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  • Writer's pictureKim Golson

All The Self-Help Books in The World

Updated: Jan 24, 2022

lots of self help books scattered in an untidy pile

I'm just sitting here in my at home office (aka handy room to store homeless items in) and I've noticed about 6 or 7 so called self-help books on my tiny bookshelf. I know for a fact that whilst I may have started most of them, I haven't actually finished any of them. I also know that were I to venture upstairs to my bedroom I would find many many more self help books which I could say the same about.

It's got me thinking about the whole self-help book culture and why so many of us a suckers for one. I am sure that some people do genuinely find them beneficial, but I can't help thinking it's a little bit like the diet industry. I mean, if they actually worked long term, surely any of us that bought one would only have one? Why would we need to continually seek answers in the pages of these promised handbooks to a better life? I think the answer lies in the way our current culture views anything.

It's all about the quick fix.

24 years ago I had a serious breakdown which resulted in me spending several months as an inpatient in a hospital based therapeutic community. We had lots of therapy of varying types in small and large groups. Some people were day patients - I did a further 2 and a half years as a day patient after my inpatient stay - but in order to attend small group therapies in the day or be present in the community you had to attend the full group session in the morning. I met lots of interesting characters and witnessed lots of psychotic outbursts - but that's a tale for another time.

What I am now able to reflect back on and see very clearly is that we were all after a diagnosis; and the perceived severity of that diagnosis had a role in an unspoken patient hierarchy. But the reason for desperately wanting a diagnosis was the idea that if you had x condition then you just needed to take these specific tablets and you would be better. A complete fallacy but very clearly, in hindsight, a strong motivation. Because we wanted a quick fix. We wanted to know that if we took these tablets we would feel better and miraculously life would be better.

Having therapy has been the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Confronting my own learnt beliefs and behaviours; taking personal responsibility for my actions and decisions as an adult; Letting out feelings I have tried to push down and forget about. It is hard. It is an emotional rollercoaster. And I've only just begun to truly understand that recovery from trauma is a lifelong journey. After each block of therapy I've felt a sense of relief and held some notion that "I've dealt with that now", only to unearth a while later some other problem thoughts or behaviours which relate back to my early experiences in some way.

It's no wonder that in the depths of despair all we really want is "THE ANSWER" that will set us on the road to a better life and make everything shine bright. But just like New Year's Resolutions these moments are short lived, as frequently we are papering over the cracks and the unresolved trauma, the unchanged beliefs, start to chip away at the new routines or mindsets and lead us back to where we were.

In the last three weeks I have purchased 2 more self-help books. This is still very much a current issue for me. But am I seeking a quick fix or am I seeking to replace the beliefs that I have let go of? Because if the latter is true maybe this time the self-help books will be of long term benefit.

I think self-help requires discipline. Discipline is something I have struggled with all my life. It was part of my strategy to make my mother not love me, and I have really found it nigh on impossible to do something - even if I had planned to do it - if someone (could be anyone) suggests I do it. That would mean that they would think I'd only done it because they suggested it and I can only do things that other people think is my own idea; would be my brains rationale. Slightly ridiculously I would even have this response to myself if I suggested I could do something!

But I do feel as though this is changing for me - since I realised that this thought process was based on the incorrect conclusion that love wasn't safe. Prior to this I can categorically say that all the self help books in the world would not have helped, because my mindset and beliefs would not allow them to help. I was too comfortable and invested in running these beliefs and allowing them to "keep me safe", which is what they were designed to do. I have had to recognise unhelpful (even hindering) beliefs and work at changing them. They were very useful at helping me to feel safe and in control when they needed to, but they are no longer serving me.

So perhaps self-help books do have a place, but only once we have let go of the things that stop us taking advantage of the lessons and practices within their pages. Perhaps if my most recent book purchases don't deliver the promised transformations it will indicate to me that there is another belief holding me back, allegedly "keeping me safe", that I will need to unpick. And if that's the case then I guess the self-help book will have helped me grow. I all comes down to where the responsibility for the process lies. If I blame the book and decide it is rubbish then there will be no growth. But I can choose to make it a growth opportunity, even if the lessons I learn were not the primary ones set out in the book itself.

I'll let you know!

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1 Comment

Paula Goodwin
Paula Goodwin
Jan 27, 2022

Self help books are like diets, they play on our insecurities, they fed the idea that we are not good enough, not wealthy enough, not good looking enough, not popular enough. But not just that they promise to let you in on the secret, become part of the special elite club, just hand over your money and all will be well.

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