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How Self-Help Almost Killed Me and is a Money-Sucking Scheme Hurting You

Click to watch the video that corporate trainers and self-help gurus don’t want you to see as I uncover the industry-insider secrets which kill people. Learn the myths and dangers of self-help. What is shared in the video is not revealed below.

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:

  • Happiness
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Joy
  • Sadness
  • Shame

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

Feeling down or thinking negatively? This self-help CD will cheer you up, but not in the way its creators intended.

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.

Self-Discipline Myth

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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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 https://www.towerofpower.com.au/free/

Comments

Tonya Nascimento
Reply

I agree with everything stated except the notion that we are not in charge of our autonomous behavior. In fact, “autonomous” connotes an independence or an ability to take charge of ourselves. We creat our own habits! Yes, there are factors that constrain or limit what we can do, but certainly we can make desired changes within those limits. For example, I naturally want to sleep in late and start my day around 10 or 11 a.m. Yet because I was a competitive swimmer, I arose at 4:00 every morning for swim practice. My goals were enough to overcome my natural inclination and get me to exercise control over waking pattern. I had control over my own behavior – whether to get up, or to roll over and sleep through practice. Now that I am not swimming, I get up around 9 in the morning. That is my new habit.

Bob Collier
Reply

Hi Joshua,

Maybe you let the self-help gurus off lightly!

As it happens, I’ve just finished reading Steve Salerno’s 2005 book “SHAM: How the Self-Help and Actualization Movement Made America Helpless” and that’s a pretty ferocious attack on the “self-help industry” by comparison. It was published just before “The Secret”, unfortunately for him, so he’s had to be content with savaging that on his blog. And I saw a review elsewhere this morning of Barbara Ehrenreich’s more recent book “Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America”, which I haven’t read yet.

Steve Salerno has mentioned on his blog that there’s a growing “anti-self-help guru movement” and I think he could be right. Kudos to you for writing this article.

Like you, I still believe in “self-help/self improvement/personal development” but there’s a lot that’s vague, shallow and poorly understood going around out there these days – I think discerning what’s of value has become a new life skill for the 21st century!

Elsa
Reply

I love the article….and that video made me laugh SO HARD!

g ramasubramanian
Reply

Dear Joshua,
I am surprised by this article. I had always believed that what you do is self help business. Whatever you had advocated I believe, falls in the self help regime. All your newsletters, the e-courses you run, all come under this category. I also feel that, even in training and one to one counseling, still what happens is empowering the individual to help himself and that is self help.

Resting the matter of self help aside I want to express my thoughts on the “ thoughts “ myth you talked about. Your article projects the concept that there is a disconnect between thoughts and emotions. I disagree. Emotions follow thoughts. Emotions are mind states, caused by predominant awareness about something, and this predominant awareness about something is the definition of thought.

Emotions can be easily identified while it is generally hard to find the basic thought that creates an emotion. But since thoughts create emotions, it is really essential to have better thoughts to create better emotions. What we really want are better emotions, and these better emotions could be generated by better thoughts.

So, thought management is very essential, in personality transformations and that is where the Positive thinking, affirmations, visualizations etc. come in. But, the focus and practice on Positive thoughts should be gentle, comfortable and easy leading. The basic idea is not to worry or get agitated on the occurrence of negative thoughts, but gently leading the mind to more positive realms.

Also, I find the concept of discipline very essential in personal transformation. Disciplining is based on the concept that mind and body are part of the same system and influence each other. Of these two, it is easier to control the body than the mind, and by controlling the body one can indirectly but effectively control the mind. So discipline is aimed actually at the body, but can provide powerful leverage for the control of the mind.

I believe that without a disciplined approach to your courses, no gain is possible. Again the very program of disciplining should be gradual, easy leading and comfortably bearable.

To sum up, I feel that the objective of any training programs is to enable better thoughts through better disciplining. I cannot understand how else it could be.
Regards.
G.Ramasubramanian
Corporate trainer and Master NLP Practitioner
9444128486
nlptrainerram@gmail.com

Joshua Uebergang aka "Tower of Power"
Reply

Great comment. All your points are valid and true. You brought up many new points that need further discussion by themselves.

Firstly, as I thought I made it clear, I am not against self-help. I love it. I teach it! Naming all self-help books bad or good is like saying all team leaders are bad or good.

Secondly, thoughts absolutely affect emotions. There’s not a disconnect between the two. You can think better thoughts and change your emotions. HOWEVER, there’s a murky grey zone here hurting many lives: 1) What emotions are you trying to change with your thoughts and why? 2) What emotions are you avoiding with your thoughts? Ask yourself these two questions and you’ll be ahead of many people.

This is such a big issue I see in people I work with and myself. The biggest problem with self-help junkies is they get stuck in their head, manipulating emotions instead of just letting them flow.

The majority of people (ESPECIALLY guys) are too logical and too rational – especially in those studying self-help because we’re taught to be in control of ourselves.

Let’s use an example. You get angry over a friend not inviting you out. Most self-help would tell you to not let it affect you. NLP would get you to reframe it, “Maybe my friend is hanging out with another group of friends for tonight.”

Good use of positive thinking changes a limiting perspective of, “My friend hates me because he didn’t ask me out” to something like “Who knows why I didn’t get asked out. There’s a million possible reasons. Whatever.” Good.

What’s going on however? What’s the message of anger sending you about not getting asked out? Do you feel rejected? Do you not love yourself enough that you need to see your friend wants to be with you tonight? Does the relationship suck? Do you need to receive value from other people because your seeking something from childhood? The possibilities are endless.

Some people don’t dare ask these questions because it brings forth emotions like shame and guilt they will not touch (they think these are “bad”). Wayne Dyer in Your Erroneous Zones is a well-known figure who’s fueling this problem of emotional avoidance. “Kill guilt because it’s a useless emotion.” Please! This is such a serious issue plaguing self-help.

The issue isn’t in how you think. If you manipulate your thoughts, you put yourself in an elusive state. Emotional manipulation with thoughts is dangerous because you avoid the messages emotions send you and stop yourself accessing your complete being. My Big Talk course teaches you to accept these dark parts of yourself you prefer to avoid, which enables you to not fear rejection, embarrassment, approaching people and lets you deeply connect with others in conversation. Unfulfilling relationships exist when both parties don’t know how to access their dark sides.

I guarantee you’ll see a growing surge of experts recognize the importance of emotional work over the coming years (I saw a few leading experts acknowledge it last year – David DeAngelo in Man Transformation is one).

Also relating to Tonya’s comments, I’m not saying discipline is unnecessary! No WAY! Read and reread the self-discipline myth. So much is preached about positive thinking and self-discipline that the article uncovers the other, overlooked side of these issues.

I think everyone needs to read the article over and over. It’s not a one off, light reading.

[…] we fail to change because we fight our habits with willpower, positive-thinking, affirmations, and other similar self-help techniques. We also try to remove what we do not want instead of creating what we do want. We get stuck in […]

Zachariah Gianessi
Reply

May your style continue to influence us “self-mastering” types toward getting the genuine help. Being watchful is vital as details are presented through so much on the daily. Your writing is concrete and in great standing in my opinion as I digest what you’re explaining and teaching. My eyes are wide open after I read this. Awesome energy in your veins and may it keep on keeping on.

[…] our goals, but we fail to achieve them by poorly using this mechanism. We are raised to believe we must experience pain, work hard, and use willpower, but this fights our creative mechanism to easily get what we want. One way we stimulate the […]

Iudita
Reply

I don’t understand all the concept you says. I agree we cannot control all our emotion with the thoughts but I found the books – of self help – inestimable for me. I was in communism for many years and can not say how much this writings have improved my life.

God bless all of them because they helped me so much!

Glub
Reply

Hi Ludita,

I would say, that coming from such an extremism as communism, that self-help books are helping you, because they are basically the complete opposite of the communism you came from.
While I don’t want to say that self-help is also a form of extremism (though in some cases it is), I would say that, if you think of a pendulum, then communism is an extreme swing of the pendulum to one side, and self-help has to to swing that pendulum far enough to the opposite side (at first), to help bring you into balance.

I bet as you heal from communism, and become a more whole person, emotionally and mentally (and socially and spiritually and whatever else), you will become more balanced, and will not rely on self-help as much as you once did.

Communism can be thought of as a very deep hole that you’ve been climbing out of for many years, and if the self-help books are helping you climb out, then that’s good.
Just be aware enough that when you reach a point of being a more balanced person, that you may not need the self-help material as much anymore.

I speak from my own experiences, as I relied on self-help books and teachers for well over a decade or more, to help me climb out of my own emotional/psychical/mental pits of despair.

I too was in an extreme situation, and needed huge doses of self-help to get me out of it.
Today, I have lots of respect for what self-help did to help me, but I find I don’t read the books etc. as much as I used to, and I certainly don’t attend self-help groups at all anymore, because perhaps the books etc. helped me to achieve the healing I was trying to achieve.

The problem comes when you become too addicted to self-help, and don’t do any thinking/feeling of your own. The problem comes when you can’t have an independent thought without consulting a self-help book/guru/teacher for approval to find out if your independent thought is “alright”.

Hope this helps.
On the other hand self-help has caused me to see so many faults in others, that it’s easy to become intolerant of others. I know I felt a resentment in the form of “well, I’ve invested all this time and energy in improving and bettering myself, why the hell can’t you?”
This happens with people who are too dogmatic in their beliefs, whether religious beliefs, or political or philosophical or whatever.

Anna
Reply

I think maybe Joshua’s approach is a bit like Dr Paul’s Inner Bonding. It’s more about feeling than thinking. It’s about being in the moment rather than analysing things too much. You have to access your feelings and “fill yourself up with love” so that you can give love to others. You give yourself approval so you don’t need it from others. Trouble is her approach encourages exploring your feelings a lot to find out what went wrong in your childhood. That can make you feel worse, if you can even remember your childhood! I’m currently interested in “reboot your brain dot com dot au”. There are videos and audios to change the vibrations of your brain. I don’t think there is much point in diving in to social situations if you are radiating the wrong message from your sub-conscious. If you’re just shy it might work. There is something endearing about shyness – it’s just heightened sensitivity. Don’t you just hate the loud insensitive types who barge into conversations and take over.

Jerold
Reply

Refering back to two points Joshua brought up: “1) What emotions are you trying to change with your thoughts and why? 2) What emotions are you avoiding with your thoughts?”

How we think does affect what kind of thoughts and feelings are easier for us to run into.

Of course, we can see the matter to be that integrating the messages our messages is a part of constructing and reconstructing ourselves.

Jerold
Reply

To continue my earlier comment, don’t we change our thinking for the better as well when, instead of intellectualizing, we let ourselves feel our emotions and thus release them and integrate their messages?

Sonia
Reply

Hi Joshua,
You’re really making me think. I read constantly for research purposes and for self-help. I dont accept or practice everything I read. I’m very real but a close friend mentioned that I was in denial about an issue. You mention denial in your video too. It was very helpful, there is definitely more than one way to look at things! 😀

Kanit
Reply

Hi Joshual

Thank you very much for your thought-provoking articles. They are a lot of paradigm shift things for me in your teaching. I trully enjoy reading and listening to them

Lex
Reply

Personal development is ruining my life. I was fine before I started going to seminars..on a great path…building my businesses. I went to one because of a book I read and bought into it..huge mistake..8 months later and im depressed, lost 20 pounds, stopped taking action. So confused. All of the mental hypnosis techniques stirred up false fears inside of me. I literally became someone I’m not…. I am scared for my life. It works for a lot of people, but it had reverse effects for me. I don’t know how to get back to the person I was before I started all of this crap.

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