I am hesitant to write these words as I know they may offend many of my friends and colleagues in the mind/body community, but self-help often isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.
I have seen a lot of people who overdosed on one self-help method or another and ended up far worse off than they started.
While I believe that some forms self-help are nothing more than scams than prey on the vunerable—let’s face it, who turns to self-help when they are feeling great about themselves?
I am convinced that most forms of self-help aren’t the problem per say. Rather, the problem arises when people either completely misinterpret the message or use it to justify their own questionable behavior.
Self-help and the yoga community often appear to go hand-in-hand. Over the years, I have met fellow instructors or had students who went from one form of self-help to another. In most cases, they became very immersed in one method to the point that some were practically evangelical about it only to either rapidly lose interest in it and declare it really wasn’t the answer and move on the next one.
I dub people like these “self-help junkies.”
By “junkies,” I’m not being glib. Much like real junkies, many of these people experience a very noticeable high when they first discover their latest method and then once that feeling wears off, they are on a search for something else to replicate that initial high that they first felt.
Many spend a good part of their lives chasing that dragon.
The point of this piece is not to critique specific forms of self-help because again, I don’t believe most forms of self-help are the problem. Rather, it is to be aware of some signs that may indicate that it is well and truly time to get off that train and perhaps seek some professional help for what is plaguing you.
Here’s a the signs:
1. You believe “putting yourself first” is exactly what it sounds like and doesn’t come with consequences.
The idea of putting one’s self first is a central concept in a lot of self-help offerings. Indeed, it has become a bit of a cliche.
While it is a good idea in general to put yourself first that does not mean it’s your way and no one else’s. It also doesn’t mean that what you want is always good for you or even falls under putting your own needs first.
For instance, if you are in a lousy job, relationship, etc. and decide it is time to leave, then most people (including me) would say by all means leave. However, just quitting one day without any thought of the future is not a good idea. Like most things in life, there is a right and wrong way to leave things.
“Free” does not mean the same as “no responsibilities.”
On a similar note, while it is important to get your needs met and have your voice heard, it doesn’t mean that you’re always right.
People who truly benefit from self-help acknowledge these things and know that when they make choices-especially difficult ones-they have to accept and live with the consequences.
2. You believe that if you find the right self-help method all your problems will be solved or life will be easy.
While self-help, along with love, support, and other helpful resources, can help make some of life easier or at least allow you to deal better with the problems that arise, nothing is capable of solving all your problems. The truth is everyone has problems. It’s part of life.
Even happy people have problems. In fact, some of the happiest people I have known have dealt with things I cannot even imagine. Like everyone else, their problems never go away for good.
Much like believing that having the perfect job or perfect body will lead to happiness, looking for the perfect self-help method is like looking for gold at the end of the rainbow: you just aren’t going to find it.
Plus, focusing so much on the hunt for the perfect method often takes time away from actually dealing with the actual problem that is plaguing the individual.
This leads me to the last and most important reason to quit:
3. You believe self-help can take the place of professional help including medical help.
Even the best self-help expert will tell you that there are limits to what they can do. If for example you happen to be like me and have a family history of depression, then turning to a form of self-help that stresses positive thinking and learning to avoid triggers that can worsen depression could certain help.
However, depression is something that needs professional care and self-help alone cannot “cure” it.
While there are bad psychologists, therapists and doctors out there, all have licenses to practice and one can file a complaint if they believe they have received shoddy care. By contrast, the self-help industry is largely unregulated.
Even if someone trained under a well-known self-help guru, there is no guarantee that they are as good as their mentor or even up to deal with some of the problems that may arise.
In closing, self-help can help and it can hurt. While using self-help can be empowering and give you a sense in taking control over your life, sometimes it is far more stronger to surrender and accept that some things cannot be “fixed” or may require the help of a true professional.
Doing so does not make you a weaker person nor does it necessarily invalidate self-help.
In fact, people or methods that truly help others acknowledge their own limitations.
Or at the very least, they should.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise