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The self-help industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. It fills bookstores and conference halls with self-help resources on any and every issues that deny human beings, a “chance at happiness.”
Self-help books have made celebrities out of people who can parlay their churchilian writing skills into lucrative careers. They have capitalized wildly off the growing self-consciousness of the current generations brought about by the consumer culture and Hey-my-life-is-better-than- yours social media.
Just switch on your television, Chances are that you will find an uplifting tale of suffering-enlightment -redemption or the ‘searing`, `heartrending’, ‘genuinely transforming` memoirs of people who have changed their lives that are always featured on TV talk shows in the fleshy female torpor of early morning and late afternoon television.
Well, change whether it is for personal transformation and growth is a goal to which everyone aspires to achieve. Gaining self-esteem, improving relationships, losing weight, achieving success, getting rich or finding happiness are some of the things in which people would want to alter their lives.
However, personal change is one very difficult and involving process. Clinical psychology doesn’t exactly offer a stellar track record on personal change either. Yet we end up devoting more time, money and effort to achieve that elusive goal that we have set for ourselves. We end up putting so much vigor but with very poor results.
The situation is aggravated by the simple fact that the self-help books are market-driven rather than a peer-reviewed industry. Their marketing strategies create unrealistic expectations. Due to the profit motive, the incentive changes from creating real change to creating the perception of real change. The placating language used on the anxious and neurotic people only creates short-term sensations of accomplishment which dissipate within days. Then you are back to feeling shame and inadequacy, if not on a much higher scale.
Many self-help groups work by helping reinforce perceptions of inferiority and shame among the readers. A book may be entitled “how to be happy”. When a person reads it, they may probably think, oh wow I thought I was okay but there are things I could do to improve my life. Another person reads it, notices all the things they don’t do and just accept they are even bigger losers than they initially thought. This just makes then a pathetic sad bunch of people.
We all consciously perceive our problems in unique ways. Your colleague will think it’s a problem that they don’t know how to say hi to the boss, you may not know how to talk to a crush, etc. They all feel like real problems to us but the root of the problem could be something deeper like anxiety. When an anxious person gets a self-help book, suddenly reading it feels more important than actually solving the problem. Hence it becomes another form of avoidance.
So ,you have poured through countless numbers of self-help books but you still can’t get that ideal relationship, get that job or even drive that car. This most often ends up affecting an individual’s mood. A person may start feeling bad about not being able to fix his personal problems. Constant experiences of a negative mood eventually pave way to depression which has far more serious social and health implications to a person.
I may have come across as a non- believer when it comes to relying on these books for personal change. But when it comes to self-help, you can only hope that when you lay on your sofa, or when hunched over your computer reading some website that the writer is a qualified expert advising you what to do based on a century of empirical studies.
The responsibility is however on the reader to sift through the material and decide what is credible and what is not. But remember this; no one else has the answers to your life but you. You can take their experiences and ideas into consideration but it is how they apply to your life that should matter.