Don’t Self-Help, Just Help

Self-help books should come with disclaimers: Western civilization only. Restrictions may apply. May be illegal in some countries. Not responsible for maiming or death caused by applying exercises in this book. Self-help books promote the assumption that anyone can be happy and successful if they just believe it enough. If you really believe that, you don’t need a book.

First, you need to be born in a free country. And even then it takes a lot more than belief. Circumstances must be considered and compromises must be made, no matter what they tell you in the book. Throw health, intellect, insight, environment, ability, and a huge amount of luck into the mix too. So what about the millions of people trapped in unimaginable circumstances all over the world, especially women? Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, India, the Congo, Sudan, Ethiopia, Haiti…the list goes on and on. Clearly these books are not meant for them. Maybe those women are just being too negative. Maybe they’re not taking action. Maybe they need to work on forgiveness. Be thankful you’re not getting your nose and ears cut off for running away from the men you were sold to, acid thrown in your face for disobeying your abusive family, poisoned for trying to learn to read, or raped on a daily basis.

Unfulfilled Americans spend over $11 billion each year on self-help books, products, services, speakers, and seminars—a testament in itself to the argument that they’re not working. Many people, after buying one, become disillusioned and try another, and then another. Someone’s getting rich, but it isn’t you. If you want to be happy, you’re going to have to dump some of those meddlesome human traits, like compassion. This compassion crap will just make you sad or angry, and you’ll lose your focus on personal perfection.

It’s not all about you. Stop trying to make your self more successful and start trying to make your world a better place. Be polite but stand up for yourself and those weaker than you. Not everybody is going to like you—embrace it. Sometimes pain, anger, or distress is what you’re supposed to feel. Try to get over bad stuff and move on. Try to get through the day. Consider yourself one lucky bastard to be here.

And if you feel the need to rant, go for it.

What do you think?

37 responses to “Don’t Self-Help, Just Help

  1. Right on! I agree.

  2. Could always be worse. I sometimes marvel at the “First World Problems” that some folks like to go on about. “Suck it up and get over it” usually comes to mind.

  3. no kidding!!!..couldn’t agree more!

  4. I have an suggestion for a Category on your sidebar considering other posts of yours: ‘You Probably Think This Is About You’.

    I cannot recall ever soliciting ‘self-help’ remedies. I guess I prefer to wallow in my own woes and self-pity for a time, then crawl back on my own. Even now as I type this comment I am tired, yawning and pissed off at things I have no control over. At least I have not curled up in a ball to be numb’d to death in front of the television or send endless text messages back and forth or tweeting. Maybe it’s because I am weak, depressed and tiredly cranky, you have me thinking what I should have done early on in life, should have befriended more people who were different than myself, should have travelled to countries to volunteer at something. I should have smiled more today, it may not have made me feel better but it might have helped someone. On the bright side I’m not dead yet, so there is time for me if I get it together to help myself by trying to make things better for someone else.

    This post will stick with me and I will remember it when I’m wallowing in pity and self-worth.

    • Dear Mr. Lone Dog, yeah ha ha wallowing in self-worth. Can I use that?

      It’s OK to be pissed off at things you have no control over, because there really are things we have no control over, and sometimes they’re shitty. Even our own decisions we sometimes have no control over, right? I didn’t smile much today either…it’s OK we can do it tomorrow.

      I too should have done a lot of things I didn’t…or rather I did a lot of things I shouldn’t. Either way we have regrets that won’t just disappear like a puff of smoke, but at least we own them.

      • ‘Wallowing in self-worth’ why certainly you can use it but use it wisely, don’t let its hidden power drip on your skin and suck you up and in. It was something I heard growing up in Canada quite a bit in the 70’s and 80’s from then Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau who used it frequently (as well as wallowing in self-righteousness) when referencing to the American Republicans. Sorry that wasn’t to be political just giving background information.

        There is much that ‘we own’ (“at least we own them” – a very thought-out response I might add) but fail to realize. Part of attaining self-worth is taking ownership of everything we’ve done; good or bad. I wrote something the other day, which had the line ‘you have to be bad bad bad to be good good good’. We are a generation bombarded by enticing things; which seemed at the time in our fuzzy logic worthy and right, but we paid a price it seems.

        To which you have truly brought to the surface at least in my mind when you mention “Make your world a better place. Be polite but stand up for yourself and those weaker than you.”

        I’m not sure if I would refer to ‘those weaker’ as such but rather or also include those who are in circumstances to which they have little or absolutely NO control.

        Do you remember the sixties? I do; and the oldest I would have been in that time was eleven. What you’re saying now is parallel to those days. In society’s race for self-improvement a large segment of people get left behind and are not thought of (for example the 60’s worldwide rush for more liberal attitudes and programs seemed to forget large groups of people even in those countries heading into a supposedly kinder gentler way of living). How can one attain true self-improvement if you forget the ills, plights of the unfortunates and all the crap done to the earth itself. It’s okay to cleanse yourself, re-think, improve your mindset etc., or debate things you feel worth standing up for but don’t forget to give back in some way. One would think the best way to give back is to do it quietly and anonymously. You won’t get recognition, nor accolades bestowed upon you, nor monetary gains. What you will receive is personal satisfaction, from which one attains true ‘self-improvement’.

        I realize I rambled on, but in the end I did so not to prove a point to anyone but to state I hear your message.

  5. My two mottos: Let it Go! . . . and
    Let them Be!

  6. OK. How is it a “self-help” book if someone else wrote it. How is the writer (who’s making all this book money) going to know all the problems you’re going through. Did his car start this morning? Behind in his credit card payments? Is his electricity about to be shut off? It’s a good niche for writers to grab onto as the planet works itself into poorer and poorer times. Many people who are depressed and out of their mind will buy these books in hopes that it will help them. What really happens is that the book ends up on a shelf and life goes on. If you think you need a self-help book then you’ve already taken the first step in helping yourself. Instead of making the writers’ lives more prosperous, save your money and buy something you really need, that will make you feel better.

    • McCloud, you have stated the obvious far more eloquently than I. Indeed, how can they know. Funny you should mention these ‘healers’ filling a niche—you know those websites where they list industries that need help, like healthcare, media consulting, medical suppliers—well self-help book writing is apparently a profitable business to get into! We should write one, give it a catchy rock ‘n roll title like ‘We Ain’t Gonna Take It’ and watch the $ roll in—problems solved!

  7. I hate the whole “self-help” industry. Frankly, it’s just too general.

    What I hate more, though, are the people who like to “helpfully” suggest one for you. I tell them, “Thanks just the same, but I am actually happiest when I am angry and cynical. You see, that means I’m paying attention to all the bullshit and reacting to it in a very human way.”

    Ultimately all of this self-help crap is about narcissism. “Look at me! Look at me! I have no more faults because I’ve bought into some crap that some other narcissist wrote to sell some books!”


    Well thought out and well-written blog, as usual!

    • Ha ha javaj, exactly! We’re what you call ALIVE! The last self-help book I read was in the ’90s, I think it was called The Four Agreements. I vaguely remember its demise (I wouldn’t even donate it to the thrift shop), but what I do remember is the author saying that even if someone murdered his child he “wouldn’t take it personally.” Nothing to get all upset about. How’s that for ya, a self-help book that puts the reader into a rage?

      I remember impulsively buying it at Staples, on an errand to get copy paper or something. See how ubiquitous and seductive these books are? The beautiful cover suckered me in, just like it was supposed to. But the content was completely unrealistic for any LIVING human to adhere to. Yes I have high blood pressure…thanks but I’ll pass on the zombie act and take the pills.

      Never lose your edge, girl!

  8. This is a good expose on the topic, for sure. It’s good to want to be better, to do better, but the only way to do it is action. I find I use these self-help books as a procrastination method, thinking they will inspire me, forgetting that I am responsible for inspiring me, that I am responsible for taking the action needed to better myself, and reading about it doesn’t get me anywhere!

    • Carl, you have a bewitching blog where you reveal your deepest feelings—how can any book written by a stranger be more inspiring than that? Let’s script our own lives, make mistakes, and write about it.

  9. Self help books are not about helping others but about making money. I’m not going to begrudge anyone for chasing the almighty dollar but it proves the old P T Barnum adage “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

    And yes, I could not agree more, we should all stop trying to make ourselves better and start trying to make the world better. These efforts, will indeed, lead to a better self.

    • It all comes around in a circle Wild Bill—and even if it doesn’t, even if you get absolutely nothing in return except more debt, in the end it’s the givers as opposed to the takers who are the real success stories.

  10. There you go again. Making us think. Darn you!

    When I stopped by last week and read this, It made me think about what Self Help goodies I have. I immediately went about, rounding up all my self help books and CD’s. There were even some cassette tapes from 1990. Books, workbooks, journals, thick and heavy, paperback and more. Holy Crap! 27 Books. Yep. Someone has become rich off me. I am pointing fingers at daytime talk shows for one.The authors convince us that we need their wisdom. To be complete.

    Someone sees or hears about a book and we feel pressured to buy into the same beliefs. And–God forbid you criticize any book. Millions will jump on you and say “at least people are reading”. Hogwash! My time is valuable and I no longer spend my time or hard earned money on that crap.
    As for other countries, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs applies. One must have air to breathe, Food to be nourished, etc. I cannot fathom the struggle to survive each and every day.

    I feel better already.

    • Hi Barb, I just had a look at that Maslow’s pyramid. The most basic needs are physiological and personal safety. Can’t help but notice they list sex as a basic need, next to breathing and food. I imagine women who can’t feed their children might have something else to say about sex being a basic need. For the males of their cultures, yes. Sigh. So many ways to have sex without having a baby. The world is so primitive. I’ve never watched a daytime talk show, but they sound pretty primitive too—putting ‘self-actualization’ at the top of our priorities. Thanks for stopping by and teaching me something new.

  11. just found this blog – oh agree agree agree – my inbox today contained info from Islamabad that 13 girls had been given away in marriage to resolve a tribal dispute… illegal … but still practised … and its not just ‘over there’ I know that too. We can ‘act’ only is the space alloted to us, only against the bounds which contain us, and all such action is risk. Thanks for acting with a great blog post.

    • Hi Elspeth, thanks for writing. It’s all making me sick both physically and mentally. The world is so full of bullies and scammers and terrorists of all kinds I don’t think I’ve ever felt so low.

  12. Why does it bother me?

    Debra this is so true. I had no idea that much money was made from the books and stuff. That is crazy.

  13. Nail on the head. I clicked on your blog from the comment of another blog. Definitely feeling the angst part. You’ve got a clue and you’re pissed. I like it. The rest of us just watch Khloe and Lamar. Self mutilation.

    • I’m a diehard culture junkie without a TV or pop psychology book. I know who all these people are through reading about them, and I believe there are many who do not follow the idiocracy but we are not heard. We self-mutilate with toxic awareness and hopeless missions.

  14. You should post some more.

  15. You obviously touch a nerve, my friend! ” I believe there are many who do not follow the idiocracy but we are not heard. We self-mutilate with toxic awareness and hopeless missions.” YES! We fight what seems to be a losing battle against the ignorant, the indoctrinated, and the utopianists in a culture where logic has been removed!

    What ever happened to … KINDNESS? I’m sick to my stomach at the self-indulgence of our nation. I’ll do ANYTHING to get _________ (fill in the blank with some material good) And the mindbender is the whole “Occupy” thing – Protesting the rich as greedy when their whole purpose for protesting is GREED! ugh!

    I hope you’re still around, and return some time soon! If not, life’s BEST to you, friend!

  16. What an amazing blog, and as of now my favorite!
    I know you are an atheist and that is fine, but I believe the work you do with animals and people is smiled upon by Jesus. I look at your work the same as I do a soldier fighting for our freedom. Thank You!
    PS I hope you will be back to your blog soon?

    • Hi Aaron, thank you very much. That was very sweet of you to write. I’m taking a break from blogging right now as I am busy with other things, like rocking back in forth on the floor of my closet while making little dolls from pieces of lint. I hope to be back soon.

  17. “Kumare” – a great film showing how easy it is to be a fake guru (or evangelical, or expert at anything) because so many people think someone else has the answers.

    • I read about the film, looks like it got good reviews. I think now more than ever people are completely bewildered, by everything. All this information overload can make it tough to choose the right fake guru.

  18. There are self-help books churned out (as you said) by the score, and read by the ever hopeful.
    But reading it ain’t the same as doing it—

    “Dear Messrs Bullworker & Atlas
    I’ve received the wee machine and now read all the exercises, thank you.
    Please send muscles … ”

    The only really good ‘How to get rich’ book I ever read was written by one George S. Clason many decades ago and called ‘The Richest Man in Babylon’.
    In a nutshell it said to the effect “Get a job, work hard, please your boss, save ten percent of all your income and invest it wisely in income-producing assets”. The good news, it should work for anyone.

    I sometimes think of compassion as “the lonely vice” …

  19. It’s an epidemic. I don’t believe in ‘happiness’ anymore. I’ve come to the point in my life where the concept of happiness seems absurd, and the people who push it annoying, insulting, and ignorant of the facts. I would like to read just one damn book on ‘accepting your cynicism.’

    It’s not so simple anymore to follow the advice of the book you mention, considering modern economic despair. That ‘lonely vice’ is sometimes all that we have, isn’t it? Please send muscles and a thicker skin!

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