The Difference Between Spirituality & Self-Help in 1 Sentence.

Via Benjamin Riggs
on Nov 21, 2011
get elephant's newsletter


~ Quote by Ben Riggs

I do not care how or Barnes-&-Nobles discerns between spirituality and self-improvement. I am describing the actual movement—the real life attempt to fix yourself—not some section of a bookstore or system of classification authors are shoved into willy-nilly.

Fixing yourself is violent because it requires, first, a rejection of yourself, then, a brutal attempt to “improve” upon the aspect of yourself you have rejected or deemed unworthy. It is like plastic surgery for the soul. Except the “improvement” turns out to be nothing more than the violent installation of a foreign ideal. Self-help is an attempt to become what society, your parents, or some author or authority said you “should” be. While, spirituality is about allowing the totality of the human condition to express itself without mediation or censorship…over and over again.

To read more about the differences between spirituality and self-help click here.


Elephant Spirituality is now on twitter… Click here to follow us!

Elephant Spirituality is an example of Elephant Journal’s commitment to the Mindful Life. We look to provide a fresh and practical perspective on traditional spirituality. If you would like to follow Elephant Spirituality on FaceBook click here and become a fan of Elephant Spirituality by clicking the “Like” tab at the top of the page.


About Benjamin Riggs

Ben Riggs is the director of the Refuge Meditation Group in Shreveport, LA. Ben writes extensively about Buddhist & Christian spirituality for Elephant Journal, and The Web of Enlightenment. To keep up with all of his work follow him on Facebook or Twitter. He also teaches at Explore Yoga. Looking for a real bio? Click here to read my story....


27 Responses to “The Difference Between Spirituality & Self-Help in 1 Sentence.”

  1. Janice says:

    Thank you Ben. I really needed to read this today! :)

  2. Hi, Ben. The problem with this formulation is not in the quotation, but rather in your gross stereotyping of "self-help." The best self-help methods have the very same objective as your spirituality does.

    Why do you insist on wanting to label all "self-help" methods as un-spiritual and unhealthy? Many of them are very spiritual and very healthy. One can only evaluate specific authors and ideas, since there is such vast variety under the label "self-help".

    Any statement disparaging "self-help" in general is going to be wrong and unfair, as would any similar denouncement of all spirituality.

    My own life has been greatly enhanced by many things labeled "self-help". There is some really good stuff in the self-help or personal growth genre, which I can embrace and highly recommend to others.

    Bob W. Editor, Elephant Journal
    Yoga Demystified
    Facebook Twitter StumbleUpon

  3. Valeie Carruthers says:

    Perhaps the real difference between "self-help" or "personal growth" and spirituality is that spirituality is beyond the personal. The energy within spirituality transcends that of the small-s self. Its all embracing, so there's no possibility of violence.

    Llots of people begin to practice meditation or follow a guru figure, thinking that this will make them a better person. That approach may well grow out of the self-help mindset. Eventually they will see it's not about that. Some people undertake spiritual practices or" transformational" seminars with the aim of helping others. It's certainly not about that either. They will have to clear up their own identity crisis first. That, to me, is authentic self-help.

  4. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Join us! Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage. Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook.

  5. kathik says:

    One of my yoga teachers-in-training recently said “This (practice & training) is too hard to do just for selfish reasons.” Nice, huh?
    To me spirituality is dedicating your work to something greater (abyhasa, isvara pranidhana) without regard for “outcome” (vairagya).
    I agree w Ben, self-help is often judgment-based, fear-motivated and can feed the ego-system, which we’re trying to see beyond

  6. yogijulian says:

    i do not agree ben. healing and growth always require a very nuanced and layered deconstruction of defenses and habits and coping mechanisms so as to become more authentic, emotionally honest, undefended, in touch with ourselves and able to be both intimate with others and the world and live more congruently with who we actually are…

    developmentally processes and healing need not imply self aggression – in fact just the opposite.

    too often spirituality that leaves out deep personal work in the name of transcending the ego, rising about emotions, being enlightened now, radically accepting yourself etc ends up enacting an unconscious aggression against the very parts of us that benefit the most from the kinds of work that the best self help/psychotherapeutic/mind-body processes have to offer.

  7. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage. Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook. xoxo

  8. Katie says:

    Yogijulian makes the most sense to me. Ben's definition felt judgemental, as if I shouldn't try to self-help.I think the whole question is so much bigger than either learning to truly love yourself, or trying to become who or what you think you are supposed to be. Both definitions lack the greater spirituality of seeing beyond the self.

  9. doug says:

    "Spirituality" is being God or Spirit centered & service oriented. "Self-help" is being self-centered and self-serving.

    Either way has it's place. But there is a vast difference! :)

  10. Excellent Post! Thanks!

  11. craigholliday says:

    And can we give ourselves to something greater than ourselves?

  12. […] and looking for more is the misconception that only the most seraphic moments of euphoria warrant spiritual satisfaction. Many do not realize the abundance of the subtle every day spiritual […]

  13. […] It has been used as forms of self help that, in my opinion, have been more damaging than helpful. […]

Leave a Reply