Each year the self-help industry sells 45,000 books and other related paraphernalia worth a total of 12 billion dollars. The efficacy of the content of many self-help books is yet to be demonstrated. If self-help books did what they say they can do, then obesity would be reduced, instead of on the rise. Depression would be minimised, instead of escalating, and poverty would be transformed into wealth, instead of the reverse being true.
There are benefits and drawbacks to using the information contained in self-help books. A blanket benefit is that self-help books encourage greater levels self-awareness in the reader. A penchant for self-care, driven by self-responsibility is a prerequisite for self-awareness. Good self-help books suggest to that “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.” Therefore, it’s up to you what, when, where, how and why you do what you do with your life. This can be useful for those who need to find ways to be more personally responsible, but dangerous for those who suffer from an inflated sense of responsibility.
If you suffer from a tendency to take on too many responsibilities, then you need the help of a life coach or counselling professional to better manage this problem. You may need to identify your commitment capacity levels, and ways to maintain a healthy sense of responsibility. Reading self-help books and trying to apply the information without the support of a professional self-help group or mentor is often not enough to solve serious problems or trauma.
A big problem with self-help books is this: The content and advice is open to subjective interpretation by the reader. There is not much room for objective interpretation of the content, or a healthy perspective if you are physically, financially, sexually, emotionally, mentally or spiritually vulnerable in the first place. Most readers of self-help books need help, so at first, in order to save money, or to keep the problem private, or for other personal reasons, they turn to self-help books for help, but the search tends to stop there. Self-help book after self-help book (and workshops, for the matter) lure the vulnerable reader by making claims and promises that no ethical professional helper would ever dream of, let alone put in writing. Most readers of self-help books need help because they are physically, financially, sexually, emotionally, mentally or spiritually vulnerable. Others may be physically, financially, sexually, emotionally, mentally or spiritually unstable due to their various vulnerabilities.
Many self-help books tell you that YOU can heal your life, YOU can fix your broken heart, or YOU can cure your disease, or YOU can think and grow rich and famous, simply by reading the book and following the instructions. It is true that YOU are the only one capable – once you are ready and willing to do it – of turning your life around. However, if the problem has taken a lifetime to create, then it will take more than reading a raft of self-help books to solve the problem. Professionally led self-help groups, and counsellors, mentors and life coaches are trained to help others who are willing to help themselves. In my experience with readers of self-help books, as clients, many self-help readers tend to take on an excessive amount of responsibility. In other words, many self-help readers not only carry their own responsibilities, but they also tend to take on MORE than their share of responsibilities at work, at home or within their community. The overly responsible self-help reader already knows they are responsible for their own life. The focus on YOU in self-help books leads the overburdened and vulnerable self-help reader to assume that they are still on their own as they work through the self-help book, and therefore they must continue to solve their problems on their own. This only serves to heighten emotional and mental pressure. This type of ongoing pressure creates ongoing stress. Constant stress leads to anxiety. Constant anxiety leads to depression. The self-helper reaches for another self-help book in an attempt to solve their cycle of problems, and at the same time, a cycle of self-help addiction begins to set in.
Self-help books are NOT useful for those who are in any way physically, financially, sexually, emotionally, mentally or spiritually vulnerable. Self-help books are NOT good for those who are physically, financially, sexually, emotionally, mentally or spiritually unstable. If a self-help reader is vulnerable or unstable, they are not capable of maintaining an appropriately objective, or healthy perspective on the content of the book. A healthy perspective is necessary if you want to evaluate the wisdom of the content (or the lack of it).
Trying to apply the content of self-help books without adequate scrutiny, and a balanced sense of responsibility, can be self-destructive. This is where self-help groups and qualified professionals are useful; whereas the content of self-help books alone has so far demonstrated that self-help books do not work. Qualified professionals, in a group or one to one, provide professional mentoring, peer-supervision, shared experiences, support, assistance and feedback.
An addiction to self-help books ensures that a LACK of spiritual, mental, emotional, financial, sexual and physical professional advice is NOT obtained. Addictions are an excessive misuse of energy, and in this case, it’s the energy of responsibility that is being misused. A tendency to take on too much responsibility leads to over-committing oneself, to the detriment of appropriate self-care. An addiction to being overly responsible is not a constructive way to use your energy.
To confirm whether or not you are addicted to self-help books, ask yourself these questions:
- When I believed I was unhappy, did reading the book and following the instructions make me happy? Am I happy now?
- When I believed I was unhealthy, did reading the book and following the instructions make me healthy? Am I healthy now?
- When I believed I was unwise, did reading the book and following the instructions make me wise? Am I wise now?
- When I believed I needed more money, did reading the book and following the instructions make me wealthy? Am I wealthy now?
- Am I genuinely happier, healthier, wiser and wealthier as a result of reading all these self-help books?
Many professional self-help groups focus on the 12 step recovery program used by those addicted to alcohol and narcotics. It has also been used with great success by many in the field of personal and spiritual development. Here are the steps many self-help groups use in a 12 step recovery program:
1. The first step is to admit that you are powerless over your addiction to self-help books, and that your life has not improved, and remains unmanageable as a result.
2. The second step is to believe that a power greater than yourself can restore you and your life to a better balance. This possibility increases once you have defined your own, preferred understanding of a Higher Power.
3. The third step asks you to make a decision to turn your will and your life over to the care of that Higher Power.
4. The fourth step is to search inside your heart and mind, and make a fearless moral inventory of your self, including the good, bad and ugly.
5. The fifth step involves admitting to a Higher Power, to your self, and to another human being the exact nature of your weaknesses and wrongs.
6. The sixth step requires you to be ready to have your understanding of a Higher Power remove all these defects of character.
7. The seventh step directs you to humbly ask the Higher Power to remove your shortcomings.
8. The eighth step, you are to make a list of all persons you have hurt. You have to be willing to make amends to them all.
9. The ninth step reinforces the eighth step by asking you to make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. The tenth step asks that you continue to take personal inventory and when you are wrong, promptly admitted it.
11. The eleventh step tells you to seek through prayer or meditation to improve your conscious contact with the Higher Power asking only for knowledge of the Higher Power’s will for you, and the power to carry that out.
12. The twelfth step tells you that having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, you tried to carry this message to other addicts. This step instructs you to practice your spiritual principles in all your affairs.
Along with a sponsor, or mentor, and group support, qualities such as trust, faith, honesty, open-mindedness, willingness, humility, surrender and acceptance are developed and nurtured in order to help those who are courageous enough to work though these steps.
When you withdraw your physical, financial, sexual, emotional, mental or spiritual energy out of your addiction and invest it in a healthy sense of responsibility, you will be on your way to breaking the cycle of addiction to self-help books. Your addiction to self-help books may be a far greater problem than a combination of all your other problems.
Your addiction to self-help may be masking an addiction to over-responsibility. This may be a barrier to your ability to do more than just survive, but to thrive. If you are addicted to self-help books, then you will need a professional self-help group, or individual mentoring, to support you as you cure your addiction to over-responsibility. Meanwhile, I will leave it to the self-help industry to figure out who benefits the most from self-help books.