Self-help equals self-harm?
December 1, 2003 11:52 PM   Subscribe

Self-help equals self-harm? Are self-help books harmful rather than helpful? This article argues that dissatisfaction with one's abilities and achievements will not not be helped by affirmations of self-worth. Nor will we succeed in coping with the bitter feelings for those who have wronged us by practing the "anger therapy" of slamming a punching bag. [More Inside]
posted by gregb1007 (23 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

posted by quonsar at 12:03 AM on December 2, 2003

"Heather Graham is a porn actress and is an example of a person who broke off contact with her parents because they disapproved of her sexual behavior. In addition to hurting them I think she has hurt herself by doing so."

Um.... okay.....
posted by zeoslap at 12:04 AM on December 2, 2003

and just for the record you promised us more inside, and there was nada, zilch, zero. i wept.
posted by zeoslap at 12:05 AM on December 2, 2003

This man does not need affirmations. He needs to stop thinking he's a goddamn unicorn and start taking his meds again.

why yes, i am bitchy and tired this evening
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:08 AM on December 2, 2003

More Inside as promised

Other self-help philosophies are criticized. Visualization therapy suggests that if a person pictures a positive outcome, he will make it actually happen. The author counter-argues that students who picture themselves getting an A on a test won't actually study enough to get the grade. That's because visualization of success doesn't motivate people to do the work needed to achieve it. (How many people do you know that have grand dreams in their heads and yet don't do anything about them?)

Finally, the classical American self-help philosophy "if you have faith in yourself, you will overcome failure and achieve success" is also deemed ineffective. (Its ineffectiveness is best expressed by that R.Kelly Song "I believe I can fly. I believe I can touch the sky.") That's because it's not for lack of believing in yourself that failure happens. In reality, it may be rooted in a lack of talent and incompatible personality traits.
posted by gregb1007 at 12:27 AM on December 2, 2003

it's because the classical american self-help philosophy is as much bullshit as the classical american dream. hard work and doing the right thing makes you a chump. the rich and powerful count on this.
posted by quonsar at 12:35 AM on December 2, 2003

From the article: If I had recognized that I was not going to be competitive no matter how hard I tried I would have left the field a lot earlier which would have been good for me and for everyone else who were affected by my mistakes.

I've noticed this dilemma, if you're having trouble progressing in some field, do you try harder or try something else? I don't think there is a right answer.
posted by bobo123 at 12:39 AM on December 2, 2003 [1 favorite]

bobo, well he apparently had the revelation that he just wasn't gonna make it no matter how hard he tried. I guess you reach point when you see your efforts failing and you give up. But then again, maybe saying to yourself "I am just not made for this kind of work" is a self-deceptive excuse for moving on to something easier and less stressful.
posted by gregb1007 at 12:48 AM on December 2, 2003

it's because the classical american self-help philosophy is as much bullshit as the classical american dream. hard work and doing the right thing makes you a chump. the rich and powerful count on this.

Been reading this thread much?
posted by kaibutsu at 1:06 AM on December 2, 2003

The article mentions Dianetics and a few other examples of "self help".

The author also offers Dateing advice, Mind reading, information about Paranoid Ego Defense and sees himself as a Flying Unicorn.

Is this how cults start?
posted by stbalbach at 1:19 AM on December 2, 2003 [1 favorite]

kalibutsu, I suppose if we were to try to integrate that discussion into this one, the thing to bring those two together is Marxism. I think contemporary Marxist philosophers would say that the whole self-help movement is erroneously placing the blame for people's failures to achieve their goals on their psychological inadequacies (negative thinking, giving up too easily instead of believing in yourself) and drawing attention away from the real culprit - a cruel Capitalistic system that exploits people without giving them adequate opportunity for advancement and achievement.

And to a certain extent, that critique is relevant. Think about the early 1900s and how they had charity houses for the poor that taught them discipline and work habits. The philosophy of the time the poor are that way because they're lazy and unmotivated while the truth was the white-collar elites probably didn't exactly consider extending employment to those "filthy raggedy paupers."

Even nowadays, the whole self-help industry assumes equal opportunity - if you're a kid from poor urban school, surely your hard work gives you the same chances of getting into Harvard as someone in a wealthy magnet school. Hence your only obstacle to success - is - GASP - yourself.
posted by gregb1007 at 1:20 AM on December 2, 2003

Been reading this thread much?

actually, i had missed that one. thanks!
posted by quonsar at 2:27 AM on December 2, 2003

Winners never quit and quitters never win, but those who never win and never quit are idiots.
posted by spazzm at 5:51 AM on December 2, 2003

I find the fluttering-winged-Tinkerbell-blessing-Mr.-Smiley to be a particularly effective recommendation of some asshole's opinion that the entire concept of "helping oneself" is a sham... I'm no Stuart Smalley devotee (sorry, quonsary), but there's far more to a discussion of methods for enabling self-empowerment than this clown can seem to grasp.

(All right, all you straight, male MeFites: Heather Graham is a porn actress?! Some of her performances may be just this side of obscenely shrill, but full out porn? Or, am I missing some obvious, like, that's not really Heather Graham?)
posted by JollyWanker at 6:09 AM on December 2, 2003

(promises won't succumb to the temptation of Paranoid ego defense anymore)
posted by rosmo at 6:52 AM on December 2, 2003

Maybe the guy just saw Boogie Nights or The Guru one time. That and he needed some eye candy to put on his page. It's really a weird little aside...

:: looks at the home page ::

...except for all the other pages on the website, which are just nuts and antisemitic besides. "The treachery of the witches and the Jews?" Eeek.
posted by furiousthought at 7:28 AM on December 2, 2003

Of course, the easiest thing for one to change is, indeed, himself

Try telling that to someone with a personality disorder. There are many reasons why it can be extremely difficult to change - some internal, some external - and I think the besetting sin of self-help books is underestimating this.
posted by raygirvan at 8:04 AM on December 2, 2003

Some self help books are good for you and others are not, and the pity is that if you need (self) help you are not necessarily in a position to tell the difference.

But I did find his paragraph on Active Listening interesting. At its best, Active Listening is "hold on, I want to make sure I understood you. Did you say/mean such-and-such?" At it's worse, it is that movie with the escaped mental patient where all the shrinks seem to know how to do is say "I hear you saying [exactly what the patient said]."
posted by ilsa at 8:49 AM on December 2, 2003

That Heather Graham thing was just bizarre! That essay made some good points, but damn was it amateur writing.

One problem with looking to self-help books is that some people tend look to them for some sort of magic formula that will solve all their problems once and for all upon a single reading. Whereas no system is ever without its flaws and real change is gradual. I struggle quite a lot with procrastination. I read a book on procrastination in an effort to help myself cope with it better. I didn't undergo any wholesale reformation but I did learn some techniques for overcoming it (break tasks down into small components, be sure to plan realistically, etc.) and so I considered the time reading the book well spent.

Oh, and the first half of the book instructed me to spend time intensively analyzing my childhood in an effort to understand why I'm a procrastinator. I merely skimmed that, and put the real effort into learning techniques for overcoming my tendency to put things off. I find so many books call for this kind of time-intensive analysis of one's childhood and I think that's pretty useless in general. The people I know who talk the most about their childhoods are the ones who are doing the least with their lives. When it comes to solving problems, the focus ought to be on the solution, not on the nebulous causes of the problems. Sure, it's necessary to do some analysis and get some insight into the causes of one's behavioural problems, but I think one should be careful not to get bogged down in self-pity disguised as analysis. Solutions lie in actions, and analysis without action is a pacifier.
posted by orange swan at 9:24 AM on December 2, 2003

All right, all you straight, male MeFites: Heather Graham is a porn actress?!

Nope, he's got it wrong. Her parents don't like the types of movies she's in, and so they haven't spoken in years--but none of it is actual porn.
posted by Swifty at 9:35 AM on December 2, 2003

I'm sorry, but why is this a FPP? "Crazy man who thinks he's a unicorn doesn't like self-help books"? I can find that kind of crap on any day of the week.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:44 AM on December 2, 2003

Well he might be a crazy man but the things he has to say about self-help industry are not that crazy and are actually pretty interesting. What can you do: sometimes wacky folks have good ideas.
posted by gregb1007 at 7:25 PM on December 2, 2003

It's an interesting topic but there must be better articles on it.
posted by orange swan at 9:13 AM on December 3, 2003

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