People seem to find more reasons to complain today, from social media’s toxicity to systemic racism. The younger generations decry the future catastrophes brought by climate change and rising living costs. After all, they predict an overpopulated, intensely hot Earth filled with pollution and injustice in the coming decades. What else is there to live for and wake up every day?
Whether these complaints are valid or not, an industry stands in to provide relief and guidance—the self-help industry. Bookstores are rich with volumes about getting wealthy, fostering relationships, finding happiness, and tapping the Law of Attraction. Meanwhile, leading self-help authors and speakers proclaim their feel-good messages on podcasts and seminars. Through the self-help genre, troubled readers and attendees gain the enlightenment and fortitude they need to face the miseries of life. Or do they?
Sure, self-help can teach positivity, self-awareness, and empathy. It may guide people to uplift themselves and transcend their troubles. We even strongly recommend reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and How to Win Friends and Influence People. However, this industry is corrupted by pseudoscience, superstitions, and deception. Their “lessons” can distract readers from their actual issues and stumble into false beliefs.
This article will expose what the self-help industry does not want you to know and why it fails. We will do this not to defame anybody in this field; as we said earlier, there are gems in self-help’s reputable side. But this discussion will keep you vigilant about what you consume, especially when influencers and “experts” vie for your attention and money.
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What the self-help Industry Does Not Want you to Know
Many self-help books and events portray genuine concern. In their promotions, they flash how they will reveal the “secret” towards happiness and “personal growth” based on “scientific evidence.” Other semi-spiritual self-help sessions even offer “meditations” and “rituals” that bring peace and harmony with your “inner self” and the “universe.” But like any multi-billion dollar industry, the darker side of the self-help empire has real secrets they keep from followers.
The Self-Help Industry is a Business
It is safe to say that many self-help authors and icons mean well. They want their clients to find success and serenity through their shared lessons. Some even share their bitter struggles to inspire people who face similar difficulties. However, sinister people may exploit this for their ominous goals.
Given how this genre reaps billions of dollars, greedy profit-seekers may find self-help production attractive. They know how to exploit readers using the same buzzwords and self-help templates. These people do not want to empower troubled people—they just give their customers what they want to hear.
Worse, they might even gaslight their followers. By making them rely on the “solutions,” these self-help manipulators can provide a hollow perception of transformation. This band-aid approach generates testimonials to convert others, but the victims’ problems worsen. In the end, they become deeply dependent even further.
How can you stay on the right side of the self-help industry?
- Stay critical and careful. When someone teaches self-help advice, verify what this “expert” says based on studies or evidence. Focus on the message, not the person saying it.
- Realize that books and seminars alone will not solve your grief and insecurities. It requires mental discipline, self-care, and even counseling.
- Look at the authors’ credentials. What are their achievements and educational background? Are they experts in the fields they discuss? If their only credential is being a “lecturer” or “motivational speaker,” consider it a red flag. They might only look for ways to sell something to you—say, a book or a program—through marketing.
Self-Help Books Contradict One Another
Joyful marriages, wealth, influence, and emotional stability are some of the themes that self-help books typically cover. After all, people yearn for these blessings amidst life’s chaos. But this demand brought an explosion of self-help titles in the past decade. The NPD Group, a market research company, said over 85,000 self-help titles were published from 2013 to 2019. (We can expect this to escalate further as we weather the pandemic’s economic aftermath!)
These self-help publications have notoriously conflicting lessons. Some of these volumes encourage grinding and time-based discipline, while others promote relaxed, detached schedules. Books about minimalism claim that happiness is based on having “less stuff.” But other “financial success” manuals emphasize material possessions as a benchmark of success. Worse, many self-help books hop on religions and philosophies, claiming validity and the same promises.
What brought these thousands of opposing self-help books that all swear to be true? Good old capitalism and marketing. Since authors are unaware of the complexity of your issues and problems, they can at least create a customer avatar that represents you. These self-help “gurus” then assess the trends in your social group. Finally, they will write and design the book based on what would appeal to your demographic.
Since market forces drive the self-help industry, always remember that one piece of advice does not work for everybody. You know yourself best, so you can choose which strategies to adopt from what you have learned. Use your deeper values and critical thinking as a barometer for any advice you receive from them.
The Self-Help Industry Tends to Focus on Expectations
Goals and desires are crucial for our growth. It feels good to imagine having a new car, a loving relationship, or a beautiful home. But what if we do not get them, no matter how hard we strive? If we fixate on these dreams for happiness and purpose, it becomes harmful and toxic. They lead to misery and shallow existence, where we do not see the simple gifts of life with gratitude.
Self-help books treat outcomes—typically material—as the benchmarks of success and happiness. If these expectations do not come true, the reader has failed. Unfortunately, self-help books that use this tactic create an illusion of a “perfect life.” It does not exist in this fallen world! Hence, unsuspecting readers might fall prey to a cycle of self-pity and resentment because they do not achieve their ideals.
Here is a valuable life lesson you may practice: look at the journey more than the destination. Put your goals back in your mind, and do your best with everyday blessings. You will be surprised that you inch closer to your dreams without complaining and feeling better! After all, people change, and most of the things around us are beyond our control. Who knows, maybe your expectations get to adjust as well as you learn through the years?
The Self-Help Industry Panders to Vulnerable People
When you make mistakes, do you believe that you are deeply flawed, or do you only need to fix some problems within you? Do you trust yourself to make the correct decision, or do you feel powerless and deficient? How do you manage your guilt when you fail to fulfill what you think is right?
Your self-reflection is influenced by your upbringing, religious beliefs, past misgivings, and support system. Sadly, many people grapple with excessive self-blame and shame because one of these factors has gone awry. Their thoughts sabotage their actions, driving them deeper into their tribulations.
The self-help industry emphasizes that they have the solution for them. These “experts” claim to teach the right mindset to “broken” and “hopeless” people, knowing they will give in. Psychology and centuries of experience show that someone with self-doubt is more inclined to give it all to a “teacher” or teaching that can lift him from desperation.
People who focus on their weaknesses and shortcomings will never rise from their condition. No self-help book, meetings, or workshops can help a person who refuses to fight his urge to self-sabotage. The best thing these “solutions” can do is mask his shame and make him feel good, But it depends on what he believes helps him! Such people are valuable customers for the self-help industry.
Do not rely on self-help books alone if you experience the same inferiority and guilt. Your problem requires a change in perspective; you might need to talk about it with a professional or someone you trust. Therapies might also help you.
Nonetheless, always remember to accept yourself as a foundation. Use self-help materials to improve yourself, not as the basis of your worldview and self-perception.
Many Self-Help Materials do Not Promote Peace and Contentment
All self-help books set your vision on your expectations and goals. But what if you achieve them, thankfully, but you still fail in the end? What should you do if you still cannot reach them no matter how hard you strive? How should you cope if you have sacrificed so much for your plans?
Many self-help materials do not answer those questions. Like fairy tales and Disney movies, self-help gives you a tunnel vision into the “happily ever after” without preparing you for what comes next. Because of this, you might find yourself in a materialistic rat race devoid of gratitude and peace. Failure and loss of motivation become a drastic pitfall, despite being an avoidable yet inevitable part of growth.
Worse, those who succeeded might fall into becoming egotistic. Such people look down on those who lack what they have achieved. Instead of helping them, these “high-minded” people compare themselves to those who try to get by, thinking that those people are undeserving, unfortunate, and lacking. Such thinking leads to toxic behavior misled by malicious self-help teachings.
Remember that you will never arrive at your fullest potential and “best version.” That is a trap that will stagnate your life. But what should be our response? Should we grind ourselves to exhaustion, or should we also pause to look at the valuable milestones we have reached so far? Should we attach our identities to our goals and hard work, or should we peacefully respect ourselves whatever happens? By balancing productivity and rest, goal-setting and contentment, you can find the serenity that such self-help books cannot provide.
Why the self-help industry fails
The self-help industry’s fundamental issues can translate into the lives of its readers and consumers. When you pick which self-help book to buy or speaker to listen to, stay vigilant about these problems.
The Self-Help Industry Fuels Shame
Free will and accountability are valuable bedrocks of philosophy, religion, and morality. But the self-help industry amplifies “self-empowerment” or, at least, a form of it. Look at recent self-help books and shows, and you will notice that they have the same buzzwords and hooks. “Manifest your goals! Visualize your dreams, and they will come true,” they say. “Believe in your power—you deserve more! Fix your mindset towards success,” they declare.
Aren’t these messages inspiring? But the self-help industry twists it when you face failures and disappointments. You have “manifested” these negativities.
We can divide self-help consumers into two camps: those who want to become more significant and those who search for solutions to their deep problems. Readers can excel with the fruitful advice and tips that self-help experts provide. But people who sabotage themselves will only depend on these materials to support their self-doubt and unhappiness.
As discussed earlier, do not validate your worth based on self-help materials. You need to help yourself, after all! Only take lessons from them, not your worldview and self-reflection. Recognize that, like every person, you make mistakes, but you can learn from them. That way, your self-help experience will be productive, not self-beating.
Self-Help Materials Provide a Distraction From Root Problems
We face different forms of the same struggles—problems at home, dissatisfaction at work, worries, doubts, and conflicting emotions. Unfortunately, many self-help books that cover these issues try to provide one-size-fits-all band-aid solutions. They do not consider the specific traumas and distresses in their readers’ minds. After all, how would the author know what you uniquely go through?
This tendency can stifle their growth for unsuspecting readers who take self-help books as gospel truth. They only replace their issues with a pretentious “solution” while avoiding the proper initiative to take action. For example, a person may feel satisfied reading volumes of financial management tutorials without actually investing or starting a business. Likewise, a single man may overdose himself with dating advice but end up with analysis paralysis.
Self-Help Materials Set Misleading Expectations
Doing the right thing usually reaps meaningful results. But several self-help materials promote “solutions” and “techniques” that allegedly bring accomplishments much quicker. Some even promote spiritual enlightenment. Unfortunately, just like placebos, the satisfaction they get does not have a lasting impact.
Self-help manuals also emphasize material gains—cars, money, and luxury. By promoting materialism, consumers will depend on more self-help materials, chasing more and more validation.
Many Self-Help Teachings Have no Scientific Evidence
The self-help industry often taps into psychology, economics, and other valid sciences. But most of its applications of meditation, mindfulness, and positive thinking tread a fine line before falling into outright pseudoscience and quackery. A spiritual union with the universe? The metaphysics of the quantum realm and how it connects to our shared consciousness? Those self-help selling points are bonkers.
Of course, there are science-based insights that self-help materials promote. Journaling, the Pomodoro technique, and affirmations are some of them. However, topics like Feng shui, the Law of Attraction, fortune crystals, and spirit animals are outright spiritual. Unless you adhere to New Thought or Eastern religions, stay away from these topics. Any “scientific proof” that supports these only reinforces their placebo effect.
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