How Self-Help Almost Killed Me and is a Money-Sucking Scheme Hurting You
Self-help is an industry full of lies, myths, and dangers. It’s a community of experts and everyday consumers that have techniques and ways of living to heal anxiety, treat depression, and generally improve the quality of life.
Self-help is the act of improving yourself without reliance on others. It extends beyond motivation books and popular psychology to include other ways humans communicate. There’s forums, everyday conversations, seminars, webinars, and books.
The term “self-help junkie” was coined to describe someone who attends seminars and buys many books, DVDs, and CDs on the subject. Junkies fuel the $8 billion dollar industry in America alone.
Self-help addicts are sometimes like heroin addicts jumping between experts wanting their next fix. The educational sources become a source of comfort and security to avoid what really is going on as the junkies intellectualize lessons and never build the learning only possible from action. This article reveals the dangers of self-help some gurus wish you didn’t know and how it almost killed me.
The Two Dangers of Self-Help
Pennsylvania clinical psychologist Dr John Norcross says self-help can damage you in two ways. Both are costly, time-consuming, and energy-depleting.
The first general danger of self-help is the direct harm. This includes a misdiagnosis or ignorance of a declining condition. Think of it like a well-intended mother issuing aspirin to remove a headache when the cause is cancer.
The dangers are real except with personal development the issues are not physical, but often mental and emotional. Selection of the right material to cure is tricky. A wrong decision can leave you worse off.
There’s a lot going in your mind and body unknown to you. You can know your body is sick because you have a headache and feel weak, but you could have one of hundreds of potential health problems originating from poor eating, harmful drinking, disease, and so forth. Similarly, we are unaware of the hidden operations in the mind. It takes a humble attitude of acceptance to respect a lack of mental and emotional control over your life.
It takes a humble attitude of acceptance to respect a lack of mental and emotional control over your life.
The second general danger of self-help according to Dr Norcross is the indirect harm. You exhaust your physical, mental, and emotional efforts on something unsuccessful so you beat yourself up over an inability to change. Once you believe you cannot change, rarely do you change.
Think of self-help like a Do-It-Yourself job at home. You can probably do good landscaping, fix doors, place flooring, and paint. Books, television shows, and a few friends provide you with good advice. However, you would not remove the home’s foundations, redesign its shape, or relocate it by yourself. Attempts to solve unknown problems or create something entirely new leaves you frustrated believing it cannot be done. People try to redo their minds from the ground up then unfortunately fall short of what they want and believe failure is destiny.
How One Self-Help Myth Nearly Ended My Life
The empowerment given through self-help usually originates from improving how you think. The motto is “think better, live better”.
Thoughts are powerful, yet they are not everything contrary to what is preached by advocates of the law of attraction. To think your universe can form from thoughts alone is absurd.
An overt focus on thoughts ignores the side therapists attend to: emotions. Our thoughts influence our emotions and vice-a-versa, yet the influence is limited. You cannot think your way to emotional healing. Thoughts and rationalizations are “safe”. It is easy to intellectually process your problems and talk about them with complete emotional disconnect when you are afraid of vulnerability that reveals and heals your real self.
I’ll prove how intellectualizing and thinking stops emotional wealth. Dr Steven Hayes, founder of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), who I had the pleasure to work with for Big Talkers, has a nice technique. Give the label of “good” or “bad” to the follow emotions:
Done? I’m guessing you labeled happiness and joy as “good” and anger, guilt, sadness, and shame as “bad”. Let’s analyze these labels. What if your mother died. Is sadness bad? What if you punched your child. Is guilt bad? When you put this into perspective, the thoughts you attach to “negative emotions” shift.
If you believe embarrassment is bad, you avoid embarrassing situations and never build the confident social life you want. You spend life running from what you don’t want.
How do you respond when something is bad? You avoid bad things because they represent pain. If you believe anger is bad, you avoid your anger, feel resentful, misunderstand people, and struggle to manage conflict. If you believe embarrassment is bad, you avoid embarrassing situations and never build the confident social life you want. You spend life running from what you don’t want.
I almost killed myself because of emotional avoidance. I lived in depression trying to avoid things like anger, shame, and embarrassment because these were “bad feelings”. Not letting feelings flow and trying to manipulate them increased their strength. (Watch the video shared at the top of this article filmed in my backyard for the dark truth about me.)
Dr Hayes says we have a dangerous habit of problem-solving with our mind. You need to stop critiquing the experiences in you and just let them flow. Observe them as they occur to you instead of worrying and trying to fix them. This is groundbreaking material I won’t go into further detail because it’s all covered in the Big Talk Training Course and Big Talkers, which I highly recommend you get if this article resonates with you.
Some self-help teachers encourage emotional expression. Students may practice poor expressions of anger and assertiveness, however, then kill themselves like Sydney resident Rebekah Lawrence. This is an extreme case. My point here is to make you value the messages sent by your emotions and acknowledge thoughts are not everything.
Positive Thinking Myth
Positive thinking is taught everywhere. Every mental health professional I’ve heard recommends positive thinking. I teach it as well. For example, assume friendship when approaching others for conversation. Think others are already your friend before you talk to them. This reduces anxiety, creates attractive body language, and makes talking easy. Positive thinking helps you better interact with people and them interact with you.
The danger with positive thinking that I see in many “pseudo-spiritual aka law of attraction” teachings is they take positive thinking beyond what psychologists believe is healthy. Dr Norcross says flamboyant claims are made.
Cancer, rape, and poor-wealth do not consistently originate from misaligned thoughts. Victims are made to feel they squandered their mind. They are blamed for environmental influences. Self-blame is unnecessary contrary to what self-help teaches because it perpetuates resistance and shame.
With excessive positive thinking you… may go to exorbitant lengths to avoid a problem by looking for the easy way out.
Your entire life is not a product of your thinking. With excessive positive thinking you risk building a life that excludes reality. You may go to exorbitant lengths to avoid a problem by looking for the easy way out. Positiveness becomes escapism.
Your comfort zone can stagnate along with the quality of your life through avoidance. Carl Jung says your dark-side (what you want to avoid) – not the light-side you probably love to focus on – contains the gold you seek. I look back on my life and see the areas where I took a step of courage to breach my comfort zone, transformed me. Look at your life and you will see the moments you acted in the face of fear created the greatest results. That is the core of transforming your social life with Big Talk and my coaching.
Along similar lines as the exaggerated power of thoughts is the undue emphasis on self-discipline. Discipline is made to be the secret of change. We all know self-control and courage is important to help you confront what you prefer to avoid because it pushes you outside your comfort zone. The self-discipline myth depends on the definition of discipline.
Scott Peck in The Road Less Traveled says, “With total discipline we can solve all problems.” The more I think about the statement, the more I see its truth. Again, though, it depends on what is meant by “discipline”.
When self-discipline is understood as willpower, self-discipline is overrated – even dangerous. I’ve heard many people express discouragement over their lack of discipline when it’s understood as willpower. They think something is wrong with themselves because they cannot change a habit like wake up early or quit smoking. Eventually they believe change is impossible because they have insufficient “discipline”. We’re made to feel as low-value humans for our innate habitual patterns.
Humans are autonomous creatures, not creatures of willpower. Studies prove 90% or more of your behavior is habitual. We think we are in conscious control of our lives, but we have behavioral and thought patterns repeating day-after-day. Your patterns simply vary in order.
This is not to say habits are permanent, yet they require focused effort and systems to assist change. How you use your limited willpower determines if you alter unwanted autonomy, remove a bad habit, and create the life you want.
It is sad most people waste their limited willpower on resisting people, thoughts, and feelings. Accepting a problem puts you in the game to fix or at least live with the problem. Acceptance means you humbly acknowledge your limited willpower, the degree you influence the problem, and the time it takes to stop what you don’t want and get what you do want.
What’s Really Going On with Self-Help and You?
Four Self-Help Myths
- Myth: Eliminate negative thoughts. Truth: Jennifer Borton in a study found people who attempt to abolish negative thoughts obsess about them. What you focus on expands.
- Myth: Focus on the positive when you’re down. Truth: Harvard professor Daniel Wegner found our limited mental resources cannot maintain our positive mood when we’re in the blues. Create a gratitude list beforehand so thinking is minimal.
- Myth: Exterminate guilt. Truth: Guilt like all emotions contain a message according to Dr Harriet Haberman. Let guilt lead you to forgiveness and positive change.
- Myth: Vent anger. Truth: Iowa State University researcher Brad Bushman found pillow-punching and lifting weights may intensify anger. Reduce anger by distracting yourself through a comedy show, for example, but solve the problem that made you angry otherwise it’ll repeat itself.
Can you see the pattern of problems in most self-help? Thoughts are not everything, emotions are overlooked, positive thinking is taken too far, and self-discipline is overrated. There is a sinister amount of focus on intellectualizing. This is what drives the self-help junkie. Any self-help junkie will tell you he struggles to use what he knows.
Change can feel impossible by yourself. Years go by as you become a self-help junkie and question whether your dreams can become a reality. It’s okay to seek assistance from a therapist, counselor, or expert in your problematic area. Someone cannot drive you to change, but you cannot change without a drive to change.
How then do thousands of people around the globe change their life? Ad Bergsma in the Journal of Happiness Studies questioned whether self-help books help. Bergsma says hope is often what makes self-improvement programs effective. The downside of hope is it leaves you vulnerable to exaggerated claims and an empty wallet.
This post is not intended to degrade anyone or self-help. Authors and bloggers do their best to help, yet intention is not all that is needed to affect change.
Naming all self-help books bad or good is like saying all team leaders are bad or good. It is narrow-minded.
You can work on yourself with great results. Self-help empowers you to improve your relationships, move ahead in your career, make friends, and enjoy life more. You create your reality instead of feeling what is, will always be.
Personal development is key to my continuing growth. Self-help is just one part of it. I encourage it to be yours as well. Be aware the dangers of self-help and its myths shared in this article otherwise you risk wasting time, money, and effort – and ultimately believe something is inherently wrong with you.
If you read this to feel better about yourself, that was not my intent. Be honest about what you are avoiding. See the little control you have over your autonomous behavior. Invest in courses for your personal growth. Accepting these lessons could be your first-step towards change – and yes, I am giving you hope because there is hope.
Joshua Uebergang aka "Tower of Power"
Joshua Uebergang, aka "Tower of Power", teaches social skills to help shy guys build friends and influence people. Visit his blog and sign-up free to get communication techniques, relationship-boosting strategies, and life-building tips by email, along with blog updates, and more! Go now to http://www.towerofpower.com.au/free/