The dangers of self-help

I have a love-hate-hate relationship with self-help. The genre once tormented me. These days I think I’ve cracked what the opposite of self-help may be (everything from doing your laundry, filing your taxes and in my case, reverting to self-belief.)

Yesterday my friend Dave (writer & podcaster) tweeted me a heard-this-thought-of-you podcast about self-help.

I Like You.

I’m listening to it now. This episode is specifically about the dangers of believing in Men are from Mars … and other books of that ilk. Worth a listen if you’re interested in a discussion of how relationship self-help typecasts men and women and why it might be wise if more of us stop encouraging these authors by buying their books.

My particular form of self-help dependency never much strayed into understanding the dating game (this could explain why I’m single now, but I DON’T THINK SO.)  It was, however, heartbreak that triggered my descent into self-help. I used reading, and reading self-help in particular, to medicate. Some people reach for the bottle, I reached for the bookstore. And the reason why I kept reaching for self-help was that it distracted my brain from obsessively sad thinking like nothing else I could find. Only years later did I come across an explanation for why this was. Rita Carter’s book Mapping the Mind explains that the very act of reading keeps busy the part of the brain that might otherwise be processing pain.

Years of book binging explained in a single blow.



Filed under Books etc., Relationships, Self-help, Therapy

3 responses to “The dangers of self-help

  1. Interesting… my mum’s strategy for pretty much anything has always been to read her way through it (not self-help, but fiction, plays and poetry)… That totally makes sense as an approach to coping now…

  2. nathaliehourihan

    A friend of my mum’s whose on Facebook and checks in on the blog recommended we looked at the New York Times review of Tolstoy and The Purple Chair — a memoir of allaying grief though reading

  3. I’m happy to see more and more people realizing that self-help is not a perfect solution, and what’s more, it can be dangerous. Self-help likes to tell us that we are solely responsible for our lives and that we have absolute power over our personal situations. Unfortunately, the real world does’t work that way. People certainly have a measure of control, but one’s socioeconomic circumstances greatly limit their options.

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