The Harmful Truth About Self-Help Books

Passing a ‘Little Library’, I remembered I was out of reading material and stopped to look inside for a book to borrow. Moving the used titles through my fingers, my gaze reached one book that caught my interest- a self-help book. I turned the idea over in my mind. A self-help book? I’d never read one before. It could be fun, right? Learn about self-improvement and perspective and whatnot? Wrong. Little did I know the damaging reality that self-help books manifest, although I was soon to find out. So, I wiggled the book out from its place on the shelf, dropped it into my bag, and began my diverged path towards self-doubt and panic.

Arriving home, I began flipping through the pages, a seed of hope sprouting in my mind. All of the potential growth I could experience throughout my reading journey of this book, my mind pondering the topic. I started reading, and discussions of speaking your mind and saying what you want jumped from the pages to my thoughts. I started to feel like a change was being made as I had finally found the golden ticket to my better self. 

Following this, I decided to do some research on self-help books, see what kind of potential they truly had, how much they could really help me. This was when the placebo effect wore off at a rapid pace. Scrolling through websites, I discovered an article from Forbes, detailing how they offer false hope and generic common sense, but most of all a placebo effect. At once, I realized I too was at the hands of this effect, and as I let its grip loosen from my hopeful thoughts, my stomach dropped to a pit as I realized I’d been tricked. 

Self-help books offer nothing but a false sense of salvation and common sense that’s been rebranded in a pretty, catchy cover. These kinds of books recycle the same common sense we were all born with. To name a couple of examples: Stop Self-Sabotage by Judy Ho and Just Say It by Susan Vitale, titles that summarize an entire book of unoriginal thoughts and basic common understanding. While some might argue these books provide a reminder of these bits of common sense, that reasoning is only justified when people read self-help books the right way. Forbes suggests taking notes and actively trying to use the advice, rather than just digesting the information.

Reading self-help books fuel a feeling of unproductivity and laziness, pointing out all of your flaws at once, identifying everything that is wrong with you, but never truly offering professional advice in the battle to fix yourself. These books seem like therapy for people who are too afraid to confront their feelings. While acknowledging that you would like to help yourself seems like a step in that direction, it only achieves the false narrative of productivity that one continues to write the minute they pick up a self-help book. 

A quote by George Carlin summarizes the idea. ‘If you’re looking for self-help, why are you looking for a book written by somebody else?” Self-help books may be one of the most contradictory terms ever invented. The idea that to give yourself help you must run to someone else destroys its definition. 

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