thoughts and habits would come back and I’d be in a deeper hole than when I started.
Clearly, self-help wasn’t working anymore.
I started going back to therapy in February, which has admittedly helped immensely. With starting therapy, I made a conscious decision to quit self-help books, if only for the reason that it was too much noise in my brain to balance both my therapist and an author’s advice. And then I realized that when I wasn’t trying to jerk around my life and feelings, things went a lot more smoothly.
It was okay that I felt like shit, regardless of whether or not I had a reason to. Not everything had to be pan flutes and waterfalls all the time.
Self-help gave me the illusion that by the time I finished a book, I would be healed. All of the wounds of my past would disintegrate as I flipped pages. All it really did was put me on a rollercoaster of feeling good and then beating myself up when I couldn’t maintain the good feelings.
Of course, some lessons from self-help have actually helped me. I still rate A New Earth as one of the most life-changing books I’ve ever read. But there was no substitute for me for actually going to therapy and hashing out some of the elements of my past – my pain-body, to use Eckhart’s words – and actually releasing my attachment to them.
Self-help isn’t inherently trash, but be wary of putting your life into a book’s hands.