Why Self-Help Literature Almost Never Works?

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Maybe it is quite strange to read an article like this in the web page of someone who actually writes self-help articles. And maybe I am the one who should explain it to you…

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This “suicidal article” reflects my thoughts on one of the books by Jorge Bukay, which I read and forgot it all just within 2 weeks. Don’t get me wrong, the author is a professional therapist with experience and I could agree that his touching and entertaining manner of explaining complex psychological theories is amazing. And yet, why am I criticizing it?

One of the reasons why this literature may not be especially helpful is the huge amount of subjectivity when it comes to choosing what to read.

There is a very high probability that you pick a book that confirms your initial biases. And this is not helping at all. What if you are a cold manipulative bitch who has not “luck” in love because all quality men avoid you? You might pick a book such as “Men are assholes and they deserve to be punished”. Equally, if you are a shy man with low self esteem; you will probably pick a book titled “How to make ANY woman happy by serving her every day”. All the obsessive and overly protective mothers will pick the title “What dangers are hidden in the food/at school/on the playground/etc.” and so on and so forth.  You won’t go much further, you will never exit your comfort zone and you will just read about ideas you are already convinced in, which obviously didn’t work on first place.

Remaining anonymous doesn’t help either.

You order a book; you read it crying in the bathroom; you never share your problem with anyone… If you neither consult with specialist nor talk to a friend about what you are going through, you will never actually accept the there is something wrong in your life. Sharing the problem is the first step to solving it.

Generalization is not your friend.

However good one self-help book is, people usually forget all they have read in about a week. All those mindful phrases about meaning of life, positivity and happiness are so worn out. Even if you feel inspired reading them, in the end they don’t solve problems – you do! Philosophical texts about meaning of life will not give meaning to your specific one. You need to try harder.

These books are not written about your unique situation. They are vague and tent to generalize. You are the one who knows all the details, you are the one who experience those feelings, the one who knows best what is good for you – consciously or unconsciously. You can make it clear with therapy, or with self-analysis, but it requires work, dedication, objectivity and time.

Of course you can seek help in the books too, that’s why I have a few suggestions on how to make them most effective. Here is how to avoid the traps of denial and make the best of reading self-help literature.

Admit that you have some problem. Truly admit it! Confess it to the people you love. Talk about things that bother you. People who know you well will be able to take part in solving the problem or at least in giving you perspective.

When the problem is not unanimous anymore, you can read some literature in order to solve it yourself. But you should be opened for opinions. Be skeptical too!

You can also try something new and visit the self-help section in the library with a friend of yours. Each one of you can pick a book for the other. If the book criticizes your initial point of view don’t get offended. It is always helpful to analyze your issues from another perspective.

Another important exercise is to take notes when you read those books. Write about what impresses you, and the parts of the book that feel most relevant to your problem.  In a few weeks revise your notes and measure your progress. Be more active in the process, otherwise it will soon be forgotten.

You can’t change anything if you are passive receptor of the ideas written by a person who has never met you. Be analytic, creative and dedicated. Take the most of the guidance that the author provides for you. Then, who knows, maybe you will become the most successful case in that specialist’s career.


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