The Irony of Self-Help Not Helping
Exploring the modern phenomenon of self-help, and how it may not be having the positive impact we so desperately wanted it to.
The everyday slights, indignities, put downs and insults that people of colour, women, LGBT populations or those who are marginalized experiences in their day-to-day interactions with people.
You silently scramble to finish the last thirty pages of your book, subconsciously bargaining for a miracle before the last page grazes your thumb and forefinger. THE END.
Straight to Amazon, you go to purchase your tenth life-changing book. And repeat, until you are burnt to dust. This is the modern-day self-help industry.
There is nothing more pleasuring than a bogus 10-second action plan, to “sort your life out”, become rich, happy, and incredibly successful. Each close of a book, or watch of a philosophical guru on YouTube, edges your ego closer to combustion, you will become the best version of yourself, that’s if capitalism will let you.
The self-help industry is one of the most lucrative industries to exist – its ability to be trans-media across a technologically advanced and extremely self-conscious society, explains why it is now a multi-billion-dollar business. The industry has been accused of poisoning and warping traditional Eastern practices, to feed an increasingly unpredictable and anxious world.
Very rarely will these best-selling books or Instagram pages, ever acknowledge the environmental, social, or political factors that contribute to our suffering, which can be incredibly harmful.
"Too often, we subscribe to the myopic narrative that if people work hard, they can achieve their goals; and those who aren’t able to, are perhaps lazy. In fact, I believe that from a young age we are taught through various systems—our schools, prevailing cultural norms, the media - that we must earn what we want, and if we can’t do this, something may be wrong with us" (Vidha).
Just as Vidha expresses, modern self-help becomes extremely toxic when this “myopic narrative” is applied. One shoe does not fit all, and the circumstances in which many people live can be extremely debilitating. Sometimes an individual’s only option in life is to survive, not to “succeed” or “heal”.
Furthermore, quite regularly, the individual who does begin on a journey to bettering themselves can be left feeling hopeless and even more depressed. Self-help can propel you down a bleak spiral towards self-blame and bring up self-deprecating feelings of shame and guilt if you cannot fulfil the illusion of success or happiness.
Existing in the modern climate is incredibly difficult – do not let self-help delude you into thinking that fulfilment is easy, even if it's inevitable.
The idea of a human being as a disconnected self has been around for hundreds of years. As humans, we internalise the belief that there is something wrong with us primarily – that there is a need for ‘improvement’, therefore we’re forced through capitalism, to either go on this journey or live a long and miserable life.
However, it should be comforting to know that very few people attain a fulfilled life and failure is more common than success. The journey to “helping” yourself should be about acceptance. Happiness is not a destination you need to get to – it is just an emotion you feel, it comes, and it goes. During moments of depression, we require utter self-compassion and care. You cannot hate yourself to become who you desire to be.
Furthermore, success varies with perception, and you do not need to be productive every day to succeed, it is okay to just exist. We frequently allude to the idea that success is a mindset, when in fact, “success” is an accumulation of factors, both internal and external.
The demands of capitalist culture do not allow anything in moderation, thus explaining the overproduction and consumption within the industry. Self-help places you at the subject of the obsession, the obsession of bettering oneself.
This obsession stems from the belief that the “perfect” human exists – that we can embark on a journey and miraculously become this imaginary human being. As a species, we are far too complex, and not one thing is constant – the only constant in life is death, therefore this illusion of a ‘best self’ just perpetuates a false reality and keeps you in a constant cycle of ‘soul searching’ – detached from life and the present moment.
In addition to this, capitalism thrives off individualism, the type which modern self-help promotes through its inward thinking. This type of individualism thus has a detrimental effect on increased feelings of alienation as the individual projects most of their energy towards “healing” – all whilst isolating themselves.
This form of isolation can be extremely damaging and debilitate your growth instead. The ego can attach itself to the idea of “healing”, and this can become your whole personality. As a result, you can forget to love and accept yourself as you are in the present moment because you’re always looking ahead, towards a time that does not exist.
Whether you’re in your twenties or fifties you will not have discovered everything about yourself – time is infinite and there is no limit on your growth.
On the subject of individualism, the constant projection of oneself as an individual being separates us from society and communities. Too much ‘self-help’ can force you to neglect relationships with others and these relationships are fundamental to our well-being. It is human nature to desire love and connection, and this cannot exist amongst obsessive individualism.
Self-help seduces its audience into being consumed by the self, often forgetting to empathise and recognise the other. It is one of the wonders of life to share a bond with those around us; experiencing love, pain, and joy through the existence of others is integral to your growth.
Do not end up looking so far inwards that your head gets stuck and you’re unable to see those around you. Communities can uplift you and create meaningful and key memories in your life, furthermore, being surrounded by healthy bonds can enrich your life - making you successful in so many ways (not just the capitalist productivity way).
Finally, you close the book knowing it will be the last one you will read. Fuck Amazon. You will “heal” whenever you’re ready you decide to. You choose to exist, both consciously, and lovingly.