As a general rule, I tend to be neutral about the benefits of self-help.
I happen to believe that if some school of thought or self-help practice works for you, then great. More power to you.
However, most of us turn to self-help at times when we are suffering and desperately looking for answers. The self-help field has become such a huge business both in the literal and figurative sense of the word that many of us tend to think that some of the often-recited principles found in various schools of self-help are the unquestionable truth.
Listed below are five that tend to come up repeatedly and may actually lead to more harm than good if taken as absolute truths:
1. Everyone is good.
While I believe that most people tend to be good, there are some people out there who, for whatever reason, are just plain bad. Think of Hitler, Mao or Stalin. Granted, the first was said to truly love his mother and his German Shepard, while Mao was something of a ladies’ man in his youth, but the truth is there is no disputing that these three were terrible people by all accounts.
While most people we encounter are never going to be that bad, we are going to encounter people who we just cannot love or even like, and that is okay.
In most cases, it is good to avoid bad people whenever we can. If our guts are telling us to avoid someone and this person does not have our best interests at heart, usually the best thing we can do is get away from them ASAP. Trying to force ourselves to stick around in order see the good in someone usually does not work and worse still, can lead to us getting hurt.
2. Others’ opinions do not matter.
While an argument can be made that they shouldn’t matter, the truth is, others’ opinions matter—a lot.
One the best examples I can think of is going through life with a parent or parents who are forever putting you down and criticizing everything you do. Chances are, you are going to end up with some serious self-esteem issues down the road.
Likewise, when we are going through hard times or need encourage, it is important to surround ourselves with people who think highly of us and are supportive.
This doesn’t mean that your entire self-worth should be based on the opinions of others, but the truth is, they still matter.
3. You have to love yourself in order to love anyone else.
Not true. In fact, studies have shown that people with low self-esteem may actually love people more deeply than those with high self-esteem.
Sometimes loving another person can actually allow us to love ourselves. While ideally we should all love ourselves, believing that we have to achieve self-love before we can love someone else can be self-defeating. Plus, it may also allow us to pin all our relationship troubles on a lack of self-love and ignore other factors that may be present.
4. Whatever I do is ultimately the right thing for me.
Another one which has proven not to be true time and again. At various times, we may want and crave things that are not good for us.
While there is no point dwelling on past mistakes, I have yet to know someone who is over 35 and who did not harbor some regret and wish they had not done something that they thought they wanted at the time (but ultimately only hurt themselves and in many cases even others around them).
It’s one thing to admit to a mistake, learn from it and move on. It is another thing entirely to deny it and say it was all for the best.
5. I am not responsible for the feelings of others. If someone feels hurt because of my actions, that is their problem.
I saved this one for last because of all the principles I have ever come across, this is the one that I believe has the most potential for harm.
How we treat people does matter. Hurting people’s feelings, especially if it happens to be intentional, is something we need to take responsibility for.
Shifting the blame on others, can lead in extreme cases to almost sociopath-like behavior. (i.e., If you really believe you are not responsible for how other people feel, what’s going to stop you from, say, cheating on them repeatedly?)
In conclusion, self-help can be and often is a wonderful tool for greater self-awareness and understanding of those around us. However, just like anything else, there are a lot of things that many accept as absolute truths that actually have little to no basis in reality.
Therefore, before we embrace any self-help, we owe it to ourselves to question what we are being told, do some research and realize that the individual or individuals who are peddling this are just as flawed and human as the rest of us.
Again, if your self-help method is working for you and your situation then by all means, carry on. If it is not, don’t blame yourself—it is possible that the “good advice” and “truths” you are getting are anything but.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman