Self-help is Selfish.

Via Jennifer S. White
on Apr 14, 2013
get elephant's newsletter

Yet, this doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

I realized something that profoundly impacted my thinking after an experience during my teacher training.

In class the other day, we were video-recorded while teaching other trainees a myriad of poses—I came home, eager to tell my husband all about it.

I’d been nervous (although, I tell myself that I’m actually excited; it feels the same physiologically, but I’m still ackowledging my authentic self’s authentic experiences, which is important to me). Thankfully, my husband was equally interested in listening to how my day had went.

I didn’t get very far, though, because as I began recounting what happened, something personally mesmerizing took place; I was discussing with my husband the numerous mistakes that I knew I had made, without even seeing the video (this happens in my near future), and it dawned on me that nearly all of these mishaps occurred because I’d been inside of myself rather than helping my students get inside of themselves.

In short, I was connecting with my own teaching so much that I wasn’t connecting with who I should be: my students.

I have a slightly unusual situation in that I’m participating in a teacher traning, but I’ve already been teaching for five years. I know my style, I’ve found my voice, and I know how my teaching resonates with others because I’ve experienced it. For me, one of the most frustrating aspects of this TT is that, knowing all of this, I also know that who I bring into this group when we practice-teach is not this discovered self.

The self I bring into this room is often insecure and shy; whereas I’ve found my place, my confidence and my true calling in life through teaching yoga. Here, however, I feel myself transforming back into that awkward girl I used to be—a role I thought I had left long ago—instead of sharing the proud woman who I have become.

So when I realized, via this discussion with my husband, that the reason for this lies in one very basic concept—that I’m becoming self-involved in the way that I was as an introspective (and self-seeking by necessity) younger person—it helped me to connect with my resounding truth that self-help can be counterproductive.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t plan on digging deeper into myself and constantly renewing my belief that life is all about becoming a better person—after all, this is the root of why I adore my yoga practice.

Regardless, this awareness does help me to understand that the soul searching I’ve already done has been productive in the sense that I’ve found myself in a way that many adolescents, young adults, and, sadly, even older ones, still need to spend more time getting in touch with.

Personally, as someone who’s passed through the darkness of an eating disorder and risen into a place of lightness that I didn’t think—at one time at least, was possible—this consciousness has uncomfortably re-informed me that this dark side co-exists in me yet, and is easier to connect with than I would admittedly like—and the knowledge that this connection can happen through something as “positive” as self-help is a scary one.

Again, I’m not saying that self-help is bad or negative, but I am suggesting that when we spend too much time focusing on ourselves, even towards positive transformation, we’re still focusing on ourselves—this is, by definition, selfish.

I have a two-and-a-half year-old child now (a daughter, no less, who I’m trying to raise as a healthy female) and I have a husband who’s been with me through these formerly trying periods (we’re childhood sweethearts, just in case you haven’t read my bio); and while I’m certainly not offering that we stop looking within, I am offering that we not forget to look around too.

Self-help is only as productive as our ability to connect with our universal self.

In yoga, our back bodies relate to our universal selves and to our past. Conversely, our front bodies relate to our individual self and to our future.

I find it fascinating that as Americans we connect with our frontal appearances so easily (mirrors and phony, posed Facebook snapshots, interestingly often taken in mirrors); yet we all too easily ignore our backsides (poor posture, slouching over computers and steering wheels, societal obsessions with stellar abs). For example, if you’re a chakra enthusiast, you’re almost definitely aware that your sixth chakra is located at your third-eye in the center of your forehead.

Did you also know that its corresponding area is on the back of your head, at the base of your skull?

We are not flat, ego-centric individuals. Rather, we are three-dimensional, life-filled beings that are connected to something larger; we’re intrinsically woven into the fabrics of our societies, our partners, our enemies and our admirers. We are a part of a universal whole, and not acknowledging this doesn’t make it not there (it just makes you ignorant).

So does self-help have to be bad? No. Can it be? Of course.

Obviously we cannot be the best wives, sisters, daughters, friends and mothers that we ultimately have to offer if we do not first look into that mirror and own up to what we see, both positive and negative. At the same time, focusing too much on our individual self, even if our higher goal is self-improvement, brings us back into ourselves in a way that can encourage self-involved, overly egotistical thinking.

I had to look inside of myself to know that I am a strong woman. I am funny. I am smart. I am sensitive. I am all of these things and a goodie bag full of others.

I’m also not a teenager anymore, and I need to remember that when it’s time for me to spend my energy focusing on self-improvement that I have to consider that in my current life as a young mother, the best place for me to stand is in my truth, right where I am—even if that’s making dinner or potty training or listening to someone else’s soulfully discovered thoughts.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t plan to ever stop looking within—but now I do so that I can better understand what’s happening when I stop and look outside.

Granted, all of this heavy, self-indulgent self-analysis has helped me discover that I honestly love what I find within—and, let me tell you, it sure is nice to look out from clean, well cared for windows.

 “Selfishness is the only real atheism; aspiration, unselfishness, the only real religion.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt



Like elephant journal on Facebook.


Ed: Bryonie Wise

Source: via Michele on Pinterest



About Jennifer S. White

Jennifer S. White is a voracious reader, obsessive writer, passionate yoga instructor and drinker of hoppy ales. She’s also a devoted mama and wife (a stay-at-home yogi). She considers herself to be one of the funniest people who ever lived and she’s also an identical twin. In addition to her work on elephant journal, Jennifer has over 40 articles published on the wellness website MindBodyGreen and her yoga-themed column Your Personal Yogi ran in the newspaper Toledo Free Press. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in geology, absolutely no degrees in anything related to literature, and she currently owns a wheel of cheese. If you want to learn more about Jennifer, make sure to check out her writing, as she’s finally put her tendencies to over-think and over-share to good use. Jennifer is the author of The Best Day of Your Life, available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. She's also as excited as a five year old to announce the release of her second book, The Art of Parenting: Love Letters from a Mother, available on Amazon.


10 Responses to “Self-help is Selfish.”

  1. SuzyReading says:

    Jennifer, I completely agree that there needs to be balance – balance between caring for our needs and the needs of others, balance between an inner and outer focus. In my work as a psychologist and yoga therapist, promoting the concept of self-care, my clients often say to me, "but that feels selfish, or self-indulgent". I think it is important to emphasise that caring for our emotional and mental bodies is just as important as engaging in regular physical exercise for our physical health, it is just a relatively new idea.

  2. Jennifer White says:

    Suzy, thanks for this comment. I think it's enlightening, and your perspective is highly valuable. I know that for me, I tend to sadly gravitate to being selfish and towards over doing it. For example, with the eating disorder I've blogged about, part of my problem was over exercising, along with eating too restrictedly (as part of healthy eating is feeling the enjoyment). I guess this could all tie in the way you suggest, by remembering that even self-help for the soul can be over done and taken to an unhealthy extreme—and for some people, like me, it can bring them into a self-centered place. Thanks so much for starting this conversation off with intelligently thought-provoking feedback.

  3. SuzyReading says:

    My pleasure Jennifer. I am really passionate about promoting the concept of self-care and empowering people to nurture themselves and I am grateful to you for raising our awareness. Suz x

  4. Jennifer White says:

    This feedback gave my heart an invisible hug. Thanks xoxo

  5. jane says:

    Epiphanies are always a gift. In teaching, the ability to empathize with the student enables the teacher to unleash a creativity that can create a spiritual joy reinvigorating both student and teacher and fueling life. Letting go of fear of failure and caring about the success of another sets teacher and student free to experience a greater and more fulfilling existence. Keep listening to what you say, Jennifer. You have a gift to share.

  6. hillaryrettig356 says:

    Hi, self help isn't selfish – you need to be strong yourself so you can best help others. I wrote an entire book on how to do this – it's called The Lifelong Activist, and it's now available in its entirety online at Sections include Managing Your Mission, Managing Your Time, Managing Your Fears, and Managing Your Relationships. Please check it out!

  7. Jennifer White says:

    Hi, Jane! Thank you so much. This feedback is inspiring to me, both as a writer and as a person. Keep on sharing your thoughts! I love the conversations that we build.

  8. Jennifer White says:

    I'm not sure if you really got the point of my article. My simple message is that working too much on what we need to change about ourselves can at times detract from what is already fantastic. The flip side of this concept is that our positive and negative traits are often one and the same, it's sometimes semantics and what we choose to focus on. My living example, used in this article, is that I have the strong desire and ability to work on myself, in a way that can bring out my innate introspective nature—and in a way that highlights that I can also be a selfish individual. The title of this piece is meant to catch readers attention, but to truly understand my point you need to read the content thoroughly.

  9. hillaryrettig356 says:

    Hi Jennifer – thanks for replying – I actually agree with both your article and your comment; sorry I may not have expressed that clearly enough in my comment. I think your point that self help works only when authentic and connected to one's inner self and values is fantastic. I brought up my book The Lifelong Activists because it supports that process – the alignment of one's actions with one's values.

  10. Jennifer White says:

    Thanks for the continuing conversation. I value your feedback and thoughts—even if you don't agree with me! I'll check out your ideas more by checking out your book.