Why Self-Help Books Make Me Uncomfortable

self help books

My first introduction to self-help books came in the form of being read vomit-inducing tales of friendship and generosity in a secondary school assembly, courtesy of American bestseller Chicken Soup For The Soul.

The stories were fairly varied, but all boiled down to the same point – be kind and helpful to everyone you meet because you never know when you might need them, believe in yourself and work hard and all your dreams will come true.

Thankfully, many years passed and my mind erased the majority of that dreadful book, so that when I came across my second self-help book, I was in my early twenties. He’s Just Not That Into You came free with a magazine I’d bought for entertainment on my travels and was ideal for a single youth just re-emerging onto the dating scene. It was so simple and refreshingly honest. It didn’t attempt to sugar-coat reality or teach relationship tactics, it was purely about taking the hint when a guy isn’t interested, so as not to waste your time. Unfortunately, everything I’ve read since has failed to satisfy me in the same way.

Over recent years I’ve come to find that many people are addicted to self-help books. They come with huge claims about helping you to make money, get your dream job, discover your hidden talents, teaching you how to become popular or how to find the love of your life – but it seems to me that all they are inspiring are future copycat authors, who have realised that they can hemorrhage money from the gullible by making their own wild claims.

The average self-help book contains a series of historical and personal anecdotes of situations that lead to a similar outcome, crammed in one-by-one, followed by a summary of what we can supposedly learn from them all. But can a few accounts of one approach working out mean that it is practical and applicable for everybody to follow the same weak line of advice? Surely just a warm smile and a kind heart isn’t the key to unlocking a perfect life.

Some encourage a more practical approach – analysing what is going wrong for you and making the steps to solve it. However, this not only just assumes you have total control over yourself and your surroundings, but insists that you do, to the point of delusion. Of course, we need to take responsibility for the things that we are able to change about ourselves and our lives, but the idea that simply finding that motivation will always give results is frustrating – there are always external influences and we can only control our own actions.

Perhaps some of the more concerning guides are those that insist we can control the actions of others – these can be very manipulative in nature, not only preaching on how to better yourself or connect better with other people, but how to influence people in order to get your own way, how to use other people to your advantage and perhaps even profit from them.

It sickens me to think people read books on how to make people fall in love with them or be attracted to them. ‘Love’ created through tactical manoeuvres is little more than a field experiment on an unconsenting subject. A person that wishes to spend their life dabbling in mind games and deceit is surely not a good person. Upon entering someone’s home, is noticing a bookshelf filled with this potentially harmful drivel something to worry about? It certainly makes me uncomfortable.

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